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Pokémon Broken Things

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
  2. custom/dratini-pen
  3. custom/dratini-pen2
Dark Arc: Recap--Dark 5.7

All right, I'm all caught up!

Judging by past arcs, this arc is a little shy of under half-way complete. 5.7 definitely felt like a climax, though--we've been building to this for a long time.

I'm just going to jump into some overall thoughts. Maybe it's premature for these, since the arc's half done at best and the reading experience might change a lot once it's read all together. Right now, though, this arc feels like it's treading water a bit. Obviously not for Pixie--that character trajectory reaches what's been a long time coming.

But Kekoa, who already felt a little static last arc, feels even more static here. He's mostly just hanging around so far. The battle between him and Shirona felt particularly thrown in just to give him something to do. Shirona is the best (more on that later) but it's really making her the above and beyond bestest mentor if she's proactively coaching Kekoa when he's shown zero interest. It felt really weird to me that she approaches and proposes the battle to him. The only significant Kekoa moment was his visit to his old orphanage, and that felt a bit out of the blue. His conversation with Acerola felt like it retreaded ground we've already been over with him. It was cool to see him with an old friend, but while I'm sure we heard about this guy before, I'd forgotten about him, and so it didn't feel very significant. The most Kekoa development actually seemed to happen in the recap, and then almost to backslide a bit when the actual arc started. I see why Kekoa would want to stick around with his friends, but they have a fair amount of support now and he's able to see that, so I'm not sure why he doesn't go the way of Lyra and get out of there.

Lyra's stuff also felt a bit anti-climactic. Don't get me wrong--I'm glad healthy communication prevailed, and it's definitely the right choice for Lyra to get herself out of there. Sticking around and wallowing in the fact Gen doesn't remember her and glaring at Cuicatl wasn't helping anyone, and I'm glad she realized it. But it felt like a lot of the same with Lyra-Gen-Cuicatl before that. My favorite moment was when Lyra started talking about her passion for exploring--she's been so much in 'get Gen back' mode that that aspect of her personality had been pretty submerged. I'm curious what role she'll play in the story going forward. She seemed to recognize that Cuicatl isn't manipulating Gen, but she left before Cuicatl decided to date Gen.

Gen's chapters also dragged a bit for me. In a way, I think it speaks to your having done a good job changing her POV--she was my favorite character for most of BT, but I didn't find her POV chapters that interesting in Dark. She's dealing with her memory fall-out, which she seems to have kind of submerged under her crush with Cuicatl. It feels like a coping mechanism to me--clinging to the idea of that relationship as a way forward. The line about needing to place so much weight on her identity as lesbian now because she suffered so much for it makes sense, but I don't know how healthy an impulse it is. There are such looming questions before her--who she is without her family, memories, and religion, what she wants--that dating is not going to solve. It's interesting to me that she's committed to being Genesis Gage, but we don't see her really unpacking that. And she can't think of her family by name, despite keeping that name. A lot of her chapters end up devoted to the Ferny subplot. That subplot felt like a bit of a retread to me--we've had pretty much the same thing play out with Kekoa. I think it worked better in the Kekoa context because so much of Kekoa's identity was wrapped up around becoming a strong pokemon trainer--it really mattered to him that a pokemon would want to leave. But Gen's never been that interested in the battling aspect. Obviously there's the immediate betrayal of Ferny wanting to go back to the family that hurt her. But Gen's ultimate solution of 'figure out why Ferny wants to go back and see if there are ways to provide for those needs elsewhere' felt pretty intuitive, and like Cuicatl or Shirona or anyone could have proposed it almost as soon as the issue came up. The whole thing felt a bit dragged out to me to give Gen some plot other than the 'will Cuicatl date me' arc. The Gen chapter with Leo lasertag, and Leo lasertag in general, both felt longer than they needed to be. Once I got to the last Pixie chapter, I realized the Leo lasertag was meant to be a revelation for both Gen and Cuicatl, but I didn't know how to feel about it being a revelation for Cuicatl. I thought she already understood what she'd done wrong with Pixie.

Before Cuicatl and Pixie, I'm going to circle back to Shirona. She is the best and I love her. I really liked how much we got to know her team. I did find it difficult to keep track of them in the first chapter they were all introduced, but by the mid-point I was starting to get a sense of their different personalities. The spiritomb conversation hasn't happened yet, though--putting a pin in that. Shirona's exactly as cool as she should be. her internal commentary on teenagers was pretty funny, though she seems to have greater tolerance for and liking for them than I expected. It goes from 'host Cuicatl to improve her thesis' to 'bird-mom these poor messed up children' pretty quickly. Despite how much I love Shirona, I do wonder if she's the reason why it felt like there was less tension and forward-movement. The gang has actually landed somewhere safe. There are multiple competent adults running around who care about their safety more than their profits (Shirona, Liv, Lila vs Rachel). Which is awesome and I get why no one wants to leave! But it's a big change from the momentum of last arc, which built towards Gen rescue.

The one character who's really not safe in these chapters is Pixie, or excuse me, the Firstborn of Kalani. When the second vulpix showed up I know the honeymoon was over. It totally checked out. Currently stolen vulpix giving you problems? Steal a better one. I talked a lot about parallels last review but the big screaming parallel in the Pixie chapters this time was between Pixie now and Gen last arc. Pixie agreed to this, she tries to do what her mom says will make her better even if it hurts her, she tries not to think the wrong thoughts, about Skysong and whether her mom really loves her for her, but like Gen, she can't stop picking at them, and so before she knows it she's crossed into a space where she's in danger. The escalation into the escape came quickly but once it started, felt inevitable. Pixie knows that Kalani won't hesitate to kill unworthy vulpix pups. And she's just become one. The revelation that Kalani killed her birth mom caught me off-guard, but felt right the moment I heard it. Of course she would and of course it would solve nothing. It just made everything worse. I think that was so important for Pixie to hear, since her big plan was get Strong --> Confront Mom --> ??? --> Emotional Closure. Turns out, no. I'll repeat what I said last time: Kalani is terrible, but my heart does go out to her. She's grown in every way except the way that matters. She's more scared than even Pixie is, because Pixie knows now that not everyone who cared about her abandoned her. I understand why Pixie thought death was mercy here.

Things seem to be looking up for Cuicatl in a lot of ways: she's got Shirona on her side, she'd got Pixie back, she's able to say that she didn't kill her brother, and . . . she has a girlfriend. But there's a lot that makes this seem precarious. We've got the revelation from the Shirona chapter that her hydreigon trainer mom didn't exist. But the hydreigon was real at least, and the other pokemon that appear in her memories seem pretty real. Then again, we've seen how false memories can be created. A lot of psychic pokemon have been deeply interested in Cuicatl, from the metagross to Tapu Lele, both of whom probably have the power to do something on that scale and seem to be following her progress. What happened with Earthshaker being sold really underscores the problems with Cuicatl's approach--she's never going to get enough money in the world to do everything she wants. The idea that she can solve these problems with money is what ultimately makes her compliant. Even after her big fight with Rachel, she's prepared to take a Vstar mission. You've done a nice job of showing how humble Cuical's aspirations and worldview are despite how it looks from the outside. Kekoa and Lyra see power as something to be used--Cuicatl just wants to gather her family, and chill with them. I don't think she's going to get that option. Too many people are interested in her right now.

On the dating thing. I think it's a bad idea. I can see why it's happening anyway. Cuicatl is finally accepting that she could be worth loving and here's someone begging for the chance. Gen feels like her whole identity revolves around what her family tried to take from her, and Cuicatl's her anchor. But Gen's just felt so empty in these chapters. She has no idea who or what she is right now. Cuicatl's not trying to take advantage, but the imbalance is inherent in the situation. Gen's dependent on Cuicatl right now. If the relationship doesn't work out, what then?

I'd definitely like to reread these when the whole arc is finished. It may be that the flow would work better for me then.

Mother agreed about the books but not cooking.
Such a minor nitpick, but for parallelism I really wanted "the cooking."

I just lost so much for this, I feel like I kind of have to embrace it. Even if this maybe isn’t a good idea.
Oof, that feels real.

I just hope Cuicatl stops before someone decides she needs dealt with. She doesn’t need dealt with.
*to be dealt with

I still kind of want to hate her, but she’s been shit on by her family almost as hard as Alola was.
BT in a nut-shell.

He should have chosen Poni. Chosen justice. Even if he lost. Even if it cost him his family and friends. He would’ve been right at the end.
Really interesting Kekoa stuff in this recap.

Maybe the path I’m going down gets me arrested or killed. Maybe the others won’t talk to me again. Maybe we won’t even win. I don’t care. No more half measures. No more playing the champion’s own game.

I’ll stay with them for a little bit. Help Cuicatl out, at least, because she’s been looking rough. Swear she almost got herself killed. But once they’re better, I’m out.

There’s only one choice. If society lets people like the Gages get away with that, there’s no reforming it. No conquering it. No taming it. The only thing to do is burn it down to the roots and hope something better grows in the ashes.
Oh wow, he's echoing the Plumeria speech. So Kekoa is full join Team Skull for real.

Nocitlālin, the metang, is spying on me for a metagross. I don’t know why and I kind of don’t care anymore.
Am I hallucinating? I thought we found out that the metagross is owned by Lila and she wanted to keep an eye on Cuicatl. Or is the mystery why the spying was happening pre-Lila capture?

If I could somehow win win only three pokémon I would really like that.
* win with

I could have died and I was scared. I thought I was at peace with death. Maybe even wanted it. But I kept wondering what would happen to your pokémon and Coco and I didn’t want to go.
Important development.

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.”

-Mary Oliver, Thirst
I'll return to this one at the conclusion of the arc, I suppose.

I am forced to point out the irony in your Dark arc not taking place while it is dark out.

Dark 5.1: Lorekeeper
Shirona
HYPE HYPE HYPE.

It reads like it was written by a semi-literate secondary school dropout. Which, in fairness, it was.
Check.

It's still a bit of a pain that your biggest eaters are so opposed. Kagetora won’t eat anything fake; it’s an insult to her pride as a dragon. Wakumi takes a different view as a peacekeeper of the seas. Every week you have to get separate meals for both of them. It would be fine if the milotic wasn’t so picky: artificial alomomola steaks are expensive and hard to source while you’re traveling.
Ooh, very interesting. A level up from Cuicatl's problems of procuring enough food for her dragons; dragon ethics debates.

You step past the ‘Warning: Dangerous Pokémon. Do Not Enter.’ sign and enter the garage.
Of course she has that sign.

Solomon won’t talk about the child beyond acknowledging she exists. He almost sounded afraid of her when you asked.
So creepy. I love every one of your ghost portrayals.

You wish you were one of the elementals who can talk to pokémon. Instead, you can just sense the earth around you. Really useful for archaeology and bonding with ground-types. Only okay for everything else.
Ooh, earth-bender Shirona. Your universe definitely gives humans more power than is typical in canon.

There’s very little on the island she couldn’t kill if it came down to it.
What a Shirona line.

She smirks and for a moment you’re both twenty-two and high off of oddish weeds in her attic while you talk about rocks.
As one does.

It all looks a bit unfortunate on him.

In other words, he’s a teenage boy.
Shirona here with the DEADLY WIT.

“Hey.” And then he walks past you into the house.

A linguist for the ages.
Lmao.

It takes you a solid five minutes of meditation with Genkei to accept that you shouldn’t kill a billionaire American national on his own soil while acting as an official of Japan.

It takes another twenty to decide that you won’t actually do it.

You fantasize about how you would do it for another fifteen.
We stan.

???

“I see. Any reason you didn’t tell me during the Hoenn crisis, Kagetora.”

She looks away. It’s what she does when she’s embarrassed or ashamed. She answers in a series of slow, rumbling sounds.

{I did not want to take sides between the three lords,} Genkei translates.
I really like this. Pokemon don't tell trainers everything, even when that trainer is Shirona.

What happened at the Celestica Temple isn’t classified. That would require the government to know about it. It’s something even higher. On the mountain she tried to fight off Dialga. She managed to draw blood before things went wrong. ‘Atoms scattered across a thousand years’ wrong. That was when you called on the dark god of the Celestica, just as your distant ancestors had when invaders arrived from across the sea.

Dialga was kind enough to undo the kill when he wiped all memory of the Celestica gods from the timeline. Kagetora remembers what happened. She has never wished to speak of it.
Woah. This is so metal. I want this oneshot so much.

Had a hydreigon.”

You were just starting to climb the ranks then. It would have been easy to miss her. Still, hyreigon are rare enough that you might have heard her discussed in passing. You’ll have to jog your memory.

“I take it she owned the hydreigon in your thesis?”
But Shirona said no one has successfully partnered with a hydreigon --

“Or she never existed.”

“Or that.” She pauses. “Probably that.”
There we go. Hm. The plot seriously thickens. We've seen her Mom's journey memories before, so what exactly is going on? False memories? Planted by whom?

No. They’re probably just there to stop her prey from escaping. Very considerate.
extremely.

At least its weak.
*it's

Kalani eyes the bird quizzically, probably also realizing the need to murder it.
😂

You have a better mother than Avalanche now.
Counterpoint: Avanlanche abandoned you somewhere you'd be cared for, as opposed to outright murder. It's a low bar, but. Kalani went under it.

Talking to each other, pointing at the field, finally saying in a big voice something about excessive force. Which it wasn’t. It’s good to be sure something is dead when you’re putting it out of its misery.
WELL this line sure hits different after 5.7.

“I will have to punish him. He does not interfere with my child.”

Your heart swells. She does love you!
Oof. Listen harder, baby.

“I am the one who knows how to fight. You are hear to listen.”
*here

“Oh. I will use that in the future, then.”

Very respectful. If only all humans were like that.
Shirona Rocks part 90989853 . . .

“Firstborn, meet Secondborn. She isn’t going to see humans while I’m not looking.”
Oh shit. Here we go.

You’ve been trying to think about how Cuicatl must see the world.
She's pretty besotted, huh. But it's also kind of a way to anchor herself.

You still blurt out, “Your rooms cleaner than I was expecting.”
* room's

Love that Gen tact.

Kekoa makes a weird face. A grimace? Disgust? “They’re way too into watching people pee.”

[Unit010_10000111 Has Obtained Sufficient Data On Fluid Release;
No Further Observations Required]
This gag continues to be fun. Noci is 100% messing with him.

She mentioned a few people she doesn’t talk about much If ever.
Random capital?

“Did that job your memory?” There’s so much hope in her expression.
* jog

“And are you wearing sunscreen? Your skin tone won’t protect you from melanoma.
Missing end quote.

If you got hurt by your own actions you wouldn’t need disciplined further for it.
* to be disciplined

Sometimes you keep talking to no one until someone covers over and asks what you’re doing.
* comes over

Its hard to say that about hydreigon.
*it's

“Are either of you mad at me?” You’ve played your share of social games but now you just really want to know.

“No,” they both say in unison. Neither provides any more information.
This was such a parent moment.

“Hi! I disembowel things. You’re my second father?”

“Second—”

“Can I show you how sharp my teeth are?”
This routine never gets old.

Murdering him in his sleep is both ‘an idea’ and very likely from an embarrassed hydreigon. The dead can’t mock you.
Lmao.

“Do you care about anyone but yourself?” you hiss.

“Only after I’ve taken care of my needs.”

You reach for your belt. If she’s putting you in this position, then—

—the world falls away into endless crushing spins. When it stops you feel Miss Bell’s alakazam’s crushing presence against your mind.

{Do not attempt to harm my trainer.}

Then he’s gone and you’re completely alone.
Welp. Fall-out from this should be interesting.

Its more than you were expecting from her given everything.
*it's

“I know the rules,” you tell Lyra.
This confused me, because Lyra isn't mentioned before this sentence.

“I wasn’t even trying to tilt you,” Shirona finally says. “You just make it very easy.”
Tilt?

“Did you see how strong that barrier was? You can fight that roserade yourself, but she won’t.”
Glad Kekoa's getting a talking to about this. Because yeah, come on.

You lock up your bike because you know the kind of people who live here and don’t want to know what Shirona would do to thieves.
Really liked this touch.

Even the champion doesn’t have power? You remember Kanoa laughing at you when you accused Selene of not doing more. Is that why?
Ding, ding, ding!

“I don’t think she’d play their games.” You reflexively defend her before realizing that, no, she absolutely would. As long as someone gave her enough money she would probably do anything for them. She can go on about hating merchants and the States and whatever, but when push comes to shove she’d let herself be shoved.
100%.

We have layers of duties, Kekoa.
Yeah, that's really the core of it. I think the Liv vs Hala chapters explored that nicely.

If Jabari had joined Team Skull instead of the military… you don’t know if you would still hate him or not. If that would justify things. You like to think it would, but. It’s easy to say that now when that isn’t what happened.
Ooh, what an excellent hypothetical. Proud of Kekoa for facing it.

“Because I met Plumeria a few times on the trail. She invited me to join Skull for real. Now that they’re burning hotels and fucking with the colonizers, I dunno, feels like a better use of my time.”

He smiles. Genuinely. It’s always so rare. “Fuck yeah. You mind if I join you? I’ve been thinking about fighting the good fight, too.”

“I’ll ask the boss lady. We still friends, then?”
Cute to see Kekoa just vibing.

“Mount Hokulani. With Acerola retiring it’ll be the only trial for the island.” She must see your concern. “Shirona said she’d have one of her pokémon keep an eye on me to make sure nothing happens.”
I didn't follow the connection between these sentences. Why does there only being one trial mean she needs an eye kept on her?
She’s smiling. You haven’t seen her smile much, smile genuinely, anyway, in the weeks that you’ve known her. She’s also more relaxed and speaking with less caution than usual. It often sounds like she has to carefully weigh every syllable before she speaks. You like this. If she was always like this before you can understand why you were friends.
Aww, Lyra. Such a hard situation to be in, though.

“No. Its hers.” She gestures towards Cuicatl’s.
*it's

Is this going to be a hobby of his? Can pokémon have those? Do your pokémon want them? Oliver likes his stuffed animals. Sir Bubbles seems to like screaming after his evolution. Those are just likes. Little treats or quirks. Do they want things? Have life goals? Is that why Ferny wants to leave? If they’re your friends with your pokémon you should ask and try to help them out. It only makes sense.
This felt like a retread.

“Cuicatl. You know that you left your country, got on tv, earned a shit ton of money, and are being personally mentored by the second-best trainer in the world within a year, right? Do I have to explain that to you?”

Oh. Huh. You… hadn’t put that together. From the look of shock on Cuicatl’s face, neither had she.
Shirona's a pretty concrete way to hammer that in.

In the morning, she says yes.
hmm, I don't know about that Cuicatl.

Dark 5.7: The Ninetales’ Curse
Pixie
Love how the title hits different after Kalani's explanation of what the ninetale's curse really is.

Your hunt ends when a feeling of tiredness creeps through you from muzzle to tails. Not like Mother’s attack. More like the all-consuming tiredness you felt in the white room where the humans took you after you left the mountain. After the smiling humans in black hurt you. Because they could. Because you didn’t stop them. Because nothing mattered anymore.
Excuse me, I thought this was the fic where ice-foxes aren't allowed to have depression.

How do you punish someone without punishing them? You can’t. There’s no way to do what Mother wants while also doing what you want.
Yuup.

Skysong will understand. She wants to go back to her own mountain.
She's starting to realize her mountain wasn't everything she thought it was, though!

“Then why doesn’t your new Mother go back?”
Checkmate, ice-foxes!

Is it… is there no going back? No matter how strong you are?
Oh hi Lance, didn't expect to see you here.

“She wants to go home and see her family again.”

Mother stops moving and locks in place. Then she slowly moves, lowering one tail after another before she finally sits down. “The nine-tails’ curse,” she finally whispers. “Knowing home and losing it forever.”
And a nice illustration of Cuicatl and Pixie's parallels.

“Who cursed us?” you ask. “Can’t we fight them?”
Not when you've cursed yourself.

{I killed my own mother when I returned to The Mountain. Made her pay for taking the world away from me. Imagine what I will do to you, thief.}
Oh no. Kalani. Baby.

I’ve done bad things. I’ve never killed someone I loved over it.
!! Big admission there for Cuicatl.

You don’t like thinking that an eevee is right. But maybe the vulpix never leave the base of the mountain, begging to go back. Begging not to be left. Kalani… Kalani never moved on.

She still sounds like a three-tails.

Is that what you sound like?

Will anyone ever answer when you beg?

Should you turn around and… walk away? Find out what is off the mountain?
And there it is.

“Medics will be here in five. Now, we have one final decision to make.” She kneels down and looks directly at you. “Will they heal Kalani back up or will she be dead when they arrive?”
I probably shouldn't have gotten heart-eyes over Shirona here. Just, you so nicely capture how hard-core she is without even trying. Zero posing, just the willingness to say things like this.
 

Negrek

The Eyes Have It
Staff
Heard all the cool kids are getting caught up with Broken Things. Guess I'd better get in on that, too!

This is a big arc for Pixie in particular, and I'm super here for it. Reading up through 5.7 feels like a good point of closure on the Kalani arc, although I imagine there's going to be more to clean up in the aftermath. I really liked how Pixie begins to recognize Kalani's own damage in the course of these chapters--more than simply realizing that Kalani doesn't love her but only desires to possess her, she can see how Kalani's been damaged by the same abandonment she's suffered and both recognize some sympathy for her and know that she doesn't want to become the same way herself. It's a big jump in emotional maturity for Pixie (though perhaps she wouldn't have been able to have a similar revelation about any pokémon other than a ninetales, heh) and probably a more solid step towards overcoming her demons than simply escaping from Kalani without understanding what was causing the ninetales' would have been. Also interesting that Kalani had only recently been going into all the curses and kidnapping children antics--I don't recall that we'd heard about that before, but it makes sense that it's an issue that would have developed only after she'd become a champion-level pokémon... when she'd gone as far as power could take her and found that she still didn't feel worthy and still wasn't welcome, that's when she really began to get extreme about trying to create a replacemet family. I enjoyed her character getting uncovered a little further in this section; in addition to being really interesting, it did help a little bit with the whole "how does anyone put up with her" thing; the moment where Lycanroc and Glaceon were looking at the hole in Kukui's hotel room wall all like, yeah, sorry about my ninetales companion, she's been Like That recently, was a lot of fun.

"The Ninetales' Curse" was a wonderful chapter and probably one of the highlights of the fic thus far for me. It was lovely to see Cuicatl and Pixie get to have some real moments of strength, courage, and success; it was ultimately Cynthia's lucario who saved the day here, but they were willing to stand up for each other in the face of what looked like certain death, and while Pixie didn't precisely defeat Kalani, she came remarkably close through the power of SCREM. Both Cuicatl and Pixie got some stellar lines here, and I like that while acknowledging their triumph you didn't gloss over the tragedy of Kalani; she was a deeply messed-up ninetales, and would no doubt have continued to be a danger to Cuicatl and Pixie, but she was definitely a product of the ninetales' deeply fucked-up way of life. This chapter really felt like a turning point in Cuicatl and Pixie's development, and while neither of them are "better" by any stretch of the imagination, it does look as though they've gotten to a place where they can at least hope to move forward in a positive way. Up until Cuicatl needs to cut her team back down to three to accommodate her mothers' pokémon, that one's going to go over well.

Only one small nitpick on the Pixie front--the first time she visits Cuicatl in this section she felt surprisingly emotionally mature and concerned about Cuicatl rather than herself, whereas the second time she felt much more her old self (albeit having clearly learned a few things during her time away). It felt a little out of character to me.

Cuicatl in general took some positive steps this arc in terms of being able to acknowledge that she isn't fat and isn't responsible for her brother's death, but it's certainly a "so close, and yet so far" situation; she still takes the opportunity to punish herself through food because she could potentially become fat in the future, and while she's able to accept Genesis' interest in her, she still feels deeply unworthy--I wouldn't be surprised if she ended up doing something to sabotage that relationship in the future. The news that Coco's mother's getting sold off to some mystery (and rather sketchy-sounding, tbh) buyer is definitely a big setback, though. Like Cuicatl didn't have enough on her mind already! She's really seen how, even with the ability to take on much bigger VStar contracts, to be offered much more lucrative jobs, to earn the kind of money she's really looking for is incredibly difficult by any sort of legitimate enterprise. I definitely see her getting pushed into incredibly risky, shady sorts of jobs in an attempt to scare up the literal millions of dollars she's going to need to buy her pokémon back. We've already seen how her general self-loathing interacts with her appetite for dangerous jobs--it doesn't look like that's going to get better in the near-term, and I could see it becoming a much bigger problem in upcoming chapters.

Also, I am intrigued to see how you portray golett here, and if their capture is being bought at 50k a piece, I'm sure this upcoming mission is going to be horrifying, one way or another. Looking forward to it! And doubly intrigued by what might go down between her and Team Skull! It would be super interesting to see what would happen if she and Kekoa actually ended up opposing one another (although in a straight fight I think Kekoa just easily loses, rip Kekoa). On the other hand, while she doesn't want anything endangering VStar and the current source of all her cash, perhaps Skull might offer some alternative ways to make money that might sway her into switching sides, as it were? The idealogical fractures between Cuicatl and the rest of her friend group grew more exposed in this arc, but they haven't quite blown things apart just yet... but I feel like there's gotta be a reckoning at some point, and that it's gotta be spectacular (and terrible).

On the plus side, though, Cuicatl did discover that her golisopod enjoys laser tag, which was a heartwarming scene indeed (as was Cynthia teaming up with him to mercilessly take down the middle school birthday party + Kekoa).

I am really curious where you'll be going with Gen in the future; a couple times during this arc she reflected on the fact that she's going to need to make a living somehow, and it's going to be tough with her family now actively hostile towards her. Training doesn't seem like a great fit for her or for her pokémon, so what's next? I don't know to what extent this fic is actually going to remain a journeyfic going into the back half(??? I don't think we're actually at the halfway point yet?), so I could see her pursuing something else going forward. On the flip side, she does want to date Cuicatl, who's been very clear about her intention to keep diving into the wilderness to subdue dangerous beasts and pursue trainer glory to earn cash, so... It'll be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out and what Gen ultimately ends up doing. She definitely feels different after having her psyche ripped apart, which isn't tremendously surprising, and she's still figuring herself and what she wants to do next out. It's been good to see her starting to come to terms with things and work things out with people over the course of this arc; a little bit of a breather for her after how harrowing Arc 4 was, Ferny's desire to go back and live with her parents notwithstanding.

I'll be curious to see what happens with Lyra. Given how intensely she worked to get Genesis back the last time, it seems unlikely that she'll take "no" for an answer here. One always hopes that after seeing Genesis happy with Cuicatl and knowing that Cuicatl can't actually have altered her personality, she'd be willing to take the L in support of what Genesis wants... but unfortunately I think that's probably unlikely. Her setting out again on her own feels like a loose end that's going to come back around at the least opportune time possible later.

I'm really intrigued by Solomon--feels like we must see at least a little interaction between him and at least one of the kids, and I'm super here for it. I love what you've done with spiritomb in general; appropriately very creepy in appearance and manner, in a way that feels faithful to the canon design while also working well in your more realistic setting. In general I like what you've done with Cynthia and all her team; the little snatches we get about her past in Sinnoh are a lot of fun in their own right (I love the bit about how she no longer casts a shadow, brrr), and while she hasn't had a *huge* presence as a character in this arc, it's a lot of fun to see her attempt to mother these messed-up kids. Her battle against Kekoa in particular was great, as well as his (very predictable) reaction to it. Oh Kekoa no, etc. Having her dramatic bangs be hiding the loss of one of her eyes is also a fun character detail, too--look forward to learning more about how that happened. The bit of backstory for her garchomp where he attacked Dialga and got atomized (but he got better) was also a highlight for me--lots of fun elaborations on the canon character, to be sure.

Meanwhile, of course, her intense interest in how one might go about taming and battling with a hydreigon is rather alarming, lol. She isn't simply doing all this out of the goodness of her heart, and I very much understand the skeevy feeling Cuicatl gets about discussing how a human could tame and battle with a hydreigon... using her knowledge of dragons to potentially help make other dragons subservient to humans. But she needs Cynthia's help with this thesis, and this thesis to get her family back, and for that, it must be worth it...

I'm curious to see where everything goes with Cuicatl's mother's team. It makes sense that if her mother was related to N, her family would have been made difficult to find in various ways, whether Cuicatl was aware of it or not. It sounds like people have been pretty strenuously researching the movement of hydreigon around the region in terms of legal sales and border crossings, but there's no reason Alice couldn't have been sold on the black market or otherwise moved around illegally, right? I would kind of be expecting the various people looking into Cuicatl's past to be checking in on that, too, but it hasn't been mentioned. Clearly something's up with all of that, though; could there perhaps be some sort of zoroark illusion involved?

All in all, things have been going quite well this arc, haven't they? Characters healing, starting to overcome their issues and/or make important realizations, even a little budding romance... sus. Major sus. It's nice to have a break, but how long can it last? At least I know I've got Kekoa out there joining up with Skull to fill out our Excellent Life Choices quota. (And, well, it sounds like Cuicatl got at least partially cursed. That can mean only good things too, I'm sure.) This arc and the last felt a lot more focused on Genesis and Cuicatl... I wonder if we're looking at an upcoming Kekoa in Skull arc where he gets more of the limelight. I'm sure that will make for a great time! In particular, if he joins up with Skull, he's pretty likely to end up needing to fight Jabari, isn't he? I foresee at least one deeply painful confrontation coming out of Kekoa's choice here, and I'm super into it.

I've enjoyed this arc a lot so far, and I can see why you say it's a particularly consequential one! Lots of meaty scenes here, a lot of indications that things are shifting and about to take on a new direction. A little bit of a break before we plunge into the next part of the fic. I look forward to reading the rest of it!
 
Dark 5.8

Persephone

Infinite Screms
Pronouns
her/hers
Partners
  1. mawile
  2. vulpix-alola
Dark 5.8: Call to Adventure
Kekoa

June 11, 2020

You lie in bed and read The Rallying Cry, the semi-official newsletter of Team Skull. This week’s edition is mostly about a new strike at the power plant on Blush Mountain. Management and some scabs are keeping it running, for now, but there might be power disruptions. How will the Haole survive? Clearly no one could have ever lived on these islands without electricity. You give it five days before management gives up and caves. Better than trying to run the place themselves. Better than putting in a real day’s work for the first time in their lives.

An apartment complex burned to the ground after they evicted their tenants to turn it into luxury housing. Skull won’t say they did it. Just that it happened and it was a good thing and maybe it should happen more often.

Then Cuicatl comes up. Sort of. They’ve never said her name directly but it’s the third story she’s shown up in, after the tyrantrum deal and the (brief) arrest of Gen’s shitty father. More news about Kukui’s ninetales has come out and it’s really not looking good for him. League founder and regional professor fucks up so badly that his ace steals multiple pokémon, runs away, and then curses an island challenger. Pictures of a damaged hotel room, a crying child whose vulpix was stolen, and a 911 call about a potentially murderous ninetales on the loose make you hate the man more than you did before. He admits in the call that the ninetales had been getting more unstable. Point is, it looks like he had plenty of warnings, ignored them all, and almost got Cuicatl and her starter killed. You hope this destroys his career so badly you never have to hear anything about him ever again. The Rallying Cry goes through Kukui’s statements on how the old traditions were bad and needed replaced before asking if he really understood the traditions at all after failing to handle one of the sacred pokémon of your people.

The newsletter concludes with a post from some real estate billionaire warning that Alola is now bad for business and people like him might stay away. Good. That’s the point. Fuck right off.

You drop the phone onto your lap without turning it off. Plumeria is doing great work. Stealing back your heritage, pissing off the haole, literally threatening their power. If she had anything to do with that. You’re guessing Skull didn’t. They’re just glad it’s happening.

It’s been two weeks since Cuicatl had her shitty anniversary. About a week since Lyra came back. Three days since Cuicatl came back cursed to die alone. You overheard Genesis being adamant about prophecies being fucky (not her word) and not worth listening to. She could die in bed alone at age 92 with her partner in the bathroom.

You could practically hear the blush when Genesis talked about Cuciatl’s partner after, like, seventy years. They’re insufferably lovey with each other for two people who seem to have no idea what they’re doing. And they probably don’t. Gen had the shitty family to end all shitty families and Cuicatl has apparently been sitting on a mountain of self-loathing you thought was just, like, normal teenage self-loathing. The kind that you and pretty much everyone you know has. And you assume that all the cheery people also have it and are just really good at lying to the world about it.

Anyway, uh, good for them. They deserve some good shit to happen to them for once. Kind of weird Shirona is still letting them share a bed but you’re pretty sure neither of them knows how sex works. Not that you give a shit. Is fucking without the risk of anyone getting pregnant really that bad? You’re mostly just surprised Shirona’s cool with it.

That… isn’t what’s important. What’s important is that you missed some very important things about your friend that were obvious in hindsight. Not eating much could’ve just been because she was small. But she was active and you know how much you have to eat after a day on the trail. And you should have been supporting her more than you were. Somehow. You don’t know how. Maybe you did, once, back in the in the Paniola days with your little friend group. But those were long ago and life has taught you many, many more lessons since then about the importance of never expecting anyone to stay, to be kind, to care.

You told Dr. Livens that you don’t know how to help Cuicatl and Genesis except by hitting their problems and the systems that enabled them. That hasn’t changed. And you’re starting to get the impression that there will never be a good time to leave. A time where there hasn’t been a crisis in a while and everyone is stable and happy and you can slide out of their lives like so many people have slid out of yours.

This is going to suck. For them. For you. But you have to do it.

It’s the only way you know how to help.

There are just a few more things you have to take care of before you leave.

*​

June 12, 2020

You aren’t sure what the right way to say goodbye to someone is. It’s not something you’ve done often. Usually, you’d just come home from school and find out you’re moving to another home right now. Maybe the old Kekoa, the one who lived in Paniola with his family and friends, knew. You don’t anymore.

When you confronted Cuicatl about VStar it went… disastrously. You’re pretty sure she was threatening you. Well, threatening anyone who ended up in her way. Including you. If you did that. She at least had the decency to say she hoped you didn’t.

Sometimes you forget she was raised by dragons. And sometimes it’s all you can think about.

She left for the desert this morning without saying a word. Took Shirona, Lyra and her girlfriend with her.

You don’t want that fight to be what she remembers you by. During her shitty anniversary she also said that she never said goodbye to her brother. Seemed to be tearing her up even a year later. You get that. You didn’t get to say goodbye, either. You spent your one-year anniversary huddled up in the corner of an unfamiliar bedroom, avoiding your unfamiliar ‘parents,’ and wondering if things could possibly get any worse… and what you would do if they did.

You haven’t thought about that in a long time.

You wonder if Cuicatl has.

Just another thing you should have known and didn’t. Maybe she really is better off without you.

Point is, you can’t just leave without a note or anything. Telling where you’re going also means that Shirona hopefully won’t tear Alola apart looking for you if she goes full mama bear.

You open up your VStar phone, open the voice notes app, and think. How do you want to go about this? Like, what did she mean to you at the end?

Fuck it, you’ve never been much of a thinker. Let’s wing it.

“Hey, Cuicatl. Um. Shit, I don’t know how much Galarian you can actually understand but there really wasn’t another way to do this.” Off to a great start. You take a deep breath and consider deleting it and starting over. No. You got across what you needed to. Keep pressing on.

“I’m leaving. It’s not your fault. I’ve been planning this for a while.” Kind of? At least a month. “You saw what Gen’s dad could get away with. Guess what? That kind of thing happens every damn day in Alola and no one gives a shit. Well, okay, not quite that bad. Okay, sometimes that bad. The cops can mow down any kanaka they want and get off with desk duty for a week. And it needs to stop. Someone has to make these fuckers pay. The Gage family, the cops, the capitalists, the settlers—all of them. They need to burn. And.”

You take another breath and try to focus. You’re getting a little off topic. “You have your family to get back. I get it. You won’t come with me. You might try to stop me. That’s why you’re getting the message like this. I’m sorry. Wish there was another way. You deserve better. You shouldn’t have some capitalist fuckers stringing you along. You should’ve had this kind of home from the start. We all should have. And the kids will once Alola’s in the right hands. We take care of our own.”

Alright. That’s out of the way. Now… now onto the sappy shit.

“Thanks for putting up with me the last eight months. For saving my ass from pangoro, braviary, and my own shitty food. I don’t think I could’ve gotten this far without you. It’s been nice. Mostly. I mean, we fight. But you’ve been looking out for me and I’ve tried to look out for you, even if I kind of did a crap job of it. You’re the best friend I’ve had since Paniola. The only person I’ve had on the trail the whole time. I wish I didn’t have to do this.”

Wait. You leave the tape running. What you were describing. Deep friendship and closing ranks, no romance (you’ve just… never seen her like that), bickering.

Are you kind of siblings, now? Does she see you that way? Do you see her like that?

You’re definitely closer to her than your actual brother. Maybe than you were to him before all of this. She even pushed you to reconnect with him.

What does that even mean given how her last brother ended? Will she be insulted? Sad? Do you really want to drop that now, right as you’re leaving her?

“I…” You sigh. Fuck. No good way of doing this. “I hope you’re happy. Or at least less sad. And I want to meet again when Alola is free. Or whenever you turn on Chris Foster. Whichever comes first.”

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Can you end it there? She’s going to hate you. This might not even be better than just going without a word.

“Don’t follow me unless you want to join the cause. I’ll miss you. Hope you don’t hate me too much.”

How do you end this? It’s been a long ass time since you told anyone you loved them, and she might take I the wrong way. ‘Bye’ is wait too simple.

“I really did like our time together. And, uh. I’m sad it had to end. But it had to. Not your fault. Uh. Goodbye?”

You end the recording and sigh. Good enough. You flip to your settings, turn off your password and autolock, and walk into the girls’ room. The bed is made. Whole place is pretty clean, actually. There are a few pokémon beds on the floor. Only one is occupied. Pixie stirs from her nap when you walk up to her. Weird to see her minus an ear. You’ve seen her walking up and down the stairs recently. But from what you’ve heard it sounds like she’s never battling again.

“Hey, girl. Just need to plug something in.”

She doesn’t move to bite you as you plug in the phone on Cuicatl’s side of the bed, still unlocked and on the voice notes app. Hopefully Genesis can point it out to her.

“Take good care of her, Pix. She needs it.”

The fox just blinks at you. She probably doesn’t know what’s happening. Good.

You grab your things, walk out the front door, and head to the abandoned gas station at the corner of 3rd and Koa. No one stops you on the way out. No one calls the cops on you as you walk across the small coastal town. New Undella was supposed to be a beach resort to the east of Tapu Village. They scrapped the plans when Tapu Bulu wrecked the village. Now there are only three mansions blocking the view of the ocean. Turns out Shirona is one of the only people crazy enough to still live there. Could her team take the Tapu in a fight? Do either of them really want to find out?

Now New Undella’s just another coastal town without real money. There’s a grocery store that looks like it’s on the verge of falling apart, a gas station, a trailer park, and a few homes that haven’t been painted in decades. The only things that look like they aren’t half-dead are Shirona’s little mansion and the Pokémon Center for travelers into the desert.

Plumeria grew up here. You wonder if she saw Shirona’s home against the rot of the town and set out to fix things.

The gas station is in an abandoned part of the old resort. Some of the buildings are half-built. Others are missing windows. One has a roof seems to have burned.

You check the time on your remaining phone. 10:54. Still six minutes until the pickup time Plumeria texted you. It’s going to look suspicious if anyone sees you just hanging out here. You pull out Anuenue’s pokéball and hold it at the ready. For what feels like a half hour you glare off into the empty road waiting for someone to challenge you.

“Waiting for someone?” a voice asks from behind.

You whirl around to see… no one you know. A teenage boy probably a little older than you wearing torn jean shorts and a black tank top. No balaclava. He’s also pretty muscular. And way taller than you. Cis boys. If you had Jabari’s genetics and a normal puberty you would’ve been a lot taller. You aren’t sure if that’s comforting or depressing. You puff up a little all the same.

“You’re my ride?” you ask.

“Yup.” He doesn’t say anything else. Just stares at you in silence. An abra pokes its head out from behind him. Oh. That’s how he snuck up on you. Would’ve been embarrassing if you let someone that size just slip past. “Being followed?”

“No. Just paranoid.” You’re pretty sure Shirona took all of her pokémon but the roserade and milotic. Doubt either could’ve kept up with you without being seen. “We teleporting?”

“Wouldn’t be a secret base if we were always walking in and out the front door, would it?”

Huh. You’d never thought about that. Just assumed they were hiding out somewhere in Tapu Village and relying on no one bothering to stake it out. This makes a lot more sense.

“You got everything?”

“Yes.” Your ID and Skull phone, some personal items, toiletries, your pokéball and supplies, three changes of clothes, hormones.

Wait, fuck, how are you going to keep getting hormones? Can Skull just rob a pharmacy? Claim its about drug prices or something? You can’t be the only trans kid in Skull. Surely Plumeria has a system, right?

“Before we go, we need to get you a codename.”

“Codename?”

“Yeah. Boss prefers we don’t use our own. Means that even if someone snitches there’s not much they can tell. Same reason we have multiple safe houses.”

That makes some sense. You just aren’t happy to give up your name after struggling so much for it. What do you even want to be known as, anyway? Incineroar’s kind of aspirational. Golem are tough and fuck things up without even meaning to. Then there’s—”

“Jigglypuff?”

“What?”

“Your code name is Jigglypuff. Puff for short.”

“No.” You aren’t doing that. “I was thinking—”

“Jigglypuff. You don’t get to pick your own codename.”

“Why. Jigglypuff?” you seethe.

“Cause you’re small, cute, and seem on edge.”

“I am not cute! And I’m still growing.”

“Jigglypuff expand, too. It’s perfect.”

The boy has a shit-eating grin on his face and you really, really want to punch it off.

“You still in?” he asks.

You want to tell him to fuck off. That you’ll find some other way. But you came here willing to sacrifice. This is a small thing, really. No. No it isn’t. Fuck that. Even if you’ll still do it.

“Fine.” You don’t stop glaring at him. “What’s your nickname?”

“Machoke.” He keeps an entirely straight face.

“I’m fucking jigglypuff and you get to be machoke?” It comes out as a screech. Not really proud of it. Terrible first impression. Still more angry than embarrassed.

“You’re loud, too! What a good puff. And, yeah, admin privileges.”

Fucker.

“Do you do this to everyone? Or is it just because I’m trans?”

He throws up his hands in mock surrender. “Woah, calm down. I didn’t even know that.”

Plumeria really hasn’t told him shit. You wonder if that’s part of the anti-snitching thing.

“You want to get going?” Machoke asks. “Don’t want to draw too much attention.”

“Sure, whatever,” you spit out. Hardly the welcoming you were expecting. But. It’s. Fine. You’ve put up with bullies before. You’ll do it again for Alola.

“Excellent!” He claps you on the back and the world falls out beneath you twisting and twisting and twisting and crushing you down until

You’re standing in a pretty boring entryway. The front door behind you is boarded off with plywood. Maybe to keep Team Skull out. The place is kind of messy with bags of pokémon food, clothes, and other junk haphazardly strewn around. The wallpaper probably used to be white and floral but now the flowers are barely visible and the walls are more brown than white. There’s dust on the table that no one has bothered to clear off. A persian is sitting on an empty paper grocery bag. He glares at you for a moment before he goes back to licking his paw.

You could work with this.

There are people chatting up ahead. You give Machoke another evil look while you wait for the world to stop spinning. He just immediately walks forward, gesturing for you to follow. “Hey, guys,” he calls out. “New boy just got here. We’re calling him Jigglypuff.”

You raise your shoulders and glare, trying not to think about how that kind of is jigglypuff-ish. You haven’t even seen them yet and you’ve made a terrible first impression.

There are six people sitting on the couches. That makes eight with you and Machoke. Seems to be an even split of girls and boys. Not that you can know for sure with looks alone. None of them except the admin are in uniform. Just normal, worn clothes. The kind you would see at the orphanage when the donors weren’t there.

And now you have to introduce yourself. Been a long time since you had to walk into a new home and do that.

“Hey. I’m… that.” You can’t help but shudder. One of the boys laughs. A few others smile. Is it bad that you hope they have shitty names, too? “Dropped out of the island challenge before my third grand trial. Here to break things for Alola.”

That gets a few nods and even a muted cheer from the smallest probably boy. You don’t think he’s trans. He’s wearing a tank top and you can’t see any binder straps. Just got unlucky with height.

“What’s your team?” a girl with thick glasses, a studded choker, and a series of scars on her left cheek and arm asks. She has by far the worst injuries but a few of the others have a scar or two.

“Toucannon, drifblim, miltank, carbink, charjabug, and rufflet.” You put Leilani and Ihe last so maybe they don’t notice it. They’ll be strong. Just isn’t useful now.

“Bird trainer, nice,” an older girl with half-faded blue dye in her hair says. “Skarm and a murk myself.”

An adult skarmory would be really useful. Bulletproof flier. A shield that can move around the field as needed. Your team… Mahina can work well as a sniper. Kapuna can tank hits. Moe can sneak up on people. Anueneu’s just a brute. Goes from one of your strongest options to one of your weakest real fast. Weird thinking of their tactics from a new angle. Guess you’ll have all of them at once, too. That could make Ihe’s tailwinds useful.

“Like, an adult miltank?” a dark-skinned girl with short hair asks.

“Yeah, he’s pretty big?”

“He?” one of the boys snorts. Big guy. More around the waist than the arms. Hard to pin down his race at a glance. Tanned haole? Light kanaka? South Asian? Something else? “You know miltank are—”

“Freemartin,” you interrupt him. “Intersex. He identifies as male.” You raise yourself up a little bit on your toes and glare down at him. When you’re in a new place you establish that no one fucks with you and gets away with it. Machoke already took that away but you can try to salvage things a little.

He throws up his hands. “Jeez. Alright. I get it.”

You glare at him a second longer before turning back to the dark-skinned girl. She huffs and crosses her arms. “You know how hard it is to smuggle bales of hay into this place? You can’t just go outside and let him graze without drawing suspicion. And the drifblim? Are they going to have to wander? Because we can’t—?

“Easy, Hatterene,” Machoke interrupts. “We can deal with that after introductions are over.”

Hatterene, huh? You don’t know much about them. Still a hell of a lot more dignified than jigglypuff.

Machoke turns towards you. “She was trying to hide herself behind a cap like it wasn’t sus as hell. Then she just kept worrying about everything. Hatterene.”

Oh. It isn’t just you.

“Over a year ago,” Hatterene huffs. “You promised I could pick a different name.”

“And then no one was able to keep it straight, ‘rene.”

“Gumshoos can.”

Machoke laughs and walks over to the one obviously haole guy in the room to clap him on the back. “Yeah, yeah, we love our token straight.” He glances back at you. “Wait, are you?”

“Yes, but I’m trans. It’s different.”

You grew up thinking you were a lesbian. Even if you aren’t gay anymore you don’t really want to move past that part. It’s… ugh. This would be so much easier if you were bi.

The girl with scarring snickers. You can see that she’s missing a few teeth.

“Join the club. I’m Golbat, by the way.”

Oof. Is that a joke about her glasses or her teeth?

(And is it terrible that you’ll remember the shitty nicknames for her and Gumshoos better because they kinda fit? Is that the real point?)

The bird keeper is Simisear, ‘cause her murkrow shit on the floor while she was introducing herself and the monkey’s hair apparently looks like the poop emoji. You wouldn’t know. Never seen one.

The fat boy who laughed at a male miltank is cranidos ‘cause he kept charging in instead of using his head.

The last girl, an Asian who only whispered her name and said nothing else, was named loudred. You can guess where that came from. She apparently has a houndoom, scyther, and froslass. Scary team. She’d probably get along with Cuicatl.

You ignore the pang in your heart at the thought. No. You aren’t going to think about the maybe-sister you betrayed to get here.

Even with the nicknames you probably aren’t going to remember more than three of their names for at least a week. You’ve always been bad with them. One time when you were in Heahea for a whole year at the same school you realized on the final you didn’t know the name of the math teacher after however many months.

After the introductions are done the team gets lost in their own banter while you awkwardly stand around. The bird keeper, Simi… pour?, eventually calls you out to put your stuff away in the bedroom upstairs and on the left before helping her make dinner. The bedroom is full. Very full. Possessions pour out of the bunks and are tossed randomly around the floor with only a small footpath between the door and the beds. Way messier than you would like. Would it be rude to clean it up later? Would they like it? There are two twin bunks and only the bottom of one is empty. Of people, anyway. There’s still a bunch of stuff on it. You shove it off and put your backpack down on it.

This is home, then. It seems like they’ve been here for a while and they expect to be here a while more. You stare at the mess and take a deep breath. You aren’t sure what you were expecting. A mission right off the bat? Things to be… cooler? Turns out there are codenames and small cells and all of that but it just makes things lamer, somehow. An underground city full of grunts, or an occupied mansion, or… something more than a middle-class home left to rot, filled with teens with ridiculous nicknames and no organizational skills.

You don’t regret your choices. At all. You were just expecting something more.

*​

Golbat ends up throwing spices on and baking a block of meat that’s way too cubic to be natural. Most lab meat at least pretends like it could be real. Skull must be going with the discount stuff. Weird they couldn’t just rob something better. Not that it really makes a different. You’re left cutting vegetables for the salad while she works. That was your job on the trail, too. Cuicatl would have you cut them up at the Pokémon Centers so you didn’t have to bother with a knife and board in the middle of nowhere. And she couldn’t really be trusted with the knife, even if she insisted she could. The little nicks all over her hands showed that much. There were even a few smaller ones across her arms and legs if you stared. Probably just from tripping or something. Or maybe her dad. You’ll probably never know now.

No. Don’t dwell on it. You’re moving forward.

“There a way to get hormones here?”

“Yeah. Ask ‘rene. She takes care of supplies.”

“Got it.”

Golbat’s voice is kind of deep but you didn’t automatically flag her. Probably should have from the choker but you don’t like to judge. She’s about your height, maybe half an inch taller. Probably got on hormones kind of early.

“What’s your story?” you ask.

“You’re the rookie. Shouldn’t you go first?”

“Uh.”

She rolls her eyes and walks away to get out forks and knives to put on the table. The dining table’s just a few folding tables pushed together. The kitchen’s clean, though. Apparently, it’s the only place they bother to tidy up.

“Lemme guess: got stuck on Nanu, decided to join up while you were here?”

“I didn’t even fight him.”

“Acerola, then? I saw you have a bunch of normal-types.”

“She retired.”

That gets her to pause and turn around. “Huh, did she?”

“Yeah.”

She blinks in surprise. “Huh. Good for her. Always seemed like a nice kid. Tried to mother everyone at Aether even though she was only twelve or something.”

The knife almost slips in your hands. “You were at Aether?”

“Only for a month or two. ‘bout three years ago. They wouldn’t let me on hormones and were being kind of shitty about, well,” she sweeps a hand over her hair. “Skull had just taken over Po Town so I ran away and joined ‘em.”

Three years ago. That would have been when Guzma was still there. Before Plumeria’s changes. Before most people left.

“You’ve been here the whole time?”

“Mmhmm.” She’s setting the silverware down pretty neatly, knives and forks parallel to each other and facing straight away from the table’s edge. You were half expecting her to just throw them on the table and see where they landed. “Everything got a lot quieter when Guzma left and we lost our funding. Cops got a whole lot bolder against us, too. Lots of us still didn’t have a place to go. Like. Were we supposed to just go back to the government, beg for foster care, and then. What? Get a shitty job or three and put it all behind us? Fuck that. Big Sis went around, found those that didn’t want to move on, and started setting up safe houses. Found ways to get what we needed. Got all political once we’d built back enough. Kind of like having a mission. Old Skull was just a bunch of us fucking around all day.”

She walks back and glances through the glass into the oven. Then she blinks and glares at you. “Hey! You tricked me into answering. You were supposed to give your story.”

You still have questions you want to ask her. How she got her scars, what pokémon she has, why she doesn’t seem super invested in the cause itself. Doesn’t seem like you’re getting away with it. Fine. You’ll try to do this as monotone as you can. No need to get emotional and look weak. Just keep making cuts between short sentences. Like it’s nothing.

“Parents died. Brother fucked off to join the military.” Cut. “Bounced between foster homes between ending up at Aether.” Slice. “Left on the island challenge to try and knock Selene off her mountain.” Cut. Cut. Cut. “Figured that wouldn’t change anything, came here to help Alola.”

A hand rests on your shoulder. “Sorry about your parents. It… you’re not the only one here like that. Rest of us don’t have parents worth talking about.”

You put everything into keeping your face level. Damn it. Should’ve put off cutting the onions. “Sorry about yours,” you grumble.

“’s okay. Just got to stick together,” she says. Then she goes back to pouring glasses of water to put at the table. Kind of thought they’d be drinking soda or beer or something. Golbat must catch you looking. “Machoke and Hatterene’s orders. Water’s cheaper, healthier, and easier to get.”

Huh.

*​

There’s conversation throughout dinner. Everyone but you and loudred pitches in, talking about recent missions and team dynamics and inside jokes and a million other things you can’t quite comment on. They aren’t going out of their way to include you. That’s fine. Better than fine. It always feels really awkward when people try to force you in like you’ve always been there.

*​

Teleportation sucks a little bit less when you’re prepared for it.

Key words: a little.

You’re still left dry heaving on the floor while Hatterene walks forward without a care in the world.

“I’ll give you a tour when you get up,” she calls back.

You grimace and pull yourself up to your feet. Turns out you’re in an old barn. The red paint on the walls has faded but everything else has been kept up well. “I have one or two bales of hay on hand. Hope Big Sis comes through with more or we’re going to have some tough discussions.”

“I brought some cash,” you mutter. “I can cover some of it.”

“You’d better.”

She sends out her own pokémon, a chansey and a drowzee, and gets to work organizing a shelf of food. She comes back with the small bag of leftovers she brought and a watmel berry she apparently just had lying around. She throws the lab pidove and the watmel berry on the ground in front of you. “For your rufflet and toucannon. Hay bales are in the stall behind you. Sleeper, the abra, can translate. I’ll be with my own team.”

You’d never expected the group healer to be so rude. Not that you’re much better.

Moment of truth. You send out your pokémon. Moe lazily spins around to take in her surroundings. Then she drifts over towards Hatterene before you call her back for the team meeting. Mahina glances around before stabbing the watmel berry until it shatters to pieces. Then she starts scooping out the inside. Anuenue just goes straight for the hay. Only Ihe seems confused as he glances around before chattering at you in a lower tone than usual. Kapuna and Leilani don’t really react at all. The abra, well, not quite translates. Gets some of the feelings across. Uncertainty. Fear. Loss-friendship?

Oh. He’s probably wondering where he is. Where Coco is. They were always… close.

“Tell you in a minute. Need to talk with everyone.”

Ihe’s mom offered him to Cuicatl first. Will he still respect you without her present? Will she really want to go back to Cuicatl? You could respect that, although the handoff would be more than a little awkward.

She’s probably come back from the desert by now. Listened to your note.

Hopefully she understands where you’re coming from.

Mahina and Ihe finish their food. Anueneu’s still going and could be for a while. You’ll just let him chime in if he has anything to say.

“So, uh, you might notice we’re somewhere new.”

You can hear Hatterene’s snicker from the other side of the barn.

“I left the others to go off on my own.”

Mahina and Leilani don’t react at all. Moe… it’s hard to tell with her. She doesn’t say anything but you think she floats a little lower to the ground. Ihe screeches and spreads his wings. You don’t need the translation of shock-betrayal-loss-anger to get the meaning.

“You’ll see them again. Just might be a while.”

He beats his wings and hisses. Anger-anticipation-grudge-disbelief. Roughly, ‘you’d better not be lying.’

“There will still be fights ahead. Just… different ones. Fighting together rather than one at a time.”

Anueneu grunts. Acceptance-eagerness. He’s in. Ihe just shuffles his wings back into place and glares. No response from Moe or Mahina. Or Leilani, but, again wasn’t really expecting one. Kapuna is unnaturally still. They’re usually at least bobbing up and down a little.

“Moe, Mahina, your thoughts?”

Moe groans. Dust sweeps off the floor and flutters in the air before falling back into place. Anticipation-hunger. “You can feed inside our base. And, uh, I’ll try to read more or watch tv or something to keep you fed. Just please ask me before you go wandering okay?”

She twirls again and the winds whistle. Annoyance-willingness. On board for now, might end up leaving. You can work with that.

Mahina clacks her bill a few times and chirps. Indifference-anticipation. ‘We’ll see.’ You think.

Now you turn to Kapuna. “What about you? I know you wanted to stay to the end of the island challenge, but this is even more different, right?”

By the end of the hour you’ve had to explain gangs, government, revolution, invasion, kings, and betrayal to a rock. They happily absorb it all, seemingly more excited with every word. This is new. They’ll have so many stories to share with their carbink friends when they get back. Stories about the bizarre, illogical world of humans, yes, but still stories.

Leilani says that she doesn’t care as long as she doesn’t have to fight until she evolves.

Ihe might abandon you. You can deal with that. Not the worst case where they all want to leave. You’re hoping none of them do.

If only because you don’t want to face Cuicatl again until all this is over.
 
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Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
  2. custom/dratini-pen
  3. custom/dratini-pen2
Dark 5.8: Call to Adventure

Getting very Joseph Campbell, huh.

Kekoa leaving! A long time coming for sure. It feels necessary to me from a story perspective much like Pixie leaving Cuicatl did. Both Kekoa and Pixie have a strong idea of what they want--now it's time to face the reality.

It's interesting to me that Kekoa snuck off. It makes sense practically, I guess--Skull isn't exactly legal. But it definitely reads mostly as guilt and not wanting to tell Cuicatl to her face that he's yeeting. With all of Kekoa's abandonment issues, he's not comfortable being the one walking away.

As for Team Skull, I really like how anticlimactic it is for Kekoa. This is his big decision to walk on the wild side and all he's seeing are tired misfit kids (though pretty well-organized ones). The initial hazing vibes made sense for an organization that can't have people running off at the first insult. Kekoa has pretty strong cred to be there, at least. I feel like someone else could have had it worse. The nicknames were also a nice way to give us a sense of the different kids.

The main impression I came away with by the end is that Skull is a place most of the recruits are ending up because they don't have anywhere else to be. This is their community, this is their support structure. If Kekoa had joined them at the start of BT, I think he would have felt a lot more comfortable, but he's joining at a point where he's actually begun to realize he has community, he has friends, he might even have family--he has support. He's not coming because he has nothing, but actively choosing to throw away some of the good things in his life. (Including his relationship with his pokemon. That sure was an 'oops' kind of afterthought for him. You'd at least think he could have told them before making the plunge, but it's believable that he'd neglect to--I like that there were immediate consequences for that.) He's sacrificed a fair bit for this, and if Skull doesn't live up to his expectations, that won't be a great feeling.

Kekoa's expectations of super cool bases and secret quests aside, I'm liking what I've seen of the new Team Skull. It seems practical, focused on caring for and protecting the people it does have. Excited to see where this goes.

Skull won’t say they did it. Just that it happened and it was a good thing and maybe it should happen more often.
Classic.

Pictures of a damaged hotel room, a crying child whose vulpix was stolen, and a 911 call about a potentially murderous ninetales on the loose make you hate the man more than you did before. He admits in the call that the ninetales had been getting more unstable. Point is, it looks like he had plenty of warnings, ignored them all, and almost got Cuicatl and her starter killed. You hope this destroys his career so badly you never have to hear anything about him ever again. The Rallying Cry goes through Kukui’s statements on how the old traditions were bad and needed replaced before asking if he really understood the traditions at all after failing to handle one of the sacred pokémon of your people.
Love the spin. Can't wait for Kukui's article in a few months about cancel culture. Maybe he can do speaking tours.

You overheard Genesis being adamant about prophecies being fucky (not her word) and not worth listening to. She could die in bed alone at age 92 with her partner in the bathroom.
Alternatively, she could die with her partner right next to her and still feel emotionally alone.

A time where there hasn’t been a crisis in a while and everyone is stable and happy and you can slide out of their lives like so many people have slid out of yours.

This is going to suck. For them. For you. But you have to do it.

It’s the only way you know how to help.
Aw, Kekoa.

You didn’t really know your parents were going to die in an act of gods, either.
I get what you mean, but this sentence read a bit awkwardly.

You’re getting a little off topic.
Sure are.

Turns out Shirona is one of the only people crazy enough to still live there. Could her team take the Tapu in a fight. Do either of them really want to find out?
Missing question mark?

The gas station is in an abandoned part of the old resort. Some of the buildings are half-built. Others are missing windows. One has a roof seems to have burned. There’s a gas station here with deep cracks in the pavement and a shell of a building that used to be a store.
I think there might have been an editing snafu here. You introduce the gas station twice.

For what feels like a half hour you glare off into the empty road waiting for someone to challenge you.
Mood.

“Yes.” Your ID and Skull phone, some personal items, toiletries, your pokéball and supplies, three changes of clothes, hormones.”
Extra quotes.

Wait fuck how are you going to keep getting hormones? Can Skull just rob a pharmacy? Claim its about drug prices or something? You can’t be the only trans kid mad at the system. Surely Plumeria has a system, right?
Some missing punctuation in the first sentence. The double use of system reads a little strange.

“Before we go, we need to get you a codename?”
I don't think that should be a question mark.

“Cause you’re small, cute, and seem on edge.”

“I am not cute! And I’m still growing.”

“Jigglypuff expand, too. It’s perfect.”

The boy has a shit-eating grin on his face and you really, really want to punch it off.

“You still in?” he asks.
I liked this. Classic hazing and yeah, they don't want anyone who is going to back out over something like that.

And now you have to introduce yourself. Been a long time since you had to walk into a new home and do that.
Since the start of BT . . . so yes, quite a long time!

Anueneu’s just a brute. Goes from one of your strongest options to one of your weakest real fast. Weird thinking of their tactics from a new angle.
Interesting, yeah.

The last girl, an Asian who only whispered her name and said nothing else, was named loudred. You can guess where that came from. She apparently has a houndoom, scyther, and froslass. Scary team. She’d probably get along with Cuicatl.
:eyes:

If only because you don’t want to face Cuicatl again until all this is over.
'All this' being . . . the hanaka's generational struggle to reclaim their country? I somehow don't think that's going to wrap up that quickly. Kekoa's bursts of naivety amidst his air of cynicism continue to bring his character to life.
 
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Persephone

Infinite Screms
Pronouns
her/hers
Partners
  1. mawile
  2. vulpix-alola
It's been a while! I gulped down Arc 4 and I return with thoughts. In short, it was very good and I greatly enjoyed it.
Good to hear! I’ve gotten very little feedback this arc and was constantly panicking that I botched it.
4.2 Aftermath

Rachel! If I remember correctly, she was the first POV we get in BT, but since then, she's been more of a removed fixer. We've at least known enough about her to know that in her own way, she cares about Cuicatl's health and happiness--not enough to not throw her in the path of a rampaging dragon, but generally. It was a treat to return to her POV and get some more insight into what's motivating her.
She was originally going to have a much bigger presence in the fic, thus why it started with her. That didn’t end up happening. But I am glad I got to at least do one of the planned PoV chapters for her.
I was very interested in the flashback for what it told us about psychics. The idea that psychic powers tend to lead to an overdeveloped sense of empathy and push them to prioritize the needs of others makes a lot of sense and instantly puts a new twist on all our psychic characters. Cuicatl's deep abnegation of her own wants in favor of her family's becomes not just an individual personality trait, but also perhaps something that's coming from her psychic ability. If part of developing a stable sense of self for psychics is selfishness, Cuicatl later refusing to lend Kekoa money was a healthy moment for her. Of course, she then tops that by almost killing herself for Gen . . . It also raises questions about conversion therapy psychics as a class. Do they generally have need to buy the koolaid? Or can the empathy be selective--they just care so deeply about the poor families burdened with these messed up children and want to help them.
The principle was being half-honest with Lila. Empathy burnout from a lack of distinct boundaries between the self and others is a real problem in the community. But Lyra’s concerns have some basis in reality. There are psychics in the opposite direction, who come to see themselves and maybe other psychics as the only ones that are real. The principle didn’t want to give the kid a complex by telling them that, though.
I really liked the smattering of news articles, from all different sources. Smart choice to just show a few lines from each, so we can get a sense of the overall picture. The contrast between The Rallying Cry (which Kekoa probably subscribes to) and Hivemind (cough, buzzfeed?) was particularly oof. And then Bullseye media . . . poor Dr Brinner. The very real consequences of what he did to try and help Gen really underscore the power of her family and his courage in the moment. It hits even harder knowing that to some extent it was for nothing, though without his initial advice, Gen probably wouldn't have thought to try calling out mentally at all.
Poor Dr. Brinner indeed. He just discovered why there are so few caring adults willing to help in this story. Most of the ones that are have some form of power to give them resistance to consequences. And even Lila got fired for intervening to stop a felony.
The board meeting was a blast. I loved the stupid dynamics, the plotting to get away from the GC, that definitely doesn't reflect how real-world companies regard their in-house counsels. This is the first time I think we've gotten up close and personal with Chris Foster and he definitely underwhelms, as he should. He comes off a small man with a victini. But hey, he's the boss--until he's not. I loved reading about all their background liability issues--this chapter in particular felt a bit by and for lawyers and I was here for it.
Chris Foster was originally a lot more competent. And then Trump happened and suddenly the old cartoonish behavior became tame. So then I amped him up / down. And then the richest man in the world fired his lawyers and ran a company straight into the ground in public view.
Rachel v Lila was such a fun, tense dynamic. It makes a really nice contrast to the board meeting, where everyone kind of underestimates Rachel and doesn't understand what makes her tic. Rachel and Lila understand each other very well. The thing about *snack mix* being the secret to cracking psychics was a nice moment. I was just imagining these two high-powered woman staring at each other intently while one shovels down snack mix. Their exchange at the end about empathy brought the chapter full circle. I thought it was really smooth that you introduced so much plot and exposition here while also sneaking in a mini Rachel backstory character arc. She's learned to look out for Number One! I probably shouldn't like her as much as I do.
I mean, same. Again, I was originally going to give her a much bigger spotlight and a full long-term character arc. I just couldn’t justify the narrative space on someone who was essentially just an exposition character.
Loved this bit of worldbuilding. There does just feel like there's something with how intelligent and powerful alakazam are that calls for some kind of balance. I've used their physical frailty in the past, but the idea of extremely strong choice inability also makes for a reason alakazam would partner with humans.
I worked that out when writing The Alola Dex entry for the species. Always nice when I can port something over.
Yeah, his secretary.
She doesn’t mind the mistake.
The characterization for both Chris and Shirona in this line is so effective.
Shirona is That Bitch
4.3 Scars, 4.8 Master of the Moon, 4.14 Hypnotized - The Pixie Arc

Think it makes sense to talk about these three together, since Pixie is off having her own happy and perfect time with her superior and perfect ninetails mom who definitely does not share Pixie's abandonment issues and act terribly because of them.
Can confirm Pixie’s mother is the best.
First, these chapters were just a lot of fun. As always, your Pixie narration is everything, and having a perfect ninetales Mom to cheerlead just puts it on steroids. And despite all the awfulness that is Kalani, I was glad Pixie got her ice cuddles and snow.
Pixie really did need that. Is why Kalani is best mom.
I wondered last arc where the Pixie and Kalani thing was headed--nowhere good, obviously, but I wasn't sure what flavor of not good. Ultimately, I think the Kalani and Pixie story is about intergenerational trauma and whether you pass on abuse or renounce it. Kalani was also a reject from the mountain. And even though she's massively powerful now and in theory can do what she wants, it's obvious in every move she makes that the rejection defines her, as it has been defining Pixie. Adopting Pixie is her way to live out a fantasy where she's not alone and rejected. She's a mom now and she can raise a vulpix who's better than any other. That comes through in her training regime for Pixie, which is not geared towards Pixie's health and happiness. She's pushing her when she's already hurt and demonstrating attacks by using them on her. It works but it's rough to read. Pix is so ready to suffer for this.
It is the best parenting style tho? I assume it’s tough to read because it highlights your own inadequacies.
Kalani vs Sina really brought this all into focus. Kalani and Sina are set up as equal in power, and in some ways they have very similar positions as trainer pokemon, but they've taken very different paths. But Sina's said screw it the mountain mindset. She's mated with a glaceon, she's got her "half-breed" children. And there's conspicuously four of them. I get the sense she's not planning to cull the number anytime soon, either. Of course Kalani and Sina can't stand each other's guts. Kalani seems to maintain her self esteem in a similar way Pixie has tried to--the mountain view is right, but it was wrong about me, and I'm the best. Rejecting all of it also rejects the grounding for Kalani's identity and that this is how it is. I like how it's clear that Kalani gets to Sina too. Even if she's made her choices, she'll probably never feel entirely free in them.
Bingo. Eggshell unlearned some of her conditioning but she’s still a ninetales. She has some dignity.
The other thing big thread in this arc was the curse. It's pretty clear from the outset that Pixie does not want Cuicatl cursed. She likes that Kalani is willing to do it for her, but she doesn't actually want Cuicatl hurt. It was painfully amusing watching her twist and weave to find excuses for why different curses wouldn't work--and a big oof in the fact that the reasoning boils down to Cuicatl basically already having cursed herself. It shows how much of Cuicatl's destructive behavior Pixie has picked up on, even if it doesn't really make sense to her.
It made writing Cuicatl’s defiance in 5.7 fun. Pixie wasn’t that off base.
I wasn't sure how powerful the curse thing was, so Kalani cursing Selene made for a nice demonstration. The answer seems to be, quite powerful, but not legendary league. Selene brushes the curse off as no biggie, but it does kind of leave open the question, since Selene has a lot of psychic firepower on hand. Ultimately, Kalani's abilities are deeply scary, especially since she has no compunctions.
Ninetales were once regarded by the people of Alola as gods in their own right. There was a reason for this. It wasn’t their beauty.
Oh, I guess I haven't quite said this yet--Kalani is so impressively horrible. Pretty much with every action, she manages to do the most horrible version of it. Basically trying to kill Sina's kits stands out at the top, but her more lowkey malic was great flavor too. It's interesting seeing where Pixie will and won't be complicit. Bed-freezing is a fun prank, but cursing Cuicatl or going against the Moon herself? Not happening. I had wondered whether Pixie's reverence for the moon would wain because of her association with Selene, but it didn't. Part of Pixie's mountain view is that reverence--that is something Kalani seems to have discarded.
Kalani fought Nebby in battle and held her own. Took a lot of the majesty away for her.
Zooming out for a second, I really like the big picture choice you've made to separate Pixie and Cuicatl at this point in their stories. When they met, way back, the premise of their arc seemed to be about two people with these major internalized family traumas learning to help each other. And they did, partly, but they're each coming in with such a deeply-fixed, personal mindset, that there was only so much their conversations could bridge. Cuicatl couldn't convince Pixie she was worthy, and Pixie's worldview couldn't understand Cuicatl's guilt. Separated, it seems that they're finally being put in positions where they are starting to be able to face these issues. Cuicatl needs humans to help her understand the framework of her family's abuse--ice foxes don't really have a human sense of 'fat'. And Pixie needs a ninetails to work through her ninetails specific trauma. I like that Pixie and Cuicatl's relationship hasn't been for nothing. Cuicatl only was able to mention these things at first to Pixi--that was the first step. And Cuicatl suggested to Pixie a kindness and framework for love not being a scarce resource or contingent that is there now, dormant, but as alternative to the mountain view. I think there's a deep realism in two broken people not being able to fix each other, because their backgrounds and traumas are so different, but still planting the seeds. It's narratively inevitable that they come back together, but I definitely think the story is much richer for this time they're spending apart.
Some readers were surprised when I did it. I agree that it was pretty much the only way to change the story’s paradigm. And I liked Kalani as a villain in Guidance so much I had to bring her back with an expanded role.
Pixie's arc doesn't wrap up neatly in this part, but I was satisfied with how we explored her and Kalani's characters and set up for what seems like an inevitable break. Pix has already defied Kalani a few too many times. And Kalani seems like the kind of person who's about to do something really stupid. Kalani feels like what Pixie will become if she doesn't figure some things out first. And Kalani, well. She may be "perfect" but she's not happy.
Kalani would never do something really stupid! Good decisions only in this story!
I can't quote every time this happens because it would be the whole chapter, but I was continually dying at Kalani saying stuff like this and Pixie's inner narration repeating it worshipfully.
It was fun for me to write, too.
Counterpoint--Kalani is a vindictive asshole.
Okay but in ninetales mythology the moon basically cursed the ninetales to stay on one mountain because she liked looking at them so.
I need your power match-ups for Kalani vs different supreme court justices.
Somewhere between Kagan and Alito. I refuse to elaborate.
Ooof. Though. The sad thing is that by coming back, that still puts her miles above Pixie's actual mom.
Kalani is trying to be better than her parents! Not much better, but she’s trying!
Welp. Kalani reading straight from the abusive parent book.
It was also meant to be a dark echo with what’s going on with Gen at this point. I think her father expresses pretty much the same sentiment three chapters earlier.
PERSEPHONE. WHERE IS THE CONTENT WARNING ON THIS CHAPTER FOR NINETALES EEVEE MATING. DISGUSTING. NOT COOL.
I WILL ADD IT IN EDITS, PROMISE
Amazing. This moment was so vivid and the timing is perfect.
HOW DARE THE HUMANS INTERRUPT SCREMS?!?!?!
Moving on, then, to 4.5 Skitter!

Your pokemon POV chapters are always charming and this was no exception. Wimpod fren made an interesting contrast to the previous pokemon POVs. Pixie, Coco, and Noci are all pretty aggressive. So it was interesting to see a pokemon who picks 'flee' over 'initiate ramming.' I loved Leo's analysis of 'the Coco' and how it tries to understand individuality vs categories.
Look, not all of her Pokémon can be predators—as babies, anyway.
Leo has a pretty simple arc compared to the rest of the cast, but it was satisfying to watch him come out of his shell.
He did not leave his shell. He simply acquired a bigger shell to live in.
4.6 Trial By Fire, 4.9 New Leaf, 4.11 The Prodigal Brother, 4.13 A Young Man's Stand - the Kekoa arc

Kekoa's story felt like it took a bit of a backseat in this arc. I was mostly okay with that. A lot of big stuff happened in Arc 3 that challenged his worldview in big ways, and it's clear he's still digesting the fall-out.
I do think I took it a bit too slowly in hindsight. I just thought the arc was already a bit busy and needed his chapters more to advance island challenge things.
Trial By Fire was very wholesome. I liked your Kiawe a lot--he's such a cool character, and you gave him his due. I loved the idea that he chose his trial in order to make people pay attention to traditional marowak dancing. Taking the fact of tourism and all the attention on trainers to preserve native culture. It's so far from the Kekoa way of doing things, but I was impressed to see him recognizing it a bit. Kiawe is also a great way to explore how far Kekoa has come by returning him to his old haunts. Kiawe's here as the Masculine Ideal (TM), he's the local hero, and he claps Kekoa on the back and gives him validation. It's small, but if felt so big, and I was so happy he got to have that moment.
Kiawe is pretty great. He could’ve probably had his own interlude. I might even replace Kanoa’s with one from him if I ever do extensive Arc 4 edits.
The trial itself was also very wholesome. I liked the break when mom marowak decided her kid had had enough and set him outside the barrier and Kiawe calling it when the totem was tired. I enjoy trials that feel different from a standard, fight to the very last breath gym battles, that give the Alola system a more distinct feeling.
The problem with fighting a totem to a knockout is it doesn’t leave a lot of room between a first and eighth trial. Kiawe called it when Kekoa had done about a fifth trial’s worth of work.
I liked the Cuicatl and Kekoa money conversation a lot in this chapter, though I think I'll save most of that for Cuicatl's section. Though, unless I'm mistaken, this is the first time that Kekoa's learning why Cuicatl's doing all this with any detail, right? I was surprised we didn't get more from his internal narration afterward, digesting this. It seemed like he didn't even think about it.
He’d sort of put some of it together, but this is the first time getting almost all of it. I agree. I probably should’ve had another scene.
Kekoa's break from Vstar feels like it fits by this point, though I like that it's followed by him instantly realizing it's not as easy as all that. Still, these chapters are also underscoring a big difference between Kekoa and Cuicatl--Kekoa has a community and family that's ready to welcome him back. Kanoa, Jabari, even Kiawe as showing that his passing acquaintances think of him fondly. He has connection, even if he doesn't have a lot of hard cash. Vstar is not his only option in the world.
Kekoa refuses to admit he has a community though. Clashes with the loner mold he’s cast himself in.
Speaking of, onto Kekoa and his brother. First, I'm stupid because I did not realize until 4.6, reading with the boardroom scene fresh in my mind, that Kekoa's Jabari was that Jabari. Now I get why he had the random Coco egg. But that makes Kekoa a whole lot more connected to VStar than I previously understood! He thinks a lot about his brother selling out, but it's weird that they're working for the same company at this point. Isn't Jabari sort of just doing what Kekoa's doing on steroids? Obviously by this point he's getting ready to make a break with Vstar but I was surprised that hadn't been more of a thing before. And the fact that he's realizing that it's hard to get money without Vstar--so let me get help from my Vstar brother--it's Vstar all the way down, isn't it.
It wouldn’t be Kekoa if he really wondered about what he was doing, though.
Also, wow, this is another reason why Plumera's probably keeping tabs on him. He's a potential hostage against Vstar's head trainer, isn't he? Hm, the plot truly thickens.
Kekoa sees himself as the hostage-taker when he’s actually the hostage. Plumeria had a third reason for taking an interest in him, though. We’ll get to that later.
I loved how extra Jabari's arrival was and the pleasure Kekoa gets from him sweating in his inappropriate clothes. Jabari comes across as earnest and trying his best to reforge this connection. Partly it's having had the benefit of Rachel's perspective on him--her diagnosis of stupid, but well-meaning--but I was rooting for him. It was nice to hear his story and what's brought him from there to here. Also, Envy was amazing, she is the best, I love her.
I wanted to write Cuicatl with a gengar before deciding it wouldn’t really work in the narrative. Envy is more or less the end point of that abandoned arc.
This resonated really strongly, coming sandwiched between chapters where Pixie is debating what kind of curse Cuicatl should have. Kekoa and Pixie both have that directionless anger that comes from being abandoned and are struggling through what it means to live a life that's not dictated primarily by spite. It was good to have Kekoa face this (even if Cuicatl is a classic 'do as I say not as I do'--she's constantly punishing herself.)
Cuicatl isn’t really angry, though. Mostly she’s just sad. If anything she’s not angry enough at the people who have hurt her.
Next, 4.11 The Prodigal Brother. I'm including the Kanoa chapter here because that one felt like it was basically a Kekoa chapter by a different POV. This was the only chapter in Arc 4 that felt a bit unnecessary to me. There's not too much going on personally in Kanoa's POV, and we don't have much built-in character investment on her. As a lens on Kekoa--it's mostly her watching him complete a trial that doesn't have much drama to it. Like, she's watching Kekoa play hide and go seek. I feel like we've reached the point where we don't need to see every trial--unless something important happens at it, or it's really intense, I wouldn't blink an eye at a few sentences telling me that Kekoa passed Mallow's trial. I guess the evolution happens, but that didn't feel like enough to justify it all.
I cut the hide and go seek part and trimmed a bit, but yeah. I see where you’re coming from but we can’t skip battles, Pen! That’s the road to anarchy!
At times like this, it almost felt like you were lampshading how routine and not very exciting this is. But while Mallow's a trial captain and has to show up, as an author you don't have that same obligation.
Anarchy, Pen! Anarchy!
The feral stoutland sequence was interesting worldbuilding, but it felt a bit random in the chapter.
It felt like there wasn’t enough pointing out that The Blackout was a thing with real, lasting consequences for Alola’ ecosystem.
I enjoyed the final scene quite a bit, simply for showing what seemed to be Kekoa, Cuicatl and Lyra implementing a defensive strategy to protect Kekoa from Kanoa's family. It shows how much that trip has banded together and it was really sweet. It did kind of underscore, though, how unnecessary Kanoa felt to it all. She's observing the group dynamics, but not really part of them.
Yeah. Again, I’d probably shift some things around if I did heavier edits. Give Kiawe a fire trial POV and more interactions with Kekoa, the wider world. Have Kekoa be the grass trial / Kansa’s home POV.
I guess, even though things happen in this that are probably spreadsheet required--Mallow trial, trumbeak evolves, Kekoa gets miltank--it didn't really come together for me as a chapter, and I felt like a lot of the trial stuff could have been skipped.
Anarchy!
Lastly, 4.13. … I wasn't sure why this is called "A Young Man's Stand."
Let me tell you about Homestuck.
Eyy. I get the warm and fuzzies here every time.
Of course you get the warm and fuzzies. Kiawe is a fire captain. It would be weird if he gave you the cold and fuzzies.

I didn't follow the logic here--did you mean "weaker" instead of "stronger"?
Yes.
I didn't understand this.
Moe is distracted attacking Marowak, gets hit by Cubone.
Ooh, is this Counter?
Technically an application of shadow bone but the four move limit is actually worthless.
Typos? Pronouns keep switching.
Typos? Typos.
Everything. I really like how Cuicatl's thoughts are moving on their own track that we understand, even if Kekoa doesn't.
I dislike the miscommunication as a plot source trope. I also dislike conversations where both parties fully understand the other. Multi-POV let’s me have some fun with that.
Maybe that's the only way she can.
Kekoa doing the polite thing without realizing it? It’s more likely than you think.
Kekoa's calculations here cracked me up.
Selene’s job is still very important! Must consider everything.
I didn't understand this sentence.
Hiding spots. Fixed / clarified in the edits.
Ibuki! That's my girl!!
Kind of weird how she’s a gyarados in your setting instead of a human.
Lmao, Kekoa.
Kekoa is so observant. Surely he would’ve caught it.
Always here for the Daigo-san shade.
Reject Modernity Steven, Embrace Tradition Lance.
Now for Lyra. 4.7 Night Shift is her only POV, and a lot of that ends up focused on Cuicatl. That made sense to me, though, because Lyra's a bit in holding pattern until the Genesis news breaks. In the meantime, I liked all the places her social savvyness moved things forward or smoothed over edges. The Cuicatl fat conversation is a big one, obviously. I really liked that Lyra didn't take it when Cuicatl started venting at her. She just left--which is probably the best thing she could have done in that context. She beats herself up a bit for how she handled that conversation but I honestly think she handled it pretty damn well. Lyra's focus on psychic boundaries is matched by a pretty good understanding of personal boundaries too. I continue to like her contributions to the Cuicatl/Kekoa dynamic.
Lyra is delightful because I get to write one (1) teenager who is socially savvy. She reminds me a lot of a younger Rachel when she’d picked up some confidence but hadn’t yet lost all of her empathy. I don’t think Lyra would like that comparison.
Going forward, I am . . . deeply worried that Lyra was so committed to catching a lesbian pheromone lizard. She's really focused on getting Gen back, in all senses, and now that Gen is imprinting on Cuicatl, I feel like this is going to turn very nasty. I like Lyra a lot, but she has a vicious quality to her, and in her own way, very few compunctions. I get the sense that a lot of her fear of psychics involves projection. If she had that power, she would go ahead and rewrite people's memories for her convenience, so of course other people would do it to her. And of course Cuicatl would do it for Gen. I hope the trust and friendship that we've seen build between Lyra and Cuicatl in these chapters is enough, but I'm afraid it won't be. Ugh, I get a very strong slow-motion trainwreck sense from all this.
It didn’t happen because Shirona was there as the bigger threat. In the future? Maybe she’ll grow as a person on her own. Or maybe she’ll just give into the madness and follow Rachel’s path. We’ll see!
Of course.
Is Cuicatl engaging in harmful cultural appropriation though? I don’t think the readers are nearly concerned enough about this.
The trail's about the only thing that's straight around here!
Hey Cuicatl doesn’t know she’s bi yet.
Form an answer to what? She hasn't been asked anything.
My bad. I think I fixed this in the edits.
!! Cuicatl asked for more food!
Sometimes its fun to let characters progress.
Yeah I don’t know how that happened, either.
Just Cuicatl things.
Yup! And Lyra’s question will kind of get answered down the road.
Interesting that a lot of the Cuicatl arc takes place in other POV chapters! It makes sense, because a big part of her arc is unpacking a difference between her self-perception and how she's perceived by others. Her eating disorder has been an icky background to the story for a long time, so it was lovely to see Lyra step in and address it in a way that's actually convincing--having Cuicatl compare their bodies with a sense that she trusts. It's a small thing, but the fall-out is pretty big. This is the first time we've seen Cuicatl start to question her image of her sainted brother (who is oddly indistinct as a character, even now. Perhaps because Cuicatl hates dwelling on him.)
The story has also dropped a few other hints that maybe they weren’t as close as Cuicatl likes to believe. She notably misses him as a concept far more than she misses any specific thing about him. There’s a reason for that.
Obviously the therapy chapter was big. I appreciated the author's note about it not being a realistic depiction of therapy, but as a dramatic representation goes, it read really well and it fit where Cuicatl is in the story. For her to even show up to this, a lot of barriers have been broken.
I didn’t want to write ten sessions of Cuicatl letting her guard down before they reached a level of trust where even one of those revelations could happen. Best to skip to the fun parts.
Then we've got the quest to regain her pokemon. First there's the major hope spot of her making a significant amount of money. But even that's not enough and they still don't know where they are. I liked the scene where she flatly refuses to give Kekoa anything. Cuicatl's very easy going right up until you hit one of her core areas and then she's not. Then, in 4.12, there's the suggestion from Plumeria that VStar's not really going to find her pokemon for her. Cuicatl's starting to face a lot of things in this arc, but the idea she couldn't actually get her mom's pokemon back, get back the only real family she has, is too far. If she accepts that, what would be left?
That would be the last piece of her past gone. She’d have to accept what she has in the present and future. Maybe she’ll reach a point where that is enough for her.

I do like the contrasts, though. Cuicatl is dragged down by her past and wants to reclaim it, Kekoa is far more concerned with future good, Genesis just kind of vibes in the moment.
One thing I didn't get in the Plumeria conversation is what exactly Cuicatl takes a threat by Plumeria. What, that they've someone gotten to her pokemon first and would hold them hostage? That doesn't make sense for one second. First, that they'd have the resources, second that if they had a way to get them, they wouldn't just give them to her for her loyalty. So I really didn't get what this threat was, but it seems to be a big deal to Cuicatl because she brings it up to Kekoa later. I wasn't entirely sure what Plumeria hoped to get out of this--sound out Cuicatl to join the revolution or at least see if she can wean her off of Vstar? It's clear post 4.1 and 4.2 that Cuicatl is a big asset for them.
I dropped this miscommunication in the edited version on Sufficient Velocity.
The parallel between Cuicatl and Gen in this arc is striking. Both of them starting to realize that maybe their family never had their best interests at heart.
But only one of their families is still in a position to harm them.
I liked this conversation. Again, invaluable that it's Lyra saying this, when she's all My Mind Is My Own.
Yeah. She was really useful for facilitating that potential plot thread. I doubt Cuicatl would consider antidepressants as a serious possibility had Lyra not stepped in.
Path gifts! Love that term for it. Also, where was my content warning for Cuicatl nearly getting an eevee.
I really thought about her getting an espeon. The other split-tailed fox and someone for Pixie to deal with once she returned.
I didn't get this alarm thing at all. Why would Plumeria have an alarm going off and why would it be so recognizable?
Pay no attention to the gun on the wall.
Ooh, sneaky, sneaky Plumeria. No wonder Kekoa was a hormone-addled mess every time they talked. I like all these hints we get at Plumeria's competence at doing what she does.
Plumeria always struck me as the competent leader in Team Skull while Guzma was the charismatic one. But charisma can be artificially replicated with the right perfumes.
Missing space. Also, what a line.
Cuicatl casually blowing people’s minds before going back to negative self talk will never stop being funny for me.
Weird to see strongest, smartest, prettiest before anything but fox.
Is Shirona honorary fox???
Oof. Not wrong!
The worst part of Cuicatl’s depression is that sometimes she says something correct about herself mixed in with the lies.
Interesting how she's switching into telepathic speech without realizing.
Sometimes in particularly difficult moments in therapy I have to write instead of speak. I imagine Cuicatl has a similar thing going on.
A bit on 4.15 Bulwark (Olivia) independent of the Cuicatl aspects. I always enjoy getting another 'responsible adult POV.' It was interesting to see her perspective on the lay of the land and what helpful action looks like, particularly her take on Vstar's scholarship and poaching program being more a symptom than a cause of larger problems with the trial system.
Reasonable adults are limited to one chapter per ten. Don’t expect to see too many of them.
This seemed pretty emblematic of where Olivia is coming from. Her dismissal of Hala was pretty cutting; all in all she gave me a strong sense of competence and detail-orientation. Her love for tyrantrum was very wholesome and it was nice to see her mature attitude about everything in the chapter--don't resent people just because things haven't worked out for you.
Olivia is my second favorite Kahuna in the games. But in this universe she wins and it’s not even close.
I found this battle more interesting than some of the other's. Mainly, I think, because of the fact that Olivia had done her homework too well and kept expecting Pixie. It was fun to see her analyze Cuicatl's strategy in light of that incorrect assumption. The Leo fight at the end, and Cuicatl having no expectations for it, made the evolution a pleasant surprise. I definitely preferred it to a scenario where Cuicatl would have thrown in her wimpod and expected him to win her the battle, and I cheered internally when wimpod fren turned around and came back.
No one would really enter a 4 v 4 with two battling Pokémon, right? And glad to hear the evo landed. I wasn’t sure if it was too cliché.
Not sure how much a fan I am of Cuicatl fainting after all her battles. It's starting to feel a bit repetitive. I guess it clues Olivia in to Cuicatl having problems--not sure how important that is for future developments.
This one had a plot reason to happen but I think I’ll cut it out. And she hasn’t fainted during all of her battles. Just… all of them but Hala. Okay. I can see why this is a bit of a problem.
The Tapu Lele conversation was brutal, with funny moments--she and Olivia make quite the contrast. A real 'the gods won't help' moment, though it's interesting that Olivia refers to her own hands being tied, after. Tapu Lele refused to provide her cover but didn't outright forbid her, it seems. But maybe for Olivia that's the same thing. I don't think she's prepared to risk her position, where she can do a lot of good, over one child.
She’s aware of what happened to Dr. Brinner and has no illusions the American government wouldn’t happily do the same to an indigenous leader.
Finally, all that stuff about needing a new trial captain and "it’s been a while since there was a proper flying trial in Alola" suuuure makes me think that this might be where Kekoa eventually ends up. It's his home island, he has contacts, he's the right age, and he's on track to be a flying-type expert. I noticed you had him gracefully offload another pokemon that doesn't match the typing. So keeping my eye on that.
This… might get cut in edits, which is a shame because that does make a lot of sense. Even if I hadn’t actually considered it until you pointed it out.
I mean. Yes.
It’s the only reason why training is encouraged so much tbh.
Say it louder for the folks in the back, lol. I hadn't even realized you were following a four move limit in this.
Totems and allies are limited to four moves. It’s enforced for all contestants in grand trials.
I enjoyed her laying down the lines here. It's her show--no rules-lawyering.
Not in a way that helps her, anyways.
There's something about that deadpan all caps that gets me every time.
YOU APPRECIATE THE VOICE OF THE GODS?
All right, now for Gen. * deep breath in *
* deep breath out *
I mean. You've been setting up for this for a long time. Didn't stop it from being gut-wrenching.
Thank you!
But it all gets so much worse once her family realizes that yeah, imitating a 50s house-wife doesn't actually make people straight. Rather the opposite, one might think. From there on out, it's just a slow crash into horror, where Genesis could hop off the ride at any moment but she doesn't and she doesn't and she doesn't--and by the time she does, something's been lost. A lot's been lost. I can't say I liked going through it, but as a writing choice, pushing Gen to the very edge, past the point of no return, before she makes her choice, was a powerful one. Gen's faith and trust is such a deep part of her character. It was always going to take a lot to make her resist when her family and her god seemed to be telling her this was right.
I talked about the ending of 4.17 a lot with an IRL friend who I ask for advice when I’m unsure about the story. We went back and forth for nearly an hour before I finally decided that this was the way it needed to happen.
I really loved the sequences in her mind, where the psychic keeps trying to turn her story into something else, and Gen's natural curiosity pushes back. Her problem is that she's stuck in-between--she can't turn off the part of her mind that questions and analyzes, try though she might--and so even though she commits to doing what her family wants, the core of who she is cannot accept half-truths. It's an interesting contrast to all the themes of sweet lies and bitter truths in Cuicatl's chapters. Gen grew up surrounded by lies, but I think her fundamental instincts have always been to seek truth.
She’d be a much better fit for Reshiram than Cuicatl tbh.
On the theme of family, I appreciated Levi trying to stand up for his sister. Bargaining with his birthday at first--such a childish thing to do, so much trust still in his parents--and ultimately, seeking out outside help. Sometimes family does work.
And sometimes it’s not enough.
God, you think for a moment her mom doesn't want her hurt and then no it's just 'you idiot, why are you making the abuse visible?'
LOL.
I like this mini clash between Mom and Mrs. Rivers. Gender roles vs class status.
Helpful on all the wrong things.
I'd been waiting for the other shoe to drop with the psyduck for ages, but it seems like Ollie is just nice? I wasn't really sure what the psyduck arc was meant to be doing.
Uhhhhh spreadsheet? Maybe there was something originally about being hurt by people like her parents and learning to move past it. I think I might still do something like that down the line.
Noooo babies. God.
Levi deserved better.
This exchange was amazing. A welcome breath of humor in all this terribleness.
I had it with people as a repressed egg.
The wait between 4.10 and this one was cruel and unusual.
Not in the State of Texas

I had fun with the contrast. Everyone else living their steadily improving lives while doom hangs above Genesis.
oh fuck you

fuck you intensifies
As a regulator sometimes these exchanges happen after complaints I believe to be trivial. But that’s for people whose neighbors are mad at them about campfires, not for alleged child abuse.
Gregori, for being an amoral psychic mind fucker, was oddly endearing. Also, the last question is so, so gross.
It’s been requested often enough he needs to ask.
Ironically, he ends up helping her accept her sexuality here. Because Gen cares about truth.
More about truth than her own well being sometimes.
Oh no. No, no, no. And the weirdly conversational back and forth they have works so well.
Trainwreck bring out some of my best writing.
Love all the way's Gen's inner monologue picks holes in the narrative.

It makes it all hurt so much worse that she remembers this from the start and chooses not to do it.
The tragedy here is that she did learn her lesson - too late.
Counterpoint: This is fine.
The Rock Arc Overall

I really enjoyed this one. Being able to read it as a whole definitely added to the experience. Because of that, I may be comparing apples to oranges, but I think this may have been my favorite arc so far. You open with that quote about family being the only rock that stays steady, the only institution that works, and while family has always been one of the primary preoccupations of this story, this arc really delivered on the epigraph. We see Genesis' family failing her in real time, as Cuicatl begins to finally face all the ways her own family failed her. And we see Kekoa, who has been convinced that he was irreparably failed by his family, start to seek out that connection again, as he strengthens his connections to his community.
I do, sometimes, put care into the epigraphs.
This a long story, and it's given you some space to stagger arcs. Genesis' comes to a head in this one, a bit as Kekoa's did in the last one. And I suspect Cuicatl and Pixie's might in the next one. Something else that I enjoyed about this arc is that it's becoming more driven by character motivations and the interplay you've set up with the rest of the world. Cuicatl still wants money and Kekoa still wants power, but the journey framework is becoming less and less what propels the story, which creates a richer one. There's a lot I'm looking forward to in arc 5--the Genesis fall-out, what I fear is a inevitable blow-up with Lyra, Pixie and Kalani, Cuicatl's continued untangling of her abuse, Kekoa's search for a new goal, and of course, Plumeria's Plotting.
You get most of that!
There's probably something I forgot to cover in this, but it's a bit of a doorstopper by now. Happy to chat further about anything, and see you in Arc 5!
Yeah, uh. I was going to respond to the other Blitztime reviews here but this has already taken more time than I can justify at the moment.
 
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Reactions: Pen
Dark 5.9

Persephone

Infinite Screms
Pronouns
her/hers
Partners
  1. mawile
  2. vulpix-alola
Dark 5.9: CITIZEN
Cuicatl

June 6, 2020

Dr. Karashina closes the door behind you as you step deeper into the garage. You can’t hear her spiritomb yet. You can still feel his presence. Unnerving, cold, wrong. You don’t feel this way around dark-types. Not even around ghosts. There’s just something uniquely odd here. A feeling you get whenever you think about the spiritomb. You don’t think your mother ever met one, but. It feels familiar in an awful way.

The feelings of the room unravel and spiral around you as the air grows ever colder.

{Ah, if it isn’t the princess. I’ve been waiting for you.}

His voice echoes across your mind like a hundred different thoughts striking at once. It’s more than a little creepy. Should you apologize for keeping him waiting? Will he have even noticed how long it’s been? Kekoa’s carbink didn’t really get human timescales. Spiritomb are former humans but they’re still old.

{I understand your hesitance. Psychics tend to dislike me.}

“It’s not that,” you reassure him. Even though, yeah, it maybe is that. “I just…”

You haven’t been so busy you couldn’t step into the garage. That lie won’t work. The truth is that you’ve been scared. Even Dr. Karashina keeps him locked away. If he’s too much for one of the greatest trainers in the world to handle what chance do you have?

{You need not apologize, child. I understand.}

Okay. Put that behind you. He’s being kind.

“It’s good to finally meet you.”

Something in him flickers and the mindscape around you abruptly spirals around and shifts. What was that? Another spirit taking over?

{No, the pleasure is mine. It has been a long time since I met one of the Unovan royals. Last time would have been… 1927. My keeper took me to Korea. Your great-uncle gave me much to think about.}

And he’s hoping you will be just as… entertaining. Got it.

“I wanted to talk. I was cursed recently—”

{Yes, yes, I can feel it. Death wraps around you like a second skin. No. Deeper. Death permeates your very being, like you’re equally alive and dead. Then the souls of the lost cling to you. Too worn to speak, but protective all the same. The attacker’s corruption is just an oily slick on top of it all.}

Equally alive and dead. That would be your brother. You’re not sure who the other souls would be. Your mother, maybe, but you can’t think of anyone else who would care enough to attach themselves to you.

“I had a twin. Our minds were linked.”

The spiritomb’s mind flutters again. It seems to… lower itself? Draw in? It’s hard to describe. {My condolences. One of us was psychic. He went through something similar. A sibling, not a twin, but similar all the same. We understand how it can hurt.}

Oh. That’s the first time anyone’s been able to say that to you. Even the other psychics don’t seem to get it. And the one person who can empathize is probably a murderer in a ghostly prison of other monsters.

“Thank you.” It comes out in a whisper. You can’t find more energy than that. And you’d really rather not talk about Achi. Not now. Maybe not ever? Not with a spiritomb anyway.

{I’m afraid I can’t offer much advice. He did not cope with his loss in the most constructive manner.}

You don’t end up in a spiritomb for doing good things; you end up in a spiritomb because someone decided even the punishments after death were too good for you. What if you hated the world more than yourself? You almost killed your father in rage. If even that had not been enough…

No. It didn’t happen. No point thinking about the actions you didn’t take.

“What can you tell me about the curse?”

{Not much, I’m afraid. It was made with great effort from a potent caster, but was interrupted before it could be completed. What it does I cannot say. Magic works on almost dreamlike logic. A flaw in the casting could reverse the intended effect, amplify it tenfold, negate the curse, or do something else entirely. Only the original caster could tell, and I’m told she is no longer among the living.}

Nothing helpful. Great.

“She said I would die alone. That’s all she got out. Does that mean the rest of it didn’t count? That the one phrase is all that matters?”

{Perhaps. Perhaps not. The words of the curse matter less than the intent.}

You don’t even know what she did. Fuck.

“Can you undo it? If it didn’t get very far—”

{No. She took great pains to make it irreversible. It is far from the most efficient way to cast. She must have known someone would attempt to undo it and made sure it would be impossible.}

Lunala. Pixie mentioned that Selene offered to have Lunala break the curse (and it’s so, so weird the regional champion knows about you—yes, even though you’re in the room with another champion it’s weird that this region’s has thought about you). Kalani was aiming so that even a god couldn’t undo her work. A spiritomb wouldn’t stand much of a chance.

“Thank you for your help.”

{You need not thank me. I could do very little to assist. Now, if you would not mind, I have a question for you.}

You aren’t sure you like where this is going but it can’t hurt to be polite to the murderous ghost. “Go ahead.”

{You will be setting out into the desert to find a golett, yes?}

“Yes?” Not sure where he’s going with this. You know they’re maybe sort of related. No one seemed sure from the reading you did. There’s not very much on either species.

{You plan on taking one from their home and selling them without any knowledge on where they will end up. Tell me, what gives you a right to do this?}

Great. Another moralizer. Just what you needed. Well, you can at least be honest.

“I don’t know if I have a right. I’m going to do it anyway.”

He laughs at that. Laughter in a hundred different voices, from a hacking old man to the whimsical laughter of a young girl. {You are quite different from your family we’ve met in the past. They would have talked us to a second grave about justice and rights. You—you really don’t care?}

“Not when it comes to my family.

{How… interesting. Yes. You’re one we’ll remember in the centuries to come. Tell me, may I come with you to the desert? I know a little about bound souls. I can help you find another. In exchange I wish to observe how you approach the situation. It promises to be fascinating.}

Genesis has said she wants to go with you. This wouldn’t be the biggest risk you’ve ever taken. If this goes badly and you die, whatever. Her, though, she doesn’t deserve it. Dr. Karshina must pick up on your thoughts.

“I think that’s a reasonable request.”

Well. As long as she’s along to contain him.

“That should be fine.”

{Excellent. I look forward to our adventure.}

*​

June 12, 2020

Kekoa just had to blow up at you last night. You’d told him before that you didn’t care how he got his money as long as he wasn’t taking yours. Now he thinks he can argue you out of saving your family. Maybe he had a point or two. Maybe. He’d tried to say VStar would’ve killed the paras you sent them rather than just taking one mushroom. You looked it up. Can’t find any proof they did. It would be pointless. Wasteful. They wouldn’t.

…you almost texted Miss Bell to ask if they did. But you didn’t. Because asking a dumb question would waste her time.

You were already dreading today as it was. Every time you think about the desert cold fear grabs your heart and won’t let go. You don’t know why. You barely went to the deserts in the north of Anahuac and never had a bad time there. Father took you, once, to visit the border. You aren’t sure what he was expecting you to get out of it. That the Americans hate the Nahua just as much as the Nahua hate the Americans? You’d already figured that out. No one wanted you there on either side of the fence.

Lyra tries to keep you away from the websites that talk about trainers. She’s right. Every time you decided to read something there you regretted it.

You’re aren’t sure how to feel about Lyra being back. She’s nice to you, but only to a point. You get that. Everyone who has ever loved you did so within certain lines. They would keep loving you until you crossed them, then they would stop. You’re sure Achi had his in the parts of his mind he kept private. You didn’t for him, he could have killed you and you wouldn’t really mind, but he was always easier to love.

Still. Why the fear for deserts? Is it about the dreams you’ve been having? You can barely remember them. You aren’t really afraid of the dreams. Or sleep. They’re just confusing and you wake up with bad feelings, unable to remember why.

Something from your mother? You know she got Searah in the desert. She’d set out for a darumaka or sigilyph. Made sure to stay on the concrete paths after the nurse warned her about the sand. In the end she found an injured heatmor and brought her back to the Center.

Searah had a trainer. No one had seen her in three weeks.

Mother was allowed to travel with the heatmor after another week had passed. She officially owned her after her trainer was pronounced dead a year later. They never did find the body.

Deserts were always something to be cautious about. But she had lots of places and things to be cautious about. Bears, poisonous plants, the cold, deep waters. You’ve never feared any of them, just known to be careful. Well, you feared the pangoro, but those were dark bears. That’s different.

It probably is your mother’s memories. Probably. That’s what has you on edge. Or maybe it’s the curse. You still don’t know what it does. Dying alone, probably. Maybe.

This isn’t helping. You can at least make yourself useful.

Pixie whines softly as you approach. Poor thing. You kneel down to her and hold out a hand. She sniffs it before rubbing her cheek against the side. “Ready for your stretches?”

She barks. Yes. You help her pull out her legs and tails as far as they can go before they hurt, holding it for a moment before releasing. It’s supposed to help her retain movement. She doesn’t like it. She likes the idea of not being able to run even less.

“You’re fighting soon?” she asks.

“Another week.”

Does she want to? After the last grand trial battle with her you’d be really worried. The nurse said it might be fine, that she’s healing really well from the early potions and heal pulse. But. You’d be afraid every second she was out.

“I will fight.” She sounds confident. Telling, not asking. You don’t have the heart to tell her that the nurse shut that down. Probably forever.

“I would love you even if you didn’t. And you don’t have to. I think Coco, Leo, and Noci can take care of it.” Truth be told you probably wouldn’t even need Noci. Coco’s been practicing her close combat for at least an hour a day with Genkei and Kagetora. Leo has been joining in, too, and she also has bug moves and tough armor. Noci can take physical hits all day long but dark energy can go through her metal. She could maybe still deal with one of Nanu’s pokémon who can only hit up close? You’re hoping she can at least weaken one of those for her allies. That should put you in a good spot. You beat three of Olivia’s pokémon with two of yours.

You should also call Olivia at some point. Tell her how Coco’s doing. She was very kind to give you the everstone. You need to do something back.

“Want to fight,” Pixie says.

“Aren’t you worried you’ll get hurt?”

She growls. Touchy subject? Too bad. It needed to be said.

“I’m strong,” she hisses.

“I’d love you even if you weren’t.”

That just earns a quiet harrumph before she goes back to her stretches. Fine. You’ll figure something out. Some way to tell her. Or not. You could just save her for the end and then hopefully win before that comes to pass. But then things would get really awkward if you did lose. You love Pixie dearly. But Kalani was her last battle.

Shirona had chewed you out for that fight. Said that you should have sent out Coco and Leo, even if they probably couldn’t win. It would have bought time. And if Kalani had won, she might have broken their pokéballs and killed them anyway just to hurt you. And beyond that…

“Sometimes people are willing to fight for you. You do understand that, right?”

No.

You don’t know why they would. Not when their own safety is on the line. You can’t protect them when it counts. Why would they stand up for you?

“I’d fight for you,” she finally said.

It felt good to hear it. You’re glad she said it. But it’s different. She would win. That’s what she does. Other people, the ones who might get hurt? No.

Well. Pixie did. But that was personal for her. Leo and Coco had never even met Kalani.

Pixie whines when you pull one of her legs a little too hard. Oh. Right. She’s here. Ugh, why are you getting so distracted today? It feels worse than usual. Like you’re slipping in and out of memories at a moment’s notice.

You lean down and stroke Pixie’s cheek. “See you tonight, okay? We can talk about this then.”

She huffs and you can feel her lower herself back down into bed. You smile despite the dread in your heart. At least Pixie’s back. Things are finally starting to get back on track.

*​

You decide very quickly that you don’t like the desert. Not because you’re afraid of it (although you still are for gods know why). You hate it because the sand keeps dragging you down when you stay still too long. Gen and Lyra apparently having it worse since she’s heavier. But since Gen’s guiding you, which is a very good excuse to be holding onto your girlfriend for most of a day, you have to stop when she stops. Noci’s offered to carry you but it wouldn’t really be fair to the others. Also, she’s hot. Normally. You can’t imagine what it’s like under the desert sunlight. No. She can rest in her ball for now.

At least Coco is enjoying herself. Broad feet help her move over sand to investigate all of the strange, wonderful, new things around her. Kagetora sometimes growls to reel her back in like a mother chaperoning her hatchling. Maybe Kagetora thinks that’s exactly what’s happening.

Dr. Karashina hasn’t complained. Doesn’t seem to be stumbling. You wonder if she’s holding up as well as she sounds. Might be rude to ask. Lyra stumbles but doesn’t complain, either. She’d sounded excited to see this place when you talked yesterday morning. Her absol also isn’t complaining but her breaths are unusually shallow and fast. You’re pretty sure she’s the mountain subspecies rather than the desert one. This probably takes some adjusting for her, even if she’s spent a lot of time at sea level.

“See the pit to the left of us,” Dr. Karashina calls out. You don’t. Gen says she does.

“Trapinch. Don’t fall in that. There are jaws at the bottom.”

Gen shivers beneath your touch. You’re glad she’s here. Being blind isn’t usually that bad. Sometimes, though, it really is.

“How can you tell?” Lyra asks.

“Unnaturally conical. No visible rocks. Just sand.”

“Dragon babies,” Kagetora murmurs. “Strong bites.”

“Stronger than mine?” Coco asks.

“No.”

Coco huffs. To anyone else it would sound prideful but you think she’s almost disappointed. Like there’s not a rival for her teeth. Maybe she wanted to exchange bites. She’s weird like that. In a good way.

Dr. Karashina whistles and Kagetora dives into the sand. When she resurfaces you can smell blood. Probably not hers.

“Dugtrio. Ambush predators. Same as trapinch but without the visible holes. Kagetora will keep watch for them.”

How did she know it was there, then? Did Kagetora gesture to her or something? Is she just that good?

“Is everything in the desert trying to kill us?” your girlfriend asks.

“Yes.” Lyra answers. “There aren’t many herbivores in the valley. The hot sun and shifting sands are too much for most plants, even the desert ones. Gible eat rocks and form the base of the food chain. They’re still dragons. Dangerous prey, especially if their mother is near. Most predators would rather go after the unfortunate pokémon that wander in from the mountains or the coast.”

Kagetora growls out a warning to the desert itself. If it eats her baby it will die. You think her baby is Coco? How would she kill a desert, though?

…actually, if anyone can kill a desert, it’s her. That was a dumb question.

“Oh,” Genesis says. You’d kind of figured all that going in. She probably hadn’t. Just thought this was going to be a fun trip with a picnic or something. You adore her. She still doesn’t get that humans would be at the bottom of the food chain without our tools. Even with them we’re only using borrowed power. Hydreigon, garchomp, even trapinch and dugtrio, they exist outside of and above us. They can do what they want. And if that’s eating humans, then they’ll try. The stronger ones will succeed. They don’t go into the cities because they’re loud and people annoy them away whenever they do. Not because they can’t.

You’re never really safe in life. But… it’s adorable that she thinks she is. Even after everything.

Despite the rough start the trip is actually pretty boring. Dr. Karashina can usually find a hard or at least firm path to walk on. Sometimes there’s only sand. Usually not for long. Kagetora is finding the best way and somehow communicating it to her trainer.

“What signals are you using with your garchomp?” Lyra asks.

“I’m not. I’ve just become good at finding paths in deserts. I took an eight-month sabbatical to Egypt in ’16. Hoping to go to the Navajo lands soon to look into an old temple they’ve unearthed. Nearby pokémon are getting agitated. That’s usually not a good sign.”

Close to Anahuac, too. You really hope she can take care of it.

“Huh. Is that just part of your job?” Lyra asks.

“Not really. If I retired from the League those offers would probably still keep coming. There just aren’t many people capable of both documenting a new archeological site and defeating whatever it was build to seal away.”

Things start to blend together. Walking. Kagetora kills a dugtrio or growls at a krookodile. More walking. Stop to drink water. Lots of stops to drink water. Dr. Karashina insists that you can get dehydrated out here and not realize it. Not sure how that works. Your home could get hot but it was usually at least a little humid. Lyra asks a question or five and Dr. Karashina does her best to answer. It’s not that you find them uninteresting, just that you aren’t really interested in ecosystems. Just the pokémon that live there. The apex predators, anyway. Kagetora’s already told you plenty about garchomp. Your thoughts drift back to the dread. If this isn’t from you or mom, maybe Achi? You know he went once or twice with the other boys for survival training. The next war with the Americans would begin in the desert. It was important the next generation of soldiers knew how to fight there. He never shared too much. It seemed pretty boring, actually. Tamer than some of the stuff Alice put you through when you were ten. He was obviously keeping the worst from you and you are kind of glad for that. At least he had a weapon for it. A spear, sure, but he thought that made him safe.

It was a big deal when he got the spear. Like it was the most life changing present he’d ever received.

Birthdays were never really a celebration. Father would leave you gifts on the table and then spend most of his day drinking alone in his room or aimlessly wandering the town. Yes, you and your brother were born that day. Yes, he was glad for that.

His wife also died on that day.

He could never be truly happy on it.

You and Achi were left to keep each other company. That was normal, though.

It was your tenth birthday. An important one. When your adult duties were supposed to begin.

There was a spear on the table. Achi twirled it around a few times and you could hear it slicing through the air. He was in stunned silence, unable to fully believe it was real. That he was going to start real training soon. That he was going to become an adult.

You got a particularly big pan. One from Asia that you could cook a lot of things in at once. Father would later call it a wok when he was back down and talking the next day. It was nice. You immediately thought of several ways to use it. Just… it didn’t have the same impact. Most girls were supposed to start learning their duties at your age. You’d started three years ago, taken over full time about a year and a half later. It was nice. Your world just wasn’t expanding in front of you like you could feel your brother going through. You wrapped him in a mental hug, reminding him that whatever changed, you’d still be there. Would’ve hugged him physically but he was holding a sharp object and that sounded like a bad idea.

He got the message and came over without the spear. When you hugged you let your minds really intertwine. Renfield says you’ll have to stop doing that so much as you get older so you can both develop. Maybe, hopefully, he’s wrong. You’re always happiest when you aren’t fully you.

The moment ends and your brother pulls away, physically and mentally.

“I’m heading out for the day. The other kids all want to hang out before the nēmontēmi. You coming?”

The nēmontēmi are the cursed days at the end of the year when spirits freely walk the earth. You don’t go outside. You don’t do anything. You don’t talk if you can help it. Nothing should be done that could catch the spirits’ attention and lead to ruin.

Like cooking.

You’ll need to have enough prepared to feed a growing boy and a grown man for five days. No spices are allowed, either, so cooking things well is extra hard. It will probably take you most of the day. Even if it wouldn’t… your brother’s friends are his friends. You’re glad he overcame the stigma of being half-American. You haven’t. It’s only gotten harder after you were held back and all the kids you know moved on. He knows how to handle people in ways that you couldn’t dream of. And you don’t want to ruin his birthday by stirring up pity-disgust-fear by being there.

“I think I’ll stay back. Tell me how it went?”

You look forward to it. When you look through his memories and blend your minds together you can almost imagine that you did all of that, that people like you. It’s better than going yourself is. This way you can still pretend.

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

He hesitates for a second. Two. You gently push him with your mind. It’s not like he could help in the kitchen. He’d probably just burn or cut himself.

“I’ll show you everything,” he finally says. “Love you.”

You press your love into him in response. He returns it. So much better than words.

Now, time to break the pot in.

*​

You’re shaken out of your thoughts by the most beautiful song you’ve ever heard.

There are at least ten singers, perfectly harmonized, voices echoing across the entire valley. Somehow the echoes strengthen the song like the island itself was built for it. The song is wordless. Or at least meaningless. You catch some phrases that might be Upper Draconic. You stop moving and simply listen. There’s nothing else to do.

Where is this coming from?

What could sound so gorgeous?

“Flygon,” Dr. Karashina says. “They’re summoning a sandstorm to hunt. We need to shelter in the outcropping over there.”

Dragon song. Naturally. Nothing else could sound like that. You let Genesis guide you along as you continue to listen to the perfect music. They have a range like an orchestra or a full choir. The song has no meaning but it has movements: quick, joyous steps to long, sorrowful dirges.

Once you’re seated Dr. Karashina hands out food. Protein bars and dried fruit. Good. No meat. Gen doesn’t even like lab meat. Aren’t sure why – it’s a silly rule – but it’s important to her so it’s important to you. Just so long as she doesn’t make you follow it.

Your girlfriend sends her castform out for the first time on this trip. Deserts are too dry for them and the particles in sand mess up their bodies. She’s only gong to use Count Cloudy (you’ve come around on the name) for emergencies. Not dying in a flygon sandstorm counts as an emergency. Even though it isn’t even that bad. They must be far away because not much sand reaches your area. The winds that do reach you sound like they’re singing along with their summoners.

Genesis sits down by your side and you lean in and rest your head on her shoulder. So nice. When Kekoa moved to his own tent you were never pressed against another human at night. Sometimes Kekoa would hug you in private or Lyra would give you a quick side hug. That was it for touch. Human touch. You still had your pokémon. Outside of guiding it hasn’t been a daily thing since…

It hasn’t been a daily thing for over a year.

Now you have someone who will hug you whenever you want without feeling weird about it. Even lets you cuddle with her at night. It’s nice. Really nice. So nice you can ignore Lyra’s judgment buzzing at the edge of your mind. Part of you knows that Gen’s only had limited options so far. That someday she’ll move on. That’s… fine. You’ll take what you can for now. Sitting here listening to beautiful music and cuddling with your girlfriend it’s hard to think about things ever being bad again.

(Except for the weight at the bottom of your stomach that’s building and building and building and)

You get a mental kick when you lower your berries to rest. You aren’t hungry. You were going to offer them to Gen. She kicks you again. Doesn’t quite know how much power to put into those notices. It isn’t painful since she can’t crack your shields. Just distracting.

{Not hungry.}

{Eat it.}

What a bully. You still lift it back up and try to finish it.

“I do not want to interrupt your moment,” Solomon interrupts your moment. “Yet I am curious how the Unovan royal bloodline ended up in Anahuac. I thought your nations were not diplomatically linked.”

“They aren’t.” You take your last bite. Do you want to talk about this? Probably not. You just want to listen to the music and your girlfriend’s heartbeat and live in this perfect moment. You should answer him, though, because you’re not sure Gen knows this and she probably should if you’re dating. And Lyra’s probably curious. She’s never come out and said it but you’ve felt the question on the tip of her tongue. “My parents met when my mom was finishing up her final few gyms and my father was studying business. He’d come from Anahuac to learn how the Americans worked.”

“A spy?” Solomon asks.

“No. Just a student. He wasn’t working for the government.”

…you think he wasn’t working for the government. No one ever told you if he was.

“Mom wanted to explore new places so she went to Anahuac with him once he graduated and they got married. She gave birth and died.” You rush over the last part as quickly as you can. “That’s how it happened. Pretty boring, actually.”

“I… see. And your father was nobility, yes?”

“No. Just some merchant. He was kind of poor, actually.”

Solomon is quiet for a long time. “Forgive me, I must have misread the situation. Even if your bloodline is no longer in power it was royal for a reason. I thought the tlatoani had sought to shore up their power by passing the Harbor Queen’s Gift to their heirs.”

“Is that common?” Gen asks.

“Yes. A useful bloodliner, even a landless one, could not be ignored in marriage considerations. Alliances born of diplomatic marriage can shatter. Bloodlines endure. Almost all royal houses end up tied to a bloodline eventually.”

“My uncle married one,” Gen says. She sounds oddly distant when she does. “Thought his kid could take over the company with it. But he only had a daughter before his wife left him.”

Solomon snickers. “Your ancestor was a king himself, however briefly. It is fitting his descendants act like squabbling nobles.”

“Oh. Right. He was king for, like, five minutes? Hadn’t really thought about that.”

“A few days, actually,” Lyra chimes in. “He waited until the American ambassador arrived before abolishing the monarchy.”

“Wait. Does that mean I’m a princess?”

“No more than I am,” you tell her You don’t want to bring her back to earth but being royalty of a lost kingdom isn’t actually being royalty.

“But you kind of are,” she insists.

“That is another reason I had assumed there were grander ambitions behind your existence. You do carry yourself well when you move. I had assumed you were trained.”

“What, the pivots? Walking with a straight back? Those were from my brother’s military lessons.”

“I see.”

The last notes of the song finish up around you. The moment of rest is over and it’s time to get moving.

You still sit and lean against Gen until you can’t possibly justify it anymore.

*​

Kagetora finds a group of basking krokorok a while later and threatens them with a bone-chilling growl. They keep their distance. So does everything else. The sandstorm seems to have sent almost everyone underground for now. Very few are bothering to hunt in the loose sand after the flygon or the storm swept up most of the visitors. There are fewer clear paths to walk on. Genesis is stumbling more, saying almost-swears under her breath like saying a real foul word would curse her forever. It’s adorable. You hope she never stops doing that.

Lyra just says ‘shit’ like a normal person.

The sand is still easy enough for you and only you. It lets you get distracted. Lost in your thoughts. In the growing feeling in your chest. The winds whip up and sand strikes your face and suddenly you’re not you and not here.

You’re someone

else somewhere

else

You reach for your sash in the rising panic and find only four balls. Four? You should have six. You had six. Even if three don’t

You had six. Why are there only four? Why are you out in the day? You’ll be hunted. Maybe you are being hunted. You can hear creatures moving around you. About your size. The bugs? They struck you as scavengers but most scavengers will still kill what they can.

“Cuicatl?”

You release your first ball and nothing happens. No. No no no no no. That one works why is it not working?

“Let go and step away. She’s having a panic attack.”

“Then I can help—”

“No. She’s not herself. She might hurt you.”

Not. Herself? You can understand that one. How? These things—

Too much is off. Psychic attack? You scan your defenses. All in place. No gaps. Just increasingly jagged edges. You remember when they were smooth.

“The ghosts around her are moving frantically. This might be a possession.”

“Ghosts around…”

Focus. Focus. Focus. Threats. Three—four?—more? threats. Damn it. You hate being blind. Um. Second ball. No, no, you can’t use that one. Third?

[UD_Cuicatl’s fluid valve rate is operating at 250% baseline rate;
Initiate Ramming?]

A psychic? No. No that was the second—

[Initiate Ramming]

Something warm and metallic wraps its arms around you and your thoughts stop. Aren’t you organic? They shouldn’t—they shouldn’t be preying on you. If you stay still—

[Query: Threat]

“I don’t know. Something happened—”

“—the ghosts—”

Ghosts? Daylight? It’s

Daylight. There

Shouldn’t

Be

Ghosts?

It’s daylight. You can feel the heat. The thing grabbing you is

Familiar.

Nocitlālin.

The world shifts as a warm tide rolls inside your brain and the world becomes hazy and impossible to grasp before it fades back into focus.

“Noci?” It comes out as little more than a whisper. Something happened. You remember—something. There was. Ugh. Out of reach. No. Vanished. Like it was never there at all.

[Acknowledged.]

“What…” the words slip away before you can say them.

“I believe that something upset the ghosts you carry.”

“The curse?”

“No. I do not think so.”

Genesis butts in. “Were you going to tell me you were haunted?”

“I didn’t think it was important?” That sounds like a terrible excuse the moment you say it. Yes, that’s clearly important. You just don’t like talking about unhappy things with your girlfriend. Ruins the mood. She already has enough of her own problems to deal with. Doesn’t need all of yours.

“Do you remember anything?” Dr. Karashina asks. “It could be important.”

“No. Just. Fear? Something was wrong. I felt like… someone else. She didn’t know what was happening. Now I’m me again.”

“That sounds like possession,” Dr. Karashina says. “We need to get you to a safe place and—”

{GREETINGS, CITIZEN.}

What? You can hear everyone else in the group turn around and look at someone.

{GREETINGS, CITIZEN.}

“What’s going on?”

{GREETINGS, CITIZEN. I HAVE COME TO ESCORT YOU TO OUR STAGING POINT.}

“Can you all hear this?”

“It’s talking to you?” Lyra asks.

Question answered.

“I’m sorry. What are you?”

{SELF IS A PSIONIC RECONAISSANCE SERVANT. I HAVE COME TO ESCORT THE CITIZEN TO OUR STAGING POINT.}

Uh. “What?”

“Claydol,” Lyra says.

Oh.

“They want to take me somewhere,” you tell the others. Wait. Claydol and golurk are probably tied, right? “Are there golett there?”

{YES, CITIZEN.}

“They say there are golett.”

“Cuciatl, we need to get you back right now.”

You ignore the doctor and walk towards the place you think the message is coming from. “Take me there.”

The sand hardens underneath your feet. Right. Ground-psychic type. Of course they can do that.

Dr. Karashina continues to protest but doesn’t have Kagetora stop you. Someone—Lyra—hesitantly walks over and holds her arm out for you latch onto. Odd. Why is she doing that? It almost feels protective. Genesis walks behind her. The champion brings up the rear. Noci hovers nearby.

“There’s something massive underground just ahead of us,” Dr. Karashina says. “That what we’re being taken to?”

How would she possibly know that? There’s no way Kagetora communicated that through hand signals alone. Is she psychic? Or something else? There are other types of elementals, they just aren’t as cool.

{THE STAGING POINT IS AHEAD.}

“I see.”

Dr. Karashina must be included on these messages now.

{HALT, CITIZEN. YOU ARE BEING MOVED TO THE STAGING POINT. STAY PUT FOR 98 SECONDS.}

The sand begins to move. So much sand moves that it’s very clearly audible, even a little loud, and you can feel the earth lowering down around you like a slow elevator ride. Dr. Karashina sucks in a breath and Lyra holds you tighter. Then it stops and Dr. Karashina takes a hesitant step forward.

{CITIZEN HAS ARRIVED AT THE STAGING POINT.}

“Okay,” Dr. Karashina says. “Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go in and I’m going to take photos of everything. We touch nothing, get our answers, and leave as quickly as we can. I haven’t forgotten what just happened, Cuicatl, and it needs addressed.”

“That’s fine.” As long as you get your golett. That gives you something to focus on that isn’t the possession and the strangeness of everything and the fear moving from your gut to your head. You can see Alice again. You’re alive. Nothing else needs to matter right now. It won’t do you any good to panic.

“We’re coming back, right?” Lyra asks. “This is… incredible. It seems ancient yet also…”

“Untouched, yes.”

You step forward after Dr. Karashina and the air cools by twenty or so degrees. Not quite a refrigerator but very well ventilated. The floor is solid. From the echoes you think the room stretches on forever but has a low ceiling.

“This is Dr. Shirona Karashina. The day is June 12, 2020, and the time is 1:48 p.m. local. I have been invited to a facility of unknown origin in the Haina Valley by a claydol.”

She must be doing a video log. As a bonus you can actually follow what’s happening.

“The room is made entirely of ceramics at first glance. The architectural style is purely functional with large pillars designed to hold up the weight of the sand overhead. There are various workbenches and desks scattered around. There is no dust. The facility is remarkably well maintained.”

“Are there people living here?” you ask the claydol.

{NO. YOU ARE THE FIRST CITIZEN TO ARRIVE IN 31 LOCAL SOLAR CYCLES.}

Local solar cycles? Then. The people who built this place. Are they aliens?

“The claydol has suggested that the facility has been abandoned by humans for three decades. The use of ‘local solar cycle’ suggests an extraterrestrial origin for the facility.” She continues to take delicate steps forward. “The tools resemble those uncovered on previous digs in the Kannagi Woodlands. The characters on the walls are similar, but not identical, to the Alphian script.”

{SHOULD NON-CITIZEN BE RECORDING THIS INFORMATION?}

You take a moment to think through your answer. They think you’re a ‘citizen.’ If you correct them you probably won’t get a golett. You have to act like you know what you’re doing while still getting answers.

“Treat her like an honorary citizen.”

{ACKNOWLEDGED.}

Hopefully that helps Dr. Karashina out. And hopefully you don’t end up in too much trouble.

“What is this place?” Lyra whispers beside you. “It’s almost Egyptian.”

{I don’t know.} Lyra won’t like the mental speak but it’s best not to say that where the claydol can overhear. {They seem to think I’m with whoever made this place.}

Your ancestors? Reshiram didn’t say anything about any of them finding their way here. But the longer Dr. Karashina drones on the more the fear turns to pain as you get a splitting headache. Ugh. Shit. What is this? You try to focus in on it and find that now it’s oddly distinct. A separate room in your mental space. Like the ones you store your brother’s and mother’s memories behind.

“I think I found something in my head,” you tell Genesis. “A third thing like my mother and brother’s memories. That must be what I was feeling earlier.”

“I remember something like that,” she whispers back. “When you were in my head and I was in yours. I can’t remember what it was. Just that it hurt when I touched it.”

Who left it there, then? Renfield? Why would his memories be stirring up now? Reshiram probably would have told you if you left something. And it couldn’t have been introduced when you were fighting in Gen’s mind if it was already there.

Why is there another set of memories?

As Dr. Karashina begins to ask questions about the plumbing you take a deep breath and enter the mental room. As soon as you do

Everything

Falls

Away.

You stir as Ali—the dragon lands beside you. Something drops down at your feet. “Blood,” she says. “And meat.”

{Fine.} You haven’t physically talked in

You don’t know how long it’s

Been

A trenca, may—

—be?

Throat too

Word

There’s

A word

Par—

Dry.

Your throat is too dry.

Why are—

Why is—

Thought—

Not easy now?

You. The second ball. That’s why. You can’t let him out because

Break.

Break.

Break.

Break.

The edges of your mind are like shattered obsidian. They used to be so so—

Word?

Not sharp?

Not like they are now.

You hold the second ball and try to remember.

Blood fluid splash cut cut cut the bug why are you fighting the wonderful

Oh.

You don’t need to worry about hurting him!

He’s dead.

You giggle at the absurdity and your throat burns.

They’re all dead, aren’t they? Everyone. Everyone but the dragon. You wonder how long she—

They—

Something else?

Ellas!

You wonder how long ellas will last? Probably longer

Than

You.

Unless ellas tries to fight—the—worm—again.

Ellas lifts up the thing and tears it open. Blood drips into your mouth. Not as metallic as you were expecting. Way saltier, though. Everything here is too salty. Even the water. Especially the water. It killed—

—killed—

—killed—

—killed—

Fourth—ball?

—killed—someone—when they tried to drink.

The meat is almost worse. Impossibly stringy but so soft. It feels wrong. You can’t really chew. Just swallow and hope you don’t choke.

You stop halfway through.

Maybe you’ll starve—to death—

—to death—

—to—

Maybe that’s better than everything else here.

*​

You pull yourself up off the cold floor. People are shouting around you. What—

—happened?

Why

Is

Everything

So

Slow

?

“Are you okay?” Someone—safety—touch—asks.

“Yes. Just. Why is everyone yelling?”

“Dr. Karashina’s spiritomb came out. The claydol hate him. He hates the claydol. Apparently he’s met the, uh, citizens, or someone like them. Doesn’t matter. Are you okay?”

You—

Think so.

Who are

You?

You’re. There was a room. You walked in. Everything—

—broke.

Can you walk

Out?

*​

You pull yourself off of the cold ceramic floor.

People are screaming around you.

Dr. Karashina and Solomon are going at it with a telepathic voice. The claydol? Where are—where’s Genesis? Is she safe?

“You fainted again,” she says. “Are you okay?”

“Fine. Help me up.”

Noci telekinetically lifts you up and puts you on your feet. You can feel her presence between you and whatever’s going on between the claydol and spiritomb.

Dr. Karashina’s boots strike against the floor as she approaches. “Another episode?”

“I think so? I found something in my head and poked it. Bad idea.”

She takes a deep breath and exhales through her nose. “Do you remember anything?”

“Kind of?” Once your brother was downloading things for you to read. But when he tried to open the files the words were there, just drowned out by endless formatting tags and unreadable characters. You could probably pull out the right memory but it just won’t load right in your head. “I was with Alice. She gave me something strange to eat. I drank its blood because I was thirsty. We were in a desert, maybe? The other dreams have been in a desert.”

“And… what did you poke?”

You tell her the same thing you told Genesis about the different portals. “Does that mean anything to you?” Probably not. She isn’t a psychic.

She doesn’t answer at all. When you try to reach out to her mind you find surprisingly effective shields up.

“We need to go,” she simply says. “I know what this place is. I think I know what’s going on with you. I just need to ask some questions to the right people.”

“Wait. Um. Claydol, can you send a golett with us?”

“Cuicatl, we can’t just loot things from a unique archeological—”

{HOW MANY SPECTRAL SERVANTS ARE REQUIRED.}

You’re tempted to ask for multiple. That’s more money. Dr. Karashina doesn’t sound like she’s going to yield and given everything… yes, you need to go.

“The golett can answer any questions you have.”

That shuts Dr. Karashina up.

“You can even buy it yourself and return it.”

Fine. Just be quick.”

You turn back to the claydol. “Only one.”

You leave shortly after with a golett inside of a great ball. Dr. Karashina whistles and Kagetora clatters to a halt. “Can your metang carry two people?” she asks you.

“Probably not.”

“Fine. Genesis, Lyra, get on Kagetora’s back. I’ll go with her when she returns. Cuicatl, get on Noci. You need to fly home to save time.”

No one bothers asking if she’ll be fine on her own. Of course she will.

The flight back is silent. Uneventful. You get lost in thought again for an entirely different reason. What happened back there? How are the aliens tied to spiritomb and your ancestors? Was the Harbor Queen an alien herself? Does that make you one? And what on earth did you see?

Death. You remember. Thinking about death. You feel out the edges of your mind like there might be a clue there. No. Same structure. Same jagged, painful edges at the border. Everything is familiar. Everything is as you remember it.

But why does your mind feel wrong? Like it isn’t supposed to be the way it’s always been?

Dr. Karashina seems to know the answer. Why is she keeping it locked up away from you?

What does any of this mean?

Can you just get home already so you can hold your girlfriend and talk to your friends and try to work through all of this in safety?

Why does everything in your life have to be so damn complicated?
 
Last edited:

auspicious

wandering in dreams
Location
somewhere
Pronouns
they/them
ello :) figured the review contest you were holding would be a good time to reread and finally do some reviews.

New journey group initiation today. You should stop by that, scan for potential problems before they blow up in your face.
I've always thought the way you integrate pokemon and having powers with capitalism + corporation things to be neat. I do find it odd that Rachel has enough time to scan every new group, but I suppose she says later that there are only about 160 trainers.

And it’s your job to be likeable and trustworthy. When the public thinks of your company, they should think of their beloved sports star and hero. When the investors, reporters and politicians do, they should think of the pretty blond girl who either kind-of-flirted with them in just the way they liked or who gave them the kind of compliments they needed. Put a pretty face on your operation so no one ever wants to peel off the surface and look beneath.
lmao...bet that comes in handy for sweeping stuff like that volcarona incident under the rug. that and a lot of money.

Eh. Could be worse.
I guess your standards for bad secrets would be below the ground, when you just get the information psychically blasted into your brain.

He perks up at the casual mention of your boss. Because of course he does. You’re a pretty girl with a brain quirk and an espeon. Chris Foster? He’s the eight-time-running United States champion, highest ranked trainer in the world, tamer of Victini, and at least the third biggest pain in the ass in Alola.
lmao. I really have to wonder why/how he happened to encounter Victini.

You’re still reeling from a Hau’oli Tribune letter to the editor last month calling VStar “Evil Incorporated.” It had taken you two hours on the phone with Chris to talk him down from making that the official name of the company.
god this line is still so funny like. it says a lot about Chris and the type of person he is - no impulse control, goes with kneejerk reactions that might make him feel good/vindicated/clever in the short term, no awareness of consequences.

It’s an hour into orientation. Sometimes you’ll stay to watch the full thing, make sure that you know what’s being taught and how. Saves you time when the wrong person leaks the wrong thing (that they remembered wrong) and you have to figure out what really happened before you can tell the press what pretty much happened.
"leaks the wrong thing"? what would they leak? like saying something about how VStar taught x or y bad thing?

The sensitive stuff—payment methods and tables, how to stay within the letter of capture limit laws, corporate facilities and affiliates, mortality rates, advancement paths, mission assignments, legal duties to the company—that all gets crammed in at the end.
ahhh okay. "how to stay within the letter of capture limit laws" and "mortality rates" mm yeah okay.

The room’s emptier than usual. Only eight initiates, most mid- to late-teens. It’s to be expected. October is a garbage month for starting a journey since it’s in the middle of a semester and right at the start of the rainy season. Most of your new trainers come to the April, May, and June sessions. The people who come in October are the over-eager ten-year-olds who can’t wait to get on the trail or teenagers who can’t stay in their home a second longer.
so it's October? or is it that they won't be starting until october? because the timestamp at the start of the chapter is August.

A lot of telepaths just read minds like a book. Or as a monitor with code shifting faster than you could ever hope to read. Your talent doesn’t work that way. It’s more akin to sonar. Send out a wave, wait to see what image you get back. It usually just dredges up a secret or two: the thing that there’s the most resistance to you knowing. If you really focus you can get a basic overview of their personality.
this explanation is very nice - makes a lot of sense.

Supplemental scan doesn’t dig up much. Kid’s kind of flighty, kind of lonely. Kind at her core. Very recent trauma with a trail of shame trailing after it. And maybe something buried. Supports either theory, but her temperament makes you think she’s not a runaway. Minds like hers are allergic to rebellion.
oh, gen.

Seventh is… familiar? You try to never forget a face, but it still just eludes you. By the second minute of staring he’s (she’s?) definitely noticed and you avert your gaze. Secret dredging time, then. See what you missed… Trans. Your power doesn’t tell you if they’re female, male, or non-binary, but it explains the just-unfamiliar face: you probably knew them before, but hormones or style changes are throwing you off your game.
lol my first thought was that I couldn't recall it coming up later anywhere that Rachel knew kekoa before realizing that this is probably a reference to Jabari. which - how on earth does that one happen; you join the military, leave the military (with a salamence, to boot) and then join a corporation that acquires and sells pokemon as their resident pokemon wrangler.

im gonna assume the military here lets you train pokemon/has that as part of its thing?

You make a point of taking an aspirin, knowing that it won’t really help but hoping the placebo effect does enough to make you comfortable. Which might negate the placebo effect. Is there a placebo effect where you know what the placebo effect is, so you expect the placebo to make you feel better, which means that it does make you feel better? A placebo placebo effect.
lmao i've also started wondering this now.

First things first. You text the instructor to make sure that the possible Skull defectors gets kicked out before the mortality tables come up. VStar’s mortality rates are lower than the general journey-goer rates, but dead kids are dead kids and it never feels like there’s anything to say, much less anything good. At the end you add a note to send the blind girl up to your office when orientation is over. The room is cold and clean and empty. Deep breaths. The third ceiling tile diagonal from the corner does not want to kill you. You’re in your office, the year is 2019, and are texting. The metal—not metal—walls have light blue wallpaper.
possible skull defectors? ahh they might defect because of the mortality tables? (stares at the volcarona kid) yeah that's. yeah.

A wild hydreigon flew within twenty miles of the academy once and they shut down classes for three days. Parents accused them of underreacting.
lmaooo

You are very, very glad that she can’t see the color of your face right now. You know full well that your alakazam is a telepathic monster that can fry a man’s mind in seconds, but you will never, ever be comfortable with dragons. And why should you? You’ve seen footage of one shredding a tank without breaking a sweat. Do dragons sweat? You have no desire to look that up.
I think I'd be more freaked out by alakazam than dragons tbh. eh. maybe. who knows. I'm with Lyra on the "psychics could be terrifying ecause holy shit they could just rewrite your entire being". dragons at least just maul you. and probably leave you alone if you don't go near them.

There’s a shred of truth in there, but she’s an awful liar. Don’t even need your telepathy to see through that. New topic options: SIPAA scoring seems a little too close to the last question and she doesn’t want to talk about why she’s here so… old pokémon.”
random quotation there

“Did you bring any of your mom’s team with you?”

She freezes up. Full deerling in headlights. Shit shit shit shit abort abort abort.

“Hey it’s—”

“No, I didn’t.” Speech is off. Breathing is erratic. Approach and escalate? Keep quiet and seem callous? Response depends on the type of breakdown you’re seeing.

…the kid has to be alone here. Half an ocean from home, at least one parent out of the picture, apart from her pokémon for maybe the first time…

She shouldn’t have to have panic attacks alone.
:(

Ideally something intelligent enough for her to talk to, social enough to cuddle, and fluffy enough to pet. Difficulty of care and bonding shouldn’t be problems if she kept herself and a hydreigon alive. Maybe something a little difficult to distract her. Eevee would work. Not big enough to be a good guide, though, even when fully evolved.
does VStar usually give starters? both Kekoa and Genesis already had pokemon before they joined VStar, right?

There is a pokémon that fits all of those criteria, but she’s trouble. She’d either be a silver bullet for Cuicatl’s problems or a lead bullet straight to her heart.
lmao. why not both?

did you cut the flashback where Rachel is being asked about her mother's death? I could have sworn this was here, but it's also been a while since I reread from the very beginning, haha. it does make things less confusing.

Rachel's POV makes for a good introduction to the (waves hand) general situation/is a good way to explain VStar since that's not something that exists in canon, and the setup/intro for our main characters' situations with her powers.

I'm always fascinated by the blend of pokemon regions + real world that you have in BT, it's very neat to see the way you worldbuild. VStar feels like something very natural/that would definitely exist if you added pokemon and capitalism together.

excited to see Pixie next chapter :)

But you don’t care. You don’t really care about anything anymore, except maybe for Avalanche. You wonder if she’s thought of you in the last few… days? Weeks? Months? Between the ball and the trailer you haven’t had many chances to be outside and count the changing skies and you aren’t sure how often the humans leave and make it dark.
I've always thought it was a little odd Pixie referred to Avalanche by name, and not as "Mother" or anything.

No, as much as you’d like to believe it you can’t imagine Avalanche cares about you anymore. The nine-tails only keep two vulpix to train. It lets them keep the territories intact. When the unchosen become three-tails they set off on their own. Your body and mind and comfort are your problems now, not hers.
(squints) I'm not sure I ever followed the logic of "lets them keep the territories intact" - might be the phrasing. is it just the same thing/reasoning of the mountain story?

There’s a new human today. Young and female. Like you. You catch a glimpse of her mane when she walks in. Thick, curly and went a little past her shoulder-blades. Light-yellowish, like the fire-tails in the stories Avalanche told you. It has leaves in it, some dirt. Even from a distance it smells unclean, although humans seemed to have a higher tolerance for that. It would be pretty if cared for and you want to run your paws and tongue through it to clean it up like you would for your own coat. Like Avalanche did for you.
oh, I forgot we started here. hi selene!
The words are mostly unfamiliar, but you think you know the meaning. Yes, you decide, wind and flower smell would be nice. Rising on your paws is painful as you feel the muscles and skin ripple around your scars and bruises, but nothing tears. One of the humans picks you up gently and cradles you in his arms, like Avalanche would in her jaws when you were a kit. Insulting. The humans are not nine-tails. They have no right to handle you like that.
Pixie feels so much like my cat, lol.

He notes your reaction and adjusts quickly, holding his tail still and lowering himself to the ground before rolling on to his side.

“Didn’t mean to scare you. Just want to play.”
aw. what a good lad.

Still. The human seems to like you, and she at least takes care of her cat. She’s not like… like they were. You wonder why she came back, why she cares about you, and you realize that maybe she wants to put you on your team. You’d leave the room. She’d stuff you in a ball, sometimes.

But it’s something to hope for. And you’ll take it.
surely this will turn out fine.

although, wasn't the vulpix in-game with the Aether Foundation? this is post the games, so I'm going to assume that uhh no longer quite exists. or maybe it does? just without Lusamine there? how does VStar/Rachel happen to be in charge of the pokemon the Aether Foundation used to be rehabilitating?
The woman staring at you is the matriarch of the facility, the one that all of the other humans submit to. She almost never comes down. Why is she here? Why is she here for you?
oh so Rachel's in charge here.

You only did the first three things because your trainer was already going to abandon you and your window for revenge was very limited.
Pixie is so fine. rip.
Obviously. What creature would ever want to go outside in the sunlight?
LMAO me too, Pixie.
“If you are, then you probably won’t want to be outside in the day when I go places. I am okay with that. I can get around well enough with my cane. We can play and train around dusk and dawn. But I usually try to sleep at night, so not then.”

It is a better offer than most trainers make. But no. Not for the blind kit of an eevee trainer.

“I don’t know what your other trainers taught you. But I have ideas for battle. You could be a really good arena controller and zoner. Using hail and frozen patches to make it harder to get to you, and then hit them with from far away. Or just put them to sleep or trap them and then set up. You’re probably fast enough to be a sweeper. Or will be fast enough when you evolve.”
Cuicatl seems to know a good deal about battling. though I'm not sure what the baseline knowledge for pokemon battling in this world is, lol. wonder where she got that knowledge from? she wasn't originally going to be the trainer, between her and brother, right? just sounds a little bit odd for someone who's never battled before to know/talk like.

“What do you want, Pixie? What kinds of things make you happy?”

“Cold. Prey. Grooming. Toys. Proper respect.”

“Hmm. The wild would probably have cold and prey. No one else would groom you and there wouldn’t be toys. Don’t know about respect. The zoo would have grooming and toys. Maybe cold. No prey, definitely not respect. I could give you grooming and toys. I’d try to give you respect and you can tell me if I’m not. No cold, though, sorry. Other trainers couldn’t talk to you but if you don’t like me they could give you the toys and grooming.”

Many words. Good breakdown of options. You were going to just pick the one that sounded best, and probably will, but she is good at thinking. Rare in her species.
lmao she's doing a better job at negotiation than her mother with the ducklett.

“Then you’re best off alone.”

Alone.

A shiver wracks your body.

You are not afraid of alone.
Pixie :(
She is a trickster with clever words and whatever she says, someday, maybe even today, she will hate you and leave you like Firemane and all the others.

But for now, Skysong is yours.
oh, Pixie.

hmm, not much to say for this chapter other than: re-reading this I can definitely understand why Pixie would be mad at Selene, because she thought Selene was going to take her with her and then...she didn't. wish we could've gotten to see the fallout of that a bit more, though I suppose that comes up later.

(ik the doylist reason is that in-game you do not get the vulpix, but what's the wattsonian reason here? a-ninetales are pretty powerful in-universe, wonder why Selene would pass that up?)

I read guidance before jumping to the rebooted version here, so Pixie's POV was nice and familiar the first time around, and it's still pretty neat :) I have a soft spot for non-human POVs and xenofiction though so I may be biased a great deal, haha. Pixie's so fun to read - she's like a fluffed up, prickly version of my cat.
 
Dark 5.10

Persephone

Infinite Screms
Pronouns
her/hers
Partners
  1. mawile
  2. vulpix-alola
Dark 5.10: Informed Consent
Nanu

June 15, 2020

You aren’t going to make people go into the desert for their trial. If Tapu Bulu wants to watch he can do it at the edge, near the village he decided to raze. The arena’s parking lot is as run down as the rest of New Castelia. There probably were lines painted between parking spots, but they’ve long since faded and they don’t matter anymore. There are never more than six cars in the lot. You, the challenger, the referee, maybe some friends or reporters or the people who run the blogs.

Bigger crowd than usual today. Greg’s standing at the edge of the arena in his usual place. He nods at you and sends out his castform to cool things down. The new Channel 3 reporter whose name you don’t know and Alex, the long-time cameraman for these battles, have their gear set up by the bleachers. They’re suitably bundled up. Two unusual guests. One is fiddling with their smartphone and a bulky battery case. Other just has a notebook. Online people. Whatever. It’s public property. Probably guessed whose third trial this could be and wanted to see one of this year’s big shots. Not publishing the names in advance doesn’t actually do much for anonymity. Notebook boy is in shorts and a t-shirt. He might regret that.

Shirona is huddled next to the challenger, the Gage girl, and another girl you don’t recognize. Two of your headaches traveling with each other. Lovely. Shirona’s not dressed for the cold but she’s Sinnish. Probably doesn’t give a shit. The challenger and the other girls with her are dressed formally. Anahuac formal, at least. Ankle-length black dress and a shin-length red one for the Gage girl and her friend. A red and orange poncho with a pokéball sash and a woven skirt for the challenger. Sash is new. You remember the poncho. That had been a pain to find. You would’ve picked out some basic clothes and been done with it. Never would’ve bothered finding an authentic wardrobe on a tight deadline with a busybody reviewing expense reports. Probably why you’re not in charge anymore.

Shirona glares at you when you make eye contact. And keeps glaring until you’re in a staring contest. You look away when she starts kind of scaring you. What’d you do to her? Nothing comes to mind. She’s had dealings with Looker before but you’ve never been stationed in Sinnoh during her reign. They had you in Europe before you were moved back home to deal with the UB spike of ‘07.

When Joan arrives with her chansey you can finally begin.

“You all know why we’re here. Me, Cuicatl Ichtaca, four pokémon, she gets one switch, try not to take it too seriously. Not your first grand trial and certainly not mine. Questions?”

Cuicatl takes a hesitant step closer to the arena and shakes her head. Right. Blind. The Gage girl helps her get the rest of the way into position before slipping off. Her hand lingers on Cuicatl’s arm a little too long. They together? Good for them if they are. They’ve both come a long way.

“Cool. Greg?”

He clears his throat and his froslass and castform move into place. A cold wind runs through the arena before the air around the battlefield flickers and glows. It takes about ninety seconds for the aurora veil to get bright enough. Can’t reliably use psychic barriers with all the dark attacks you’re throwing around so you have to go this route. You could just battle in a giant concrete pit. There are enough abandoned pools in this town for it. You won’t, though. The pit is Olivia’s thing. Hala has his stage. Hapu has her island. You have an old asphalt field where the foundation is cracked into pieces and weeds somehow grow despite the constant battles. You’ll let the other kahunas keep their gimmicks. You like your arena just fine.

Without further ado you toss out Grunge the grimer. They’re older. Probably close to evolving. Good for opening a third trial.

Cuicatl reaches to her third pokéball on her sash - just a basic red and white — and sends out her lead without a word. Cool. Hasn’t bought into the cult of showmanship.

A metang forms above the arena and looks down at Grunge. The robot put in good work against Hala and Olivia from the footage you watched. Shouldn’t be as effective here.

“Minimize.”

Grunge begins to shrink down with a gurgling noise. The metang slams down on top of them without a command. Telepathy? You suppose that isn’t showing her cards. Metang can probably talk to any trainer.

The metang lifts themself back up again. Right. Situation at hand. She’s been nice enough to bring her pokémon to yours. You should do something to take advantage.

“Knock off.”

The metang slams down and splatters some of Grunge’s body around. They start to retreat immediately after the impact. Doesn’t matter. They’re half-coated in Grunge’s body. The sludge glows black and vibrates before the robot gets violently pushed back. They wobble in midair for a moment before standing still, awaiting orders. Grunge doesn’t give Cuicatl the opportunity. They rocket up, cloaked in shadows, and hit the metang’s underside. Shadow sneak. It’s good they’re taking initiative. Still a dumb play. The grimer is overextended, body stretched out like a pillar. The metang, predictably, drives straight through it. Spinning. Spraying Grunge’s body everywhere. That’s a painful lesson.

The sludge is still squirming in different puddles. Not too late to bring it back together.

“Shadow sneak.”

The different piles fade out of reality for half a blink before coming together. Grunge has learned not to lunge up, just lightly striking the retreating metang. And then they stand there. Grunge’s body pulsating, the metang floating and staring down with blank eyes. The only way the metang can be hurt is by attacking. Back where you started.

Except Grunge can set up and the metang probably can’t.

“Minimize.”

The metang slams back down and immediately takes a knock off for their troubles. They noticeably teeter while rising back up. Grunge probably isn’t doing too much better after getting splattered across the battlefield. If Cuicatl had to bring a psychic type to the trial this wasn’t the worst way to play it.

You glance at Cuicatl. With both pokémon being nearly silent and her not giving orders you can almost forget she’s there. Her arms are crossed over her chest a little too tightly. Probably for warmth. Where’d she live before? Rainforest, desert, mountains? You’re pretty sure you never learned.

After another two or three rounds of ramming and knock off Greg calls it. Grunge is just too spread out. You wish he let you take things until the end. Not many pokémon can actually end a match with a grimer. It would be a good lesson for this stage in the challenge. The metang floats towards their trainer. There’s no visible damage on them. Just damage to their psionics. They’ll be fine in a few days.

Whatever You can still win.

Or you won’t.

It doesn’t really make a difference.

You swap Grunge for Izzy as Cuicatl draws a nest ball. A tyrunt comes out. Huh. Not the ball-pokémon combination you would’ve expected. They have fossil balls or something, right? Pretty sure Olivia uses them for her main team. Izzy puffs herself up. The raticate’s had a bad run of opponents lately. Probably glad that this one is smaller than her. Even if you don’t like the odds.

You glance at the bleachers. Most of the spectators have leaned forward. Might be the only time they see one of these things in their life. The Gage girl cheers and Cuicatl blushes. Great. They are together. Or they will be soon. You remember love. It was nice. Then it wasn’t. Now you only have the child support bills to remember it by.

Cuicatl clears her throat. “You know what to do.”

The dinosaur lets out an unholy growl and charges Izzy down. The raticate puffs up and flashes her teeth for intimidation before the tyrunt lowers her head and rams her. Odd. You were expecting a bite. Then she starts pushing Izzy against the barrier, slamming into her with full-body strikes.

Is that close combat? You knew Dianthéa’s could use it but she’s a regional champion and—

Shirona.

Damn it.

“Knock off. Get some distance.”

The rat presses back and staggers the tyrunt before the dino goes back in with fiery jaws wide open. Then it just turns into a biting match. Izzy’s teeth are bigger. Tyrunt probably bite harder and have better armor. You don’t find out who wins: Cuicatl orders a close combat and her pokémon remembers what she should have been doing. Izzy lashes out with wild scratches but it isn’t enough.

Shame. Girl can’t catch a break.

The tyrunt roars again for the crowd. There are bloody bite mark on her right flank and back. The exposed parts of her skin are covered in scratches. The crowd eats it up. Lots of clapping for a pokémon that hasn’t finished the fight yet. You let the dino preen for a bit longer before sending Taylor out.

The persian holds his head high as he forms, barely giving his opponent a second glance. He’s gotten arrogant lately. Thinks he can rely entirely on trickery to win his fights. Stopped practicing direct combat as much. You’ll give him a chance to try that approach here. See how it works for him.

As soon as Greg says the round has begun, Taylor lunges forward, air whipping up around him. Cuicatl says something or other in Nahuatl and the tyrunt slams her tail on the ground… before the air hits her face. She staggers back, stunned, as Taylor keeps running forward. Ordinarily you’d order a night slash but if Taylor wants to play this way, well, you can oblige. “U-Turn.”

“Xihuitl.”

The tyrunt catches herself and swings her head around towards Taylor with embers dripping from her mouth. The persian slows awkwardly, clearly weighing whether to continue getting closer before realizing there’s no time. He jumps, paw outstretched and swats at the dinosaur’s head. He jumps back almost immediately, catching himself and running away. The tyrunt still manages to graze the cat’s flank with her upper jaws. Some of the black fur around it ignites.

“Texcalli.”

The tyrunt slams the ground with her tail and rocks begin to rise up around her and the rest of the arena. Small pebbles at first. Then more dust surrounds them and they just keep growing. There’s an easy-enough way around that. One Taylor will like.

“Taunt.”

You aren’t sure exactly what pokémon say that offends anything that hears it so much they abandon all reason. You’re told it has something to do with psionics, or inverse-psionics, or philosophy. Lila went on a lecture about the Triad of Mind and the essence of Darkness when you asked. Never made that mistake again. Just because Darkness is in your blood doesn’t mean you care about the fine mechanics of why it works.

Just that it does.

Taylor’s the best taunter of any persian you’ve used. That’s a point in his favor.

Taylor seems to have no idea what to do when a very, very angry dinosaur is charging straight for him in a blind rage because of his taunt. A point against.

(In fairness, it took a lot of learning under fire before you could keep your cool in that kind of situation.)

The persian runs. The tyrunt chases. Cuicatl tries a few orders in Nahuatl that get ignored. Is that the rage? Is the taunt messing with her telepathic link? You decide to shut her down when she closes her eyes and looks like she’s focusing hard. Don’t want to find out whether she can negate taunts.

“Snarl.”

Snarl is supposed to be intimidating. The effect is undercut by the persian practically shrieking it out while an overgrown bird keeps chasing him in circles. It still causes Cuicatl to visibly flinch. Good. You’ll keep the tricks to yourself.

“U-turn.”

Taylor changes his gait and transitions into a backflip, claws fully extended and ready to tear into the tyrunt.

“Bite! Fire!” Cuicatl calls, language tricks abandoned. You’re guessing that her pokémon don’t understand Nahua commands. She’s just using them as a smokescreen for her telepathy. But if her telepathy’s down, well. Don’t try to trick a trickster.

Something gleams in her tyrunt’s eye at the order. She opens up her jaws and holds her head up in the air, waiting for persian to arrive like a young bird waiting on treats from mama. Taylor tries to change direction but he’s already in midair. There’s nothing to get leverage against. He slashes the tyrunt across the face before powerful jaws clamp down on his shoulder and fire engulfs his fur. He shrieks in pain and blindly slashes but nothing gets the tyrunt to let go. She shudders when claws enter the bite wound on her side but stays latched on.

Trickery is useful for setting up the best possible circumstances for a fight. But, as Taylor is learning, you still have to actually be able to win that fight.

You’ll throw him a bone. You go through the steps of the dark z-dance without any particular urgency. You love Taylor like you all of your persian. Doesn’t mean you’ll bail them out immediately whenever they get themselves into trouble.

“Snarl,” you order at the end of the dance. This time Taylor sounds suitably intimidating. An empty void forms in front of him and the tyrunt’s grip finally loosens enough for him to slink out. Loose pebbles, torn up weeds, and the few stealth rocks the tyrunt set start drifting towards the black hole eclipse. The tyrunt tries to run after Taylor but finds herself slowly, inexorably drawn back. Then it ends. The black hole bursts in a pulse of darkness and the tyrunt stumbles forward again.

Cuicatl looks like she really needs to puke. She keeps standing tall like nothing’s wrong, like her face isn’t twisted up and almost the same shade as her hair. Maybe that was a bit rough on her. Maybe you should give her a break after what she’s been through. None of this actually matters.

Nah.

Messing with kids is fun.

Only thing you like about the damn job.

Taylor takes the moment to lick his wound and look at you for further directions. He doesn’t see the tyrunt slam into his other shoulder with close combat, knocking him to the ground. That was a weak Z-move. Only logical couldn’t keep the tyrunt down for long. Taylor hisses and scratches back, even flings out a weak fake out, but the tyrunt is relentless with close combat and biting. Cuicatl isn’t even giving orders at this point. Just trying to catch her breath. The round is over before too long. Taylor just looks relieved that no one is biting her anymore.

Cuicatl’s little dragon doesn’t look too much better off. She still puffs herself up for the crowd but there’s blood staining the feathers on her mane and shallow cuts all over her body. The bite wounds are still bleeding.

An injured metang and tyrunt plus a badly wounded vulpix and whatever her fourth is. Plus a Z-move. Might be enough. Might not be. You wouldn’t mind making her stick around for another two weeks. Better odds she finds something worth staying in Alola for. Better odds that she won’t want to go home when this is finished.

It’ll make it easier for her in the long run.

There’s a lot of things you lose sleep over. She isn’t one of them. You’d still like it if she beat the odds, if she was the one in a million who finds her happy ending. Doesn’t mean you’ll just roll over and give her everything she wants. She wants the win? Fine. She can claw it away from you.

You let out Adrian and watch the cat roar. Showoff. Just like all the other incineroar you’ve cared for. As soon as Greg starts the round you snap twice. He rears back before slamming his forepaws to the ground and sending out a shockwave. The concrete groans and trembles as the earthquake expands. Cuicatl orders something, you can’t hear it over the noise, and a few of the stones start to lift up. She’s not even trying to win the round, huh? Just set up for the next one. Fine. You’ll see if she can land the final blow or if she’ll choke at the end like Taylor.

The tyrunt falls flat on her face after maybe twenty seconds and is promptly withdrawn.

Adrian mugs for the crowd, although he doesn’t quite get the same response as the tyrunt did. Incineroar are a dime a dozen on these islands. Although they are cats. That means they deserve all of the love in the world and more.

So far Cuicatl’s been two-for-two with carnivores. Three-for-three with the vulpix. Apex predators, even. The ninetales is the least scary member of her team once they’re fully evolved. That hasn’t escaped your notice. All you could really pin down about the girl’s team is that she probably had a hydreigon and a reuniclus. Seems the hydreigon wasn’t a fluke. Girl loves her monsters. You’ll see how long they love her for. Dragon tamers are always playing a game of dominance with their team, never letting their pokémon really sit down and think about why they’re listening to a tiny mammal. The correct way to play that game is, of course, not fucking playing it. No one is forcing you to. Just. Don’t. That way Interpol doesn’t have to take down your rampaging dragons after they’ve eaten you.

Cuicatl pulls out her final ball and takes a deep breath. A net ball. Water-type? Bug-type? It’d be hilarious if she saved her bug-type for the dark kahuna’s incineroar. She hits the release and a surprisingly large silhouette forms. “Go, Leo.” The red light fades and shows a small golisopod. Well, small by golisopod standards. Probably no more than six feet tall. Guess she’s putting you on the back foot after all.

The moment that Greg starts the round Leo rockets forwards without being ordered. They shoulder check Adrian at high speed and send them both falling to the ground. First impression. A good hit. Probably won’t work again.

“Flare.”

Adrian pushes himself back up and shoulder checks Leo himself, all while a corona of flames builds around him. The bug hisses and flexes his arms. The largest limbs disappear in a rapidly moving current of water. He wraps them around the incineroar in a bear (bug?) hug and starts digging gouges into the fire-type’s back. Adrian keeps pushing forward with a blazing tackle that gradually pushes Leo back towards Cuicatl’s end of the field.

“Break.”

Brick break? What’s her—oh. Break away. Leo stops his hug and slams his razor shell boosted arms into Adrian before turning tail and scurrying to his trainer’s side of the arena. Adrian doesn’t follow. It’s hard to tell how deep the cuts are under his fur. At least the golisopod didn’t target beneath the belt. The open flames are an unfortunate weakness.

Adrian goads his opponent by pantomiming tears. Leo just stays prone on the ground, hiding beneath his armor while awaiting orders. Cuicatl’s being slow with those. Can she even see what’s going on? She’s probably reliant on her pokémon to tell her things. That’s exploitable.

“Menace.” Darkest lariat.

Adrian charges forward, darkness pooling around his arms. The golisopod launches out of his position with another first impression. This time Adrian rolls with the blow before spinning past Leo. His fists slam into the bug multiple times during the spin. Each time you can see Cuicatl twitch a little. Good. You can keep her truly blind.

“Flare.”

“Wall.”

Adrian launches into another tackle as Leo just turns around and shows his back. He barely even budges when the flare blitz collides. Adrian hisses in pain. Odd Iron defense? Before you can think of a plan the golisopod turns around and slams a razor shell attack into Adrian’s sternum. Again, missing the weak point. A second razor shell strikes again before the incineroar regains his composure and charges. This time there’s not really a distinct move behind it. He just grabs the golisopod’s sides and tries to grapple him to the ground. Leo tries to turn but he’s held in place.

Cuicatl frowns. Ah, right. Better put a stop to whatever she’s planning.

“Keep it up. Menace.”

He continues to try and hold the struggling golisopod while pumping dark energy into his fists. Cuicatl takes a stumbling step back and raises a hand to her head. Good. The bug’s on his own. When he next tries to break free Adrian uses the movement to force him off his feet and onto the ground. The moment he’s down Adrian raises up his hands and pummels them down in a devastating darkest lariat. He knows how to fight without being ordered. Golisopod probably don’t. They’re ambush predators that are used to running away the moment something doesn’t go according to plan. If you just don’t say anything Cuicatl will have no idea what’s going on and Adrian can finish the fight.

Adrian lights up with another flare blitz before tackling the downed golisopod. In desperation Leo strikes up with a razor shell… and strikes Adrian directly on the belt. Your cat howls in anguish even as the flare blitz connects and knocks the golisopod onto his back. They aren’t quite turtles but that’s still got to be a bad position to recover from, right? Unfortunately, it seems that the bug has learned. Even as Adrian’s flames grow brighter and brighter, even as you can see scorch marks start to form on his shell, he wraps all of his spindly legs around Adrian and starts pounding him in the crotch with razor shells. Every one earns a roar until the incineroar finally gives up and lashes out with a final darkest lariat before prying himself free and leaping away with a u-turn.

The golisopod takes a moment to get onto his belly as you consider your options. Melee with a physical water-type is dangerous. Adrian’s flames are still going strong but you don’t want to find out how long that will last for. Despite the burns you’re not actually sure that the golisopod is hurt, either. The darkest lariats probably dealt some damage through the armor. Physical force might as well have been useless. You really wish you had a persian out instead of an incineroar. Even a sableye or murkrow might be better.

Cuicatl reacts first, somehow. “Mud.”

Muddy water? Mud slap? Mud shot?

Mud shot. Leo digs into the ground underneath him, already torn up by earthquake and dampened by razor shells, and launches a blast of mud at Adrian. He dodges, mostly, but some still hits his side and smothers the flames where it clings to the skin. Well. No choice but to get in there again.

“Darkest lariat.”

Adrian ignores the dampened flames and runs forwards again. The golisopod leaps forward, too, all while staying low to the ground. He collides with Adrian’s legs, knocking him over as the two fly past each other. The incineroar flips head over heels and crashes to the ground while Leo pivots, turns, and scuttles back in with razor shells at the ready. Adrian manages to catch himself and reach out with darkest lariat covered fists to catch the attack before it can hit his belt. For several seconds the two stand there, crouching down, hands pressed together like a high-stakes arm wrestling match. Then Adrian starts pushing the golisopod back. It’s slow, incremental work until it isn’t: the golisopod abruptly falls onto his back, dragging Adrian forward with him. His hindleg lashes out, cloaked in water, and slams directly into Adrian’s crotch. The two struggle together, rolling to the side as Adrian pummels the golisopod with darkest lariats and Leo keeps kicking the incineroar’s flames.

Cuicatl is looking real uneasy on her feet. Your only hope of victory is that she decides this isn’t worth the pain before Adrian gives up. She takes out her cane and flicks it to its full length. A flimsy thing. Not really enough to hold her weight. Still a little support while her pokémon takes dark attack after dark attack.

Adrian suddenly bellows and holds a hand to his head. He roars out a cry that probably makes the audience think he’s dying. He’s not. Just calling it quits. You withdraw him once he’s done with his display. The golisopod gets to his feet, glances at you, and turns towards his trainer. When the aurora veil falls he tries to prop her up. You’re pretty sure she groans. Any normal trainer would’ve called it the moment they were getting hurt, too. Fine line between being brave, stupid, and a masochist. You’re actually not sure there’s a line at all. Anyway, she’s at least one of those things.

You walk over the torn-up battlefield. Probably wouldn’t be safe to cross without military-grade boots. Thankfully you still have a few pairs that do the trick.

She looks like shit up close. Just like you remember. Paler than usual, arms shaking, eyes closed. Sucks. Best she figured out that weakness before a guzzlord comes for her. Lila learned that the hard way.

“You have your registration?”

She reaches into her pocket and pulls out the small book with a trembling hand. You stamp it and hand it back with the darkinium z-crystal. “Think twice before using that,” you whisper to her. “Lila always hated that one.”

Cuicatl nods a fraction of an inch. That’s all the acknowledgment you get. Now this is like old times. Even when she understood what you were saying she never really bothered to respond in any visible way. Sometimes she’d reach out to Looker with telepathy. He hated it. The touch was painful and her words were garbled. Even the ones he understood didn’t make sense in context.

You look at the bleachers. Shirona looked unhappy before the battle. Now she looks absolutely murderous. Your hand drifts towards your holster on instinct before you stop yourself. “Show’s over. Go home.”

Only the Gage girl moves. She gets up to hug her girlfriend while the other girl frowns. Mad at you? Jealous? Who knows? Who cares? The news people and bloggers check their tapes or notes. You turn around and power walk towards your car. Whatever the Sinnish champion has to say, you don’t want to hear it.

Doesn’t make a difference. Her garchomp rushes past you and blocks the door to your car. You turn around to see her walking with the slow, deliberate gait of a predator moving to finish off their injured prey.

“Do you hate all fallers,” she asks, “or just her?”

Shit. That’s what she’s upset about. No point playing dumb. She’s too smart for that. You still can’t think up what a good response would be. So you just shut the fuck up. Years as a cop taught you that’s usually the best course of action when you’re in trouble.

“Tell me, how are you any different than the monster the Gages hired? The one who’s going to die in prison.”

“I didn’t do it,” you finally mutter. “That was Looker and Tapu Lele. And she was going to do it whatever anyone said.”

She crosses her arms. “Perhaps. You could have still told Cuicatl what happened. You did not. In fact, you spent your first meeting after the fact deliberately causing her harm.”

“Girl could’ve dropped her links. That’s on her.”

Shirona doesn’t act like she even heard that. You’re not actually sure it was true, anyway. You’ve never really cared about psionics since you’re immune and all.

“One of us is going to tell her. Do you want it to be me or you?”

Figured she was going there. Always struck you as someone who did what was ‘right’ over what was smart.

“Why?”

“Excuse me?”

“How would that help her. Doesn’t bring anything back. Just causes an existential crisis for no gain. Seen it more times than I’d like.”

Her eyes narrow. “That girl has almost killed herself attempting to get back family members who don’t exist. She will continue to plunder Alola if she isn’t told. Is that not reason enough?”

“And if she wasn’t with VStar for that, she’d be with VStar for feeding her tyrantrum. Doesn’t make a difference in the end.”

She keeps glaring but doesn’t counter the point. Knows she’s lost that argument. She’ll still probably do it out of justice or whatever. Not your fault if she drives the kid over the edge in the process.

“You know we didn’t just do it for fun, right?” you ask her. “Kid comes out dying of starvation with only six broken pokéballs. And her prize for powering through all that? She barely remembered her own name. Could barely even move under her own power. Wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t drink. Sometimes she’d ramble on about dragons to people who weren’t there. She’d somehow fucked up her neural pathways seven ways to Sunday. This? It’s better. She’s living. She has things to work towards. She can interact with people outside of nails-on-a-chalkboard telepathy. Someday she’ll need to learn, but only after she’s built something real for herself.”

“And after that you just tossed her out, alone and penniless?”

“Would you have rather we hired actors to pretend to know her? We used to do that. Fallers never took that well.”

“You could have,” she pauses. “No, you should have fixed the brain damage, told her what happened, and sent her to Lila. Let her rebuild her life in a supportive environment rather than having years of lies thrust upon her.”

“Lila forced our hand there. They would’ve flipped the fuck out if they found out we were going to do anything to her brain at all. Couldn’t just tell them after the fact.

They actually did flip the fuck out. Tapu Lele had to remove that memory. Their own damn fault for trying to yell at a goddess.

“Does Selene know about this?”

You can’t help but roll your eyes. “Does she need to? Kid takes challenges, helps out Interpol, does PR appearances. You really want a preteen governing?”

She doesn’t answer because she knows you have her beat. Shirona Karashina tried to govern for a time. That’s the reason that kid champions are kept powerless these days.

“Am I being detained?” You flick your head towards her garchomp. “I have places to be.”

She crosses her arms. A stray gust of wind picks up her bangs and shows the nasty scar over her missing eye. “I’m going to call Cuicatl over and you’re going to tell her everything you know about who she was and what you did to her.”

“Look. Kid seems to have a good thing going. Three grand trials in the bag, a solid team, even a goddamn girlfriend. Do you want to risk ruining everything for her by dropping this onto her lap?”

The garchomp growls behind you and you freeze in place. What’d you do to piss her off?

“I assure you, the kid is not okay,” Shirona says in an almost unnaturally level voice. “Perhaps she would be if she’d had a supportive guardian and therapy from the start. Not just people who lied to her and then threw her out into the wilds without a pokémon or a friend.”

“We usually just keep them in house. Worked out with Lila. Never had a minor wander through before.” Not while you’ve been on the force, anyway. “Fine. We fucked it up. Bound to happen on the first try. There. Happy?”

She does not look happy. Ugh. You’re pretty sure she’s staying with Cuicatl to help her with her Class V. Can you use that to stall for time?

“If you’re going to tell her, don’t do it now. Wait until she has the licensing she needs to keep her pokémon before breaking her world, okay?”

The champion takes a deep breath. She rises onto the balls of her feet and puffs her chest like a pokémon trying to appear larger to intimidate a rival away. “Have. Everything. Then. Everything you learned from talking with her, everything she had on her person, every rationale for every decision that was made. Everything. All of it. If you’re even a second late or a document short I will make you regret it. Are we clear?”

“Crystal.”

She turns on her heel and whistles. Her garchomp springs into action, shoulder checking you and knocking you to the ground as she follows her master. Bastard. When you pull yourself off the ground you realize that the damn lizard slashed up the side of the truck. Probably on purpose, too.

Should you tell Lila? Might be better if they hear your version before Shirona’s. But then you’d be stuck in close quarters with an angry Lila. An angry Lila who just caught a metagross. Phone call, maybe? Yeah. That should do it. You’ll take a vacation off the island for a week while you wait for them to calm down. No. They’d probably just tell Cuicatl early and defeat the point. Probably best to just let Shirona assume you read Lila in on it without actually doing it. You will need to let Looker know to get everything out of storage. Then maybe let him handle that talk. You were retired when everything went down, anyway. Really just did some grunt work for them.

The car still starts. It still drives. You get the fuck out of the ruined town before the woman and her dragon can change their minds.
 
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Pixie Sixthborn Books 4 & 5 Announcement

Persephone

Infinite Screms
Pronouns
her/hers
Partners
  1. mawile
  2. vulpix-alola
Hello. I have finished posting the incredibly boring first drafts of Arcs 4 & 5 to Thousand Roads. Here are the covers and plot summaries for the final, much better fourth and fifth books of the Pixie Sixthborn series.

Pixie is wrapped in Kalani's tails against a starry background. Pixie Sixthborn and The Best Mom Ever is written above and below them. It vaguely resembles a warrior cats cover.
(Cover by suscipepe)

Who needs school? After easily vanquishing the Mooneater, Pixie has discovered a much better teacher - a fox! Pixie settles in with her new, much better teacher while the old class probably does boring human things somewhere. But all is not well. On a field trip Pixie comes face to face with the ultimate horror: an ice eevee! Will she vanquish the imposter fox without mussing up her fur? Or will her field trip end in a bad hair day that will test her new teacher's fondness? Find out in the riveting fourth installment of the three-year-running best selling novel series, Pixie Sixthborn And The Best Mom Ever.

Pixie walks against a starry background, tails held aloft. The shape of her tails and the fur on her back make it seem as if the jaws of another fox are closing on her.

(Cover by Kintsugi)

Old frenemies arrive! Miss Ichtaca and her class of biting bullies, North Korean spies, and a weird kid always dressed in armor show up at Pixie's new school. At the same time, a very ugly substitute teacher starts teaching a class on lies and betrayal. Will Pixie hold her path (the right path) and stay with her new, gorgeous, brilliant teacher? Or will she find herself falling back on old habits? Find out in Pixie Sixthborn And The Mountain's Curse, available April 31st where all worthwhile books are sold.

Finally, following the first Pixie Sixthborn movie raking in nine morbillion dollars at the box office, I am pleased to announce the Pixie Sixthborn Expanded Universe (PSEU). Don't worry, though, we aren't expanding too far. Every film will still have Pixie as the protagonist, just thrown into different settings and genres that all kind of feel the same after a while.

If Martin Scorsese says this isn't cinema I will personally burn his house down.
 
Chapter Edits

Persephone

Infinite Screms
Pronouns
her/hers
Partners
  1. mawile
  2. vulpix-alola
Hello,

I know I promised an update in the spring. That did not happen. The reason? I was busy editing the old chapters. I’ve finished uploading the changes to AO3, Space Battles, and Thousand Roads. There is no need to reread the story. The following are the most significant changes.

2.3: I changed the capture mission from elekid to dedenne.

3.1: I changed Arc 3 from Flying to Fighting and added a new anagram.

3.11: I altered the interactions between Kekoa and the florges. You should probably reread this one.

5.5: I deleted the old Kekoa chapter here as it didn’t feel necessary. I moved the Genesis chapter up and cut the arcade scene and Lyra’s departure.

5.6: All new Lyra POV chapter that changes her trajectory. Read this one.

5.9: Reflects the changes in 5.6.

5.10: Changed the early battle a bit. Decided the story was more interested if Pixie was too badly injured to battle for the foreseeable future.

Work on Arc 6 is ongoing and it should begin in the next few weeks.
 
Fairy 6.1

Persephone

Infinite Screms
Pronouns
her/hers
Partners
  1. mawile
  2. vulpix-alola
Mission Six: Fairy

“We need not be afraid of expecting the unexpected, but let us wheedle each instant we enjoy and endear each happy moment we encounter; let us watch each step we take and each move we make, ever since happiness is a loving and appealing fairy, but utterly frail and vulnerable.”

― Erik Pevernagie



Fairy 6.1: Brand Identity

Rachel

June 16, 2020

TROUBLE IN PARADISE? ALOLA’S ECONOMY FACES AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Join Avenue Journal

Alola’s economy shrank 83% year-over-year from January 2019 to January 2020 due to the appearance of Necrozma, an extra-dimensional pokémon that left most of the Mid-Pacific in darkness for months. Approximately 75% of the commonwealth’s population temporarily evacuated. The tourism industry was decimated and the agricultural industry faces lingering problems from the period of darkness. Four months after the crisis ended recovery has been slow. Over 100,000 residents have yet to permanently return. A recent poll found that a majority of prospective tourists…



COLONIZERS LOOT ALOLAN HERITAGE TO LINE THEIR POCKETS
The Rallying Cry

Alola has an artistic tradition dating back centuries. The Royal Museum in Hau’oli was once the third largest art gallery in the world. Now it is controlled by a majority haole board and an all-white executive team. With tax revenues and tourism down, Hau’oli faces the threat of bankruptcy. A source has brought to our attention a plan to pay the city’s debts and avoid bankruptcy by selling part of The Royal Museum’s collection to private…



TOP FIFTEEN CHAMPION SCANDALS
Hivemind

We like to think of league champions as upstanding figures. They don’t always live up to that. With the recent news about Alola’s ex-champion, we thought we’d take a look at the worst things champs around the world have been caught doing.



ERNEST GAGE SUES INTERPOL FOR DEFAMATION, WRONGFUL ARREST
Hau’oli Tribune

Six weeks after his arrest and subsequent grant of clemency, Gracidea Clothiers CEO Ernest Gage is suing the International Police Association for alleged civil rights violations. Mr. Gage and his wife were briefly arrested on charges of conspiracy to sexually assault a minor via preternatural means. He claims that he had already been exonerated by Alola’s Department of Family Affairs when he was arrested. The suit alleges that the INTERPOL officer, a lesbian, was retaliating against him for his conservative beliefs and donations to various Church of Life aligned charities. INTERPOL fired and have publicly distanced themselves from the former officer, Lila Takeda, stating that her conduct…



ANYONE KNOW WHO OWNED THE SECOND VULPIX? $300 REWARD
Justin’s Journal

Hello, fellow travelers. As you’re no doubt aware the scandal I’ve dubbed ‘Ninetalesgate’ began with Kukui’s ninetales stealing a vulpix. Leaked 911 calls show the ninetales later stole a second one. My friend at Austin Analyzes Alola managed to confirm that the first vulpix belonged to Cuicatl Ichtaca, by far the most interesting island challenger this year. But no one seems to know who the second vulpix belonged to. The records are all sealed. There can’t be that many vulpix trainers…



INTERPOL LETS IN ALIEN INFILTRATOR
Bullseye Media

Look, there’s been a lot of discussion of the Gage debacle. And I stand by what I’ve said before: literally everyone in this story is a monster except for Ms. Doe at the heart of it. A conversion therapist straight out of a nightmare, a cop trying to play hero while failing to keep anyone safe, a spineless governor, and an embezzler rotting in prison where he belongs. But I’ve only recently learned that the former cop, one Lila Takeda, had added a metagross to their team in early April. Details are scarce—they don’t want you knowing…



HOW TO GO ON AFTER LOSING AN ACE
The Battler

Rory Kukui was never quite good enough to be ranked. We’ve had him on our “100 Trainers To Watch” list for six of the last nine years, but the Top 100 has eluded him. It seems now that he’ll never crack that barrier. His ninetales, Kalani, was his former ace. She was recently euthanized by Dr. Shirona Karashina (#2) after stealing multiple pokémon and assaulting a minor. He’s not the first trainer to lose their strongest pokémon. Competitive battling can be a dangerous sport. Pokémon are impressive healers but sometimes an injury proves career ending. Even trainers with a strong supporting roster can struggle to fill the hole left…

*​

Yeah. You get it. Everything sucks.

You close your laptop and press your hands into your forehead like they’ll stop your budding headache. Alola was already in decline with the Ultra Beasts hurting tourism. Necrozma might as well have been the death blow. Federal money and insurance will fix all the infrastructure, but the residents and tourists might never come back. The islands will persist. They’ll just be poorer than they used to be.

There’s opportunity here. It’s just buried in a whole lot of risks. Lower income households are more likely to have kids go on the island challenge. Poor children are also less likely to finish it. When they come home their parents don’t appreciate having more mouths to feed. Naturally you can step in as the responsible way to get rid of their pokémon. You won’t release them and disrupt the ecosystem. You won’t lock them in an overcrowded shelter cage to waste away. You’ll find them a loving home or a more dedicated trainer. The families also get a little extra spending money. Everyone wins.

The major problem, and opportunity, is that the island challenge is on the brink of collapse. Some of the current challengers are still finishing. Those were mostly the kids who stayed through The Blackout. The ones who left have mostly not resumed their challenge. If they came back to Alola at all. The trainers who stayed suffered abnormally high mortality, further reducing your contractor pool. Now should be peak recruiting season with the school year over but it’s barely busier than last September or October. Maybe people are just waiting a year for the ecosystem to bounce back and a few of the tougher captains to retire. Maybe they’ll never go on a journey at all.

Whatever their reasons, it’s bad for your short-term finances. You can only profit from the future challengers if the company is still operating in a year’s time. Yet, if you can survive, you think there’s a lot of upside. The legislature’s noticed that the island challenge is off to a really slow start. There’s a growing consensus that someone should do something about that. Olivia’s pushing for subsidies for journey supplies and an expanded league infrastructure. All of that will require tax dollars and there aren’t a lot of those to go around right now. If VStar can partially redefine itself, expand into some of the services Olivia’s talking about, you could present yourself to the government and the public as the way to bring the island challenge back without fleecing the taxpayers.

And then there’s the Gage debacle. Thankfully no one’s seriously trying to pin that on you. Helps that Little Miss Gage is officially anonymous. She isn’t really; Gage’s kids are on his Wikipedia page with their ages listed and the reports all give her age. The media still isn’t reporting her name. That means they can’t report that she was with VStar before going back. As for the fringe figures online already making the connection, it’s quite tenuous. You couldn’t exactly force her to stay away from her family. Even if you could and wanted to, it’s forgivable to have lost track of a child in the first 24 hours of The Blackout.

If anything, the situation is a net positive for VStar. Island challengers fleeing abusive homes are quite common. They’re pretty much the only people taking the island challenge after recent events. Those kids tend to have very little financial support, which drives them to you. It’s not something you’ve been able to leverage directly yet—Ernest Gage is on the warpath and you’re hesitant to try and publicly profit off of his recent scandal. Even you can’t imagine the frivolous lawsuits he’d file against VStar on his daughter’s behalf. She isn’t legally emancipated yet. You could pressure her to do so, but your access to her is limited. Shirona, Olivia, and Lila are reluctantly giving you access to Cuicatl. They’ll close ranks the moment you bring up Genesis. And you get it. When you were ten you wouldn’t talk to anyone about your mother unless you were forced. Still won’t.

You’ll have to wait until Gage has calmed down a little. Then you can attempt an ad campaign to capitalize on the opening he gave you. Problem is finding subjects. Blurring out faces detracts from the authenticity of the ad. Not many current minors will go on the record about their abuse at home. VStar’s too new to have many older contractors who fit the bill. Hiring actors undermines the whole point. Best you can think of for now is a quick, mostly text-based ad that lists some depressing stats, makes your point, and ends.

Or you could try to get Cuicatl to do it. Girl flinches at any touch. Not hard to figure out why. She’s desperate enough for money that she might be willing to talk about anything if you dangle $15,000 in front of her. You’ll keep it in mind. It’s best not to push her loyalty too far right now. Last time you spoke she tried to attack you. That can be salvaged, but not fully and not immediately.

*​

Chris and Winston come into the meeting five minutes late. Seven minutes after you arrived. Jabari was slumped over in the corner when you got there. He grunted out an acknowledgement and then kept staring at his desk for a frankly uncomfortable amount of time. You consider prying. Seeing if his secret’s changed. No. He would be taking more effort to conceal his feelings if it was that serious. Probably wouldn’t respond to small talk. Best to just sit in uncomfortable silence.

“Let’s get started,” Chris calls out once he throws open the doors to the conference room. Victini is perched on his shoulder. Your boss looks confident despite the bags under his eyes and his company’s finances. Confident or high. Or both. You really don’t need to be dealing with a coke arrest right now. Those can be a pain to sweep under the rug. Winston walks in just behind his boss and plops himself down beside him at the head of the table. Jabari’s hunched in the back and you’re two seats down from Chris.

“Emmanuel and Rick aren’t coming?” you ask.

Chris just snorts. “Oh, I know what they’ll say. I do read their emails, y’know. Sometimes. They’ll talk about bankruptcy this, liability that—quitter talk. My New Year’s resolution was to listen less to small men trying to drag me down to their level. You can fill them in later if you feel the need.”

You’re going to need to push back on that. Later. When he isn’t around other people. It does you no good to undermine him when he’s playing a part.

“Now, first order of business.” He stands up and starts to pace. Victini hops off his shoulder to sit on the table. You don’t know why the god bothers to attend. He almost never talks. Surely there’s something better he could be doing. “I was searching online for VStar recently, trying to get all the news and all that, and I noticed something in the autofill. Third search result: ‘VStar Cuicatl Ichtaca.’ I was fifth.” He abruptly stops and whirls around to glare at you. “The fuck is that about?”

“There’s a great deal of interest around her due to Kukui’s mishap,” you say diplomatically. “One professional trailer executing another’s ace gets people talking. People were already interested in her because of the tyrantrum incident.” You can see Jabari wince when you bring that up. “When it came out that she was at the center of the latest drama there was a spike in interest. It will wane in time.”

Chris starts pacing again. “She’s a bad face for the company.”

“Would any face other than yours be a bad one?” you ask. “I do have to promote some of our contractors for PR.”

“No. It’s just her. She’s political.” He spits the word out in such a way that you know exactly what word he wanted to use.

“She’s never publicly commented on American politics.”

“No, no. Not like that. Not mudbray-copperajah stuff. I mean, like, I was at a golf event the other day, right? Grand Hano. Great course. I don’t play much but can’t turn down an invite.” Why the hell would he be publicly seen at a charity golf tournament hosted by Ernest Gage? Does he understand what a goddamn nightmare that could be if it came out? “And they were all talking about our virtue signaling. You know? Promoting a blind Aztec for the race game points. We can’t do that. Those aren’t my—those aren’t our values.”

You take a quick look around. Jabari’s fists are clenched but he’s staying quiet for the moment. Winston nods approvingly.

“A majority of our contractors are non-white and female. She’s not far off from our target demographic.”

“Fix that,” he snaps. “The target demo. That’s not what the pros are like. I want winners using this. Champions. We can’t—we can’t just be a charity case trainer thing.”

You very much are ‘a charity case trainer thing.’ Anyone with the preexisting experience and financial support needed to go pro wouldn’t be working with you. Miss Ichtaca is the exception that proves the rule.

Winston clears his throat. “If the suits are right about Alola—”

“—they aren’t—”

“I know. But even if they aren’t, maybe we should start thinking about expanding out of Alola.”

Chris slows down before stopping completely. Then he finally sits back down at the table. Good thinking. Distract him with thoughts of a big victory just ahead. You wouldn’t expand quite yet but it can’t hurt to at least make preliminary plans.

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah. We should do that.”

You clear your throat. “I propose Orre for our second location. They have a… persuadable government and a mostly unregulated pokémon trade and journey system. We could be the first movers as they clean up the Trinity Dead Zone. Probably some extra value in the pokémon there, too.”

Jabari grunts. You have no idea what that means. Cuicatl’s bloodline would be more helpful than your own here.

“Nah, Texas is where it’s at,” Winston counters. “Big region, lots of cool pokémon, friendly governor. Maybe he’d just let us take over the journey system outright. Pokémon Centers are pretty much socialist, right?”

You aren’t opposed to Texas. Orre and Florida are just better. In Florida you could market yourselves as cleaning up invasives and still have access to some formidable pokémon. It’s part of why Alola works as well as it does. As well as it did, anyway. For its part, Texas is already more than accommodating towards the only person richer and stupider than your boss. Maybe that’s a strike against it. You don’t want your boss getting on emerald boy’s untested rockets and blowing himself up. Then there’d be no one to pay your salary.

“Good ideas. But not what we’ll do. We’re going to Unova.”

That’s frankly one of the worst options. It’s almost as corrupt as Orre, sure, but there’s a reason Plasma could take off there. A lot of bleeding hearts and fairly strict catch quotas.

“Not sure that’s a great idea, boss,” Winston mutters. Holy crap. He’s going against Chris. If the actual voices of reason are gone does he have to step up? “Kind of politically correct up there. Not very business friendly.”

“No, no, it makes sense.” And back to the pacing. Shit. “I was champ there.” Before he vacated the title to go do whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted. Why be the strongest trainer in Unova when you could be the strongest trainer in the world? “People know me.” True. “People like me.” Ehhhhhhh. “I know the land. The pokémon. I can make it work. And if I prove it can work there, I can make it work everywhere. We could get big. Real big. Tech money big. Change the world.”

Victini bristles with pride beside him. He always likes the unrealistic visions. Probably because they make him actually work to make them succeed. By a certain definition of succeeding. You’ve had to explain to Chris before that there can be collateral damage when he single-mindedly pursues a goal. He could beat criminal charges in court and still have the entire media believing he’s guilty. Make short-term profits while destroying a company’s long-term viability. Win every battle and still be less popular than the runners up. Stumble to the top of his sport and still never find the fulfillment that he was looking for.

Not like you can help with the emotional stuff. If he wants a therapist, he can hire one. You’re mostly around to keep his worst indiscretions out of the public eye. He’s done things that would make Kukui’s fuckup look trivial. At least the professor only got his own ace killed. He could still visit the wronged parties in the hospital. Chris would have had to plead for forgiveness to a child-sized casket. Not that he asked for forgiveness. He doesn’t think he did anything wrong.

Jabari breaks the silence by grumbling something incoherent.

“What’s that? Speak up!” Chris shouts. Definitely high.

“There are no remote islands in Unova. We have a repeat incident and civilians will get killed.”

“That’s why we keep our holding facilities here.”

“Shipping pokémon that far is expensive.”

Chris waves a hand dismissively. “Just keep them in their balls on a charter flight. Not like the pokémon can rampage if something goes wrong. They’d just die. No idea why we’re still paying for the fancy transport ships and planes.”

“People died the last time you cut our security budget.”

“Because one of your people fucked up. If they’d done everything right—”

“That’s why you need redundancies—”

“Why would I pay people to be redundant—”

“People get tired. People make mistakes.”

“Then hire better people.”

“With what money?”

Jabari is just as upset as before but now he’s letting it all out at someone else. And Chris is digging in his heels. Even after you got him to agree to let you quietly apologize and make promises to the regulators that nothing like it would—or could—happen again. You don’t store dangerous pokémon anymore. You’ve hired a third party to do it instead. Less liability that way.

“Can we, uh, talk more about why you want to expand to Unova?” Winston asks.

“Oh. Right. I never got to the most important part. It’s important we go to Unova so we can bury Plasma and their sympathizers at their source. Pokémon are ours. They’re for our benefit. Xerneas Himself says so.” Odd. You’ve never taken him for a religious man. You glance at Victini. The god, a pokémon, isn’t disagreeing. “Guess what, N? We can do what we want. We will do what we want. You—and your followers—lost. Now stop whining about it.”

That speech would play well in some markets. Not Unova, not Alola. And it doesn’t work coming from you. Some customers that don’t really care about pokémon liberation would still be turned away if you just came out and said that you didn’t care how pokémon were treated. You have to at least give the image that you’re ethical. That image doesn’t need to survive serious scrutiny, just be enough to reassure the buyers and contractors who don’t like to think of themselves as bad people. It’s not like the media’s going to do much more than present your critic’s best arguments opposite whatever bullshit you come up with and ask their uninformed readers to pick out which one is true. You’ll really need to talk to Chris about his speech. Later. When he’s not so worked up. Ideally when he’s sober.

“Wait?” Winston asks. “The green hair and psychic abilities. Is, uh, is Ichtaca related to N?”

You are really regretting letting Cuicatl’s abilities slip. It came out on accident at first. Explaining to Jabari why Cuicatl sounded so different in person than on the news. If you hadn’t told him he would’ve conducted his own investigation and then freaked the fuck out when he found out who his brother was traveling with. It was best to be up front and tell him in the gentlest way possible. Then he’d let it slip to the board when Chris was questioning if Cuicatl was even capable of higher-level capture missions. Chris really wanted Melony Davis to be your main Class V candidate. You like Melony. She’s a reasonably intelligent girl with a solid grasp of battling. Interested in making money. But she’s cautious. Doesn’t have the drive to go out of her way to finish a thesis and then conduct risky captures. Cuicatl’s strings are readily visible and so, so easy to pull. You barely even need to do anything to get her to risk everything.

(Lila is taking care of her. So are Olivia and Shirona. They won’t let her go too far. Besides, someone has to be the Class V contractor. At least she’s competent.)

Chris knocks twice on the table and you get jolted to the present. Damn it. You try not to get too lost in your own head. It’s a bad neighborhood. Best not to be caught alone.

“What?”

“Well, is she.”

You sigh and think through how to play this. Chris has probably seen the Reshiram video. The internet isn’t entirely convinced that was Cuicatl given the poor lighting and shaky camera, but most suspect it. Whether you deny it or not Chris will convince himself that she’s related to N, and he’ll probably spin a grander story than reality.

“I think they’re distantly related,” you concede. “I’ve never asked her. She’s never mentioned him. If she had Plasma resources she probably wouldn’t be working for us.”

“Or.” Chris lets the word hang dramatically in the air as he raises up his arms to talk for him. “She was with her older brother when everything went to shit. Got away, made a new identity in Anahuac, and then came back to America posing as a broke refugee. She’s here for another shot at undermining our way of life.”

You take a deep breath. “Why would Plasma royalty work as a pokémon bounty hunter?”

He frowns. “Right. Still. It would be kind of fun, wouldn’t it? Like, if Zekrom and Reshiram decided their hosts weren’t worthy anymore and found new ones. Then I could crush Plasma’s queen and her entire ideology once and for all. Maybe carry onto Anahuac and finish what we started in ’87.”

Jabari scoffs. “You think Reshiram would find you worthy?”

“Obviously. Who else—”

The lights flare, the table shakes, and for a moment you think that Necrozma came back. And then everything settles. Victini turns towards his trainer and speaks in hushed mental tones to all present. {Why would you need another god? Am I not sufficient?”}

“I—no. I wouldn’t need one. You’re enough to crush Zekrom, Reshiram, Kyurem—all of them recombined. I was just fantasizing.” You think he’s actually sweating. And apologizing. Interesting. It’s been a very long time since you’ve seen him like this.

Victini doesn’t confirm or deny his words. Just lets out an adorable huff, folds his arms across his chest, and floats himself out of the room.

Chris shakes his head like he’s trying to wake up from a dream. Or trying to rapidly become sober. “I need to deal with that. The rest of you, uh, just do what I said.”

You adjourn the meeting the moment he leaves the room. No one challenges you.

*​

June 16, 2023

The major news outlets don’t like to talk about trainers on the island challenge. They’ll run a profile when someone actually wins, but not beforehand. It’s just extremely depressing when the kid inevitably flames out or dies. Hard to build a local celebrity when they’ll probably fade out of the limelight within a year. The real celebrities are the kahunas and captains, not their opponents. Cuicatl’s interviews are almost the only television appearances from an active challenger outside of battle.

The blogs and specialty publications are more than happy to fill the void. You idly search through some blogger’s personal forum while thinking through one of your most difficult problems.

Cuicatl beats Nanu! Video and battle analysis.

Justin, Site Admin

I know some people were a bit skeptical this would work out. Her vulpix hasn’t been training with the rest of the team for long, tyrunt struggle against the kind of tricks Nanu pulls, and her metang’s armor can’t block dark hits. We were all wrong: she won with three pokémon and no Z-move. Metang tied Nanu’s grimer. Then her tyrunt went ballistic and tore through Nanu’s raticate, one of his weaker persian, and took an earthquake from incineroar. Incredible performance. Seems the little dino learned close combat like Dianthea’s. Her golisopod finished the fight.

I have three big takeaways:

  • Shirona was seen in the crowd. The rumors that she’s mentoring Cuicatl are confirmed!
  • Her vulpix was a no-show. Is she healed yet? The reports didn’t mention that she’d been hurt or killed, but it’s strange she’d rely on metang instead of vulpix for the grimer match. That’s just a much better matchup. For now I’d assume she only has the three pokémon she used against Olivia. Bit weird she hasn’t tried to catch more this late in the challenge.
  • Her pokémon already kick ass. That tyrunt is going to be an absolute monster once she evolves. Seems she’s wearing an everstone color, too, which means that we might see a monster trucking tyrantrum when she fights Hapu!
Only challenger this year that I think has a shot at getting through two members of the League. I would be shocked if she didn’t go pro. Best get her autograph while you can, that thing’s going to sell for big money down the line.



Green Grass Grows

I’ve met her! We camped together on Ula’Ula. Kept texting for a while after that. She still responds, sometimes, but I think she’s busy or distracted. Her food is the best! Like, I didn’t know trail food could be good? I wish Mom would let us go back to Alola. I want to see her again. Good to see her winning in the meantime! I’ll text her my congratulations.



Neurotox

Holy s***. How much would I have to pay you for her phone number? And is she hotter in person? Idk she seems kind of ugly on film.



Justin, Site Admin

Interesting. Could you DM me proof?

Neurotox: Please don’t be creepy to the challengers. She’s sixteen at most.



Green Grass Grows

Yeahhhhhh how about no @ Neurotox.

@ Justin I’m not giving you her number but I guess we can talk? Don’t think she’ll want to talk to you, though. She’s kind of shy.



Fiting Spirit

Good trail food? What blasphemy is this? Forget battle and husbandry advice, I want her recipes.



Green Grass Grows

Rice, veggies, I think lab pidove when we met. Whole bunch of spices. She cooked most of it beforehand at the Pokémon Center (didn’t know you could do that) and just heated stuff up on the trail.



Watcher Kirstin

eww Neurotox. why?

EDIT: watched the video. she absolutely dominated him lol. somewhere a tyrantrum breeder is sitting on a slightly taller hoard of gold.



Slugs By The Bay

How fascinating. Her tyrunt has learned to use her muscles instead of her teeth. Does anyone know if Ms. Ichtaca can speak to elemental dragons? I have been looking for a reliable translator for my goodra. I can compensate her well for her services.



Dracozolt

Odds she takes Selene? Rumor has it that Lunala’s weak right now.



Fiting Spirit

@Slugs By The Bay “Compensate her well for her services.” Gonna make her an offer she can’t refuse while you’re at it.

@Dracozolt Not a chance. Her roster’s scary but she kinda sucks in a fite. I’m not even sure she’ll make it past Hapu. Unless she evolves her metagross. Says a lot that she needs a f****** metagross to carry her across the finish line.



Bells Toll 4 U

@Green Grass Grows Check your text messages.

@Slugs By The Bay Cuicatl is busy with thesis prep right now. She can probably help in a few weeks if the situation isn’t urgent. Check your business email for more information.

I highly doubt Cuicatl evolves her metang. Even she has her limits. I’m sure she will fill out her team soon enough. Hopefully with more sensible options.



Castler

Sure, sure. “She’s not evolving her team.” Get real. She’s Aztec. I met plenty of ‘sweet, innocent kids’ like her in ’87. I thought like you until a little girl literally stabbed my friend in the back. They’re all brainwashed. We should’ve torn out the rotten heart of their cult when we had the chance. Can’t believe our government is just giving them a metagross and a tyrantrum. Mark my words, American blood will be shed before this is all over.



Slugs By The Bay

Thank you, Bells. I look forward to working with Ms. Ichtaca at her convenience.

*​

You’re guessing from past posts that Bells Toll 4 U is Lyra Miura Cuicatl herself doesn’t have an account on any social media or forums. It could theoretically be Genesis but you know Lyra fancies herself as Cuicatl’s manager. At least she did when lives were being lost in real time. Figures she’s trying to bypass you now. You’ll have to give Emile a call and warn him that Bells is a scammer. Assert that you’re the only reliable line to Cuicatl. You’ll probably have to make a post casting doubt on Bells while you’re at it.

You close the computer and sigh. Another problem. Of course another problem pops up while you’re still trying to figure out how to solve another. The last time you spoke to Cuicatl she tried to kill you. Now you need to reestablish a cordial business relationship. There are limits to what you can do. You can’t promise to get her mother’s pokémon back. You’re pretty damn sure you would have known about a hydreigon going up for public sale anywhere in the world with the feelers you’ve put out. You’re guessing the dragon ended up exchanged privately in a notoriously opaque country. You also can’t undo the sale of her tyrunt’s mother. Doing so would do irreparable damage to VStar’s finances and reputation. You definitely can’t promise her enough money to buy the tyrantrum back from a Nigerian oil tycoon. He has a fascination with maneaters. An ordinary tyrantrum of her strength and purity would sell for $25,000,000 or more. He was willing to pay $8,000,000. Would’ve shelled out considerably more if he thought you could find another buyer.

There are still things you can do for her. She cut you off when you tried to explain last time, but the tyrantrum’s new owner would happily host a trainer who could keep his very dangerous and very expensive trophy happy. Might even pay for her airfare and lodging if he found her interesting enough.

The thought gives you pause. You should meet up with him again. Soon. Check his secrets. Maybe do some stealthy digging. There’s a fine line between interest and “interest” for people who know they can get away with anything. Just another thing on your plate.

The paperwork for her Class IV is ready for her signature. She won’t need it for the capture missions you have picked out, but it could be useful. Maybe she’ll end up with a dragalge instead of a skrelp. You can still provide her with the money she’ll need to feed her team as they grow. Tyrantrum need a lot to eat. You have a spreadsheet prepared in case she wavers. Ninetales are still large canids with unique needs. If her vulpix can still evolve. You aren’t sure how injuries work for that line. Or evolution for that matter. You vaguely remember it being different from traditional ninetales evolution but can’t remember the details. You’re not entirely sure if the details are well understood at this point. Not many trainers evolve either vulpix. The ones that do tend to be a bit… odd. Insular. Doesn’t help that the ninetales themselves seem to be rather private. Then, if she does evolve her metang, tyrantrum’s insurance rates will rise tenfold. You’re curious how Lila is paying their premiums. Didn’t think INTERPOL paid that well. Or maybe they’re banking on a wrongful termination suit. You’d be happy to recommend them a lawyer. You know a few. Some even have morals.

Back to Miss Ichtaca. Your approach will depend on how she walks into the meeting. Obviously, you need to be conciliatory: she probably feels wronged. You can even concede on some little things. Just not the ones that matter to the bottom line.

Now, time to run interference against Miss Mirai. Show her why you’re the professional.

Then you’ll have to figure out how to work with Cuicatl without upsetting any of her de facto guardians. You’re happy people are looking out for her. Girl needed more than you could give. It’s just annoying. Most of the kids you work with have no family worth talking to or one that can’t help them. They’re alone and you’re the only adult with actual influence who’s willing to listen. You aren’t malicious. You do try to help where you can. But the bottom line comes first. They understand that. You never hide it. And now she has three people with as much influence as you pulling her in other ways. Reminds you why you try not to rely on kids with stable family situations. Too much risk your investment is undercut.

Lila’s an ex-cop who treats you like you’ve done something illegal. There’s no talking your way out of it with them. Even the best law enforcement have an ‘us and the criminals’ mentality and you’re solidly in the criminal category for them. Lila will try to limit your influence on principle after the tyrantrum world as she wants it to be. In her ideal world VStar wouldn’t exist. That means that, to her, you’re doing something wrong. Even if you’re filling a role that isn’t filled. She will oppose you on principle. Thankfully she’s rather busy and has a lot of problem children she keeps tabs on. Easy enough to distract her. It was the same with Lila before they got fired. You’ll have to help them find work. For your own sanity. Maybe an Elite Four post?

Then there’s Shirona. Lila is currently a pariah and you’ve outmaneuvered Kahuna’s before. You never should have reached out to the champion. She has money, physical power, and a lot of public goodwill. If she thinks VStar is worth throwing her bully pulpit against then you will not survive. The only upside there is that it’s so easy to spin and she knows it. Just a jealous contender for world champ mad at the man who defeated her. Then there’s history. She’s tried to be a politician before and got burned. Odds are good she won’t crush you directly. You can just stall out the clock until she goes home and you can be a bit bolder when giving Cuicatl risky missions. The problem is, Cuicatl’s journey is also on a clock. Once she has her V you’re going to have to start searching for her replacement. Just part of life when your contractors can only work for a year or so.

*​

June 17, 2020

The buzzer shakes you out of your paperwork. Damn it. You had a nice groove going.

“Miss Bell, your 10:00 is here.”

“Thank you. Send her in.”

You set your papers to the side. Cuicatl’s slower than expected so you manage to get your desk all the way clean. Not that she’ll appreciate it. When the door opens you stand up to escort her to the couch. “Hello, hello. Long time no see.”

She just grunts. Using the cane today. Not any of her guide pokémon. You can guess that the tyrunt doesn’t want to deal with you and the vulpix might still be injured. Come to think of it, you’re not sure you’d want a metang in your office. They’re pretty good at intercepting signals. Wouldn’t do for them to read the wrong email.

“I wanted to start things off where we left off: I’m sorry I didn’t consult you about the decision in advance. But I’m afraid I can’t reverse it.”

The girl glowers at you. This time she almost manages to look you in the eye. “Why should I trust you?”

“Because I didn’t do what you think I did. Yes, we sold the tyrantrum. But. That doesn’t put her out of your reach. The new owner is eager to have you visit. Anything that smooths things over with his pokémon is good for him.”

She doesn’t react much at all. Disappointing. You’d take anything that gave you an idea of how you were faring.

“When?”

“After you get your Class V license. I should also have some extra work lined up for you then. Your skills as a translator are in demand.”

“Lyra mentioned that.” Spot on about her alias. Glad you could nip that in the bud. All in a way that can’t be easily traced back to you. So, so easy to manipulate a crowd of teenagers into disliking someone. They barely need an excuse. Then their interactions will start to rub off on the older users. Make them reflexively distrust the forum pariah.

“Rest assured, I have more contacts than her. As long as you’re with us you’ll be able to pay your bills. Even save up more money for when the island challenge ends.”

Cuicatl flinches. Right. Challenge ending. Going home. Had she not put that together yet? After she beats Hapu she has three months to challenge the league and then her visa’s up.

“I have your Class IV paperwork ready for your signature. You won’t need it for the capture missions, but it’ll be nice to have until you get your V.” She barely reacts. None of her current pokémon need a Class IV. “Maybe you’ll come across something on Poni you want to add to your team.”

That gets a small frown out of her. Why? “That would be bad, yes. If I met someone who needed help and couldn’t give it to them.”

Is that how she frames all of her captures? You remember watching the camera feed of her first conversation with Pixie. Yes, she framed it as helping her, but it was obviously just leading the fox along to the answer she wanted. You thought you might have a protégé on your hands.

“I can get you a lost of pokémon on your route that need a Class IV license. Speaking of, your route:” You reach under your desk to pull out a map before instantly remembering why that isn’t helpful. “Ah, I’m not sure how familiar you are with Poni’s geography. I can email you a map so your travel companions can review it.”

She nods slightly. “There’s a canyon.”

“There is a canyon. It’s usually the last major hurdle in the island challenge. Two captains, a fairy totem in the island’s main port and a dragon totem in the heart of the canyon.”

“Fairies and dragons…” She sounds almost wistful. “A good ending.”

“I think they were intentional about that, yes. Then there’s Hapu.” You pause, unsure how to voice your concerns here. “I’m not sure how your current team will do against the Poni trials. Only one is fully evolved at the moment. None of the others can easily evolve, especially not before you get a Class V. I would think carefully about your final two or three team members.

Cuicatl tilts her head quizzically. “Three?”

“I wasn’t sure if Pixie can still battle.”

“Oh.” She leans back in the chair and looks down into her lap. Some body language transcends blindness. “She can’t.”

“I haven’t told you the capture missions yet, have I?” You know you haven’t. It’s just a trick to get her mentally switching to something else before you continue there.

“No.”

“Three on Poni. Skrelp by the coast. They’re getting popular with aquarists. $1,250 a skrelp. We can take up to five. Machoke and skarmory are always in demand. We can take one of each. They’re found in the canyon. $2,000 for the machoke, $3,500 for the skarmory.”

Those are higher than your usual rates. You had to fight to give her a slight boost. Make her want to stay.

“Okay. I can do that.”

“Good. Now, let’s talk about something happier. If you can give me your passport and visa info I can figure out what other documents you need to get to Nigeria. Shouldn’t be too hard.”

“My… passport.” She frowns. “I think it’s in the locker? I haven’t had it in my pack.”

“That’s fine. I can escort you there.”

It is not in the locker. Her pulse is hammering as you lead her back to your office to talk it over. “Do you remember what airport you flew into? You might have left it there.”

“West Harbor Airport.”

“That’s in Unova. Did you do a layover?”

She shakes her head. “No. I. Must have. My mother mentioned it. Um. Is there more than one airport?”

Usually none worth mentioning. But Malie Airport handles flights that aren’t allowed in Gage International for security reasons. A direct flight from Anahuac might qualify.

“Which island did you arrive on?”

“I… Melemele? I didn’t take a ferry over. Or. No. Maybe I did?”

You get it. You’re asking a girl to remember details from nine months ago. That’s practically a lifetime at her age. And she didn’t seem to be in a good headspace back then. Maybe a really bad one if she was… thinking about what you thought she was when you saw her on the boardwalk. Regardless, you can have her call them both.

She does. They don’t have it. Which is fine. She probably would have needed it to register at a Center.

The intake centers in Melemele don’t have it, either.

Now you’re getting worried that she accidentally made herself stateless. Would Anahuac even take her back without documentation? Probably if America deported her. And she’s a bit too high profile to just overstay her visa. You’re not entirely sure she’d want to go back to Anahuac, either, now that she’s a military asset to them. Or maybe that’s a draw. Her pivots hint at some paramilitary training. Maybe that’s universal there.

Cuicatl herself is drenched in a layer of sweat and practically shaking.

“And you’re absolutely certain you had documentation, right? That you came here legally.” It’s a dumb question. No airline would have taken someone from Anahuac without layers of screening.

“Yes. I think. I don’t remember getting the passport but I know I had one. I got registered as a trainer and…” She trails off and stares into a random corner of the room. Probably trying to clamp down a panic attack. You’ve been there.

“Would you like me to get you water? Something to eat?”

“N-no. Just.” {Where’s the bathroom?}

“I can take you there.”

{No. I can go.}

Oh. She wants to be alone.

“Would it be okay if I left you alone in the office, or do you need to use the bathroom?” You try to keep your voice gentle. Calming. You hope she doesn’t find it condescending.

{Office is fine.}

“Okay. Reach out to my mind when you’re ready.”

Hopefully she has Pixie on her. Hopefully one of her guardians can do something about this. Because, as annoying as they are, right now the girl needs more help than you can give. In more ways than one.
 
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Fairy 6.2

Persephone

Infinite Screms
Pronouns
her/hers
Partners
  1. mawile
  2. vulpix-alola
Fairy 6.2: The Final Voyage
Cuicatl

June 21, 2023

You’ve only been to Dr. Livens’ office twice before. The first was when everything went wrong with Genesis. The second was the day you talked to Pixie about dreams and choices. Later that night she would call out for you again and you would get cursed. Maybe. The spiritomb wasn’t sure. You know you are, though, because things never go well for you. Whenever Tezcatlipoca weighs cruelty and kindness in your fate he always picks cruelty.

You’re going to die alone. That’s the part you told Gen. The part that Kalani finished. Then there’s the part she didn’t: you will never go home. You aren’t sure how to feel about that. The only thing left for you at home is your father. Your last surviving family. You owe it to him to return. You should. You don’t want to. When Pixie told you the second half of the ninetales’ curse you were secretly relieved. Almost wished Kalani had finished speaking before Genkei arrived. Then that wouldn’t be your choice. You wouldn’t be a bad daughter. You were simply forced.

Now you have to go back. You aren’t sure Genesis can come with you. Everything from the last few months, it will end. There are only two totems left. One kahuna. Then your visa is set to expire. You’ll go home and everything will go back to the old normal. Just without Achi.

“Cuicatl?”

Dr. Livens calls for you. The session is going to begin. You accept her help walking into the room. You don’t really want to have pokémon out for this since you’re going to be talking about at least one of them. Pixie got really nervous when you told her that you wanted to talk about her without her present. Had to remind her that you almost died for her. You’re not secretly plotting to leave. Just want some time alone.

The doctor guides you to her couch and you sit down, cane resting beside you and hands folded in your lap. She sits down across from you.

“I hear that things have been… eventful since our last session.”

You can’t help but smile. That’s really an understatement. “A little.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Later. Maybe. Not what’s bothering me right now.”

“Oh?”

“Well. A few days ago I met with my boss at VStar…”

*​

“No, ma’am, we haven’t found anything like that.”

“Okay.”

You hang up before they can wish you luck like every other receptionist at every other Pokémon Center in the city. And the airport. And the mall. And VStar. Even the fish restaurant that Rachel took you too in October. None of them have your documents. You called Anahuac’s embassy and they didn’t have a copy of your visa on file, either. You don’t remember having them on the trail. They would’ve gone into the locker you have at the VStar base, probably, even though you can’t remember putting them there. Rachel says there haven’t been any break-ins and the room is constantly watched.

You fall back onto the bed and groan. You don’t reject Pixie when she curls up beside you but you don’t acknowledge her either. You don’t deserve that. Not when you fucked up this badly. Your passport, your visa, everything—gone. You had one job and you failed it spectacularly. Dr. Karashina has been constantly telling you that it isn’t your fault, that this could have happened to anybody, that Nanu can take care of it by the time you reach the Battle Tower. But that’s not true. Normal people don’t lose the only things proving they should be in the country. That only happens to careless people.

Careless.

You remember hearing the word a thousand times. After you burned dinner or dropped it on the ground or wrote your homework too illegibly to grade or got to school late because you misjudged how long it would take to clean up breakfast. Careless. A careless, stupid girl. He was right. Even across the ocean you can’t change who you are. Who you always were.

It was foolish to think you could.

Someone knocks on the door. You ignore them. Then the card reader clicks and the door swings open. Great. Genesis is back.

“Any luck?” she asks.

You don’t answer her. You’re not sure you could without crying, and then you would have to explain why you’re crying, and you just… can’t. Not today. Not now.

Your girlfriend walks towards your shared bed with hesitant steps before settling into her side. “Do you want to go on a date?” she asks.

“What?”

“A date.” She says it slowly like you don’t understand the language. Like you’re stupid. Maybe you are. “We haven’t gone on one yet. It feels like we maybe should at this point. Uh. Do you have dates in Anahuac?”

You roll your eyes. “Sort of.” Not worth going into the full details of courting and all that. They’re not as important as they were a few decades ago and you never really bothered to learn them. What you know was picked up secondhand from Achi. “I should be looking for my passport now. Sorry.”

Genesis takes a deep breath. “If it’s been gone for months, a few hours won’t hurt.”

Doesn’t she get it? You can’t know about the problem and do nothing. You can go back to enjoying things until you’ve fixed your mistake.

“When’s the last time you ate?”

You frown and try to remember. Breakfast didn’t happen because you weren’t that hungry and had to help Pixie through her exercises and take her and Coco on a walk and polish Noci and Leo’s armor. You were too focused on your passport to eat lunch. You didn’t really want to eat dinner last night because you felt your stomach in the shower and noticed a curve there that you’re pretty sure isn’t healthy. Can’t remember if Lyra had one or not. It would be too awkward to ask her or Genesis about it. Really weird if you just touched Genesis’s stomach while cuddling. Pretty sure you’re not supposed to do that. Anyway, Lyra bullied you into eating something while she was watching. Just a salad, but one of those salads with actual toppings. Before that… what time is it, anyway? Asking might cede the point. So you don’t.

She claims victory anyway. “Come on. Let’s get out of the room. Take our pokémon on a walk to the beach. There’s a good place… um. Okay that might be too expensive now. There’s a soup place on by the boardwalk. Do you like soup?”

What kind of a question is that? There are obviously soups you like out of the thousands people have come up with. It’s just food in water. Mankind’s second recipe. Right after “normal food but roasted.”

“Fine.” You’re not happy that you’re wasting valuable time, but you know Gen well enough to know that she stays on track when she’s focused on something. You’ll go on a quick walk, eat some food, get back to business.

You aren’t sure if a first date is supposed to feel important. You think it probably should. Genesis would want it to be. She’s a romantic like that. You just aren’t in a good mood for that kind of thing. She’ll be disappointed when you can’t live up to what she wants. What she deserves. She should be happy. She should be with someone who can make her happy. Instead, she has to spend effort on you. It’s embarrassing. Shameful. Careless.

“I don’t think it should be an official date. I can’t… I wouldn’t be good for it.”

“Right.” She pauses to consider. “You should enjoy it, too. Okay. Uh. Just a walk and lunch, then?”

So understanding. Not even you have been able to break her patience yet.

“Just a walk and lunch.”

She takes your hand. Holds it, not in the guiding way. “Shirona says it doesn’t matter. You aren’t traveling out of the country before the conference and she’s sure Nanu can come through then. You don’t need it to go faster.”

“She had to fix my mistake,” you mutter. “Hate it.”

Your girlfriend shifts closer so that your shoulders are touching. Pixie has to adjust on your lap but doesn’t complain. “You had to fix my mistake,” she whispers. “Are you mad at me for that?”

“What mistake?” You run through the last few weeks and can’t think of anything big. What is she guilty about? Or does she think you’d hate her for? She flicks you in the head and you realize what she’s talking about. Right. She told you she… agreed to that. You don’t think it mattered. If she hadn’t agreed her father would have just agreed for her.

“I’m not mad about that. Not your fault.”

“And Shirona’s not mad about this. Resolved it with one phone call.”

A very long one. With Nanu of all people. Probably had to call in a lot of favors to get his help. You don’t even know how he would produce a copy of your visa and passport. That sounds like it would have to come from Anahuac or the American central government. Maybe he just has connections?

You sigh. “I’m sorry you have to help me like this. You…” You don’t want to tell her aloud that she deserves better, even if she does, because you like this and you don’t want it to end. No human has really cuddled you in… in a year. You’re more comfortable with her than anyone since you came to Alola. You don’t want to be alone. Again.

“You had to make me breathe for a month. I can’t complain about helping my girlfriend feel better. If I can, I’d love to.”

You aren’t getting out of this. And, in spite of everything, she’s already helping you a little.

“You want to go, Pix?”

She groans. You don’t need your gift to know she doesn’t want to. Or why she doesn’t want to. The dry season means that Alola’s always sunny. And hot. She would hate it even if she wasn’t hurt. She had a very long walk this morning, the one that made you too late to eat breakfast… yeah. Rough day for the poor girl. You scratch her ear and let her press her head into your hand for as long as you can justify keeping Gen waiting. Then you gently push the vulpix away and get to your feet.

“Coco?”

The dinosaur comes running from her bed in the corner. You run your hands along her neck, massaging the powerful muscles underneath while she gently growls and occasionally shakes beneath you. She wants it to be playtime. She really needs more. Poor girl’s probably felt neglected after Pixie came back and Ihe—

*​

You stop. “That’s going to be another tangent. Should I finish this one or go to that?”

Dr. Livens taps her pen against her notepad twice. A strange tic of hers. “I would like to hear how your not-date went. Can I just ask you a question before we move on?”

“Sure?”

“Has anyone ever taught you how to accept help?”

“What? No? Why would I have to be taught that.” You just say yes. Why would someone need to teach you that?

“Did your father ever help you when you were struggling as a child?”

“Kind of? When I was really young and still learning to read and stuff. Before I became an adult.”

“And when would you say you became an adult?”

“Ten. Officially. I’d already been doing adult duties for a while before that, but ten is when adulthood officially starts.” It was when Achi got his spear. When your mother was supposed to start giving you some of her work to do on your own. But you’d already been given her memories and duties. Someone needed to cook and clean. Your father already had his burdens.

“I see.” She sounds unconvinced. You hate that. When she doesn’t believe you but won’t say as much. “Did your brother help with your chores?”

“He tried. Our father didn’t like that. Distracted him from schoolwork and training and all of his duties.”

“And was he always busy with his schoolwork and training every second of every day?”

“No? But he was tired and had to rest or play with his friends and stuff. Like I did when Alice took me away for a weekend.”

Dr. Livens takes a deep breath and exhales through her nose.

“Did anyone other than your mother’s hydreigon help you when you were overwhelmed, or tired, or just didn’t want to do something?”

Um. Your godmother, sometimes, when you were younger. But she was busy around her house. Once you were trained there wasn’t much reason for her to step in. You’ve barely spoken to her in the last few years. After ten? Hmm. There had to be someone, sometime.

“We’ve spoken before about the difference between knowing something to be true in your head and your heart. It’s one thing to know, intellectually, that you can ask people for help and they’ll probably give it. Feeling like it’s appropriate or something that’s easy to do is something else entirely.”

You don’t answer her because you’re not sure what to say. Or what would happen if you did. You ask your pokémon to help you all the time. Have others help set up the campsite. You can do it. You do it. Just not with the things that you should be able to handle on your own.

When Dr. Livens talks again her voice is soft, like she’s talking to a child. You aren’t a child. Haven’t been for years. “Would you like to talk more about this now or continue telling me about your not-date?”

“Not-date.”

“Alright. Go ahead.”

*​

Genesis likes the water. Before The Blackout she was always the one pushing for beach days. She was persistent enough to wear down you and Kekoa into going to the beach, even if you wouldn’t dress to swim. You have your problems with your body—

*​

“That doesn’t mean I want to talk about them right now.”

“Understood. Keep going.”

*​

You have your problems with your body and Kekoa has his. Neither of you wants to show more skin than you have to. When you were helping her recover she wanted to be by the pool or the beach at leas once a day, even if it was too dangerous for her to go in the water. Her starter’s a water-type. She got another one while you were away. Still aren’t sure how to ask about that. You aren’t sure if she wants to remember anything from those four months and it feels wrong to talk to go behind her back and talk to Oliver.

Genesis likes the water so of course she took you to the boardwalk. She narrates things to you, talking about the sights and past trips so quickly that her sentences start to run together. Her pulse is a quick thrum under your hand. She’s nervous. Probably sees this as a date even if you didn’t want it to be. You try to respond, try to be encouraging, but she took you to the boardwalk.

Eight months ago, you went to the boardwalk and almost ended everything. You want to say that you’re glad you didn’t, that everything’s been better since. And it mostly has. Mostly. You might change your mind when you have to go back to Anahuac.

*​

You freeze in place. Shit. You weren’t supposed to tell her that. You take a deep breath and try to figure out how much trouble you’re in. “Are you sending me to jail?”

Dr. Livens emotions jump just beneath her mental surface. You aren’t good enough to tell what they jumped between, just that they changed. If you hadn’t been paying attention you wouldn’t have even got that.

“What for?”

“I told you that I thought about killing myself.”

The words hang heavy in the air. Should you have told her? Maybe she was just playing dumb and now she can’t. Of all the careless mistakes—

“No. Not unless you have an immediate plan. And it’s not jail. It’s just a temporary hold. No criminal record.”

Maybe not. Maybe it wouldn’t affect your visa. However, the people who decide if you get a Class V might not trust you if they knew about it. Then you couldn’t get enough money to get Alice back, Coco would have to leave, and everything would fall apart. You aren’t sure what would happen then. If you lost everyone you cared about in a year. Even if there are new people it wouldn’t be the same. They can, and will, slink out of your life without warning.

*​

When you finally get to the restaurant you end up seated across from Genesis. Which you don’t like. You understand why people do this—you’re supposed to sit across from the people you’re eating with so you can make eye contact and see each other when you talk. It’s a social rule. It just doesn’t work for you. There’s no visual reminder someone is there. You can’t see expressions. You would like to sit next to someone. Feel the air move as they shift around. Maybe even feel their warmth or a pulse or something. Anything to tell you there’s another human there. That you aren’t alone.

Genesis talks to you. Narrates the entire menu. It’s not the same. You don’t know how to ask. It might be wrong, even indecent, in this culture. Yes, you’re already sharing a bed. That’s in private. Americans are weird about public affection. No platonic kissing, barely any platonic hugs. Everything’s cold, formal, businesslike. They want their people to be as lifeless as their culture, as their machines.

Genesis pauses. “Oh! There’s a corn, squash, and bean soup. Says it’s inspired by Anahuac. Do you want to try that?”

“Sure.”

You do not like choosing foods. You do not like her having to read the entire menu for you. Most ‘Anahuac-inspired’ food you have had in America has too much cheese, not nearly enough (or any) chile. It’s not always bad, but it’s not home. It’s not even a good attempt at it.

A waitress takes your order and you’re left in comfortable silence. A song comes on the radio and sucks you into one of your mother’s memories. One that stands oddly strong despite nothing happening. She’d been waiting in a Pokémon Center lobby for her pokémon to be healed after a battle. You’re pretty sure it was against Clay. Some of the context is missing. That’s the problem with your mother’s memories: you have snapshots, lines of thought from the moment, but they don’t connect right. Maybe you could group them into eras but not a straight-line sequence. Anyway, she was listening to the radio and the song came on and she instantly liked it. The singer’s voice was beautiful, the melody was entrancing, and there was a sadness to it all that usually isn’t in American music. It’s all so shallow. Love, lust, partying, maybe anger or heartbreak. Nothing on mourning or childbirth or platonic friendship. Music made for everyone and no one.

She loved the song. It became one of her favorites. Sometimes you still find yourself humming it. A small connection to her.

“When did this song come out?” you ask Genesis. “It still gets played a lot on the radio.”

“Pretty recently, I think? Let me check.” There’s a lull as the chorus swells into a breathtakingly powerful performance and your girlfriend checks her phone. “2017. Why?”

No. That’s. Your mother heard it in the 1990s. That cannot be right. She must have the date for the wrong song.

“Nothing. Just thought it was older. Sounds like something my mom would have liked.”

“Oh. Her voice is kind of timeless. Even my mom listened to her music and she didn’t like much made after the 50s.”

Her thoughts slow as emotion bleeds in. You reach a hand across the table and she grasps it. You don’t know what she’s feeling. You care more about being a good daughter than your father as a person. Is it similar for her? Was she friends with her mother and now feels betrayed? Your father hurt you, yes, but you never really looked to him for safety. If Achi hurt you. Then… that would be different. You would still allow it from him. You shared a mind and he would not hurt himself, or you, without reason.

Genesis takes your hand and sighs. “I wonder how my siblings are doing. If I was selfish to get out and leave them behind.”

You want to help but aren’t sure how. Pokémon are easy. You can own one by having enough money the old owner wants to sell. Humans are hard. Their ownership is decided by custom and courts. Custom cuts in favor of the parent and her parents can bribe any court.

“Just wish there was something I could do about it. Being helpless makes it worse.”

“We’ll figure it out,” you lie to her. “Just give it time.”

“Okay.” She doesn’t sound convinced but she doesn’t push it. The waiter comes shortly after and you place your orders. Let her order for you since you have no idea what it’s called on the menu.

You sit in silence. Your thoughts linger on the docks and hers on her family. Neither of you are happy. This is a date, kind of. You’re supposed to be happy. You try and think of something nice. Something that can’t cause any problems. Books, maybe? There was a night on… Akala, probably, where she asked you about books before realizing you couldn’t read. You let her stew in the awkwardness for a bit before reminding her of audiobooks. She ended up rambling on about some fantasy series that you couldn’t really bring yourself to care about. Her idea of knights and dragons and fairies was adorable. In Anahuac they don’t romanticize war. Two soldiers clash on the battlefield. One will be sacrificed. The Americans just kill their enemies outright. Let them die a meaningless, dishonorable death and leave their remains to the scavengers. You know they’re outraged by your sacrifices but at least those have a purpose. Better than bombing an entire city or executing a man already locked in a cage, unable to hurt anyone again.

Not the point. Knights. Books.

“Have you read anything lately?”

You can feel her startle. She was probably as lost in her own mind as you were. Maybe even worse. “Oh. Um. No.” There’s a brief pause before you hear her body rub against the booth as she adjusts her posture. “The Cawdet’s Eye is probably out now. I didn’t even think about its release when it happened.” Another pause. “You know, the woman they hired read all the books. Made me recite a worse version without the stuff she didn’t like. Poor people, lady knights, friendships between girls. It was kind of silly in hindsight.” She doesn’t quite giggle. More of a chuff. You aren’t sure what you’re supposed to say to that. “Then she made me burn them all. Except she messed up and the fire exploded.”

Genesis laughs for real this time. You try to giggle back, even if you’re still horrified.

“That’s when father fired her and hired…” She trails off. You know how it ended. There was nothing funny about it. Except maybe the kiss in hindsight. Maybe someday you’ll be able to laugh about her mistake. Probably around the same time you can laugh about any part of your brother’s death. Probably never.

“We could get more books,” you tell her. You try to keep your voice gentle. Even though you kind of hate it when people do that to you. “Maybe not all of them yet. But some.”

“I would like that. Can we go to the bookstore after lunch?”

You want to say no. That there you should be doing… something about your papers. But this would make Genesis happy. You can’t say no.

The food is disappointing when it comes. Not nearly enough flavor. The kind of thing you would eat while fasting. Normal fasting. The no-spice fasting. Not the American eat nothing fasting. It doesn’t make you as homesick as you would’ve thought. You made your own food at home. You make your own food here. You don’t have the right ingredients or equipment but it’s still pretty much the same. Life is still pretty much the same. Just without the people you cared about. You miss them more than Anahuac itself.

*​

“Do you want to talk about that today or later?”

“Later.” You aren’t sure how long the ‘future topics’ list is now. Maybe it’s so long that you’ll never get through it.

“Did anything else happen on the not-date you want to talk about?”

“Kind of. I told Gen I loved the food because she sounded like she really wanted me to like it. Then we went book shopping and it was almost the happiest I’ve ever heard her. Ended up buying four books for her and a better audiobook reader for me. She recommended a few. I’ll probably read them. For her, mostly. Some sound good. Then we just went back to the hotel to cuddle and read.”

“And how did that feel? Doing that when you had work to do?”

You take a deep breath. Right. The mistake. “I forgot about work for hours. Never did find my passport. I’ll do better in the future.”

Dr. Livens hums in faint disapproval. “What if you didn’t?”

“Then I’d never get anything done and—”

“And what if you didn’t?”

“Then people would starve? I cook food. On the trail at least. Haven’t been doing that as much lately…” You offered. Dr. Karashina lets you, but only once a day. If you cook too much she doesn’t let you the next day. It’s frustrating. She’s a champion letting you live in her home. You should be taking care of her, not the other way around.

“Off the trail then. What if you just stopped doing work for three days.”

Dr. Karashina would judge you, probably. There are still things weighing over your head. Still money to make, people to take care of. “Pixie needs physical therapy, Noci and Leo need polishing, Coco needs a lot of attention.”

“How long does the physical therapy take? How much attention does Coco need a day? How often do Leo and Noci need polishing, strictly speaking?”

Oh. You get it. She’s trying to get you to manage your time better so you can be more productive. Very American.

“Maybe an hour for the therapy between two sessions a day. Coco likes at least an hour of walks, an hour of play. She could do down to a half hour of each. Maybe. I worry I don’t give her enough of my time. Sometimes she wants to play and I’m busy and—”

“I understand. How often do your pokémon need polishing?”

“They don’t really need it,” you admit. “It’s just the only way I have to connect with Leo. And it’s not polishing as much as petting sometimes. Noci seems to like it. I never know with her. I want to do something for her but it never feels like I can do anything. Outside of explaining stuff. But I can’t really schedule that. She just asks questions when she has them.”

Dr. Livens writes something down and flips the page of her notes. You’re pretty sure she only takes as many notes as she does so she can stall and think of questions. “What did your average day look like before coming to Alola?”

Average day would be a school day. So. “Get up, make breakfast, figure out what my father’s lunch was going to be, make it if necessary, clean up breakfast, walk to school. School for several hours. Walk home. Care for the pokémon. Make dinner. Clean things up around the house. Homework until it was done or I gave up and went to bed? I had more time for pokémon and my brother on weekends. Sometimes I would knit or listen to an audiobook or a movie if I had the time.”

“So you took care of other people first, and then did something for you if it fit into the schedule?”

“Yes? I took care of what needed to be done before other things.”

The therapist takes a deep breath and holds it for a moment before slowly exhaling.

“I think I see where some thought patterns come from. If you had always been told that other people’s needs were more important than your own, how long would it take to start believing that other people are more important than you? That you’re worth less than other humans.”

“I don’t…” Except. You do? She isn’t wrong. You know, on some level, that you’re the same as everyone else but. Sometimes you don’t know that. Or feel that.

“If you don’t think you’re worth as much as other people, it would be hard to accept their help. It breaks the order of things that you had been taught. People resist having their worldviews challenged.”

But it’s Shirona Karashina. She is more important than you. When you try to open your mouth to tell her no words come out.

“I would like it if you could eventually tell me, confidently, that you’re just as important as everyone else and deserve to be happy and cared for as much as them. Do you think you could do that someday?”

“I…” It’s. You get that. In your brain. The happy part. But you don’t need to be cared for. You haven’t needed that for years. It feels wrong when Dr. Karashina has to. Like. You’re not sure. She shouldn’t have to. She shouldn’t want to. Because?



“What I want you to do is to take at least one hour a day to yourself on the trail. Don’t go out of your way to help anyone. Don’t be productive. Just do something you want to do. Knit, listen to an audiobook, take a nap: I don’t care. Something you enjoy.”

“I don’t want to be a burden on the trail,” you whisper.

“Ask Lyra and Genesis if you would be a burden. Tell them why you’re making the request. Do you think they would turn you down?”

Genesis wouldn’t. She’s told you that she wants to help. And she gave you the books in the first place. You don’t know about Lyra. You haven’t been sure what to think about her since—

“I need to talk about something we put aside.”

“Alright. Go ahead.”

*​

June 12, 2020

“I hope you’re happy. Or at least less sad. And I want to meet again when Alola is free. Or whenever you turn on Chris Foster. Whichever comes first.”

You rewind the recording.

“I hope you’re happy. Or at least less sad. And I want to meet again when Alola is free. Or whenever you turn on Chris Foster. Whichever comes first.”

Again.

“I hope you’re happy. Or at least less sad. And I want to meet again when Alola is free. Or whenever you turn on Chris Foster. Whichever comes first.”

And again.

“I hope you’re happy. Or at least less sad. And I want to meet again when Alola is free. Or whenever you turn on Chris Foster. Whichever comes first.”

Genesis clears her throat beside you. “Do you need water or something? Anything? I can—”

“I hope you’re happy. Or at least less sad. And I want to meet again when Alola is free. Or whenever you turn on Chris Foster. Whichever comes first.”

“Just. Is your head okay? From that thing under the desert?”

You can’t bring yourself to care about the baltoy’s city. It just. Doesn’t. matter. You want to tell your girlfriend to shut up but can’t find the energy.

“I hope you’re happy. Or at least less sad. And I want to meet again when Alola is free. Or whenever you turn on Chris Foster. Whichever comes first.”

You got a goodbye this time. In Galarian. By recording.

“Hey, Cuicatl. Um. Shit, I don’t know how much Galarian you can actually understand but there really wasn’t another way to do this.”

He knew. He knew and he still did it.

“I’m leaving. It’s not your fault. I’ve been planning this for a while.”

You hope that the third time would show you something you missed, some expression you overlooked that tells you why this is happening.

“You saw what Gen’s dad could get away with. Guess what? That kind of thing happens every damn day in Alola and no one gives a shit. Well, okay, not quite that bad. Okay, sometimes that bad. The cops can mow down any kanaka they want and get off with desk duty for a week. And it needs to stop. Someone has to make these fuckers pay. The Gage family, the cops, the capitalists, the settlers—all of them. They need to burn. And.”

He never even cared about her to begin with and now he’s using your girlfriend as an excuse to leave you? Is that what he’s really mad about? You dating someone he didn’t like. Grow the fuck up.

“I’m going to go get Shirona. Call me if you need anything?”

You ignore her and listen to the recording all the way through for a third time. Nothing. It still makes no damn sense. He wants to, what, fight the entire American government with a group of teenagers who couldn’t cut it as trainers? He’s a fool and he’s going to get himself killed. There’s no glory down the path he’s walking. Only a shallow grave. And he wouldn’t even let you know what he’s doing. Wouldn’t even say goodbye to your face.

Fuck this. You stand and call for Coco. Once she’s underneath your hand you walk to the bedroom door and then the home’s exit. Dr. Karashina calls out to you but you ignore her. If she wants to physically restrain you there’s nothing you can do to stop it. But she will have to do that to stop you.

“Follow Kekoa’s scent.”

Coco doesn’t know what’s going on. You haven’t had the time or heart to explain it to her. She won’t take it well. Kekoa was, is, her sort-of-father and she adores Ihe. No sign he left any of his pokémon. He wouldn’t, anyway. His pokémon are his tools. Maybe admired and well-maintained tools, but tools nonetheless. Always have been, always will be. Not that you can talk. You held onto Pixie long after she wanted to leave and will manipulate your team however you need to for your goals. It’s just worse when you do it because you should know better. Do know better. And just. Don’t. Care.

Dr. Karashina doesn’t follow you herself. Her togekiss does. She sends you a little ping with aura or psionics or something every now and again to let you know that she’s there. You aren’t sure if it’s supposed to be threatening or reassuring or something else entirely.

Eventually Coco breaks away from your hand to walk in a circle around you, sniffing everything.

“Trail’s gone.”

“What?”

“His scent doesn’t go anywhere else.”

“Did it branch off on the way here?” He could have backtracked and then taken another path to throw you off. Could have worked.

“No.”

Oh. You try to think of something explaining this before remembering the obvious answer: he just flew away. Someone picked him up with a bird and now the scent is gone and he’s gone and—

He’s gone.

You collapse to your knees on the asphalt and finally give up.

He’s gone. Just like that.

Coco lays a head in your lap. Then Mitsuru lands behind you and wraps a wing over your shoulder. Right. Togekiss are tied to happiness and sadness… somehow. You’ve never asked the bird. You really should. Eventually. When you have words and thought back.

Now? Neither.

*​

Thought comesback eventually. They came back too fast. You’ve been stuck in a loop figuring out why this happened, what you did wrong. You didn’t pay as much attention to him as you should have in the last few weeks. Been too busy with the thesis and your headaches and Genesis to focus on him. You should have. If you’d just been there maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe he would’ve at least told you about it and you could’ve talked him out of it. Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe—

“I’m sorry.”

Your head snaps up and an ache shoots through your body. You’ve been in the same place for too long.

“I’m sorry,” Lyra repeats.

{For what?}

You know she hates your mental voice but you don’t think you can speak.

“He told me about this.”

{He what?} You shove your presence out as much as you can and slowly rise to your feet. “Why. Didn’t you tell me?” Your voice is hoarse and harsh and filled with a fury you haven’t felt for weeks. Maybe months.

Lyra’s tone stays steady in response. “He promised me he’d tell you about it before he left. And I didn’t think you would believe me.”

“Why. Wouldn’t. I?”

“Because it would look like I was trying to interfere with your friendships to get back at you for dating Genesis.”

That stuns you out of your anger. In what world would you just assume that’s what someone was doing? You’ve known Lyra. She can be a bitch but she wouldn’t stoop to that. Right? Not everyone is out to betray—

Oh.

Maybe.

Maybe she has a point.

People you trust will do things you never would have imagined.

And you just have to live with it, knowing it could happen again.

*​

“Do you want to talk about that today?”

At some point Dr. Livens sent her wigglytuff out. You’ve been hugging the fairy for who knows how long. Haven’t been able to talk with your voice for most of it. You try to answer Dr. Livens’ question and give up. You don’t know if there is an answer. Certainly not one you want to talk about right now.

You don’t want to talk about anything right now.

She respects that.

*​

Dr. Karashina’s hotel room door swings open. She’s not behind it. Hard to explain how you know that, but you do. Just a general awareness of air and heat and sound, maybe?

{Good evening, Cuicatl. Shirona will see you shortly.}

Genkei, then.

“Thank you.”

You mentally prod Coco to find somewhere for you to sit. Dr. Karashina rarely calls you over for quick conversations. The lucario doesn’t say anything else. Kagetora lumbers over to talk to talk to Coco. The tyrunt knows that Dr. Karashina is leaving soon and wants to get as much time in with the elder dragon as she can.

“Rough session earlier?” your mentor asks as she walks into the room.

Rough session of what? Therapy? You trail a hand down your face and feel a slick patch. Oh. Should have cleaned up.

“Yes.”

She gives you an opportunity to say more. You don’t. She was there when Kekoa left. She knows.

“Right. Since you’re leaving to Poni soon I went out with Lyra and Genesis during your session to upgrade your gear.”

Does that mean she paid for it? She’s… she’s already been too nice.

“I will pay my share.”

“I knew you would try, which is why you weren’t invited.”

Oh.

Wait.

“Am I bad at accepting help?” You blurt out.

For a moment there’s dead silence. And then Dr. Karashina laughs. Uncontrollably. At you? “S-sorry,” she stammers. “Just.” She takes a deep breath and ends with one final chuckle. “Yes.”

You purse your lips. Damn it. “I’m sorr—”

“None of that. It’s something we can work on.”

“Okay…” You want to fix it but she’s being stubborn. Maybe you can just work with your therapist on this.

“Have you given any thought to what happens after the island challenge is over?”

You blink. What does that have to do with what you were talking about?

“I have to go home,” you tell her slowly. Because you’re pretty sure you’ve told her this.

“Well, Anahuac is… an option.” She says it like she thinks it’s a bad option. “If you want to stay in Alola I’m sure Olivia or Rachel could arrange it. Or you could come to Japan with me. I could start making preparations while I’m back in Sinnoh for a few weeks.”

That’s a lot to ask of them. And you should go back. You just don’t get why they would—

You’re doing it again. Literally right after she asked you not to.

“I need time to think about it.”

“That’s fine. Just wanted to let you know about your options.”

Her mind feels more sealed-up than usual. Always seems to these days when Anahuac comes up. Are things okay between her government and your homeland’s?

“Okay.”

“Good. Final thing before we talk about the gear, I’m only going to be gone for three weeks. Mitsuru wants to stay in Alola for that time. Is it alright if she tags along with you?”

You don’t need the fairy’s protection. You also know the togekiss loves Alola’s warmth and isn’t doing this for you. “That’s fine.”

“Gear, then. I did restock your sunscreen, which you do need to be wearing in the dry season, whatever you think. I’ve had Kagetora tell Coco that you need to wear it. I also told Nocitlālin myself while she was trying to spy on me. That way at least one of them will make you do it.”

You groan. Damn it, using your own team against you.

“I also got a lightweight tent for Lyra and one for you and Genesis. Just don’t be too loud. Lyra won’t like it and it might draw bewear.”

You’re pretty sure your blush must be visible now. “We haven’t—”

“I got you a flare. You’d be surprised how many electric- and water-types can wreck electronic emergency signals. Just be careful not to use it in dry areas unless it’s an absolute emergency. Even then have one of your water-types clean up any embers immediately. Next…”

Is this what it feels like to get mothered? You don’t really know. Your mother’s memories are very, very sparse when it comes to her family. Your godmother maybe liked you but she didn’t really love you. Alice… yes, Alice could be like that to her very breakable human. She was also a dragon with a strange idea of siblinghood or motherhood or whatever you had.

She offered to take you back to Japan. Would that require adoption? Does she want that? Why? She’s the highest ranked woman in the world. You’re nobody. You aren’t even sure you can beat the island challenge without adding more team members and you don’t really want to. You have three battlers. Alice, Renfield, and Searah can take the final spots. If you get them back in time. When you get them back in time.

Can you accept this? Will she just decide you’re not worth her time anymore like…

Coco nudges your leg. Can probably sense the distress. You nudge her back with your foot and she gently gnaws on your calf. Not nearly hard enough to break the skin or even leave a mark. It’s supposed to be a reassuring thing, probably.

You lean down to pat her head and she pushes up into the touch.
 
Fairy 6.3

Persephone

Infinite Screms
Pronouns
her/hers
Partners
  1. mawile
  2. vulpix-alola
Fairy 6.3: Beachhead
Genesis

June 24, 2020

Seafolk Village is marvelous at dawn. There’s a sea breeze running through your hair and the path sways with the waves under your feet. The world feels in motion while also being quiet. Peaceful. Like you can simply exist with the vast sea below and the endless sky above. The sky is lit up in shades of pink and orange. The water is just calm enough to reflect the sunset.

That’s only half the view. You aren’t quite holding hands. But! Your girlfriend is holding onto you. Trusting you to take her where she needs to go. It’s maybe even more special than hand holding. The wind has left her hair entirely disheveled. You’re pretty sure it’s longer than when you were last traveling together but the memories are fuzzy. You vaguely remember being mad that she cut it kind of short. And it is better long. She’s wearing a woven orange dress that matches the sunrise. The bottom flows in the wind around her toned calves. The dawn makes even her harsher features look soft. She’s breathtaking. Just looking at her now makes your heart flutter.

Cuicatl looks away from you. Did she hear that? She said that she usually picks up on thoughts about her while you’re touching. As embarrassing as it is you kind of hope she did hear. She can’t see how pretty she is so you’ll gladly tell her.

“Lyra’s prettier.” Cuicatl grumbles.

“How do you know that?”

“People treat her differently. Treat you differently.” She slows a step and stumbles over her feet when you accidentally keep tugging her along.

“I’m sor—“

She waves the hand holding Coco’s leash. “It’s fine. Um. Just. Even Kekoa thought you were beautiful.”

“Oh.” Memories, fake ones, come to mind. “Did anything ever happen between us? Me and him.” He and I. Ms. Rivers would have snapped at you for that. Your head aches at the thought.

Cuicatl snickers. “Don’t think so. You hated each other. Well, no. He hated you. I think you cared about him but were kind of an ass about his gender.”

That sounds about right. You were kind of an ass to yourself about being gay. No. More than kind of an ass.

You feel Cuicatl squeeze your arm. “He forgave you for it.”

“Oh. Good.” Cuicatl’s face betrays no emotion. She’s been weird about Kekoa lately. Going back and forth between rage, sadness, and apathy. It’s best not to mention him unless she brings it up. And now you don’t know what to say. They’ll meet again? Might be a lie and you don’t know if Cuicatl even wants to. He handled everything terribly? She knows that.

Coco snorts before you can settle on something.

“I know,” Cuicatl assures her. “I don’t like it, either.”

You don’t press. Sometimes you can only understand half of your girlfriend’s conversations and that’s fine. If she wants you to know the rest, she’ll tell you.

Pixie breaks the moment by walking to the edge of the boardwalk, kicking up a leg, and peeing into the ocean. Once she flicks her tails and walks away, Coco walks into place and pees in the exact same patch of water. You glance at Ferny to see if he wants to join. The leafeon looks at you with judgment in his eyes. Like you’re the weird one here.

No one talks for a while. That’s fine. The view is nice and now you aren’t distracted. Well. You’re still a little distracted. How do you get Cuicatl to understand how pretty she is? The easy answer, a mirror, doesn’t really work. No. You’ll have to think of something special. A surprise. Which you shouldn’t plan while touching her.

Well. There is something you could do. You’ve never done it before. Never for real, anyway. You aren’t sure when that’s supposed to happen in relationships. You aren’t sure how to ask and—

“I want to.”

Right. Psychic.

You slow to a stop and try to figure out how to do this. Probably going to have to drop Ferny’s leash but you don’t think he’d run off. He doesn’t really like running. Coco’s well trained so no problem if Cuicatl drops her leash. Should you pick her up? You aren’t sure you’re strong enough.

Cuicatl rolls her eyes, stands on her tiptoes, and reaches out for your shoulders. You help her find them and bend down a little towards her face. Um. Oh crap how are you even supposed to do this. Just. Put your lips together? You try that and reality glitches for a moment. Not like before. You’re still aware, still feeling the softness of her lips against yours, her warmth pressed against your chest, and unfamiliar but perfectly her scent of her hair. You experience but you can’t think. And then the thoughts rush in all at once. Did you brush your teeth thoroughly enough? Sometimes you can forget. Should you open your mouth a little? Is that allowed? Should you try to pick Cuicatl up all the way? You aren’t sure you’re even strong enough— Your girlfriend giggles and pulls away slightly. You like being this close to her. You unconsciously run your tongue over your lips and taste the vanilla of her lip balm.

“I don’t know how to do this, either,” she confesses.

Even her voice is beautiful. You don’t know why she agreed to this, how you were lucky enough to meet her, but maybe Xerneas is willing to show you some kindness after all.

She leans back in and you kiss again. At some point your arms end up around her waist, pulling her into you so she knows you want her. Badly. When the second kiss breaks Cuicatl is smiling brighter than you’ve ever seen before. She lowers herself down and nuzzles into your shoulder.

“Thank you.”

Pixie huffs in annoyance. What sounds like annoyance, anyway. You don’t speak fox. You ignore the vulpix. So does Cuicatl. Feeling her warmth pressed against you and smelling her shampoo. Which doesn’t really smell like anything you know. Vibrant. Kind of fruity?

{Flower from Anahuac’s forests. Dr. Karashina talked me into getting it. Glad you like it.}

It’s cool that your girlfriend can talk to you without opening her mouth and breaking the moment. Her mental voice is soft when she’s happy like this. The words are ephemeral, melting away as soon as you can understand them. If you weren’t expecting it, they could almost sound like your own thoughts.

Cuicatl finally pushes away when Pixie yaps.

“Fine. We can do this in air conditioning.”

The fox snorts before starting to slowly walk away down the boardwalk.

“Did that make you feel better?” you ask. Even though you kind of know the answer.

She traces her hand against your arm until she finds its usual spot. You think her cheeks are a little darker than usual. Might just be the light, though. {Yes.}

You almost ask her how she decides what to say in her mind or with her voice but stop at the last minute. Someone might overhear.

{Whichever feels right.}

“Oh.” Simpler than you were expecting. With how smart she is you kind of thought there might be a rule or a strategic purpose.

Cuicatl squeezes your arm and turns towards Pixie. Seems like she held onto her leash during this. You need to bend down and pick yours up.

You find your thoughts drifting back over what just happened when something weird stands out.

“Why’d Shirona have to talk you into getting something you like?”

Cuicatl squirms a little beside you. “They don’t make it here. Had to import it. Kind of expensive. Worth it if you like it.”

Right. Cuicatl hates spending her money. But she will on you because you don’t have any. Or a way to make any. She does that on top of everything else she’s done for you before and will have to do in the future.

You should try to make your own money. That might start with getting on the island challenge again. Then you can do VStar work like her.

*​

“Ordinarily it wouldn’t be easy to just restart after a break that long,” the nurse tells you. The ‘ordinarily’ part gives you hope. Even if everything else makes you feel a little guilty. Like you failed her, somehow. “We’re being really lenient right now because of The Blackout, so just showing me your license and telling me you plan to participate is good for now. You remember the rules, right? You’re only guaranteed a spot in Centers for the next month unless you can clear a trial or grand trial. Then you might not get a spot even if you’re in a challenger’s group.”

“I know.”

You’re pretty sure you could go fight Nanu now. Maybe you’d do okay. He was mean to Cuicatl. First grand trials are supposed to be kind of easy, you know that, but he might be mean to you and use his incineroar or something.

“And this isn’t official, but.” She leans in like she’s going to tell a secret. “You sure you want to restart here? Poni’s been even worse than normal after The Blackout. Too many hungry predators. Not many Centers to retreat to if you get hurt. I would recommend going back to the other islands. Saving Poni for last.”

“I’m with two experienced trainers.”

“I know.” Of course she does. She’s cared for their pokémon. “That doesn’t mean Poni is going to be safe. They’ll have to spread their teams a little thinner to protect you if you’re under attack. Are you sure you can’t break away for a while and go somewhere safer?”

“No. I’m dating one of them.” Your brain catches up with your mouth and you freeze. Should you have said that? What if they’re homophobic? She knows you’re rooming with two girls. Had to explain things to her when you asked for a room with them despite not being on the island challenge. There was extra space so you got in and everything worked out—

The nurse laughs and you shrink into yourself. Great. She’s laughing at you. “That’s not the worst reason I’ve heard to take on Poni. Alright. Just remember to be very careful. I see you’ve cleared trials on Ula’Ula and Akala. Those can be tough, but Poni is far more dangerous. Be on guard whenever you’re in the field.”

Not laughing at you. Good. Then you remember almost getting attacked by a pangoro on Ula’Ula. This is going to be worse than that? No. It’s fine. Cuicatl and Lyra can keep you safe.

“Okay. You know that Mina is on vacation for another two weeks, right?”

“Yes.” Your girlfriend had mentioned it. That’s why you’re not staying in the village for too long.

*​

“First order of business: What can your pokémon do?” Lyra asks.

“Cloudy can change the weather, I think Ferny can tackle hard or slash with his leaf, Bubbles can cause rain, shoot out, well, bubbles, or put enemies to sleep. I’ve never battled with Oliver.”

She pinches her nose. “Do you know move names?”

Maybe you did once. A few months off the trail, three evolutions, and some brain damage later? No. She must read the answer from your face. Other people are always much better at that then you.

“Okay. Worse than Cuicatl. Got it.”

“She’s not a bad trainer,” you protest. On your behalf or your girlfriend’s. Both? She seemed good at battling against Nanu.

“Her strength is finding naturally strong pokémon and convincing them not to kill her, not in further honing pokémon’s strength. It works well enough for the island challenge. I have questions about her future as a battler after that.” She shakes her head. “Off topic. The point is that I need to start your training at a very basic level. I’ll put your pokémon on a field against mine and see what they do in a fight. Then we can get you some move names, train your pokémon to do the commands you call, and talk some very basic strategy.”

She’s explaining it almost too patiently. Like people sometimes did right after…everything. Your brain glitched out and you couldn’t trust your memories, but that didn’t make you dumber. Cuicatl treated you the same. Kekoa mostly did, probably, in that he was still rude. It was just the times that you had to go out and meet other people that you got the pity looks. This feels like that.

“I’m not winning, am I?”

She shrugs. “You’re going into the third trial with three fully evolved pokémon and a single-stage. Strictly speaking, your team is more mature than Cuicatl’s. About as mature as mine. That’s a big advantage.”

“Okay, then.” You take a deep breath and roll your shoulders before planting your feet firmly on the ground. Confidence. Determination. Fake it until you make it. You’re doing this for Cuicatl. “Let’s get training.”

*​

You really, really try to pay attention to training. For an hour or so you succeed. You learn the different kinds of tackles and slashes Ferny can do, how to order Count Cloudy to change the weather and what attacks are weather-affected, that Oliver can put opponents to sleep, too, and that Sir Bubbles runs away less as a politoed. And screams a lot more. Lyra has to work to get the politoed to attack rather than just bounce in place and scream until his challenger goes away. That apparently works in the wild. Usually. Lyra says that sometimes it just draws the attention of an even bigger predator.

An hour in Cuicatl comes to visit and suddenly she’s talking shop with Lyra and you barely understand half of it. Lyra said that Cuicatl isn’t good at battle but she sounds good. Even considers a few things that Lyra didn’t. Some stuff about ribombee’s weight and fur. Cuicatl had considered getting the bug so soaked that his little wings can’t keep up. Your team will be better at that then hers. Then Lyra’s doing math aloud and talking about insect body shapes and suddenly Lyra wants numbers on everything. How long it takes your pokémon to put others to sleep. How much stronger Bubbles’ attacks are after two minutes of rain dance from castform vs. five. And. You just struggle to keep up. Struggle to care. You end up sitting down at the edge of the Pokémon Center’s court while Lyra trains your team. Three-fourths of your team. Ferny gets bored when you do and sits down in your lap. Cuicatl had to go back inside to do… something. You aren’t sure she actually said. Probably just wants some alone time with her team. You’ve known people who say their pokémon are their family, you’ve even said it about your pet ariados, but that girl takes it to a whole other level. You love her for it. She’s practically a mother four times over and her children all seem to adore her.

Except maybe Leo. It’s hard to tell what the golisopod thinks about anything. His body language is different from an ariados and he’s usually hiding under the bed or in the closet or bathtub. Scared the daylights out of you more than once when you tried to take a shower and found him there. Cuicatl had come to see what was wrong and just started laughing when Leo hissed out an explanation. The bug wanted to know if the humans were finally sensible enough to hide somewhere dark and closed-off rather than out in the open. He’d been disappointed when he found out that you still wanted to sleep on top of your very soft, very exposed bed by a window.

You look up to see Lyra staring at you with a strange face. Half of her mouth is stretched unnaturally wide and the eye on that side is half-lidded. Or twitching. Both? “Is something wrong?” you ask.

“No.” She looks away and wraps an arm around herself. Then she slowly looks back. “It’s just hard.”

“What? What’s hard?”

Lyra’s gaze sinks to the ground. “Knowing you when you don’t know me.”

Right. That. “I’ll get to know you.” Unless the staring wasn’t about that. “Are you still mad about Cuicatl?”

“Yes? No? I don’t think so? I’m not sure anymore.” She takes a deep sigh and kicks a pebble by her foot. “I don’t know how you can go through that and then decide to hook up with a psychic. If she wanted to do it to you again—”

“—she doesn’t—”

“If she did…” Lyra finally looks you in the eyes. “What would stop her?”

“Morals?” Cuicatl isn’t anything like them. Cuicatl risked her life to save yours. They share powers. That’s about it. “I’m not just going to push people away because of what they might do. It’s unfair. Sounds lonely.”

In that moment you realize that you actually feel kind of bad for Lyra. It must be lonely being unable to trust people. And then one of the only people she did trust is a stranger and that trust is broken. You almost understand where she’s coming from. In your stories her crush would have been rewarded. She would have saved you or you would have saved yourself. Instead, you locked yourself in a tower and refused to leave until the dragon had already started devouring you. She couldn’t save her closest friend, her childhood crush. And now you aren’t even her friend at all. That’s not how it’s supposed to go. It’s not fair.

You grew up hearing that life wasn’t fair. You’ve only recently come to know how cruel it can be.

That doesn’t mean you owe her anything. You’re your own person. You can make your own choices, be the hero in your own story. Not just the love interest in someone else’s.

And she’s being mean to Cuicatl. They traveled together for months. Lyra even know your girlfriend better than you do. She should know by this point that Cuicatl isn’t the type of person who would hurt someone like that. It’s frustrating that she refuses to see it. Cuicatl also needs people she can trust and Lyra is going out of her way to show that she can’t be trusted. After Kekoa left you’re pretty sure you’re the only person her age she can tell anything to. Only human person her age. You don’t actually know how old her pokémon are. She’s kind of their mom, though, and it would be weird to talk about her problems with them. Your mother didn’t with you.

Then again, she maybe wasn’t the best mother.



You’ll need to think about whether sharing problems with your kids is a good thing or not. Before you have any. By adoption. Years in the future.

Lyra sits down beside you on the bench and shakes you from your thoughts. Oh. She really is pretty. Sometimes you forget that until she’s close. Her features are delicate and she carries gracefully, like she’s always on stage in a play only she knows about. Her makeup is immaculate. None of the visible jagged lines or asymmetrical mistakes that mark your work. And up close she has a kind of presence that’s hard to describe. Almost magnetic. You can understand how you could have fallen for her.

But.

You’re taken.

And you really shouldn’t be attracted to her.

You won’t be.

(That worked out so well for you last time.)

“I do trust her,” she says. “It’s why I came back. I just don’t think I could ever be truly vulnerable around someone like that. And you’ve had it far worse.”

“What do you mean you couldn’t be vulnerable?” They’re friends, right? Shouldn’t they already be vulnerable? Is that not how friendship works? You haven’t had many. That you remember, at least.

She sighs and leans back in the bench. “I just can’t imagine having my partner know all of my thoughts when I can’t read hers. She could be manipulating me for years, telling me what she knows I want to hear, and I would never know.”

You think back to this morning’s walk. She was in your head a lot because you were touching. You chose to be touching. And you mostly thought it was sweet. Sometimes it feels like there’s a gap between your brain and your mouth and you either say too much or too little or the wrong thing entirely. She can see who you actually are, what you actually mean, in a way that no one else can. And she adores you despite that. Or because of that. You should ask her. There isn’t even that much you’d want to keep from her either. Maybe your…thoughts… about Lyra’s beauty, but that’s just because she would be insecure about them. She would know there’s no emotional bond there, though, and you can’t imagine liking someone for who they are and then cheating with someone just because they’re hotter. Which. Lyra isn’t. Cuicatl is fierce, adorable, and she cares so much about the people and pokémon close to her. Sometimes it feels like Lyra only cares about you.

And when you try to tell Lyra that you blank on how. Every way you think of she could twist into something sinister. She’s good at that. You change approaches. “Can she not date anyone, then?”

Lyra grimaces. “Another psychic. Or anyone who isn’t you. I don’t give a damn if she isn’t exploiting your vulnerability.”

Exploit your vulnerability? She’s been very clear every step of the way that she doesn’t want to. You’ve had to drag her along, reassuring her that it’s fine.

“You know I asked her out first, right? And she refused. Multiple times.”

Until she changed her mind the day after… oh.

Maybe you exploited her vulnerability.

Should you apologize? She seems happy now.

Lyra looks away. “I know. She’s a better person than I am.”

You aren’t sure how to answer that. It’s true, but it feels mean to say it aloud.

“Is it wrong that I keep wishing she wasn’t? Then I could hate her and everything would be simple. Instead, I’m a horrible person for even wanting…”

You wait for her to finish her sentence. She doesn’t.

“I think you are being a bad friend.”

She looks down at her feet.

“You should do something with her. Alone. Without me involved.”

“Yeah,” she mumbles. “I should. I liked her. Like her. She’s a combination of caring and badass and fragile that I’ve never seen before. Things just aren’t as simple as they used to be.”

“I think Cuicatl would let things be simple. Problem’s you.”

Something shifts on the battlefield. You look up to see Oliver getting into it with Lyra’s salandit. The salamander rears up on her hind legs and spits out a puff of smoke. Your golduck just powers through it and knocks his opponent down as hard as he can before spitting a water pulse directly into her face. Then another one. The salandit tries to scurry off only to be pinned down under one of Oliver’s claws and bombarded again.

“Oliver!” you reprimand.

He just hisses at you. Lyra withdraws her pokémon a moment later.

“Sorry about that. Don’t know what got into him.”

Lyra slowly shakes her head. “I have an idea. He didn’t start it. Don’t punish him.”

That answers maybe half your questions and raises a few more. “Want to share?”

She shakes her head. “No. I’m going to go apologize to Cuicatl.”

As she walks away you find your gaze drawn to her… hindquarters before you tear it away. There’s something about her that keeps drawing you back. Even when you shouldn’t. Maybe you’ll have to apologize to Cuicatl, too.

*​

You passed a temple on your evening walk. It was a small building, wooden like almost everything else around here, and the lights were off. Nothing like the giant, shining castle in Heahea. You thought about going in, or at least asking Cuicatl to let you sit on the bench for a few minutes. You didn’t.

You haven’t been to a temple in months. For most of that you were locked in your room. After that… you could have asked Shirona to go. You could have. Even thought about it.

You didn’t.

Part of you wants to go in, to smell the incense and feel the presence of something strong and kind. Like a parent should be. To be around others who share your beliefs and have a moment of quiet worship. Or to just sit in the back of a service and be apart of something without speaking up or making yourself known.

And every time you’ve thought about that you’ve wandered how many of the people in there are like your parents are. Like you were. How many would only accept you if you were someone else? Would you feel at peace or feel judgmental eyes boring into you?

Xerneas wants you to come to Him as you are and for the first time you’ve accepted a part of that. Yet you feel more uncertain about your identity than ever. At first it was easy to shove aside. You had to focus on breathing, on recovering your mind and memory, on love. Reminding yourself that you could still be loved even if your parents don’t love you.

And you did it all too fast. It was easy to only think of the girl pressed beside you at night, of the girl who saved you and who continued to save you. It was better to think about her than you.

The bunk beds are too small to sleep with her. She’s curled up beneath you with Pixie and Coco. One of them is snoring gently. You asked Ferny if he wanted to sleep on your bed and he turned you down. Said that humans turn over too much in their sleep. It’s more comfortable in his ball. Oliver’s too big to cuddle with in a bed this small, Cloudy doesn’t really sleep, and Bubbles doesn’t do hugs. You really need to find your own pokémon to snuggle on the trail. Another distraction.

Now there’s no one but you and your thoughts.

You were able to break free because you thought Xerneas made you the way you were. But why would Xerneas make you to suffer? Why wouldn’t He say something when His church went the wrong way? You don’t think your existence is sinful. You just don’t understand it. And whenever you think about stepping into a temple or opening the Decalibres part of you is scared of what you’ll find. If you were wrong. If you should have been changed, even if every part of your being was screaming against it. So you don’t. You’ve barely even prayed since then.

Barely even thought about who you are now that you aren’t a daughter, aren’t devout, aren’t straight, aren’t… you spent so long obeying all of your parents’ rules and going to the temples and being a good girl. There were moments on your own. With your pets or your books or… or probably with Lyra. If she was your escape then like Cuicatl is now you can understand how you would have fallen for her. If you fell for her. She’s never flat out said that you were dating and you don’t have memories of actually dating someone. Maybe those were erased wholesale, but if the rooftop kiss was just transferred then maybe that was beyond him.

Now you can do anything. Be anyone. No one tells you what to do. And you have no idea how to go about it. Going with Cuicatl is easy. She helped you. Saved you. It’s hard to even imagine her hurting you. It’s safe here. You want to be here. But it was the easy way out.

You really need to find your own therapist. So far your sessions have mostly been about finding memories and helping you cope day to day, hour to hour. You aren’t sure how much you can talk about life with Cuicatl’s therapist. It’s supposed to be confidential but your girlfriend can read minds, even accidentally. But therapists cost money.

Priests don’t.

Your stomach drops to your knees whenever you think about talking to one.

Light glints in the corner of your eye. You look over to see Noci silently glide into the room. The door quietly closes and locks behind her. When did she leave? What was she doing? The metang looks up at you but doesn’t answer your silent questions. If she could even hear them. You aren’t sure how her telepathy really works. Barely understand the basics of your girlfriend’s.

Cuicatl says that Noci is warm. Maybe she could help you get to sleep. It’s just running off to another warm body who can keep your thoughts at bay. You feel cowardly for wanting it. But you don’t like your thoughts tonight.

“Can you come over?” you whisper.

The metang does.

“Cuicatl says that you can cuddle her. Um. Can you do that for me?”

Noci drifts forward and gently pins you down beneath her. Your eyes open wide in panic at the unexpected restraint. She drifts away almost immediately but the damage is done.

{Query: Alarm Trigger}

“W-what?” you whisper.

{Query: Alarm Trigger}

Oh. You think you get the question. Why did you panic. But. You don’t really know the answer. Something about being held down, being powerless to resist… you don’t want to go there. Don’t know how to explain it to such an inhuman pokémon.

“Nothing.”

{Error detected;
Debugging session recommended}

And you have no idea what that even means. Something to ask Cuicatl about in the morning.

You think you can still do this. Just need to do it on your terms. You press your back against the wall and hold your arms out towards the metang.

“Can we cuddle like this? You ask. “Just not too hard.”

The metang gently approaches and lets you wrap your arms around her.

Huh. She is pretty warm. Just a little too hard to be a good cuddler. No breath, either, which is kind of weird. You still find yourself yawning. Your thoughts slowing. You look into the metang’s glowing red eyes and find a weird sense of safety there. She’ll look after you. Cuicatl will look after you.

Not all of your issues need to be solved tonight.

For now…

…you can just…

…sleep…
 
Fairy 6.4

Persephone

Infinite Screms
Pronouns
her/hers
Partners
  1. mawile
  2. vulpix-alola
Fairy 6.4: Monster
Pixie

Your ribs still ache when you walk. But you can walk. The wind whips through your half-ear in a way that makes you want to rip it out entirely. But you can still hear with your other one. The world doesn’t make any more sense than it did before Kalani went to the stars. But you still live.

You aren’t sure if your old, new life is what you had hoped for. For a half-moon it was spent in bed with only the occasional exercise that Skysong had to help you through because you couldn’t do it on your own.

Skysong is different, too. She has a mate and a maybe-parent. You aren’t sure if what Shirona did for Skysong is the same as what Kalani did for you. It’s hard to find a way to ask in a way she would understand. Maybe humans just couldn’t.

She’s also busy. With her mate, with her parent, with a quest to get her first mother’s dragon back, with the rest of her team.

You knew Eyerock. It hasn’t changed. It just pays less attention when you mark your territory. Still boring. Your harness digs into your ribs now. Eyerock doesn’t have that problem. Skysong still relies on it and Eggbreath even though you’re back.

The bug is new. He probably deserves a name. You just haven’t gotten around to giving him one. You’re back in the psychic link with Coco and now the bug. He still almost never talks to you. Just asks you if your injuries have healed or how long it takes you to molt. He found out you can grow tails and is now convinced that’s how you count molts and. You don’t understand him. You probably never will.

Sometimes you catch him rubbing his mouthpieces together in the corner of your eye. Like he’s licking his lips. He’s certainly big enough to try and eat you. He hasn’t done anything, though, and Skysong has tried to assure you that he won’t do anything.

Then Eggbreath…

*​

The door swings open and light from the hall comes streaming in. You bury your head deeper into your tails. A sharp burst of pain shoots down your back when you brush a tail against your lost ear.

You look out from your tails to glare at the intruder. Eggbreath. Great. Skysong promised she wouldn’t bite you again and the stupid bird hangs onto every word her human says. You start drifting back to sleep as the bird walks over.

You’re startled awake by a hot snap of her jaws a paw-length from your snout. Your eyes jolt open to see embers fall on your precious fur. The bird just stares at you as you lick the tiny fires out.

She’s still staring you down when you finish.

“What?”

“You left,” she growls. Actually growls. It’s not as loud as yours but rumbles much deeper. It would almost scare you if you didn’t know she was weak to cold.

“I came back.”

“You hurt mother!”

Right. She thinks a monkey is her mother. Never was the smartest. “That was Kalani. I didn’t hurt her.”

She growls again. “Before that. She wouldn’t leave her nest for days when you left!”

That gives you pause. You didn’t think she cared much about you. Eggbreath is making it sound like she cared a lot more about being apart than you did. Good. That’s good. She probably won’t leave you soon.

(Unless she’s plotting to abandon you for revenge… no. Humans aren’t that clever.)

“Why do you care?” you ask. “She’s your mother. She’s supposed to protect you, not the other way around.”

“She does!” Eggbreath insists with a thump of her tail. “She makes sure I’m always fed and feeling good. If I’m not she fixes it as soon as she can. Even my egg mother likes her.”

“Egg mother?”

She tilts her head like it should be obvious. Something she picked up from the humans. “The dragon who laid my egg.”

Oh! She did figure that out. Not sure why she still calls Skysong her mother, then.

“Skysong can’t protect you from danger,” you repeat. Because she didn’t answer.

She looks at you again like she’s so much smarter than you. “I fight for her. I help her whenever she needs help and she helps me when I do. Like dragons. We do what needs to be done. You’re a fairy. Egg Mother warned me about you. So did Kagetora.”

You have no idea who that is and can’t be bothered to ask.

“You want the most you can take while giving the least. Care more about clever words and little wins than the people you hurt.”

You don’t really think of yourself as a fairy. You know what they are, that the humans think of you as one, or at least think of the nine-tails as fairies, but you can’t even attack that way. You weren’t raised that way. You are a hunter, a fox, a ruler of mountains. Not a common fairy.

“Have you ever loved someone who loved you back?” Eggbreath asks.

Obviously. Avalanche, her mate… no. They left you. Skysong, kind of, but you left her.

...no…

…no you have not.

“Fairies,” she huffs. “You can’t understand. And I don’t want you hurting my mother again. If you do I will rip off your tails one by one, break them open, and eat the marrow in front of you.”

…did she come up with that? She didn’t talk like that last you knew her. The bird leaves without waiting for an answer and knocks the door even wider open on her way out. Great. Now it’s too bright to sleep.

Not that you want, anymore.

*​

Growlsleeper’s eevee is taking up the best part of the sunbeam. You consider shooting an ice beam at him or trying to shove him out of the way. No. Eevee are cruel. He might attack your injury if he somehow gets past your attack. Best not to risk it.

You settle for an inferior spot in the sunlight. It’s pleasantly warm without being burning hot. Even if it would be better where the eevee is sprawled out.

The eevee cracks an eye open when you gracefully lower yourself down. Then he opens the other and glares at you. Like you’re the problem here when he stole your sunbeam.

“I don’t know why you’re back.”

Did no one bother telling him? Of course not. He’s an eevee.

“My mother attacked me.”

He flicks his stupid headleaf. “I can see that. I meant that I don’t know why she took you back.”

Your fur puffs up on instinct and you barely hold back a growl. Don’t want him attacking your ear or side like a coward.

“You were always trouble for her. Always causing problems, never solving them. Her other pokémon do everything you did without being a nuisance. You can’t fight for her. Can’t do anything they can’t. She shouldn’t have taken you.”

You growl for real this time. Cold wind howls in your fur and it’s getting harder and harder not to let it out. The eevee gets to his feet and crouches down for a pounce. He wants a fight? Fine. You blast out a bolt of ice and hit him square on.

The eevee hisses and pounces as you dart to the side, ignoring the pain burning across your ribs. You shoot out a rapid flurry of ice but the eevee doesn’t even react. He swipes his tail out at you and you have to duck beneath the surprisingly sharp edge. You open your mouth and the eevee blurs. Suddenly you’re tumbling through the air before coming to a hard landing on the floor. Pain arcs through your entire body as the eevee strolls over as a floating leaf sharper sharper than a blade of ice hovers a hair’s length from your throat.

“How many people have left you?” he hisses. You don’t give him an answer Because he doesn’t deserve one. Not because it hurts to breathe. “There was one thing in common every time.” He leans in close until so that his sickly sweet breath drowns out every other smell. You don’t dare move with the leaf, however much you want to lunge forward or retreat back. “You. Maybe you should sit down and think about why that is.”

The leafeon backs away to his old position and sits down with his legs beneath him, daring you to attack with every apparent advantage. That confident.

You sit down across from him and do your best to ignore his words. You’re not about to go and listen to an eevee who attacked you.

*​

Your new ball is nice. Endless snow as far as the eye can see deep enough to bury yourself in. No one else can bother you here. You’re alone. Probably for a while. Skysong is traveling in the heat today. She asked if you wanted to walk beside her but you both know you wouldn’t have, even if you weren’t injured.

Your side still aches where the eevee attacked you.

Which is why it’s really stupid when your thoughts drift to him and his words. Yes, the ice eevee might have been right about something. He had a nine-tails mate. He was probably just repeating her good ideas. Plants are dumb. You can scream at a tree all day and it won’t answer. A plant eevee is maybe the worst.

And you don’t need to think about what a silly bird said either.

But you do.

There’s nothing else to distract you in your ball.

Everyone leaves. No one has ever loved you back. Because of you. Are you unlovable? Moons ago you had a terrible moment where you realized humans could have always had six pokémon. You mostly tried to ignore it until Kalani let you ignore it entirely.

Kalani is dead now. You’re pretty sure she never loved you, her Firstborn. Just the idea of a kit.

Skysong and Growlsleeper’s pokémon are being very rude. You’re injured. You don’t need to deal with this.

You nuzzle the snow beneath your chin and dig yourself down deeper.

Skysong wanted to know what path you wanted to go down. Does the choice even matter if you’ll always, always be alone at the end?

Why does no one love you? It can’t be looks. You’re beautiful, even for your species. The ear is a major loss but you’re still far better than any other fox. And you know the humans treat eevee like they’re the only gift the gods ever gave them.

No. You’re beautiful. Certainly not weaker than the other pokémon you’ve been with. (Until now.)

Something different, then. Behavior? You’re a perfectly normal vulpix.

Kalani was a perfectly normal nine-tails. She tried to kill a human and got killed in response. Openliver always seemed happier to be with Rockfur than Kalani, even though she was far stronger, smarter, and prettier.

Do humans only love pokémon that always do what they’re told? Can they only bond with living machines?

Do they really want to be the only minds in the universe? How self-centered. How boring. But it fits with what you’ve seen.

*​

You immediately miss your ball. The air is far too hot. There’s a slate of shimmering black rock on the ground around you. Grass has broken it up and grown through the cracks. Behind the black rock is a grey pit. The kind that humans fill with water and swim in Probably used to have solid sides but one has crumbled and filled in with mud. Behind that are human-made towers that have walls missing and metal sticks poking out like bones from a half-decayed carcass.

The humans are huddled under the shade of a weird overhang supported by a few metal pillars. It protects you from the sun but not the heat rising from the ground around you.

But you don’t want to go back to being alone in the ball. And you would like food. This is… tolerable for now. You still blast out a pulse of snow and cold air to make it a little nicer. And you groan in displeasure. Skysong will know that it is too warm for you and she should… Actually, you aren’t sure what she should do here. Humans can’t change the weather. Only nine-tails can do that.

“I know girl,” Skysong softly tells you. “Just a few minutes and you can go back.”

Your bowl of food is already waiting. Eggbreath is tearing apart a chunk of some kind of meat. You have a small bowl with yours already cut into pieces. You don’t really need that: your teeth are fine. Still saves you some trouble. You’re glad she has fresh meat now instead of the tough dry strips. Or the meat-flavored wood pellets most humans have given you. You’re sure to daintily eat your food one piece at a time so Eggbreath can learn how to do it.

She just ignores you.

Her bug, Shattered Eyes, is nowhere to be seen. Eyerock is floating in the shade with a pack resting on its back. You would never let yourself be humiliated like that.

Growlsleeper’s eevee is out alongside her weird frog, cloud, and the duck that smells like a mammal. Liar only has her ugly bag carrier and her lizard out. Stupid lizard. You can tell that she thinks she’s prettier than you. And sometimes she even plays mind tricks to make you think about how pretty she is. Never works for long. She doesn’t even have fur. Easy to remember that you’d never find her pretty otherwise.

The not-duck is watching every move the lizard makes like a mother watching a nearby predator.

Shirona’s bird, Deadly Wind, is perched on a metal bar and basking in the sunlight. You have no idea how her blood hasn’t boiled inside of her.

Liar is the first human to speak. “Are you alright, Gen? You seem upset.”

Growlsleeper hangs her head and stares down at her food. “That obvious?”

“Not really. Just learned your tells.”

You still aren’t sure what the dynamic is between the two now. Skysong’s told you that Liar is attracted to Growlsleeper. But Growlsleeper has already chosen a mate. Nine-tails only have one opposite sex mate to produce children and pass on territories to. Avalanche had another mate before you were born. Sometimes she would watch over you while both your parents were busy. And you know they mated with each other while your father was around. That was fine. It did not interfere with territory inheritance.

Liar and Skysong like each other enough to share territory. Not enough to mate. That would be unthinkable to a nine-tails: not even mates share territories. Sometimes Avalanche refused to let her mate enter her territory for an entire moon and you simply did not see him.

Humans. You think the three should all just mate with anyone they want and be done with it. There are no heirs to worry about. If one dislikes it, they can leave. This does not have to be complicated.

“I…” Growlsleeper speaks and reminds you that the humans were talking before you got lost in your (far more interesting) thoughts. “This place was abandoned after Tapu Village, right?”

That’s what they call the little human village at the base of The Mountain. The place where Avalanche left you.

You do not like it.

“Yes. Tapu Fini started getting too aggressive and the developers stopped immediately.”

“Right, well, I was just. Thinking.”

“About your old home?”

“How did you—? Right.” Growlsleeper takes a deep, shaky breath. “We moved from Ula’Ula after Tapu Village was destroyed. Away from our neighbors. I was lonely for a long time after that.”

Skysong shifts on the ground to be closer to Growlsleeper. The larger female leans into her mate but doesn’t say anything. Even Skysong’s mental links are quiet.

“No, you weren’t,” Liar says.

“What?”

“Okay, yeah, a little lonely, but we met a month later and hit it off. You were usually fine after that as long as I could visit.”

There’s a long pause. That might be true, even if Growlsleeper can’t remember it. She lost many of her memories. Had others changed. It was a worse curse than Skysong’s. Psychics hadn’t been threatening to you before. You’re having to rethink that. Might have to give Eyerock more respect. Maybe. Probably not.

Growlsleeper goes back to taking slow bites and chewing for a long time between each one. No one says anything. Skysong just presses a little harder into her mate’s side. You’re shocked she isn’t told off for clearly trying to steal her mate’s food.

Labored breathing snaps you to attention. You turn and around and growl like a good guard. The other pokémon follow shortly after. You were told to expect powerful enemies on the island. But nothing could have prepared you for what appears around the corner of a crumbling fence.

It’s a canine with white fur. That much is normal. Everything else is deeply wrong. The neck sticks upwards and is half the length of the body. The fur curls in on itself in endless knots, thicker in some spots than others with no clear reason. The legs, when you can see them through the fur, are long and spindly. It breathes with a slight rattle. The facial features are sharp and enlongated like they were cut into and pulled out by a cruel or careless god. The ears droop down past the shoulders. They don’t move with sounds or show any signs of life at all. It smells like a canine but looks like a half-blind creature tried to describe one from memory. Everything in you is screaming to either run or put it down from distance so that it can’t get close enough to infect you. If something did this to her you need to leave the island immediately.

“Aww, what a cute widdle furfrou.”

You look back towards the humans. They don’t seem concerned. Relieved, almost. Growlsleeper is looking at it like most human look at eevee. Do they have no survival instincts? Can they not see this abomination for what it is? Why are you always the only one with any sense?

{Just a furfrou,} Cuicatl tells you. {Let’s see what they want.}

{What’s a furfrou and why aren’t you running?}

{Some weird dog breed humans made. They’re normal. Pretty harmless.}

Humans. Made. That?! Why? You kind of understand dog breeds. They were wild pokémon that humans altered somehow. What was the point of this? A warning? That if they could do this to one species the others needed to watch out or they would be next?

Skysong laughs—laughs!—at the idea. {Maybe.}

Humans aren’t just dumb. They can be monstrous.

“Stay back, Gen. Could be diseased.”

“Thought you didn’t have rabies here?” Cuicatl asks.

“Until we do. Don’t risk it.”

Rabies. There’s a plague with a similar name in the nine-tails’ history. It isn’t spoken of often. You don’t know what it does. It caused a small war. That’s all you know. The older nine-tails are all scared of it coming back. Is that why the nine-tails don’t leave the mountain? The fear of getting sick. In the cold cave on Kalani’s island you met an old nine-tails who asked why the nine-tails didn’t just make it snow off the mountain or on another one. But Skysong makes it sound like the disease is gone. Do they just not know that? And if they think there’s a terrifying plague down at the surface, why do they send their kits there?

Growlsleeper lowers her outstretched hand. The monster has stopped and sat down, head bowed in submission.

“What do you want?” Skysong asks.

“Food,” it answers in a way that you can just understand. Even if the movement of the breath is all terribly wrong.

“Just hungry,” Skysong tells the others. “Doesn’t sound dangerous. Or rabid. I’ve…dealt…with rabid pokémon before.”

”Oh! Let me just get—”

“No,” Liar and Skysong interrupt Growlsleeper at the same time.

They glance at each other before Skysong waves a hand. Liar continues.

“You shouldn’t feed wild pokémon. It makes them more likely to approach humans, more likely to get aggressive in the future. They should stay wild.”

“It’s a furfrou,” Growlsleeper protests. “They aren’t wild. It’s just a poor dog that somebody left behind.”

“We packed what we need to get to the canyon and back,” Skysong says. “The little bit extra is for any new pokémon we catch and any delays. There are a lot of ways to get stuck in the canyon and I don’t want to risk starving.”

The monster realizes it isn’t getting anything and turns around to leave. Just like that? Not going to attack the humans who cursed it?

“Wait.”

The monster turns around to look at you as Skysong gently questions what you’re doing in your mind. “You aren’t angry at humans for mutilating you?”

“What?” It’s hard to read the thing’s body language. You think it’s being serious. Has no idea what you’re talking about.

“Making you… like that. Ugly. Unable to breathe. With ears that don’t move.”

“Pixie…” Skysong whispers.

“I’m perfectly normal for my kind,” the thing says.

Perfectly normal. A perfectly normal furfrou. How could it think that? How can the entire species not realize how horribly wrong they are?

…you think back to your thoughts in the ball. About Kalani being a perfectly normal nine-tails. The snow eevee’s anger at his mate’s behavior. What he said…that none of you ever get over The Mountain. No. That’s different. You’re gorgeous. You can breathe. You’re not only the smartest canine but probably the smartest pokémon. There’s. Nothing wrong with you. With all of you.

The thing keeps staring at you like you’re the strange one, the monster, before it turns and leaves. The other pokémon gradually relax and the humans go back to talking as you stand fixed in place, staring at the place it was. You startle when Skysong’s paw touches your back. Suddenly you realize that you’ve been standing in the sun and your fur feels suffocatingly hot.

{You okay?}

You don’t answer that. You aren’t showing weakness to a human.

{Do you want to go into your ball?}

“Yes.”

You were almost finished with your food. And you would rather be out of the heat. Rather be alone.

As soon as the world fades you dig into the snow and try not to think about things too absurd to be true.

*​

It’s not quite dark when Skysong sends you out again, but the heat is… tolerable. She’s sitting on the ground alone. You can hear the humans in the distance. Can’t see or hear any of her other pokémon. “Where are the others?” you ask. At least Eyerock must be somewhere. It’s always watching.

“In their balls. I thought you needed privacy.” You tense up. That means she wants to talk. To you. Alone. And there’s no avoiding it. “Something was bothering you. More than the furfrou. I would like to hear it if you would tell me.”

The big thing. You do not want to talk about. It. Something else. Even if it’s still big. “Why did you take me back?”

She tilts her head.

“I got you cursed. And Eggbreath thinks you shouldn’t have.”

Skysong sighs and rubs her eyes with the back of a paw. “I’m sorry about that. She’s very protective of me.”

“That’s not the question I asked.” You’re almost certain she can remember something that recent.

“Why I took you back, huh? Well. You needed help.”

You pause and wait for more. It doesn’t come. “That’s it?”

She shrugs. “I like you. Even if you can be difficult.”

Difficult. You’re just demanding the things any vulpix would. But. You… you don’t know how to say the question. If a human could answer. Even if, somehow, the nine-tails weren’t perfect, a human might not even notice. Because you’re still close. Right?

No. You can’t ask that. Not yet.

“You like helping people?”

“Yes.”

You flick out your tails and think. Maybe. Maybe this is something you can do?

“How can I help you?”

Skysong hums noncommittally before reaching down to give you scratches. You lean in and direct her to your remaining ear. “You already are. Keeping the food cold. Being very soft. It’s never boring with you. But. If there’s one thing.” She takes a deep breath and you brace yourself, even as the petting continues. “You make everything into a fight. Every inconvenience, every time that you don’t get exactly what you want, every minor insult. I feel like I’m constantly dealing with fights and blowups. I have my own problems. I don’t need all of yours. It’s still fine to tell me what you need. Or if something is actually bad. But. Small things. If you could let them go. Especially when I’m busy or having my own problems.”

She’s asking you to accept imperfection.

That… that could have gone worse. Of course the humans can’t always be perfect. And earlier with the weather. It wasn’t killing you. She couldn’t even do anything. You can at least try that. For now.

“Okay.”

She moves her other hand into place to scratch your ear and chin at the same time. “Thank you. And if you do want to talk again…” You won’t. Not with her. Not with a human. “I’m always here.”

For now. Although. The plant eevee said that you were the problem. Maybe if you…were more forgiving of the humans…then she won’t leave. Maybe.

Only one way to find out.

*​

Wind gusts into the side of the tent as your human and her mate prepare to sleep. They are pressed against each other in the center of the tent with plenty of space on either side. You do not know why they are sharing heat. It is already warm.

As soon as Skysong lays down Eggbreath barrels past, almost knocking you over as she lays down on top of her “mother.” Skysong doesn’t seem uncomfortable. You have no idea how: humans aren’t that strong and Eggbreath is almost as big as she is. But her breathing is still regular and she barely shifts positions.

You reflexively bristle at the slight and prepare a burst of cold air. Eggbreath turns to stare you down. And you pause. It would be… acceptable… to sleep on the ground for now. It’s reasonably soft here. And you were just thinking about not wanting to share body heat. You keep your eyes locked onto Eggbreath as you spread out your tails and lower your haunches. You only look away when it’s time to lower your forelegs and sweep your tails over you.

Your injuries don’t make sleeping easy. And its night: you’re supposed to be awake at night and sleep during the day. The humans fall asleep long before you do. Eggbreath is still awake.

“Good job,” she growls.

She’s asleep by the time you come up with a response.
 
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Fairy 6.5

Persephone

Infinite Screms
Pronouns
her/hers
Partners
  1. mawile
  2. vulpix-alola
Fairy 6.5 Balance of Debts
Kekoa

June 20, 2023

You’re surprised how normal life in Skull can be. And how boring. There haven’t been any missions since you joined up a week ago. Just hanging around a house as Plumeria makes the calls behind the scenes. Can’t even walk outside without drawing suspicion.

Even if you hadn’t been assigned your share of chores you probably would’ve done them out of boredom. They rotated you around a few before you took up cleaning. The others just didn’t understand when you asked them if things were maybe too messy. The floors were still walkable and they could usually find what they needed when they needed it.

So now you’re the janitor. Maybe they’ll rename you grimer or something. You’d take it over fucking Jigglypuff.

Your job is made harder by some things apparently not having a “right” place to put them. So you had to figure out how much space you had on the closet shelves and make labels for them so the others wouldn’t mess up your scheme. They still did, so you rewrote the labels with bigger font. They only respected them when Machoke warned them all that Jigglypuff would yell at them so loud the neighbors would hear. He still found a way to tease you while taking your side.

Three days into the cleaning quest and the house is almost acceptable. The floors are even clear enough to vacuum and mop. Kapuna hovers over your shoulder the entire time. Cleaning is fascinating to the carbink. Maybe because it’s like polishing. Are they asking for a polish? You can do that in the afternoon. You didn’t know how much you missed Cuicatl and her ability to instantly clear up misunderstandings. An ability that she uses for poaching.

Some nights you wonder how much she hates you now.

You press that thought down and put more force into the mop than you need to. The strokes become short and fast, like you’re trying to power wash the floor.

“Something wrong?”

Machoke’s over your shoulder. Damn. How’s a guy that big sneak up on you?

“No. Why?”

He shrugs. “You just seemed out of it all of a sudden is all.”

“Oh. No. I’m not.”

He lets you finish the room before he talks again.

“It’s fine if something is bothering you. None of us are here because our lives were going great.”

You tried to ask Loudred a question once. Why her team were so scary. She just met your gaze, shook her head, and walked away. Simisear had pulled you aside and told you that if you wanted Loudred’s trust—any of their trust, really—you’d have to show that you could be trusted.

That has to start somewhere.

“I traveled with a girl for seven months. Left for Skull without telling her. Think she might hate me for it.” You leave out some of the details. Her brother, Shirona, all the little complications. Still have enough for him to get it.

“Huh,” Machoke says. “That was a dick move.”

His tone doesn’t carry judgment. The words do. You make eye contact and try to figure out what he wants from you.

“I think you know it, too, if you’re guilty about it. Why’d you do it?”

“She wouldn’t have wanted me to leave. Might’ve forced me to stay.”

Machoke raises an eyebrow. “Forced you how?”

You try to think of a way to simplify this. Because her life got really complicated really fast recently and telling him the details would defeat the entire point of the codenames. “Her guardian’s a cop.”

“And you’d think she’d get the cops involved if she found out you were joining Skull?”

“Yup.”

“Okay, so, just spit balling here, but, lie to her? Tell her you’re dropping out of the island challenge for literally any other reason, say goodbye, join Skull. She gets closure, you don’t draw too much attention, things work out.”

Oh shit. You hadn’t even thought about that. It would’ve made everything smoother.

“See? That’s why I’m in charge around here. I have good ideas every now and then.”

You look down in shame. There was an easy answer and you never even thought about it. And now she hates you and there’s probably no coming back from that, even when everything’s worked out for Alola.

A heavy hand falls on your shoulder. “Look, you fucked up. Sucks. Everyone does. Nothing you can do about it now but try not fuck up as much tomorrow.”

Or you could contact her. Talk. But you can’t think of a way to talk to her that doesn’t risk compromising Skull.

Damn it. Next time you’ll think of everything.

*​

Turns out there’s an abandoned park in the village you never knew existed. It’s an overgrown golf course in a subdivision abandoned mid-construction. A good space for birds to fly without drawing too much attention. Anuenue can also graze. Don’t see why Hatterene was making such a big deal about it. Sure, you can’t come here every day, but it’s something.

None of your birds are actually flying. Mahina is napping in the sun. Ihe is playing with Simisear’s murkrow. Well, both playing in their own ways. Ihe is chasing the murkrow around as best he can with short hops and the dark-type is doing everything he can to mess with your bird. Feinted attacks towards his eyes, feather dance, even sneaking behind Ihe and pecking his back. The murkrow never gets hit. You aren’t sure if he’s just that good or if Ihe isn’t trying to hit in the first place.

Moe floats beside you. He can’t roam anymore so you have to do weird stuff to feed him. Reading books works, yeah, but you only have trashy romance novels lying around and you can only read about so many luminous orbs shining in the night and girls who say they aren’t like other girls without actually doing anything a cartoon princess wouldn’t. You were a girl who wasn’t like other girls, so you became a boy. Still waiting on that twist in these books. Loudred of all people helped you out. Or her froslass did and Loudred relayed it. No idea how they can speak to each other. You asked, neither answered. She recommended more passive things like bingeing cancelled TV shows, listening through all the albums from dead artists, anything where you get to the end and realize there won’t be anything more. Drifblim literally eat that shit up.

You’re sitting with an earbud in listening to some rock star from the early 90s. You’d heard his name and song titles but never really knew what they were. Turns out you had heard the songs all the time on the radio and just never put two and two together. And then he died. Suicide or overdose, people disagree on if it was intentional or not. You wouldn’t call him young. Late 20s. He still had time left to live.

You don’t really get all the lyrics. The feeling behind it, though? It’s a really solid mix of anger, boredom, and despair that hits you deep. Music has never really been your thing before. Just something playing on the bus or in a public place, and that was usually some sappy watered-down shit about love and flowers or heartbreak or other relationship issues. Boring. Never been there before, might never be.

You think you could get into this shit, though. You’ll have to thank Gumshoos for the rec.

Someone taps you on the shoulder and you almost jolt out of your skeleton. You turn to see Simisear stifling a laugh. “Hey, uh, time to go.”

Ihe is standing beside her and glaring up at you. Still mad you took him away from his friend, even if you brought him to a new one. Not like you could’ve told him what you were doing.

“Aight. Let me call everyone back.”

*​

There’s a knock on the door to the bedroom you’re cleaning. It swings open immediately after, before you could give any kind of an answer or prepare yourself. You look up at Golbat’s scarred face and relax. You’re probably closest to her these days. Nice to know another trans person. You help her with cooking where you can, even if you’re not that good, and she sometimes at least talks to you while you work.

“Some of us were gonna watch a video if you want to.”

You glance up. “What video?”

“Some vlogger does a weekly recap on the island challenge. Big trials, grand trials, who to watch.” She shrugs. “Most of us did the island challenge at some point. We like to keep up with it.”

Might be worth it. Could pick up a trick or two for your own battling, even if the contexts and strategies are going to be different from now on. And maybe it’ll help you integrate better. “Sure. One minute.”

There are already three other people in the lounge when you walk in. Loudred, Machoke, Cranidos. Loudred reminds you uncomfortably of Cuicatl sometimes. She’s only a little bit taller and has a similar hair style, just black instead of green. Then there’s her team. Scyther, froslass, and houndoom. She used to have more at some point in the past. Haven’t been able to find out what. Her pokémon feel like the kind of things Cuicatl would happily add to her squad. And then there’s the movement. Loudred moves with a quiet, fluid grace. Right now she’s curled up on the couch with her legs pulled against her chest to take up as little space as possible. It reminds you a little of Cuicatl’s more military style walk and movement. They aren’t normal for girls their age. And Loudred always has an intensity around her like she expects she’s going to fight you someday and is confident she will win. Cuicatl’s aura felt similar when you did see her in a rage. They would either be best friends or literally kill each other. Not that they’ll ever meet.

Cranidos is heavyset and generally cheerful. He doesn’t mind your presence. Invited you out to a game of football at the golf course a few days back. You didn’t do great. Barely anyone did. Either they didn’t really care or they just weren’t bag or fast enough to be good. It was really just Crandios and Machoke facing down Golbat and Gumshoos while everyone else did some light jogging around them. Never really seen any depth from Cranidos, don’t know why he’s here, but you doubt he shows that side of him very much. He reminds you of your brother in just enough ways that you’ll probably never be close.

(You’ve barely thought about him at all in the last week. Hard to figure out how he’d feel about all this. Not great, but there are dozens of feelings crammed under “not great.” You would know: you’ve experienced most of them.)

And Machoke is leaned back with the same relaxed look as always. Still stupidly tall and stupidly buff and very much unlike the body you ended up with because the universe decided to misfile you as something you weren’t.

You sit down between him and Golbat before Cranidos hits ‘play’ on his phone. The video is some Haole kid named Austin talking about this week’s island challenge news. You always dismissed his kind of show. Not enough happens in a week (some do shows every day) to justify an hour-long video on it.

He starts by talking about the weather of all things. Hot and dry and getting hotter and drier every week. Better than rain, sometimes, but he still spends a few minutes talking about how to avoid dehydration. Turns out that was just building to a sponsorship for some fancy canteen that’s just a ridiculously overpriced water bottle. There’s some idle chatter around you during that part. Golbat asks for suggestions for the next week’s food since she has to throw in a shopping list soon. Apparently, some people help out Skull by being normal, law-abiding citizens who can walk into a bulk grocery store and deliver it to predetermined locations where an abra moves it to the field teams. Gets them reward points on their credit card and helps out the cause. If you stayed in one place long enough then maybe you could’ve done that. No. You’re young. You’re good at fighting. And Plumeria was dismissive of that kind of thing. This was the right choice.

The guy on the screen shifts to talking about how few people are taking the island challenge this year. Shows some footage of Olivia talking to a camera with no context about her plan to further subsidize pokémon food or offer extra classes at Pokémon Centers on basic life skills. Cranidos snorts. “Yeah, and then what happens when it ends? Money goes away and you have to go home with your giant pokémon and shitty parents?”

Machoke and Golbat murmur their support. Loudred says nothing. You’d imagine she has thoughts on this since two of her pokémon are carnivores and the last, what, eats souls or something? You don’t know how froslass work.

“And now we go back to this year’s most exciting prospect, Cuicatl Ichtaca.” That snaps you to full attention. Not sure where they got the photo. It’s very cheery for her. Even forced. You’ve seen her when she’s actually happy. She has a self-assured smirk or a small smile. Not a wide thing meant to be seen. Never with teeth. The picture is definitely airbrushed. Her skin usually isn’t picture perfect. Still a whole lot better than yours and she’s good at not picking at it so there aren’t really scars, but she’s still a teenager. Being psychic doesn’t make you immune to acne. And her teeth in the picture are straighter than they really are. Hers are fine. She’s never had braces and at least two are cracked. Not ugly by any means. Just. Human. She is what she is. That’s all you’re going to get. Usually that’s enough.

(It seems that it wasn’t for you.)

“Miss Ichtaca cleared her second grand trial back in April and has been on hiatus ever since. Now, there’s been a lot of speculation as to why. It was heavily rumored that Dr. Shirona Karashina, champion of Sinnoh, was tutoring her in preparation for her Class V license. Those rumors were confirmed this week when Dr. Karashina was seen at her protégé’s Grand Trial battle with Nanu. Now, if you’re wondering why her two most recent appearances were back-to-back grand trials, keep in mind that she beat the electric trial back in December and was probably just biding her time for Acerola to retire.

“Enough talking, though. Let’s see the footage.”

Cuicatl sends out her metang against a grimer and they go back and forth for a while. Truth be told you aren’t really watching the battle. Your eyes are constantly drawn back to her every time she’s on screen. She looks tense. Angrier than usual. At points she even appears to be in pain. Psychic tricks of some kind. Maybe bad enough to be rulebreaking, maybe not. It’s an island challenge. No one really cares. Someone might break her arm if she tries that in the pros.

Coco comes out after the first round and just wrecks a raticate and persian. You knew the dino had been training hard with Shirona’s garchomp but this is ridiculous. Machoke whistles after the first knockout and you get snapped back to the present. Loudred is leaning forward, eyes flickering over the screen to take in everything. Cranidos is watching with keen interest but still leaning back. Golbat is scrolling her phone but occasionally looking up. And Machoke is leaning back with an unreadable expression.

Her golisopod gets the final round and dukes it out with an incineroar. It’s pretty close even with the type advantage and the bug’s armor. Cuicatl still ekes out the win with three pokémon. Doesn’t even have to use a Z-move. Good for her. Those never seemed healthy. Like, you’re not judging the girl for chasing her dream but it’s further than you might’ve gone, but it seemed painful.

The video flicks back to the announcer who just starts summarizing what happened. Some of it’s about how to plan for Nanu, Something about the persian he used. Most is about Cuicatl’s play in general and Coco in particular. She still doesn’t give many orders. Audibly, at least. They’re surprised that her vulpix wasn’t back. You’re not. Poor fox looked like a chew toy at the end of its life. Cuicatl’s protective of her pokémon. She probably won’t allow Pixie to battle again.

Eventually Cranidos gets bored and pauses the video. He leans over to face Loudred. “Still want to fight her?”

“We will eventually,” she grumbles.

What? Why? You get that she’s with VStar. And also their only employee with a high license. And does whatever her employer tells her to do. And is probably mad at you over joining Team Skull. Okay. Fine. You get it. But she’s never attacked them before.

“See that eviolite?” Golbat asks. “Thing’s ready to evolve. You put her at risk and you’re facing down a tyrantrum. What’s your plan, then?”

Loudred scoffs. “She’s blind. No situational awareness. Useless if attacked directly. Distract her pokémon, sneak up, knock her out, use the balls to withdraw her team.”

“Uh huh. And do you want to distract a tyrantrum?”

“We could.” No further explanation is given.

“Doesn’t matter,” Machoke says. “Boss wants us to stay away from her.”

“Why?” you ask. Worried about pissing off Anahuac? Shirona? No. They left her alone long before Shirona came into the picture.

“Boss wants her to join on her own terms. That’s all I’ve been told.”

You snort. Yeah, no. Not unless they can fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars. Anyone that buys her hydreigon will also buy her loyalty. Until then she’s renting it out to the highest bidder.

In the end you decide not to argue with Loudred about how you’d fight her. But it isn’t necessary. It seems like Skull isn’t going after her and she has no reason to go after them. Unless she’s coming after you. She probably wouldn’t. She left Genesis leave into a bad situation. This can’t be any worse than that. Besides, she’s too smart to just attack random Skull grunts until one knows where you are and is willing to tell her.

“Why do you think you’ll have to fight her? Doesn’t seem like she’s the type of person to care about us.” You try to come off like you don’t care. This is just bros talking about sports or whatever.

“Selene did,” Loudred hisses. “They will make her, too. Make her prove that she’s loyal enough to their government to be champion. Make her useful. If she is not useful, she will find her path blocked every step of the way by people who want to use her.”

She sounds very confident about that. Confident and bitter. You look at her. Really look at her. Did that happen to her? Was she a rising star who wouldn’t do what the colonizers wanted? What happened? Have you heard of her? You only really started paying attention once you got to Aether House. Then.

It was a good place for the kids who didn’t cross their lines. And you knew that every night you slept in one of their beds was a night that some other kid would have to spend getting bounced around foster care. And you weren’t even happy with the place once you figured out who you were. It was just easier to leave. To try and do something with your life. Be the person you wanted to be. You spent a year researching the challenge and hormones and deciding that this was definitely who you were and you wouldn’t be happy going back. And then you left.

“Still not sure I wanna piss off tyrantrum girl without a good reason,” Golbat says.

“She wouldn’t be close to having one if we’d drove her off months ago.”

Drove her off? If it was anyone else that would sound good. Don’t kill or maim. Just annoy them until they leave Alola. The kind of things the old Skull did. But it wouldn’t have worked with her. She’s stubborn and desperate and she would have fought. Things would escalate. She wouldn’t back down until she was dead.

You’re suddenly really, really glad that Plumeria wants her left alone.

Machoke lifts the remote and lets the video play.

“Lyra Miura won her third grand trial around the same time. It seems like the group’s third member has changed, though. Miss Ichtaca’s old traveling companion, Genesis Gage, was seen at the grand trial. For those unaware, Miss Gage has made headlines lately. Won’t get into details because I don’t want to get sued but do look into it on your own.” He laughs like it’s a joke. What a fucking coward. “I did try to get my own answers. It just didn’t go very well.”

A video starts playing of that asshole shoving a microphone towards Gen while she was huddled near Lyra and Cuicatl. “Miss Gage—you are Genesis Gage, right?” She turns around and blinks in confusion at the camera. “Rumors have been circulating about where you’ve been over the last few months. Your father has sued—”

“No comment,” Lyra interrupts.

“—the international police over allegedly libelous statements. What’s your reaction? What is—”

“She has no comment you daft son of a bitch,” Lyra grumbles as she stalks over to the camera.

“Excuse me, I was trying—"

She reaches towards the camera and the video ends.

It cuts back to the smarmy cunt’s face. “Seems that Ms. Miura doesn’t like me much. With a new, or old, member gained, another was lost. There was no sign of Kekoa Mahi’ai at either of the girls’ grand trials and no one had a good explanation as to why. It’s possible he was just sick, those kinds of things have happened before, but he also hasn’t had a public appearance in a long time. That was after a fairly impressive win in the Akala grand trial where his almost mono-flying team managed to score a win against the rock kahuna. Let’s take a look back.”

Your moment of pride blinds you just long enough that you don’t realize what’s about to happen until it does. The video opens with Moe facing down Olivia’s cranidos and you freeze up. Video. Fuck. Recent, too. If he just flashed your license, it wouldn’t really matter. That was taken two weeks on hormones and you looked different. Not, like. Super girly or anything. Just androgynous. Sometimes when you start to slip into dysphoria you look between your license and the mirror and tally all the changes.

Machoke’s hand settles onto your shoulder. “Don’t worry. You’re still just Jigglypuff to me.”

You glance towards Loudred. Did she know about this before? If he’s been covering Cuicatl, you probably came up when you battled Olivia. Yeah, her win was impressive with the last second evolution, but you had a team of birds (and a carbink and miltank) and pulled off a win. “Would she attack you if it came down to it?” Loudred asks.

You don’t know. She can be scarier than you’d think when she’s mad. But you’ve never seen her attack another human before. Much less someone she liked. Still. Your thoughts drift back to Paniola. You were being an ass to her about, well, you don’t even remember what, and she outed you to Genesis and threatened to have her hydreigon murder you. That was before she liked you, though. You aren’t sure if she still likes you now.

“I don’t think she would,” you settle on. “My pokémon, yes. You, definitely. Me? No. If she ever shows up get as far away as you can and let me handle it.” Right now you could even beat her, easy. Her scariest pokémon is a bug-type. Moe takes Noci. You can just play around Coco like you did Olivia’s cranidos: keep airborne when you can and wait for it to get impatient and give you an opening. The problem comes in when either of those pokémon evolve. Even a small tyrantrum would be really hard to beat. You’d need cheap shots or a Z-move even if Cuicatl wasn’t giving orders, and Coco already handled Nanu easily enough.

There isn’t anything you or anyone else here could do about a metagross. If all of you were attacking together with all your pokémon, maybe? Houndoom and froslass could damage it. But the metagross would know that and plan around it. Plumeria can’t even help because all of her pokémon are poison-types. There’s really only one silver lining.

“She says she isn’t going to evolve her metang. I didn’t believe her before, but she might not take the risk now.” Unless she was desperate. You haven’t heard from her yet. You’re guessing she’s not that desperate about you leaving.

Everything goes dead silent.

“We… didn’t actually think there was a chance of her evolving the metang. She might?”

You shrug. “Probably not? She has a girlfriend now. I don’t think she really cared about her own safety. Maybe she’ll care about her partner’s.” Okay. You’re losing ground here. “She doesn’t actually like the American government. At all. They probably couldn’t get her to turn against Skull or anything.”

Unless she was paid a life changing amount of money. Unless her Class V or visa were held hostage over it. Then? Maybe. But you don’t actually want Loudred trying to kill Cuicatl or get her or go home or whatever. You’ve already betrayed her. Don’t need to twist the fucking knife.

“You want to prove your loyalty?” Loudred asks. “This is how. What guard pokémon do she and her partners leave out at night? What hostages would infuriate her? Which would cause her to stand down? What are any limits we should know about? I assume she has self-defense training from Anahuac: how much? When are her pokémon usually the farthest from her?” She drones on. It’s the most you’ve ever heard her talk. And it’s about hurting someone you care about.

“You won’t ever need any of this. She won’t fight us.”

“Then there’s no harm in telling me.”

You meet her gaze. Cranidos shifts uncomfortably beside her. Machoke looks as impassive as ever. You think Golbat’s sympathetic. That might be pity, though. Or maybe even judgment. Damn it. You left her. You knew she might see you as a brother and you left her. And now you might turn around and actually hurt her like her brother and father did. She wants you to choose between this life and your old one and you can’t, doesn’t she get that?

Cranidos clears his throat. Great. He’s going to come after you, too. “If he was willing to sell her out like that, would we want him here?”

Machoke grunts. “Agreed. Unless Big Sis changes her mind, we don’t need to press it.”

You look at Golbat and she looks away. You were supposed to be more open. You couldn’t be. You’d do everything else. And now… and now no one is going to trust you here. Even if you could go back no one would trust you there, either.

*​

Arson turns out to be a great distraction from your thoughts.

“Alright, here’s our target.” Machoke hits a button on his phone and the TV shifts to the next slide. It shows a big house of some kind. “This used to be a bed and breakfast owned by a kanaka family. They left during The Blackout and sold it to a mainland development company who’s using it as a short-term rental. Big Sis has confirmed that no one’s staying there in two nights so we’re free to burn it. Everyone, same roles as usual. Jigglypuff!” It’s very dumb that he knows your name and still calls you Jigglypuff. He’s not keeping any information from himself. You’ll talk to him about it later. You just. Don’t feel like you’ve earned it yet. “Can your drifblim help spread the flames?”

“She doesn’t like fire.” Or have a flying move stronger than gust. “My rufflet knows tailwind. I can boost it with a Z-crystal if you want.”

“Good, good.” He’s genuinely smiling and for a moment you can almost believe that he isn’t disappointed in you. “Gumshoos and Loudred will break in and start the fire. You and Simisear will be fanning the flames. I’ll cause a distraction down the beach. Hatterene, Golbat, and Cranidos will keep an eye on things. Goal is to get out of there before anyone notices anything’s wrong. We’ll have two abra helping with that…”

You hope you don’t need to memorize all of this now. You could try but it’s a lot.

Right now you’re just glad to have some other way to prove yourself.
 
Fairy 6.6

Persephone

Infinite Screms
Pronouns
her/hers
Partners
  1. mawile
  2. vulpix-alola
CW: Eating disorders, salazzle's whole deal

Fairy 6.6: False Dragons
Cuicatl

June 27, 2020

The lure falls into the sea with a satisfying plop. Noci remains over it, ready to pull it out when something bites. If it’s not a skrelp, you’ll pull it back, add more bait and another ball, and try again. At least skrelp bait is just small chunks of fish or crustaceans. Cheap to buy and Pixie could keep it frozen solid without problems. There’s no line and Noci pushed it into the weeds. Won’t look like a standard fisherman’s trap.

Lyra came along to help with thesis defense prep. You don’t mind. It’s nice to be around her again. Mitsuru flew in after the two of you. You’ve only heard gentle, wordless coos and the ruffle of feathers from her since she landed. Probably sunning on a rock while preening herself.

Lyra clears her throat.

“First question: even with all of the steps you’ve outlined, hydreigon still sound extremely dangerous to own. Is it safe?”

“No.”

She pauses. “Excuse me?”

“They’re man-eating dragons. You’ll be fine if they bond with you. You can take steps to encourage a bond. Can’t force them to like you anymore than you can force anyone else.” A flurry of activity rushes through Lyra’s mind but you can’t make out the words without actively trying. You respect her privacy and don’t pry. “If you try to force it they’ll probably eat you. If you keep them captive without a bond they’ll eat you. Same as any other predatory dragon.”

“You’re not making a strong case for adding one to my team.”

“Good. It’s usually a bad idea. They don’t like people. But people are going to try because hydreigon are—awesome.” You managed to keep the swear from slipping in. Not your fault they’re fucking awesome. “If they follow my advice they might not get killed.”

[Alarm Lvl 11: Object_ Bait Consumed;
Consumer =/= Class_Skrelp;
Returning Lure For Repairs]

“Noci’s coming back. Can you load the hook again?” You could. You did. Just poked yourself a lot. Lyra insisted that she help after that.

“Sure.” You hear her slide something on and feel Noci’s mindprint retreating. She’s taken to sending out little radar signals to let you know where she is. It’s adorable and appreciated. “You know you’ll turn people off if you’re that blunt to them.”

“I’m telling the truth.”

“Yes, but it’s not the truth they want to hear. Powerful people don’t like being told no, especially by people they see as beneath them. And many will see you as beneath them. Because you’re a child, because you’re blind, because you’re female, because you’re not white—take your pick.”

You bristle. They would really deny you something you earned because of things beyond your control?

“Yeah. The game sucks. But we all have to play it.”

Very depressing. “I think I hate your country.”

She barks out a laugh. You’ve learned she has two. A controlled, normal, one when she’s around people and being self-conscious. And a single, short noise. It was a few months before you heard that one.

“Yeah, speaking of that—another question you will be asked, because half the internet is asking it.” You brace yourself. That doesn’t sound good. “You’re a citizen of Anahuac, right?”

“Yes.”

“And they have mandatory military service for citizens?”

“Only for boys.” Basic information. They could learn that in any search engine. “Women aren’t allowed to serve as soldiers. Only medics, cooks, and other support roles. The ones that won’t die or take captives in battle.”

“But if a girl came back with a metagross and tyrantrum, they’d draft you, right?”

“That was never discussed when I had a hydreigon.” Probably because your brother was going to use Alice. Maybe. That was your father’s plan. Alice never liked either of them very much.

You hate it, but you’re starting to understand why.

“And even if you weren’t on the front lines, metagross can still be used in other capacities like downing satellites or hacking computer networks. Would they conscript you in those roles?”

They might already make you do some spy stuff since you’re a psychic who apparently hasn’t hidden it well. But all of that depends on you even being able to go back to Anahuac. Or wanting to. You might be able to stay here or go to Japan. You don’t want to impose. You also don’t really want to go back to your birthplace. You cared about your brother and Alice. He’s dead and ellas can move.

“I think I might stay here. Or go to Japan.”

“Wait, really?” Her pitch shifts up. It’s Lyra honestly asking. Not just her being in character.

“Dr. Karashina offered to take me with her. Kahuna Rodriguez and…” You still don’t know the proper honorific. You don’t like using first names for adults, but it’ll have to do. “Lila Takeda have also offered. I just don’t know if they’re serious. Or if they’re supposed to offer but I’m not actually supposed to accept or—“

“—okay, good. You’re staying with one of them and not going back to your abusive father.”

You look down and away from her.

“For ash and water, this is why I came back. Look. You don’t like yourself. Don’t think you deserve good things. I get it. But if you keep talking about going back I’m telling Genesis you have other options and are ignoring them. Let her deal with this. See how long you last.”

…you’d give it a week before she changes your mind.

“So, have you accepted that you’re not going back to your father?”

You don’t answer her. She draws her own conclusions from your head slumping forward. “Good. Now, then, let’s talk about the three options. You already know some of what staying with Shirona would be like.”

Mitsuru warbles out a question at the familiar name coming up twice in a minute. You try and loop her in on some of it while listening to Lyra.

“And you’re probably closest to her, right? Emotionally. Not physically. That’s actually one the biggest cons I can think of.”

“It’s cold in Sinnoh. I don’t think Coco or Leo would like it.” Mitsuru shudders and you can hear all her feathers ruffle. She doesn’t like the cold. You don’t think you’d like it either. You grew up low enough in the foothills that it almost never snowed. Not sure how you would like a place so close to the Arctic.

“Right. And you might have to travel a lot. Shirona has professional obligations around the world. You’d either have to stay at her place alone or go with her. And say goodbye to your privacy.”

And maybe your girlfriend. You didn’t think to ask Dr. Karashina if Genesis could come with you. She’s already offering far more than she has to. Far more than she should. You don’t want to be unreasonable.

“I don’t know how well you actually know the other two.”

“They seem nice. The kahuna likes dinosaurs a lot. She would get along with Coco. And I guess Lila Takeda could help me with psychic problems.”

Lyra hums noncommittally. “I’d go with Olivia if you’re indifferent between them. Her life seems more stable right now.”

It still feels impossible that any of them are serious about this. It was either just polite or a joke where you’re the punchline.

“If this is a real offer.”

Lyra groans in frustration. “Mitsuru can hear your half of the conversation, right?”

“And I’ve been telling her yours.”

“Hey, Mitsuru, is your—I don’t know, boss?—serious about taking Cuicatl in?”

“Yes! It’s fun having you in the nest.”

In the nest. That sounds a lot like family rather than just letting you live with her. That’s a bad idea. For her. For you. Family… doesn’t work out. They die or hurt you. Or both. Not a good idea to try again. But nests are also homes so maybe that’s what the bird meant.

Lyra doesn’t even wait for you to translate. Probably got the answer from the tone. Or just guessed. Correctly.

“At least one offer’s serious. Betting the others are, too. Basically a question of staying with someone you know and like or seeking something more stable. You don’t have to decide today, but I think you should have it worked out by the time the defense rolls around. Nips some loyalty questions in the bud.”

You want to argue. Yet. She makes sense. You think she’s right, even if it still feels impossible. And you’re increasingly aware of how close she is. How nice it is to have someone fighting for you. The tenacity in her voice and the scheming intelligence behind her words. The floral scents of the lilac perfume and roselia shampoo she uses.

Maybe mixed with salandit pheromones.

“Did you start using imorin again?”

“I—what?”

“Salandit perfume. You using it?” Dr. Karashina asked her to stop. But the champion’s gone now.

[Alarm Lvl 11: Object_ Bait Consumed;
Consumer =/= Class_Skrelp;
Returning Lure For Repairs]

“Thank you, Noci.”

Lyra silently loads more bait and another ball without being asked. When you hear the lure ‘plop’ down she finally speaks. “Didn’t think you’d have a problem with it.”

You bristle. You thought she was over this. That she didn’t think you were peppering her or Genesis or something.

She must notice. “I’m not saying you’re altering thoughts or anything. Neither am I. You can hear thoughts and tell people what they want you to say. It’s not changing people, just easing them to the point you want them to reach. You can do that with a million social tricks. Makeup, clothes, posture and, yeah, perfume. All smells change emotions. Read a book.”

“I can’t.”

“I—sorry.”

“I have heard about all this. I know how smells affect people. I have to pay more attention to them than you. This, imorin, it’s not like the others. A field of flowers can’t literally hypnotize you.”

Well, some flowers can. Lyra met one of those flowers. Told you about it. Didn’t sound like she liked it very much.

“You’re still trying to make Genesis change her mind?” you ask. “Because you—you!— literally told me to go for it. And now you want to use hypnotizing perfume to get her back?” You huff and look away from her. “If you want her, fine. I just wish you hadn’t toyed with me like this.”

[Alarm Lvl 11: Object_ Bait Consumed;
Consumer =/= Class_Skrelp;
Returning Lure For Repairs]

{Not the time.}

[Pausing task until new orders received.]

“This wasn’t about you or Genesis,” Lyra finally says. “I accepted that she wants to date you. I even think that you’re good for each other. You make her feel safe. She’s vocal enough about her feelings that maybe you’ll get it through your skull that people care about you.”

“Then why wear it if it’s not about us?”

“People suck. I want an advantage in dealing with them. Make sure they don’t try things. I don’t wear it on the trail when it’s just us. But we’re staying—“

“—at an old woman’s house. Are you afraid of her?” It’s one of the stops on the trail that isn’t a Pokémon Center. Just a few spare bedrooms and a willingness to host teenagers for a few days. She seems a little lonely, even if her granddaughter usually lives there with her.”

“It’s not always the people you expect to be a threat who prove themselves dangerous.”

She’s smarter than this. Has to know better. You call Noci over and start to prepare a new ball and hook. Lyra doesn’t step in to help.

“Is this fair to Genesis, then? Twisting her emotions without telling her? And is it fair to you? Do you want the kind of attention salazzle draw?” You know you wouldn’t. You’re happy your girlfriend sees you that way. And it’s nice to be seen as attractive. Very, very weird but not unpleasant. But you overhear people’s thoughts about you. That’s… tolerable from Genesis. Barely. Strangers? No.

Lyra remains stubbornly silent.

“Fine. But you need to tell Genesis or I will.”

“I’ll stop for now,” Lyra finally concedes. “And tell Genesis before we leave.”

“I’ll make sure you do.”

If it was just you, honestly, you don’t think you’d care. You can resist it well enough. You have a lot of experience denying your body the things it wants. Genesis deserves better. Her parents tried to bend her sexuality to what they wanted, she shouldn’t get that from someone who is supposed to be safe.

[Alert! Priority 110. Skrelp Captured.]

You rise to your feet and send out Leo. “Caught one,” you tell him and Lyra. “Going to talk by the water.”

You’d been sitting away from it to avoid getting attacked. On top of dragalge there are sharpedo and gyarados in the bay. They don’t hunt on land, but they also won’t pass up tasty prey sitting right at the water’s edge. As you settle into place Leo goes into the water to cut off the skrelp’s easiest escape option. Noci levitates the ball to your hand and you release the baby dragon.

They immediately try to run. Leo cuts them off. There’s not too much splashing so they must not have tried too hard to run after seeing the golisopod.

“Hello,” you greet the skrelp in Upper Draconic. “I wish to negotiate.”

You hope it gets the intent. Skrelp aren’t really dragon-types and dragalge are only elemental dragons. It might not know the language at all. Wakumi said she only learned it when she evolved. If all else fails your gift should still work.

“Am I bargaining for my life?” the skrelp asks. Ah, good. It knows some dragon etiquette. It’s very bad form to ambush an enemy and make an offer with their life on the line. Those agreements are usually ignored by other dragons and can be broken without consequence. Half the point of the laws is to prevent ambushes. If there are fights, they need to be fair and follow the rules.

“No. I just needed you close to talk.”

There’s a splash in the water in front of you. No other comment.

“I want to offer you a life where all your needs are met. No predators, no storms, no hunger, no disease.” Really no untreated disease. But there’s not a good way to word that in Upper Draconic. “Friends, if you want them.”

“What do you want in return?”

They’re a very smart little skrelp. Maybe you want them on your team. They could help with the last few trials.

“For that deal, you would have to leave home and never come back.”

“No.” They barely even pause to consider it. What a shame.

“I can make another. You could travel with me. I would feed you, help you grow stronger, help you reach your final form. You could come back once every two or three moons.” Probably more but you don’t want to make a promise to a dragon you can’t keep. “In exchange I need you to fight battles for me. Not hunts. They won’t kill you. Just test you.”

“No. I like my home.”

Then there’s not much point arguing. Not with this one, anyway.

“Can you pass on my offers to your brethren? See if any wish to accept. I will return at the end of the next day.”

“I will.”

“Good. Leo, Noci, stand aside.”

You can hear the giant bug move. The skrelp dives beneath the water with a splash and leaves silently under the surface. Oh well. Nothing to do but wait.

And take care of another thing.

“Lyra.”

“Yes?”

“Let’s get away from the water. Then we need to talk about your salandit.”

“I’ve told you, I’ll talk to Genesis about it.”

“Not the perfume. The pokémon.”

“Oh?”

You stop as your fit hits the ground at an odd angle. Not hard enough to cause lasting pain. Just threw you off balance. Noci swoops down to help pull you up.

“Everything alright?” Lyra asks. She sounds genuinely concerned despite everything. Hard to follow what she wants, who she’s mad at, who she likes. Just hope she likes you despite everything.

“Yes. Just. You haven’t been talking to your pokémon as much. Want to make sure Subarashī’s going to behave when she evolves.”

“I’ve been meaning to fix that. Talk more to my team. Just.”

Just. You. She doesn’t trust you because she thinks you shouldn’t trust her and you’ve had an entire conversation about why that’s bullshit but she still won’t change her mind.

“You look out for me, I’ll look out for you.”

“Right. Thank you.”

There are no more words until you’re far enough away from the coast that the waves are just a whisper in the back of your ear, only there if you pay attention. The soft slope of the dunes and sea cliffs gives way to the hard, flat rock of Poni Island.

“Anything around?” you ask.

“No. Coast is clear.”

“Cool. Send her out.” You’re already crouching as you say it. Salazzle stand as a form of aggression. Don’t want to start on a bad note, even if you’ll probably end there.

You know the second the pokémon is out. A slight jolt in your thoughts. Something you probably wouldn’t notice if you weren’t used to little mental touches from… it doesn’t matter.

“Did you want to talk to me?” Subarashī asks. She sounds perfectly innocent and for a moment you regret wanting to interrogate her. But only for a moment.

“You’re evolving, right?”

“Yes,” she practically purrs. “Imagine how beautiful I will be then.”

You don’t acknowledge her. Even as your mind gets a little bit foggier with every word she speaks.

“You’re trying to control the other pokémon.” And probably the humans, too.

“They see my beauty. I can’t be blamed.”

Still denying things, then? You’re not sure what you were expecting. “Do you think you should be in charge of everyone?”

“If that’s what they decide.”

“And what does being in charge mean?”

“What it does to you. I decide who gets what, where we go, what we do. You defend me and do everything I tell you to and I make sure you eat enough.”

She isn’t… wrong about the relationship most trainers have with their pokémon. That makes things harder.

“And why do you think the totem approved of Lyra. Does that mean nothing?”

Subarashī sneezes in contempt. You’re pretty sure it’s contempt. Your feelings shift towards contempt. Probably what she meant.

“Mother gave me a new toy.”

Lyra’s thoughts freeze up for a moment when you translate that. She still stays silent. Trusts you enough to finish this.

A strategy occurs to you. After a minute of thinking it over, it still sounds decent enough. You send your orders to Noci. A moment later the salandit screeches in surprise and your heart drops. No. Perfume. This is what you wanted.

“Cuicatl.” Lyra’s tone is harsh. Almost angry. You thought she knew how to defend against this kind of attack. “What are you doing?”

{Helping you in the long run.}

A swarm of comebacks buzzes in her head. She doesn’t say any of them aloud.

“You can’t charm Noci like that. Or Coco.” Probably. You’ll need to have The Talk with her once she evolves. You think Pixie said something once about most ninetales being bisexual so you’ll leave her out of this. Besides, you’re pretty sure she’s too young to mate. Boys are gross. Not eevee gross, but still bad. “I can have them attack you when you’re charming me. How do you deal with that?”

The air heats up. Fire. Right. She didn’t try to burn you, though. It’s warm, not hot. Just a scare tactic.

“Sometimes you’ll meet people you can’t charm and can’t beat. What then? Humans are smart. Social. We deal with this all the time. Lyra can teach you her tricks. But you will have to agree to some rules.”

The air stays warm and you hear the salandit’s tail swish through the air. Weighing her options. Is this the first time she saw humans as anything close to an equal?

“What rules?” she finally hisses.

“You’ll have chances to practice your charming. But only against enemies. Or at least pokémon not on our teams. No humans.”

She hisses in displeasure. “Why?”

“You can practice social tricks with allies. Make them feel how you want them to without charming them. Learn how to do that with pokémon that won’t attack you if you fail.”

“Fine.” The salandit barks. “I want to make my own rules.”

You look towards where you think Lyra is standing. {Think it’s your turn,} you add at the end of your translation.

“Okay,” she says. “What rules?”

You let them work out the details, content to serve as a simple translator. Hopefully this agreement lasts. You don’t really want to hurt Subarashī. Not her fault her species is like… that.

*​

You have a block of time set aside in the afternoon for nothing at all. Dr. Livens wants you to only use it on yourself. But that’s hard with so many things to do! Noci’s been in the sea spray all day. She deserves a polish. Pixie has been sulking in the corner of your bedroom and you haven’t had time to properly brush her yet. Coco… sweet Coco always needs more playtime than you can really give her. Lyra took her away for some training so you can have alone time, but it feels like you should be doing that yourself. Otherwise, well, you’ve been pretending to be her mother. Badly. You’ve been too busy with your own issues and Pixie’s issues and Gen’s issues and she isn’t getting enough of your attention because she’s fine. Enough. You know she was lashing out at Pixie for a while. Probably jealous of the attention she’s been taking away.

You feel like you should be doing more for her than you are. For everyone. They’re kinder to you than you deserve and you can never seem to pull enough weight to justify it. And now you have to sit and do nothing. On the trail it was easy enough. Just sit down and rest. Maybe talk to Genesis. But now there’s so much more you could be doing.

Preparations! You could be precooking meals, making sure your pokémon know all about every threat they could come across, finalizing plans for the totem… the totem. An adult kommo-o that won’t be holding back. It’s no hydreigon, but still a very large dragon. A very loud dragon. You won’t be able to hear well enough to give orders. Even if it didn’t have help it would be a struggle to wear it down without Pixie. And Pixie still isn’t ready to battle something like that. She probably never will be. And that’s fine. Girl’s been through a lot and deserves some love. Her fur is soft and she gives good cuddles so she more than pulls her weight.

You fall back onto the bed. Onto Gen’s side by accident. She stole all the pillows and filled them with the scent of her hair. Leppa now. Back on Ula’Ula she was just using the generic one that Dr. Karashina bought. She bought her own when you shopping for supplies. This is better. Smells more like her.

A yawn escapes your lips. Are you tired? You thought you’d been getting enough sleep.

Oh well.

At least that’s something to do with your you time.

Pixie hops up on the bed after you. That’s fine. You like her here. Aren’t doing this for her.

*​

June 22, 2020

You count your breaths after knocking on Lyra’s door. She opens it after five.

“Come in.” You take a few steps forward and the door closes behind you. “So. What’s up?”

“I…” you taper off before steeling your resolve. Genesis loves the beach. This must happen. However you feel about it. “I need a swimsuit.”

She’s quiet. Probably wants you to continue.

“I’ve put on weight, a lot of weight, and my old one is getting too tight. With the skrelp catch, I think I need a new one. And I can’t see so I need someone else to help.”

“Okay.” Lyra takes a deep breath. “And why me?”

“Um. I like Dr. Karashina but she has better things to do. Genesis might get. Distracted.” And she likes trying to broadcast her thoughts to you. When you’re already self-conscious that’s the last thing you need. “You’re good at fashion. I mean, people say you are. And.” You cut yourself off and breathe. You were almost hyperventilating there, words coming so fast that they might not get through without your gift. Half of that was in Nahuatl. You find yourself slipping back into it when you’re stressed since it doesn’t actually matter what language you’re speaking.

You hear Lyra the springs scrunch down when Lyra sits on the bed. “I meant that this is clearly difficult for you. Why do you trust me?”

What? “Should I not?”

“Just.” You can hear the air move as she flails her arms. “You know I had a crush on Genesis. I have every reason to be bitter and sabotage you. Get you an ugly suit, prod you about your weight, anything. Why come to me?”

You knew that, yes. She didn’t hide it well. And she also told you it was fine to date Genesis despite everything.

“Would you do that?” you ask. You know she can be… bitchy is a word that might fit sometimes. She’s just never done anything like that. To you.

“No,” she says. “But a lot of people would, okay? You can’t just trust everyone who hasn’t literally stabbed you.”

“Then it’s fine if you aren’t going to hurt me?” Your breathing has slowed. Now you’re more confused than upset.

“And you’re just taking my word for that.” She sighs and the springs creek beneath her as she moves. “People will hurt you someday. People you think are friends, even family. You—well, I guess you do know that.”

Yes. You do. You can’t tell if you would rather talk about the flab on your stomach or your family. Neither, if you could.

“Didn’t learn your lesson, though. Still putting your trust in people you shouldn’t.”

Did you learn a lesson? If you could do things differently you think you would still be there for Achi every step of the way. You would have questions. Why he lied to you. What else he was hiding. But if he had gone further, if he’d hurt you himself… no. You think you would still love him. Even let him hurt you if that’s what he needed. You endure you must for the people you love.

“Fine. Are you ready to go now?” Lyra asks. “We’re close enough to the mall.”

Now? You. Now? There’s not much time. You aren’t sure what you expected to happen here. Your teeth press into each other hard enough that your cracked one burns in pain before you make yourself relax. Now. You can do this now. It’s no worse than any other time.

*​

There are things you remember.

The sun on your back and the heat radiating up from the pavement.

The man at the door. There was a ranger demonstration. Pokémon weren’t allowed. Not even service pokémon. Lyra fought. You just withdrew Coco without a word. You think Lyra said something to you after that. You can’t remember. The quiet music and the loud murmur of people building to a roar. A new overpowering scent every twenty steps. Butter, sugar, fruit, grease. And then there’s strange, synthetic fabric against your body. Again. And again. This is the part you remember the least.

You can’t remember who paid in the end.

The next complete memories are of sitting on a bench with someone rubbing circles on your back. Through your t-shirt. You’ve taken to wearing more American clothes in the cities. Don’t want more attention than you’re already drawing with a vulpix, tyrunt, or metang by your side.

Someone’s whispering things to you. The day. The time. The place. The weather. You don’t understand why.

The circles on your back slow.

“Are you there?”

You take a moment. Feel the hard bench beneath you. The overly cool air on your skin. The faint music. You’re indoors. The mall. Still in the mall. You know Lyra’s voice and scent. That’s her. You were…shopping. You were shopping and you stopped being you for a while.

{I’m sorry,} you tell her. Mentally. Mouth words will be a while. You know she hates it. But. You’ll apologize later.

“For what?” Her voice is still even. Low. Kind. Good. You’re not sure you could handle her yelling at you right now.

{Being like. This. Over a swimsuit.}

She snorts. “You do thinks everyday that I never could. No forgiveness is needed.”

Her hand resumes its circles and you relax into the touch.

“Can you tell me more about ghosts?” she asks. “I was thinking about catching a dhelmise on Poni.”

Ghosts? {I don’t know much,} you confess. {Mom never had one. I’ve never had one. I think I’ve heard that they usually have problems. Emotional problems. From being dead.}

She hums in response. “Good thing I know a translator.”

Yes. You can be useful when the time comes. Just not right now.

At some point you get back to the hotel and you’re lying on your side on a soft bed. Genesis is cradling you from behind and Coco is curled up in front of you while Pixie finds a way to balance on top.

It isn’t until the next day that you find out how many swimsuits you even got.

*​

June 28, 2020

“Oh. Wow. You look. Really good.”

You blush and look down. Genesis means it. You know that much. It’s just hard to believe. Even if you could mentally accept it, and you can’t, emotionally? Never.

It’s just a one-piece suit. Must have told Lyra you wanted almost everything covered. Again, can’t remember.

“Um. Come on, then. Let’s go.” Genesis reaches out and touches your arm and suddenly her thoughts snap into focus. About you. They shift rapidly as you walk down the hall. Your hair. She likes the length, color, luster. Probably the part she thinks about most when she’s touching you. The rest is scattered. The hand holding onto her. Your legs. Your voice. Your butt, today. A lot. The suit must hug it.

If you’re going to get fat, at least some of it goes there.

You aren’t exactly sure what to say to get her out of those thoughts. She certainly has… other concerns. And you don’t mind your girlfriend being into you, really, just. What do you even do with it? Would a kiss calm her down? Make it worse?

You want a kiss. You’ll ask for one when you’re outside.

“Going out?” Ms. Lepo calls once you make it downstairs.

Genesis runs a hand against your side. Right. She’s still a little nervous about your host for. Some reason? She didn’t tell you. Just that it was irrational and she’d rather not deal with her. “Yes. Beach day.”

“Alright. Just stay in the tidal pool. The open ocean is dangerous.” You know. She’s given you this talk at least three times.

“We will.”

Stepping outside feels like walking into a wall of heat and humidity that slides over every centimeter of your body. Summer. You’ve always hated summer. Trapped indoors when you didn’t have summer school. Even that was always terrible. Pity or contempt, your teachers always looked down on you. It was never even your fault that you failed the class. How are you supposed to do the reading when you can’t? How is your writing supposed to be legible when it took you days of practice just to sign your name? How are you supposed to do homework at all between taking care of the house and the pokémon? The last thing on your mind when you were done with work was doing more. You’d rather go on a quick flight with Alice or listen to whatever new audiobook the library had or knit on the couch while Achi watched his dumb telenovelas. Not do math problems in your head and then try to scribble down the steps and answer.

And even if it weren’t for summer school you still would’ve hated it for the weather. Cold rain isn’t fun but at least you can eventually go inside and hover near the hearth or stove. Heat? Wear as little as modesty allows and hope your father got fed up and turned on the air conditioning, cost be damned.

You stop and tug on Gen’s arm.

“Hmm? What is it?”

Sometimes you hate being short and blind. You can’t really kiss her first because you can’t reach and don’t know where to aim. Would be awkward if you got on your tiptoes, leaned into her wrong, and kissed the ground. “Kiss?” you ask.

“Oh. Oh! Yes.” She shifts around and holds your back as you lift up. The lip contact itself is electric and also weird. Still don’t know what to do with your tongue. Don’t know what to ask. But the best part? How still Gen’s thoughts go. There are a few seconds when there’s nothing in her mind and then a torrent so fast you couldn’t dream of keeping up. It’s fun to know that you did that.

Afterwards she pulls you in tight as you settle against her, head resting just over her chest. It’s soft against your sternum and for once you really don’t regret your height. And being held like this? It’s like a warm drink on a cold night, stoking the fire in your heart and then spreading warmth to the tips of your fingers and toes.

But it’s not a winter’s night. You have to pull away before the sweat makes it too gross.

You call Coco with a mental nudge. Her reply is more feelings brushing against your link than words. Probably still waking up from her nap. You hate the heat but she loves it enough to curl up for a nap outside in the summer. She catches up to you a few minutes later. Presses into your side and then steps away when you don’t put a hand on her. You’re letting Gen guide you for now. She’s not as good at it but it’s an excuse to hold onto your girlfriend.

Coco’s been okay with her “third mom.” You were expecting her to be jealous or confused. But she’s been supportive whenever you talked to her about it. Just not nearly as close to her as she is to you.

Noci’s off with Lyra today. She went hunting for her sixth pokémon early this morning. There’s a wrecked ship half-submerged in the bay. Ms. Lepo said that there was a dhelmise out there and Lyra went looking. She needed a way to get to the ship and her very, very loud noibat isn’t big enough to take her yet so you let her borrow Noci.

Leo and Pixie are still in their balls. Pixie won’t be joining you. She thought you were crazy for going to swim in the water in the heat, two of her least favorite things.

You let Leo out when you get off the boardwalk over the dune and onto the soft sand. He instantly bolts for the water. Gen also lets her pokémon out. You can hear Sir Bubbles (such a cute name) bellowing as Oliver runs to the water with his weird footstep pattern. Webbed feet. So strange. You can’t hear what Ferny does. Probably not into swimming, but will take a nap in the sun. Never sure what to expect from that fox. If his mind is more like Spike or Pixie.

You let Gen lead you into the tide pool. The water is cool against your ankles. Right between refreshing and unpleasant. Gen keeps on going without waiting for you to get used to it. You let your hand slip out of hers while you walk slowly in. She crashes into the water and sends a wave lapping into your stomach before your hips are even fully underwater.

“Come on! You’ll be fine. I’m still touching the bottom.”

She also has a lot of height on you. Gen’s boy height. You’re not.

Water hits your face as you get deeper in and you freeze up.

“It’s a game,” Gen calls. “Splash me back.”

A game where you have no idea where she is. You huff and let yourself sink down, bracing against the chill. Fine. You can do this. You hear the surface of the water break and you flick your arm towards that direction. Gen laughs and picks up the pace until waves are hitting you twice a second. You have to turn around to keep the water out of your nose.

Suddenly, the water current shift. There’s a giant splash and Genesis shrieks as you turn around. Fuck. What’s in here? Too shallow at the entrance for sharpedo. Gyarados? No, one of the pokémon would have seen it. Then Genesis starts laughing. Not in danger? “What happened?”

“Your—Leo got me.” She says between laughs. “I think he wins.”

“Quitting the moment you’re down?” You probably shouldn’t be challenging her. But you played when you were outmatched. Let’s see how she likes it.

“Oh. We can keep going. Oliver, get her!”

You give your orders to Leo and feel the currents move. Oliver surfaces across the pool but Leo’s already halfway there, leaping out of the water to take the water gun like it was a bullet meant for you. The splash when he falls back into the tide pool gets you more soaked than the attack would have but, hey, it was fun.

{Hyacinth. Make sure she can breathe.}

He’s really taken to tactics after the laser tag game. You’ve taught him what you learned in school. Now you’re going to have to learn about military history. Hyacinth’s a basic plan, named after a battle where the Americans captured a tlatoani. Target the commander. Hold them hostage. It’s a last resort for when another trainer isn’t going to play by the rules.

It’s also good for splash wars.

Gen shrieks again. “Bubbles!”

The frog croaks and the air shifts around you. A drop of rain hits your forehead. You didn’t think you’d care since, wet, but it’s upsetting, somehow. As more fall you duck your head below the surface since all wet is better than some wet. Or something. When you raise your head up to breathe someone snipes you with a water gun. Okay. Fine. You’re guessing neither you nor Gen is going to have fun now. Probably should’ve sent the pokémon after each other. Time to call this off—

The water moves in a big way. Coco shouts about a wave and you don’t have time to process it before your legs are over your arms and you have no idea which way is up. {Get Gen to shore!} you ask Leo. You hope he can. Suddenely your back crashes into wet sand and you try to reach in to plant yourself. The wave pulls back out and almost takes you with it before finally leaving you in dry air. You gasp down breaths and hope that Gen and the pokémon are okay.

What was that? Probably a predator. Which one?

{What are we dealing with?} you ask all of your pokémon at once. Can’t be picky.

{Floating. The dragon yesterday, but bigger.}

Oh.

Shit.

A mother dragon isn’t happy with you.

You rise up and try to cough out the last water in your lungs. Thankfully there isn’t a second wave. You can hear Gen gasping for air shortly after. “W—” You stop and cough again. Draconic is hard. Impossible when you can barely breathe. “What drives you?” you finally ask.

“You sought to take my children with you. I came to give their message.”

At least she doesn’t sound aggressive. You think. Her voice is wrong. The words are right but she can’t quite make the sounds. Like you. Dragalge aren’t physically dragons any more than the exeggutor here. They follow the rules, speak the language, and can use the energy. But their throats are all different.

“I saw your game and wished to join.”

That…that’s plausible. Your mother passed down memories of Alice after she’d reached her final form. Wanted to play with her trainer and teammates, was way too strong for it. Maybe she was playing. If so, she was probably giving you a reminder at the same time. You’re a lot weaker than she is and you’re on her turf. Or surf. Best to play nice.

“What was the message of your children?”

“They wish to stay. They would not trade the open sea for a human cage.”

It was always a long shot. Dragons are hard to bribe with food and safety since they’re motherfucking dragons. What’s a human doing for them?

“I would take one on my travels if I could. They would not know a cage.”

“Your travels are on land. That is not their home.”

In hindsight you should have expected that. Maybe Wakumi is just weird for a water dragon. Most of her kin probably want to stay in the sea.

“I understand. Thank you for the message.”

You can feel the power radiating off of her as she approaches. “Will you not press, human?”

“It would be against the laws.” Hunting dragons, targeting children: take your pick.

“Humans recognize no laws but their own.”

“I do.”

“And who taught you these laws, human?”

“Alice, a twice-split spirit from the lands to the east.”

She breaks into a series of hisses that aren’t Upper Draconic. Probably whatever dragalge have instead of Lower Draconic. Your gift translates it as a lot of profanity.

“Is there another twice-split here?”

“No. She remains in the east.”

“Praise be to the Queen of the Skies and the Creator Below, may she never grace our shores.”

You take a step forward and clench your first, danger forgotten. “Excuse me?” Not even bothering with draconic. She isn’t, either.

“Pretentious. All of them. Act like they’re smarter than all of us. Civilized. Lasts until you see them hunt. Then you see the truth. They need the rules because without them they’d be no better than the lowest beast.”

You run through strategies in your head. Coco probably can’t advance in time through the water. Leo gets one shot. Would it be enough? Maybe. But Genesis is here. You can’t risk it. “If that is your view I would not want to travel with your children.”

The dragalge breaks back into their primitive language. Probably doesn’t think you can understand. “Feeling’s mutual, human. Fuck off.”

What a fool. Can’t believe you almost wanted a skrelp on the team.

“Is everything okay?” Gen asks.

“Yes.” She might have asked you to leave your territory. Your gift can be… limited with profanity. “We should probably go.”

Stupid hydreigon-hater ruined your beach trip. Even Gen pulling you in for another, much saltier, kiss and telling you how brave you were does almost nothing to improve your mood.

You really hope the totem kommo-o is more reasonable.
 

Shiny Phantump

Through Dream, I Travel
Location
Hallownest
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. sylveon
  2. absol-mega
  3. silvally-psychic
  4. custom/ninetales-phantump
  5. cosmog
  6. custom/gallade-phantump
Hello! Been planning to do some more BT reviews for a long time now, and given the Fairy arc just started— wait it's been how long? Uh it started super duper recently and I would never procrastinate. Anyways, good time for reviews.

Fairy 6.1: Brand Identity
Rachel
Getting a look inside VStar is a rare treat and I enjoy it. Place is such a mess. I think last time I read something with Chris directly in it, Elon Musk was a much more distant figure and while I sincerely apologize for invoking the spectre of Musk within three sentences of the start of a review I cannot leave that comparison on the table it's too perfect.

We don't see much of Victini still, but it's nice to get to see some more of them. Being petty and walking out of the room over Chris talking about other legendaries feels funny in a way that perfectly befits the kind of person you'd expect to work with Chris.

Rachel makes such an interesting perspective character. She does such a good job at framing herself as the voice of reason in the room within her own head that you can really start to see it, can almost treat her as a normal person. Then she'll casually drop lines like "Reminds you why you try not to rely on kids with stable family situations. Too much risk your investment is undercut." every couple paragraphs just to keep you on your toes.

It goes without saying that I want Cuicatl out from under her thumb, but yeesh, she's brutal. (Not that I expected otherwise, but still.) The veneer of empathy she keeps up in contrast to the way she actually materially treats Cuicatl is such a contrast. She'll be glad Cuicatl has other supports in a token way, internally, then do everything she can to undermine them all. And it frightens me that she's got a head start in figuring out what's happening with Cuicatl's situation...

Because oh... Oh, Cuicatl... Are you sure you ever had a passport?

Fairy 6.2: The Final Voyage
Cuicatl
Well that title's not ominous at all— I don't think I processed that my first time around.

A couple arcs ago I'd never have expected to be the person I'm most glad is around, or the... I think she's almost the stablest cast main perspective through process of elimination by now, which is a weird thing to say given she literally had her head fucked up by a psychic.

Their not-formally-designates-as-a-date is very cute and I love it. (Sorry the soup was bad though, Cuicatl.) I'm also glad she's learning about accepting help and how she's burning herself up, it's great and... and...

And I'm still thinking about the passport.

Her little detour to try to track Kekoa is interesting, but I feel like it's setting up for more later than it's pulling weight this chapter.

I'm glad to see Shirona parenting Cuicatl in a sense, being that role Cuicatl really needed filled, and also that she realizes she's getting mom-ed. I think that's about the point the passport stopped feeling as much like it was... looming over everything. Because, yeah, it's gonna be a mess but the combined force of her and Genesis' contributions to being wholesome pushed it far enough into the long term that it felt less looming-y.

In a sense, earlier on, as much as I was glad that they were taking care of Cuicatl, I was also worrying she wasn't sharing enough ot get them on the same page as Rachel who really doesn't need any more help Causing Problems On Purpose, and now it feels more like... yeah, shit's fucked, solid chance Rachel gets the jump on them with that one and becomes The One Adult Who Was Not Lying To Cuicatl in her head but they'll get through it...

But "People you trust will do things you never would have imagined. And you just have to live with it, knowing it could happen again." feels very ominous when that's in the realm of possibility...

So here I am, betting it all on Genesis being the voice of reason if that happens. Sure is a change of pace.
 
Fairy 6.7 New

Persephone

Infinite Screms
Pronouns
her/hers
Partners
  1. mawile
  2. vulpix-alola
Fairy 6.7: Bargains Kept
Kekoa

June 22, 2020

The bandana keeps slipping down your face. Of all the problems you though you’d have tonight, that wasn’t one of them. The cloth is damp from the rain and simultaneously sticks to and slides off of your skin. The rain is also going to make it a pain to get the fire going. You don’t know why they couldn’t just reschedule this. Not like the place won’t be there tomorrow.

Well, it won’t. But that’s because you came anyway.

You can’t fan the flames until they’re visible from the outside. If you kicked up a tailwind inside, you’d risk burning yourselves or putting the fire out. Machoke says so anyway. Sounded like he’d learned from experience. Cranidos had shuddered when he’d told you. Betting he’s the one who got set on fire.

There’s movement outside the building. Two figures leaving. That’s your signal. You send out Ihe and prepare a Z-move. You go through all the steps and hold the pose, feeling power course through your arms. “Tailwind.”

And nothing happens. You look down to see a damp rufflet glaring up at you.

“Tailwind on the building.”

He shrieks and pecks your shin.

“Fuck!” You hastily withdraw him before crouching down, putting some weight off that leg. The Z-power courses through your body like an electric shock before dissipating. Everything still tingles afterwards. What got into him? He wasn’t too happy about leaving Cuicatl and Coco, but nothing like that.

Probably can’t do a Z-move anymore. Don’t have another defog user. Best you can do is a gust. You reach down and send out Moe. The drifblim immediately pivots to look at the fire. His species don’t like it very much. They’re very flammable.

“We aren’t getting any closer,” you tell him. “Just use gust on it.”

Moe swells larger before rapidly shrinking back down as the winds pick up. The fire rises slightly higher as the oxygen hits it. “Good. Keep—”

Something pops. You look at where Moe was standing and see he’s gone. Well, fifty feet away, blowing around uncontrollably. You withdraw him and send out Anuenue and Mahina. The miltank paws the ground nervously as you look around into the rain. What did that? You can’t see anyone.

A shadow rises from the ground and forms into a cloaked figure slightly taller than you are. The edges dissolve into smoke shifting in the wind. Blood red eyes shine out where the head should be.

“Rollout, beak blast!”

The figure glows and a blast of static rips through the air. Mahina cries out as Anuenue gets rolling. Not a full thunderbolt. Shock wave? Thunder wave? Something small to buy time. Your miltank keeps barreling straight for the ghost as it stands still, staring at him. A tenth of a second before he hits the ghost moves. He’s suddenly right beside you. He smiles terrible, like chemicals you can’t place and steps back. You see his long, thin arm stick out of the cloak, a sphere of light in hand. It cracks and hisses like a bomb about to go off. “Get away!”

Anuenue manages to turn to the side. Doesn’t matter. The focus blast hits him head on and sends him skidding away on the pavement. Then gunshots sound off as bullets pierce through the ghost in ten different places. No, not bullets. Seeds. Beak blast. The ghost figures that out right as you do and turns around, lightning arcing across its entire body.

You scream something. You don’t know what. It’s already too late. You dive to the ground and feel electricity fill the air above you. Don’t even have to look to know that Mahina’s unconscious. After withdrawing your pokémon you steadily get back to your feet, ignoring the ache in your leg. You can’t win. Nothing a carbink can do to this thing. But you can stall for time.

“What are you?” you hiss out. “Why are you here?”

A light, airy laugh fills the air as something old, something fearful stirs in the back of your mind. The ghost glides away before turning back to you. Its form ripples and changes, the bullet wounds instantly being patched up and smoothed over into a new form. Soon you’re looking at a woman in her 20s with dark skin and long black hair. She’s wearing a tank top, jeans, and combat boots. Would look entirely normal if it wasn’t for the slight shifting at the edge of her silhouette, her hair billowing in every direction at once, and her bright red eyes.

“Aww. Don’t recognize little ol’ Envy?”

You freeze up. You’ve met her. Briefly. Only saw her human form for a moment. Jabari’s gengar.

She stretches her arms above her head, standing on her tiptoes and lifting slightly off the ground. “That was a decent warmup. I’ll give you that much. Wasn’t really expecting to get hit. Just didn’t think your toucannon would shoot so close to her trainer.” Envy settles back to the ground and turns around to face you. “Well? Nothing to say?”

“Is he here?” you ask. The rest of the team might be able to handle one of Jabari’s pokémon. The full team could trap and knock out the abra and round up the rest of you for arrest.

“Nope. Just me.”

You look at her, trying to figure out if the ghost has any tell.

“What? I was just going on my usual late-night walk when I smelled fire and sensed you near it. Couldn’t resist the chance to drop in.”

“And you didn’t tell him?”

She rolls her eyes. “Come on, we’re not joined at the hip. And it’s not like I can carry a cell phone anyway. If I went back and woke him up you might already be gone.”

Oh.

“I’m disappointed, you know?” You could guess. “That’s, what, some guy’s house? What was the play? Extortion? If you have to make good on your threats you weren’t doing it very well.”

“It was a local business,” you tell her. “A corporation bought it. We’re sending a message.”

She stares at you like you were speaking gibberish. “Wait. This place didn’t have any strategic value? Just some random rental? Holy shit, that’s depressing. If our enemies were pulling that shit in the field, we’d have wrapped all our missions in a week. No, they wouldn’t have even bothered to deploy us. What’s the point of counterinsurgency when the insurgents aren’t doing anything important?”

You blink and try to digest that. “You’re disappointed I’m not, what, attacking the navy?”

“Better than throwing away your future for nothing at all.”

The wind picks up and something collapses and falls into the fire beside you. You don’t look away from the ghost. Don’t want to know what trick it would pull. The heat has gone from barely noticeable to comfortably warm. At least the wind is keeping the smoke out of your eyes.

“Is he mad at me?”

She laughs. This time there’s not even the illusion of joy to it. “Very.”

A few people are talking behind the gengar. Hard to tell who from this distance in the darkness and rain. No idea what they’re planning. You can just give them time.

“What do you want?”

“To keep you from making your brother’s mistakes.” Envy sighs and she almost looks… sad. It’s hard to tell. Her face ripples every time a raindrop hits it and her red eyes don’t show much feeling. She sounds sad at least. “He was so, so angry and he found someone who fed the anger and gave it purpose. By the time he’d worked it out a lot of people were dead and he couldn’t live with the man he’d become.”

Great. He felt bad about the people he killed. You want to ask how many was enough for him to learn his lesson. She plows on before you can.

“They’re just doing that to you. You’ll burn down a few buildings, make insurance companies write some checks, and then you’ll die in prison without having a chance to do anything else in your life. You can stop. Please. Go back to Jabari. Go back to your friends. I don’t care which. Just don’t throw everything away to burn off some rage.”

The people behind the gengar start popping out of existence one by one. Leaving you here. A siren approaches in the distance.

You’re being abandoned. They’re leaving you to, what, go to prison? You aren’t sure what you expected but not this. Loudred has her froslass and houndoom. She can do something. At least try. Or do they trust you to get away from your brother and go back? Is that the plan?

The gengar must notice as she glides forward. The anger disappears. Not slowly. Her features don’t gradually relax, they just go straight from anger to compassion like reality skipped a frame.

“Come on. Let’s get you home.”

You stiffen up. No. They aren’t leaving you behind. There must be a plan. You can just. Stall. A little longer.

“That’s not my home,” you tell her. “He had his choice and he made it.”

Reality skips again and the gengar is furious. “Oh for fuck’s sake, why—” she keeps ranting in a language you don’t understand, the shadows around you twisting to both her will and the fire’s light as her form loses coherence, turning back into a black silhouette with red eyes. At some point her words turn into a language you’re pretty sure no human understands in a sinister chorus that comes from all around you.

The last two Skull members remaining turn and start walking towards you. One seems way too short. Smaller than Cuicatl. Toddler size. A pokémon? The other towers over you. And their clothing is too loose to be the uniform.

Close your eyes and turn around.

The words are too calm to be Envy’s and at this point you’ll take any help you can get. The ghost’s words cut off as you whirl around. And then she screams. Light blasts through your eyelids brighter than any day before abruptly leaving. Are you blind? Did the attack end. You open your eyes, afraid of the answer. No. You can still see the flames through the spots dancing in your vision. And the spots are getting smaller and smaller.

“Come, child. We must go.”

You turn around to see a woman in dark robes. Her face is unnaturally pale. Almost translucent. A kid with similar skin stands beside her. Both have equally pale white hair. And they’re really, really thin under the robes. Not humans. Pokémon pretending to be.

The florges. She’s back.

Abra blinks into existence beside her and she raises one of her sleeves. A vine extends from it and wraps around your hand. The child shuffles closer to her mother’s side.

“Brace yourself.”

The sirens get louder and louder as the flames grow taller. And then it all twists in on itself as the abra takes you away.

*​

The world twists back into places and you manage to remain standing. Had to get used to that feeling over the last few weeks. Still feels like everything is twisting and nothing is quite where it should be. You just don’t show it anymore.

The florges keeps gripping your wrist so tightly that your hand tingles.

“Will that be all, Lady Florges.” Machoke says. He’s standing closest to the florges and you while the others stay a few steps back. Some have pokémon out. Most don’t.

The flower turns to look at him. His shirt clings tight to his body in the rain. He’s taken his balaclava off to show his face. You slip yours off with your free hand. Was getting a little hard to breathe through the wet fabric. “From you, yes. You and your comrades may go.” She still doesn’t take her vine off your wrist. You don’t think she’s going to.

Machoke’s eyes drift to it as he has the same thought. “If it’s his business, it’s also mine. Sorry.”

The florges tilts her head as the hood floats off. Her illusion fades and her face becomes far less human. Her hood billows down as her hair expands into a full flower and she rises up to her full height, well over seven feet tall. Power radiates from her. Machoke looks pathetic. Like a child staring down a god.

“Your devotion is commendable,” she murmurs. “I am tempted to let you stay on principle. Alas, this is a private matter I intend to address privately.”

Machoke stands just a little taller. “I’m not changing your mind, am I?”

She shakes her head.

“You going to hurt him.”

“Not physically.”

A chill runs down your spine. What does that mean? Gen’s family taught you there are a lot of ways to fuck someone up without leaving a mark.

“I understand.” He turns to you with a smile that doesn’t make it to his eyes. “Come back, you hear? Cranidos doesn’t want to go back to being the rookie.”

“I’ll try.” And that’s all you can promise.

The florges keeps her hold on you until all the others have reentered the base. And then she gradually unwinds her vine. Even lets you take a few steps back. And then she just stares at you. waiting on you to make the first move.

“So. Uh. Thanks for the save?”

“Your thanks are noted.”

The child giggles beside her. A floette? The floette that you were hunting for months ago? Is she trying to guilt you or something.

“Why are you here?”

“To bring our bargain towards fulfillment.”

Shit. Lyra and Cuicatl were right. This wasn’t over.

“I left the floette alone and you helped me catch Leilani. I thought we’d wrapped things up.”

The child scoffs. Her voice is lighter, airier than her mother(?)’s. A little more like the gengar’s at the end. “What a dull one. Do I have to be stuck here?”

Stuck here? Is that the bargain? You have to train her? She went to a lot of effort to keep you from catching the floette just to drop her off here.

“Do you need a reminder of the actual terms of our deal?”

Your mind is still on its last track. Deadly threat before you. Stall. Even if no one is coming to help.

“I didn’t ask for your name last time.”

“No, you did not.”

The rain continues to fall. She doesn’t provide it.

“Will you tell me?”

“Names have power, child. You do not need mine. Instead, you may know me as The Lady of the Scarlet Forest.”

“There’s a story there.” And you really hope it’s a short one. She came from a forest that was always in autumn. Not the other scarlet.

“There is. The title is a reminder. To myself and others.”

…you’re going to go out on a limb and guess it’s the other scarlet.

“Our bargain,” she continues, “was that you would passionately defend those seeking justice, specifically including refugees seeking shelter in these islands and a child lost in darkness trying desperately not to be taken by strange men and sent away from their only home.”

That’s really open ended. What does passionate even mean?

“That is mine to interpret,” she says. “You may also notice that it is not bound to a time or accomplishment. It lasts for as long as you do.”

Okay. Care for refugees. And the child. Setup to adding a new pokémon. Whatever. The six team member limit doesn’t matter when you’re already breaking the law. Ihe might not even want to stay. Very, very annoying that you bargained this badly but you were terrified and can’t even remember saying all that.

“Why me?” you ask. “If you’d wanted someone to care for her, Cuicatl would have been better. She was also going to look for floette.”

“No shit,” the floette murmurs. So, so weird hearing an ethereal voice swear.

“She wants one thing above all else and it is not something I can give her. And it is hard to threaten someone who welcomes death.”

You… kind of pieced that together. That she’d been in a really shitty place when you first met. You’d still never realized it was that bad, even as late as January or February or whenever the hell that was. Is she better now? You leaving… it could have been bad for her. Really bad.

“Couldn’t you have just stolen her hydreigon? She would’ve done anything for that.”

“I would have done so if it were within my power. Alas, her sister no longer lives.”

Out of everything tonight, that’s what makes you freeze up in terror. She. She’s going to take that really fucking badly. The hydreigon was the only thing keeping her going and you really, really hope that she’s found something else to take its place.

“And no one’s figured that out?” you ask.

“At least one did. I considered telling her myself. Both of us decided the girl was not yet ready to hear it.”

Probably smart. Still. She doesn’t like being lied to. Her brother was doing it her entire life. Hard to come back from that and still trust anyone at all.

“Let’s be clear,” the floette says. “I’m not going to be your pokémon. You’re going to defend me, passionately, by doing whatever I say. And if you don’t then you’ll find out what happens when you break a bargain with a fairy.” She sounds excited. Like she wants that to happen.

Whatever. You’re stuck. This can’t be too bad, right? You were expecting worse.

“My first command is that you get me out of the rain.”

See? You wanted that, anyway.

*​

The conversation abruptly stops when you and the floette walk into the building. You know you aren’t supposed to use the front door, but everyone else did. Not like anyone’s going to be out and about on a rainy night to see you.

Machoke walks over and bends down a little to talk to the floette. “Hey. You going to be staying here?”

“Yes,” she responds. “I’m his boss now. If he’s here, I will be, too.”

Machoke smiles. Or smirks. Both? “I’m also Jigglypuff’s boss. How is that going to work?”

“Jigglypuff?”

“He’s short, cute, and loud. I’m Machoke, by the way.”

The flower starts giggling hysterically. It sounds wrong in a way you can’t quite put your finger on. Too high? Or is it not even sound at all?

Eventually she slows down and curtsies to Machoke. “You may call me Armoranth of the Reeds, or just Armoranth.” She gestures back at you. “He calls me Boss.”

Indeedee nods like that’s a very normal thing. “Is there anything you’re going to need Miss Armoranth? I handle supplies. I don’t really know what floette eat. Or if you’ll need a heat lamp or UV light or something.”

The flower shakes her head. “I appreciate your kindness, but I feed on moonlight rather than sunlight. Jigglypuff.” She giggles again. “Jigglypuff will be watching over me as I bask.”

Oh sure. She’s kind to everyone but you.

“I must bid you adieu now. I would like to have a private conversation with my servant.”

“Sure, sure. Make yourself at home,” Machoke says. Betraying you. For real this time. “Let me know if you need anything.”

“Rest assured that I will.” Armoranth finally turns back to you. “Now, show me to my quarters.”

“Wait.”

“Oh, what is it Jigglypuff?” You take most of your pokéballs off your belt and hand them to Indeedee. “I don’t know how badly the gengar hurt them. Can you make sure they’re okay?”

She purses her lips. “No promises, but I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you.”

You leave the others and walk to your room. She immediately falls behind. Because she’s just a plant. So you stop and wait for her to catch up. “You want carried?” you ask. She can’t be that heavy.

“No. I simply need you to slow down.”

You do. It’s not even that far to the room at her pace. You hold open the door and let her shuffle in. you nod to Leilani and she does nothing in return. Par for the course with the charjabug. Just sits by her thunderstone. It’s all she wants to do so you won’t interrupt. She’s your simplest team member, really. “We have extra beds. If you need stairs built to the bunk, I can do that.” Try to play nice. You’re going to be suck with her.

“Please do. And then make yourself a bed on the floor.”

You pause and look down at her. “We have free beds,” you repeat slowly. “We can both have one.”

“I heard you the first time. Now, prepare my bed and yours.”

“There’s no need for that.”

“You are correct. But have you considered that I want to?”

You take a deep breath. “I haven’t even done anything to you, Armoranth.”

“That’s Boss to you, Jigglypuff.”

“Kekoa, Armoranth.”

“Boss, Jigglypuff.”

You continue to stare her down.

“Enjoy your bed while you have it. On clear nights I will be resting outside and you will keep watch.”

“And when can I sleep?” During the day if you wish. Or at night. I don’t care when so long as you are not busy with another task.”

You take a deep breath. “Can you talk to other pokémon?”

“If I wish.”

Good. Another translator. Not having one has hurt you.

“Could you let me talk to my rufflet, then? He’s been acting up.”

“I noticed.”

“Okay. Can you, then?”

“I could. I will not.”

“Because you don’t want to?”

“Because I don’t want to.”

You walk over to the bookshelf in the corner and pull down enough books to make stairs with. “This is going to go better if we’re civil,” you remind her. Even if you hate being the one pleading for civility.

“Trust me, child, I do not wish to be here.”

You look down at her. “Child?”

“Child.”

“So why are you here, then?”

“My aunt is going to be too busy to look after me and my mother’s meadow is no longer safe. She thought I would be safe with you.”

“Couldn’t you just tell her no?”

She shakes her flower. “Alas, no. The Lady of the Scarlet Forest is one of my only allies. I did not wish to strain our relationship over a temporary stay. And one way or another, this will be temporary.

Good. She can’t leave soon enough.

*​

June 23, 2020

“How’d you sleep?”

You glare at Golbat and grab a banana. She sleeps in the same room. She knows where and how you slept.

“Quite the little headache, isn’t she?”

You can only nod. Too afraid to say it aloud. She’s already being a brat. Don’t want to make it worse.

“She still in the room?”

“Found herself a buck,” you mutter. Probably slur it. Too damn tired to talk like a normal person.

“Hmm. And I’m told you’re having problems with your rufflet?”

“Yeah.” You sit back and watch her fry up some eggs. Smells delicious. You just have no hunger right now.

“Indeedee said that your pokémon will be fine. Just need some time off.”

“Good.”

And more food for Moe. You aren’t sure when you’ll find the time to feed him with the floette acting up. Maybe you can listen to audiobooks at night? How mad would she be if you fell asleep out there as long as one of your pokémon was watching over both of you? It shouldn’t actually matter. You’re sure it will.

“Maybe talk to Simisear or Cranidos about it? They’re better at training than I am. Simisear with birds in particular.”

“I will.” You’ve talked a little since your teams are similar and you’ve been stuck in the same place. Usually. She’s gone more often than not. No idea where she goes or what she’s doing. Seems nice enough. You’ve just been clinging to Golbat and Machoke more than you should.

“Sorry your first mission went to shit. Things usually go better.”

“My brother,” you tell her. “One of his pokémon thought she could save my soul or whatever.”

“He’s one of the VStar higher-ups, right?”

You take a bite and force down a sigh. “What’s even the point of the nickname if you all know everything about me.”

“So none of us are left out.” She looks at you and flashes her fucked up teeth. “None of us.”

“Except Machoke.”

She snorts. “Even him. He was a been pole when he joined. He decided to start lifting weights to lean into it and, well, three years later he managed to own it.”

“He’s been here that long?”

“Yup. Another vet from Old Skull. Don’t know too much about his past but I’d take a bullet for him. He’d do the same for me.”

“And me?” you ask.

“I would hope so.”

Great.

“What would have happened if the florges hadn’t showed up?” you ask.

“Loudred was about to try something. If that failed we would’ve tried to get you out of prison. Not the first time someone here has gone to jail.”

Could’ve led with that in the sales pitch. “Thought Loudred hated me.”

“She dislikes you. There’s a difference.”

You’re too tired to come up with a witty response. You just grunt and leave to find Simisear.

*​

There’s not too much point in going to the golf course. Moe, Anuenue, and Mahina are still resting. Leilani doesn’t really love going outside. Or moving. Or doing anything. Armoranth is still reading. How does that even work for plants, anyway? Since paper is just wood pulp. Is it like reading on pages made of skin? Would she prefer e-books? You could try to pirate some.

Anyway, you’re at the golf course because simisear wanted to get some sunshine and you’re asking her a favor. You catch her frisbee and toss it back. It goes wide. Way wide. But she still manages to lunge and catch it. She’s more athletic than you thought at first. Lots of lean muscle. A nice smile. Probably the hottest girl in the base. And you’re not stupid enough to complicate things at work when you haven’t even solved the first wave of problems.

“What’d you want to talk about?” she asks.

“Rufflet.”

“Figured.”

She tosses it back. Hard. You only catch it after it bounces off your chest. She mouths an apology and you wave her off.

“He didn’t take orders last night. Been acting up since I took her here.”

“Any idea why?”

You throw it again and it goes over her head. She tries to jump but only makes it wobble with her fingertips. You answer as she walks away to get the frisbee. “He was friends with one of a traveling partner’s pokémon. I don’t think he likes being separated.”

“And how’d you two meet, anyway?”

“Rufflet? The traveling partner?”

“Rufflet. I know they’re a pain to get. Have to prove yourself to the world’s most judgy parents.”

You catch the frisbee this time. Even toss it back well.

“During the Blackout. His parents dropped him off because we had a young bird and they were struggling to catch enough. I had to fight him myself. Barely won.”

“And the young bird. Was that your toucannon?”

“No. That was someone else’s pokémon.”

She catches your next throw and tosses it slightly to the side. You reach out and touch it but can’t quite stop it. You walk over to where it landed beside you.

“And did he want to be with you?”

“Not sure. Uh, I couldn’t really talk to him at the time.”

“He only got mad after you took him away from his friend?”

“Yeah.”

She shrugs. “Sounds simple then. He was more invested in his friend than you. Or maybe he just wanted the chance to say goodbye. How would you feel if you got torn away from your best friend with no closure?”

You did that. To yourself. You feel another flash of guilt over how things went with Cuicatl. But at least that was your choice.

“Also might be time to downsize. You’re the only one here with a full team for a reason. A lot of pokémon will put up with a trainer for a while. Long enough to evolve and shit. Then they want to go their separate ways. Imagine being stuck with a bad roommate forever because you made a deal with them over a year ago. Or maybe you didn’t agree to anything in the first place. Keep the pokémon that want to stay, let the rest go with no hard feelings. I used to have five. Got down to one for a while. Then I found Ebony as an orphaned nestling and nursed her up.”

“And your skarmory?”

“My starter. She was captive-bred and likes humans well enough.”

“Right.”

Shitty roommates, huh?

That describes Armoranth.

And maybe you.

Ihe didn’t ask to be stuck with you. You showed up, fed him, and beat him up. And now he should listen to you because… because he’s your pokémon, right? Because that’s what they’re supposed to do. Because you want him to. Is that the point Armoranth was trying to make last night with the whole servant thing?

There’s one way to find out.

*​

Armoranth gently closes her book, floating a petal down from her flower to mark her place. “Good, you’re back. I need you to find me better reading. All of this is horrible dull.”

“I was already looking into it. Only so many romance novels I can take.”

The floette scoffs. “Didn’t take you for an avid reader.”

“Moe.” She tilts her head in confusion and summons her flower closer to her. “The drifblim. He needs fed and I can’t let him roam.”

“Ah.” She pulls on her flower and slowly rises to her feet. “I can assist in that, I suppose. They can be quite gluttonous.”

“Yeah.” You take a deep breath. This can only be put off for so long. “I know you said you wouldn’t translate, but the abra isn’t very precise and I need to talk to Ihe. The rufflet.”

“Oh? Whatever about? The punishments he will receive for disobedience?”

“No.”

She floats up until she’s at about eye level. “Then what would you have to discuss with a pokémon like him?”

“Where he wants to go.”

“And what, pray tell, are his options?”

How did a flower born in Alola (she was born in Alola, right?) manage to end up with Galarian accent? That has to be on purpose, right?

“He can stay. He can go back to where I caught him. He can go to Cuicatl. If he wants something else we can talk about.”

Armoranth idly twirls her flower around in midair. “Miss Ichtaca is on the other side of your crusade, is she not?”

“Wouldn’t go that far. She’s just not in Skull.”

The fairy rolls her eyes. Okay, she had to have learned that from humans. What’s her story, anyway?

“Then she approves of your current activities?”

You… you don’t know that she doesn’t. Armoranth takes your silence as an answer.

“That sounds like a very awkward, very inconvenient conversation. Would you really face her for the sake of some bird?”

You take a deep breath. You don’t want to. Part of you wants to bargain, to find another way, to thread the needle so that all six of your pokémon stay with you forever. Because that’s what good trainers do. If you can’t do that then you failed. Then you’re a failure. But. He never asked for this. Cuicatl and Kanoa tried to teach this to you when your first grubbin left. You failed to learn. Another failure.

“If I have to.”

“Is that it, then? You will only act in another’s interest when you are forced.”

“I—no. I have to. Because it’s the right thing to do.”

She continues to glare at you with surprisingly hard eyes for a creature that small and fragile. You’re not even sure how she was filling out a full cloak last night. She’s barely two feet tall. Probably had to float off the ground and let it billow around her.

“Very well. I suppose I can translate for you under these circumstances. Are you prepared for any answer you may receive?”

“Yes.” You already expect the worst.

She nods.

“And will you be giving this same choice to your other pokémon?”

Kapuna was interested in Olivia’s team. It isn’t really safe to do that handoff in person, but you could probably arrange something. Anuenue might want to go back to Kanoa and that will be almost as awkward as Cuicatl. The others…

You aren’t sure how many of them will stay.

You aren’t sure if any will stay.

This isn’t supposed to happen to good trainers.

How long have you been failing for?

“I’ll give them the choice.”

Armoranth gives you a slight nod. “Excellent. Now, has the child had his breakfast? I do not wish to speak of heavy subjects with him while he’s malnourished.”

“He’s been in his ball.”

She murmurs something in a language you can’t understand before twirling around to face away from you.

“Rectify that. Then we shall speak.”
 
Fairy 6.8 New

Persephone

Infinite Screms
Pronouns
her/hers
Partners
  1. mawile
  2. vulpix-alola
Fairy 6.8: Wavering Faith
Genesis

June 26, 2020

A house looms large on the horizon. You assume it’s a house, anyway. Could just as easily be a very strange castle. From a distance it looks like it’s made of baked mud like something from an ancient desert kingdom. Brown walls rise up around it. The effect is undercut by the mudsdale walking around that are clearly taller than the wall is. What’s the point of a short wall? Maybe it was to keep the mudsdale in or out? They can’t really jump. Or it’s for something else that’s small and can’t climb. Maybe they just liked the look. Oh! Or maybe the walls used to be high but have crumbled down over time. The building could be centuries old or built yesterday by a weird architect. Hard to tell from this far away.

{Almost there,} you think towards Cuicatl. Since she can’t see the building.

{Good.}

It worked! Still not entirely sure how to send or not send messages to her but you think you’re getting better.

She’s walking ahead of you but behind Lyra. Coco is doing a good job of staying by her side, growling or squeaking or hissing to her trainer when she needs to stop or move.

Your girlfriend probably has the only guide tyrunt in the world. She’s also probably the only person who could make it work. You’ve looked up a little bit about the species since they’re important to Cuicatl. What you found didn’t seem to match reality. Lots of videos of tyrunt tearing apart rooms or attacking the cameraman. Your girlfriend told you that the dinos were just upset and confused by everything feeling wrong and no one explaining things to them. Or maybe their mother grew up like that and passed on her own frustrations.

Coco didn’t meet her birth mother until recently, but Cuicatl could talk to her and knew enough about dragons to fill the role. She says it casually, like anyone could’ve done it, like it’s the bare minimum that should’ve been done for the other tyrunt. Sometimes she even suggests that it wasn’t good enough.

You think that she went way farther than the average human, even one with her gifts, would go for a baby pokémon. Farther than some humans go for their own children. She really would be a great mother someday.

Shame that won’t happen since she’s gay.

*​

The front door is welcoming. Dark brown wood and a soft doormat. The doorbell sounds like wind chimes. Lyra steps back after ringing it. And waits. And waits. You glance towards her and she answers your silent question with a shrug. The stop supervisor should be expecting you today. You’re a little earlier than expected since the wild pokémon weren’t too bad, just a pinsir, and the weather was nice. Behind you her mudsdale paws (hooves?) the ground nervously. Probably picking up on your confusion. Lyra turns around to calm her down.

When the door opens it’s not a human on the other side. It’s humanlike - bipedal, a face with two eyes, a nose, and a mouth - but the details are all wrong. The skin is grey. The muscles bulge too much. The eyes are slitted like a lizard’s and the nose is short. On top of the head are three bony crests instead of hair. And it’s only wearing a belt. Your father kept machoke around as security for a few months before mother objected. You always found them unsettling.

The machoke beckons you. Then it holds its arms out wide to block you the moment you’re inside. Cuicatl walks right into them and Coco growls. The machoke ignores the dinosaur and points downward towards some shoes lined against the wall. Right. Wouldn’t want to track dirt in. You help Cuicatl get back to her feet and put her shoes in the right place once they’re off.

It’s pretty homey. Lots of earth tones, soft furniture, candles that smell like pine trees and incense. And at the end of the hall is an old woman sitting on a sofa with a rockruff curled up beside her. A sudowoodo sits in a pot behind her, doing its best to pretend to be a normal tree. You help it by immediately looking away. Nothing to see there. Just a perfectly ordinary tree.

“Hello and welcome,” the old woman says. She has greying hair and tanned skin with lots of laugh lines. You like her almost instantly. “You’re the three I’m expecting?”

“Yes.” Lyra extends her hand. “Lyra Miura. Pleased to meet you.”

“Pleasure’s all mine. You can call me Ms. Lepo if you’d like.” She slowly, slowly gets to her feet. The rockruff yawns and stretches into the warm seat she left behind. “And you must be Miss Ichtaca and Miss Gage, yes?” You freeze up a little bit (a lot bit) at your last name. Ms. Lepo must notice. “Or is there something else you would like me to call you?”

“Just Genesis.”

She talks more to Cuicatl and Lyra for a bit. Something about her granddaughter being out and the division of chores. You aren’t paying the most attention. Of course your name will keep coming up. It’s your name. But there isn’t really anything to change it to. And you like your brother. He has that name. It’s not… it’s not all bad. You shouldn’t be thrown off by something so small.

As she shows you to your rooms you see an ornate quartz antler in a window. It’s purple and sparkles wonderfully in the sun. Excellent craftsmanship. Millions of perfectly safe people have one. It’s normal. Fits the aesthetic.

Your hand still clamps down on Cuicatl’s when you see it.

*​

You draw dishwashing duty. It’s fine. Okay, no, it’s super gross. You only eat tamato sauce because your parents wouldn’t budge at all on that and made all your meals pasta for a month until you relented. But spaghetti is slimy and you don’t like tamatos for reasons you can’t put into words and you hate Italian food. And, naturally, you have to clean that sauce off of everything. Lyra already had to change the water and it’s starting to look bloodstained again.

Cuicatl’s taking her off time upstairs after taking point with Ms. Lepo. Lyra got you settled in, made sure that Oliver and Cloudy were out, and helped you out of your panic attack. You wanted it to be Cuicatl helping you. You know why it wasn’t. She can cook and clean and sew and likes talking about those things. She’s catnip for old ladies. You giggled hysterically and Lyra looked at you like you had finally gone and completely broken. Truth is, you’d just realized that Cuicatl is everything Ms. Rivers wanted you to be and she’s still gay. None of that was ever going to work.

You shake your head and focus back on the present. Dishwashing is still new to you. So are pretty much all chores. You find your eyes constantly darting over to Lyra to watch how she does it. Little things she probably finds too obvious to explain – the pressure on the cloth, the number of times she passes over each spot – are completely foreign to you.

“You can go if you want,” Lyra says. “I don’t mind this. And if you need to eat more, we could probably dig into our supplies. Just make sure to tell me so I can order a resupply while we’re here.”

“What?”

“Spaghetti night. I saw you just moving it around with your fork all night. Took, what, three bites?” Yes. You read once that you should always take at least three bites of everything. Then making a mess of it with your fork can give the illusion you ate more. Does that not work in general? Or just not with her.

It’s still really weird to think about, but this girl you’ve known for a month might know you better than anyone but Levi. Maybe even better than him.

“I will. Thank you.”

She picks up a fork and absently washes it. “No problem.”

“How are there this many dishes, anyway?” you ask.

“Cuicatl problem. Girl gets a real kitchen and someone to work with and goes overboard. Besides, still not that many. Some stops have a lot more.”

That fits. You’re glad she was happy about it. She’s at her best when she’s excited about something most people avoid.

“What?” Lyra asks.

“Hmm?”

She grabs a bowl and rolls her eyes. “You were smiling.”

“Oh. Just. Cuicatl.”

You look at her. Expect her to glare or frown or get mad that you’re thinking about your actual girlfriend instead of her. Maybe she presses into the bowl harder than she has to. Or maybe you’re imagining it. Nothing reaches her face.

“Yeah. She’s weird. In a good way. Similar to you, actually.”

You reach for a knife. Doesn’t seem to have any sauce on it. You’re not actually sure what she used a knife for in the first place. Hopefully she didn’t use it. Her hands are covered in tiny little nicks and burns from kitchen mishaps. She doesn’t need more.

“Come around on her?” you ask.

She shakes her head. A strand of hair comes loose from her ear and she reaches up, only to stop at the last second and lower her dirty hand back into the sink. “I don’t think I ever really hated her. I was just upset and needed someone to blame.”

Really? Because it looked like she hated Cuicatl. You aren’t going to push it, though, when she’s finally come (back?) around.

“Why did you even travel together? If you hate psychics so much.”

(You hate that you understand why she hates them. If the only thing you knew about Cuicatl was her powers you’re not sure you would want to be friends.)

“Didn’t know at first. When I found out, I panicked. Then checked my notes and saw that she hadn’t changed anything. And even if I was scared, she was useful.”

“Useful?” For cooking? Something else?

Lyra slowly lowers the pan she’s working on into the sink before turning to you.

“I wasn’t just sitting around while you were locked up, you know? I was trying to find a way to help you out. The media wouldn’t work. I don’t have nearly enough clout to fight your dad’s PR machine. Even Interpol is bowing out rather than getting into a war in the court of public opinion with him.” You heard something about that. It came on the radio while you were in the Pokémon Center lobby back in Hau’oli. You left the room as soon as you realized what they were talking about. “Turning to Skull was likely to backfire. Even if they got you out, you’d just be their hostage. The government wasn’t about to do anything. And that left Cuicatl.”

She sounds… tired. No, resigned. Like she’s not proud of relying on a friend. Even if you’re not sure how Cuicatl would do anything about your situation. She could only step in at the end, and even then she might have failed without Officer Takeda.

“What would she have done?”

“Now? Nothing. It was a long game. I thought we had time. That you were just being locked in your mansion again. Eventually Cuicatl would have a tyrantrum. I could push her to evolve Noci again and try her luck with getting you out.”

Oh. Now you know why Lyra was ashamed. Because she should be.

“Let me make sure I understand.” Because you really hope you don’t. “You wanted Cuicatl to intentionally get close to a metagross and, if she survived that, use her pokémon to commit a very public crime to help me. If she lived her future would have been ruined.”

Lyra turns back to the increasingly small pile of dishes needing to be washed. “It wasn’t ideal. But it was a choice between you or her and I cared more about you.”

“I don’t think I would have made that choice. There had to have been another way.”

There wasn’t. You know this. In the end Lyra couldn’t make your choice because you made yours and almost lost everything. The best she could do for you still wasn’t enough. And you wouldn’t hold that against her if her plan didn’t involve ruining someone else’s life.

“I know you can’t make that choice,” Lyra says. “That’s what I’ve always liked about you.”

You have a feeling that you’ve fought about this before.

*​

June 27, 2020

Cuicatl and Lyra are fishing at the beach. You wanted to go. Just. It’s nice to have some time to yourself every once in a while. You haven’t had much of that at all since… well, since the months where you had far too much. And you’re dead tired. You glance at the copy of The Cawdet’s Eye on your nightstand and scowl. It was good. Really good. You didn’t realize how much you missed the characters until you were reading about them having all new adventures. When you finished the final page and set the book down you realized that your back and neck hurt and you really had to pee. Turns out you’d stayed up until 3:40 in the morning.

Cuicatl would have stopped you at some point. Or Coco. Or even Noci or Pixie. But they weren’t with you. There were enough guest rooms for you to each have one and after seeing the antler you didn’t want to ask to share. It was your first night in a long time having the bed to yourself. If you weren’t bone tired it would’ve been hard to fall asleep.

You aren’t sure if you want another nap or not. It might throw off your sleep schedule even more. You could always go downstairs. And. Talk to Ms. Lepo? Are you sure you want to do that? She seems nice. Safe. And you can’t keep running from Xerneas forever.

Cloudy follows behind as you walk out of the room. Oliver, Bubbles, and Ferny are out by a pool downstairs. The castform tends to stay by your side. You genuinely have no idea why he thinks you’re so interesting, but you aren’t complaining.

You find Ms. Lepo downstairs in the living room. She sets down her newspaper when she hears you approach. “Ah, Genesis. Not with your friends?”

“I wanted some alone time.” You glance towards the antler before making yourself take a deep breath and sit down in a worn leather seat across from her.

“Yet you’re here on your alone time.”

“Got bored.”

“I see.” She smiles and gestures at the coffee table in the center of the room. “I have puzzles. Or there are other games in the next room if you would like to play something.”

It’s tempting. A good way out. No. If you stall you might keep stalling forever.

“I.” Deep breath. You can do it. “You’re in the Church of Life, right?”

“Yes.” Her smile fades into a look of concern. “I assure you, though, that I mean you no harm.”

“What?” Why would she want to harm you? It’s not like you’ve told her you’re gay or anything.

She just lifts up her paper in reply. “I read the news.”

Right. Anyone who reads or listens to anything probably knows who you are.

“Those who harm others in Xerneas’s name, I don’t think He will recognize them in the end.”

You look down. Forget eye contact, just looking at someone else is hard right now. “They thought they were helping me. Saving me. That otherwise…”

“A lot of terrible things have been done in the name of salvation. Even on this very island.”

Her voice is gentle. You chance a look back at her.

“People are judgmental. Insecure. They need to look down on others to make themselves feel taller. And they don’t like to imagine that they’re wrong. Sometimes they put it all together and decide that The Divine One supports hates the people they hate, too. I’m sorry you had to deal with them.”

“Then… then why worship Him if His followers are terrible? If He won’t stop them. Was… was what happened to me part of some plan? Because I don’t like that plan.”

Ms. Lepo takes a deep breath. You look back down, ashamed of what you said. Of course He’s good. Just. Where was He when you needed him? Why did a pagan who believes in human sacrifice have to save you from His own followers?

“Imagine your children start killing each other.” You look back up in confusion. Now she looks solemn, you think, or maybe sad. That’s not where you were expecting her to go. “You stop them, at first, but they keep doing it. Over and over. The moment they have free will. Do you lock them up forever? Try to adjudicate every dispute in real time? How long do you fight before you grow bitter. How long before you throw up your hands and accept that the people who are most precious to you are going to do terrible things to each other and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Nothing that would still leave them free.”

That’s bleak. Like. Is she saying that she thinks Xerneas just left us all to rot? That the creator of all life deemed us failures. What’s even the point, then? What’s the point of anything?

“So… why bother worshipping Him, then, if He won’t help?”

“He’ll help,” she says. “Just not directly. He’s like a grandparent you can go to for a while. He’ll give you comfort and advice. Heal mental and spiritual wounds. But He won’t leave to fight your battles for you.”

That. Makes some sense. He was never going to save you. But maybe He can help now? Or you could just go to therapy. Cuicatl’s offered to pay. You just don’t want to talk about what happned. Ever. There’s a story somewhere in the book you’re named after about a destroyed city. The survivors were told not to look back at their old home or they’d turn into salt. One did. She knew it would happen and did it anyway. You’re not making that mistake. You’re not looking back.

Joining a congregation, though… no. You don’t think you can do it. Even for one service.

“Genesis.” You startle and whip your head back up. Ms. Lepo somehow crossed the room without you noticing. “You don’t have to work through everything right now. If you would like to play a game or solve a puzzle we can do that.”

“What kind of puzzle?” you ask. It’s a coward’s way out but you never claimed to be the bravest.

“Oh, I have all kinds. Come. I’ll show you.”

*​

June 28, 2020

It took a while to wash the saltwater off of your everything. The dragalge really did a number on you. Really, you’re just glad it stopped at a big wave. You could only follow half of Cuicatl’s conversation but it sounded like things got tense. And then Cuicatl just let it go without claiming any skrelp. You’re proud of her. Even if she plans on working with VStar again in the canyon. You get why she wants to make more money. Her sister is missing and. You understand. If you thought any amount of money could free Levi you would do anything to get it. At least your parents probably aren’t treating him too badly. He’s still their heir. And you’re pretty sure he’s either straight or too young to think about such things.

You wrap your hair up in a towel and walk over to the balcony. Cuicatl glances back at you when you open the door.

“Shower’s ready.”

“Thank you.”

She holds our her hand and Coco moves into position. You let her walk past on her way to the shower. She hasn’t changed out of her swimsuit yet and, well, you have to thank Lyra for picking that one. It covers pretty much everything. Just a bit tight in some very nice parts. Lovely seeing her walk away. And her legs are pretty toned from all the walking she does. Great lower half. And her hair’s darker and maybe better when it’s wet.

You don’t know how it took so long to figure out you were gay. Just. Girls. Shame you lost your memories of most of them. Can’t know if you secretly knew or struggled with it or what.

No. You didn’t know. You remember that you didn’t even know why you were being called a lesbian until you were home again. Unless that memory was fake? Maybe you did know. Maybe you even reciprocated Lyra’s crush and that’s why all of your memories of her had to go.

Officer Takeda told you that you’re probably not getting any memories back. Maybe a fundamental memory or two will survive in fragments under the surface. Maybe you can even experience it in dreams. But you won’t be able to remember it well when you wake. Something about corrupted files. Or. Something? You’re not very good with tech and weren’t in a great place when they tried explaining it. Cuicatl doesn’t really know much about any of it. And, well, you remember her mind. Beautiful, horrifying chaos tearing into anything that opposed it. There wasn’t really an art to it or a form or any kind of training. Just raw force of will. You aren’t sure if she knew what she was doing or just trying something that seemed like it might work.

You don’t know if she broke anything with her whirling chainsaw of a mind. Wouldn’t matter if she did. She was trying to help. She did help. Without her the process would have finished and then. You don’t know. You don’t want to know. Maybe you would be straight and happy and not remember any of this. Maybe you would’ve been brain damaged your entire life rather than for a month.

Either way, you wouldn’t have been you.

Although if you aren’t you if you just because you don’t have your memories, well, what does that say about who you are now?

Over the balcony one of the machoke is walking a bag of something from one end of the building to the other. Corners are clearly visible inside the bag. Bricks, maybe? The size and angles looks right. But there don’t seem to be many brick structures around. Oh! What if the machoke just like carrying weights like that. There can’t be that much work for them to do every day. Surely they have to find some way to work out. They probably spar with each other. Might be fun to go see later. If they let humans watch. It’s fine if not. You’ve never been too interested in fighting-types. Cuicatl wouldn’t want to watch something so visual. Maybe Lyra? Would it be weird to ask to watch it alone?

Something raps against the door behind you. Coco has her snout pressed against it, pointing up towards the door handle. Cuicatl brushes her hand along the tyrunt’s head until she finds it and pulls the door open.

“Thank you, Coco.”

The dinosaur grunts in satisfaction.

She’s wearing basketball shorts and the orange hydreigon shirt you apparently bought. It’s very casual for her. Makes her feel accessible. Understandable. Usually she’s proudly different from the people around her with her height or blindness or colorful clothing or weird interests. Now she’s just a girl wearing a shirt you got her. It’s… you love how she usually is, obviously. It’s very her and you adore it. This is nice in a different way.

“Touch?” you ask.

She takes a step closer and you put a hand on her shoulder. At first you were confused why she shied away when you reached out for her. If she didn’t like you. She opened up when you asked. She can’t see people approaching so sudden touch is weird. And she didn’t get a lot growing up. Isn’t used to it.

Well, no. She said that she didn’t get a lot of “loving touch” from humans. You’ve seen the little scars scattered across her skin. Seen the cracked teeth. Even felt some with your tongue. Not all of that can be from cooking accidents. You don’t think her home was safe. Probably not even in the way yours wasn’t safe, where it felt fine until everything suddenly escalated. She misses her hydreigon. She misses her brother (when he talks about him at all). She doesn’t seem to love America.

But she doesn’t seem to miss her father. Or her home.

Can they deport her if she just never gets a passport? You don’t want her to leave you at all, don’t even like thinking about it, but you really don’t like the idea of her going back there.

She steps in closer until her shoulder is pressed firmly against your ribcage and her head is tucked against your neck. Setting all that aside, it makes you so happy that she’s gone from flinching away from your touch to leaning in and asking for more. you wrap one arm around her and hold the other out towards her hand. She takes it and laces her fingers with yours. Her okémon are stronger than yours. She has the elemental powers and the tenacity to fight for the people she loves, no matter the cost. And she’s the one taking care of you in more mundane ways like cooking and cleaning and distracting old ladies. You know that she’ll never feel the same sense of protection from you that you feel from her, even if you could rest your head on top of hers. Even if you could physically lift her up. Which you probably couldn’t. You’re not very strong. But the idea does things to you and now you suddenly maybe want to try doing some pushups every day. Point is, you hope that she can at least feel enveloped in your warmth, that she can know that she finally has someone looking out for her. Someone safe.

The sun peaks out from behind the ”loud’ and you suddenly wonder if you’re enveloping her in a little too much warmth.

She waits a moment before taking a half step away. Alolan summers maybe aren’t the best for PDA come to think of it.

“Thank you for coming to the beach with me.”

She looks away. “Sorry I ruined it?”

“What?”

“The dragalge.”

“Oh.” Is she really blaming herself for that? You squeeze her shoulder in reassurance. “Wasn’t your fault. And if you want to make it up, we can just go to the beach next time we get the chance.”

She shivers despite the heat. “If it’s not crowded. I can wear… that in front of you.” She spits out the word like she was covered in rotting garbage rather than wearing a very cute swimsuit. “Not strangers. Sorry.”

“Then I’ll find some place secluded.”

You’ll let it go. For now. She’ll probably come around. And if she doesn’t, you’ll just need to get creative with the time and place you pick.

“Wanna go downstairs? I’m sure we can find some place in the shade for this.”

“Okay.” She moves a hand to your elbow. “Lead the way.”

*​

It’s still unreasonably hot in the shade. Really should’ve done this first thing in the morning and then gone to the beach. You know you were seeing Lyra off but she could have left on her own without causing problems. At least there’s something you can do about it.

“Cloudy, can you create some mist?”

The castform’s form ripples like pavement in the sun. Sparks fly inside of his cloud. Pretty close to just becoming a ball of hot air and flame like he does when amplifying sunlight. He nods and suddenly the sparks die down. The air grows more humid before cool droplets form in the air and on your skin. Bubbles and Oliver relax while Ferny flicks his leaf in annoyance. He’s sitting just outside the shade to soak up more sun.

Coco shakes some of the droplets off before settling back down. Pixie and Leo are nowhere to be seen. Kind of odd to see Cuicatl with just one of her pokémon around. Especially when all of yours are out.

“Alright. Um. I wanted to talk to all of you about the future. We haven’t had a full meeting in… a while. Sorry.” And you are sorry. You haven’t been giving them your best. Everything was just. Too much. Still is, but you can’t put this off forever. “I just wanted to hear how you’re holding up, if you need anything, uh, even if you want to go. That’s fine.”

You’re not sure how you’d feel about it but you can’t exactly hate being locked in your room for months and then do that to someone else.

“Anyone want to go first?”

Ferny yawns and mewls something out once Cuicatl’s done with her translation.

“I see. And would you want to leave if so?” Cuicatl asks. That’s not a good sign.

They go back and forth for a little while longer before your girlfriend turns back to you. “He’s not thrilled about having to fight again.”

“I’m not either,” you tell him. “I just kind of have to in order to stay in Pokémon Centers. Big buildings, places like where we are now. Otherwise we’d probably just be camping every day.”

Ferny flicks his leaf and purrs.

“He would be happy with that.”

Right. Grass-type. Loves the outdoors.

“You don’t have to do the island challenge if you don’t want to,” Cuicatl says. “I thought you were doing it because you missed it.”

“Then I can’t stay in Pokémon Centers with you.”

She shrugs. “Almost done with mine. Won’t be in the Centers much longer.”

One problem solved. You’ll still need to figure out how to get money. She’s prickly about that and you don’t want your relationship to fall apart over it. “Okay. Guess we don’t need to fight then.”

Ferny hisses and mewls something out as he curls back up into a sitting position.

“Give him soil and sunlight and he’ll be fine.”

Bubbles (loudly) bellows what sounds like a complaint.

“He wants a bigger pool.”

“I’m sorry. We’re in a dry area. I’ll take you back to a pond to swim when we get a chance.”

Cuicatl translate and then adds, “There will be a river at the bottom of the canyon.”

He croaks again.

“Just get him a big pond soon. Uh. I think he might want to be released or rehomed if you aren’t going to have frequent pond access. I don’t know the rules on releasing politoed.”

“I’ll look into it.”

He’s been very good for the last few months. Almost a year now. You hope you can find a great pond for him, even if you can’t be there.

Oliver is silent and looking down at the ground. Cloudy continues to bob in place.

“You have anything Cloudy?”

The wind whistles. The closest he comes to speech.

“No. He’s fine.”

“Anything you want at all?”

Another whistle.

“No.” Cuicatl pauses and then continues telepathically. {I don’t think there’s a lot going on in his head.}

That’s rather blunt. What is in his head, anyway? His whole body is water vapor. Does he even have a brain? He’s clearly smart enough to think and battle and even pick up on some basic human behaviors like hand shaking.

{He’s smart enough,} Cuicatl responds to your thoughts(?). {Just has no ambition. Happily goes along with whatever’s happening.}

Strange. You’ll have to look into it more later.

You look back at Oliver. He’s still brooding.

“What’s the matter, Ollie.”

He hisses. Cuicatl sucks in air past her teeth. It sounds gross.

“Did Lyra ever tell you about the imorin?”

*​

It takes Lyra a surprisingly long time to appear on the horizon. You’ve calmed down a little. Not much. Anger simmers in your stomach again when you see her. When she gets close enough to see you she gives a friendly wave. When she gets close enough to see your face she realizes that she’s in deep trouble.

“What’s wrong?” she asks. As if she doesn’t know.

“Were you ever going to tell me about your salandit? Salazzle? Whichever it is.”

“Salazzle, I think.”

You shrug. Your arms stay folded and your glare stays trained on her forehead. That wasn’t the main question. Lyra casts a look towards Noci. The metang doesn’t react at all.

“Cuicatl tell you?”

“Oliver did.”

“Okay. I was going to tell you in an hour or two. Promise.”

You don’t have any reason to believe her. Well. One. Cuicatl was adamant that she would have forced her hand after dinner. But left to her own devices you probably never would have found out.

“Was that your plan with Cuicatl?” you ask. “Brainwash her with that stuff, make her break the law.”

She shakes her head. “I didn’t even know she was gay.”

“You had me pegged but not her?”

For a moment it looks like she’s barely suppressing a laugh. Then she rolls her shoulders, straightens her back, and returns to looking as serious as the situation requires. “Can’t track her wandering eye. I don’t think she knew she was gay until you launched her out of the closet.”

That gives you pause. “She’s not just pretending to be gay for me, right?” You were pushing her pretty hard. Too hard. You regret it. Will probably apologize eventually.

“No. Imorin works on her, too. She’s just good at figuring it out and ignoring it.”

Left unspoken: and you’re not.

“You made me cheat on her, you know?”

She blinks. Twice. Three times. “Come again?”

“I had impure thoughts about you.”

“And has Cuicatl told you that’s not allowed? Because I don’t think that’s cheating. Not an expert, but it’s not like people can control who they’re attracted to.”

“She hasn’t said anything.”

And you aren’t entirely sure if she would care, but it’s the principle of the thing!

“Would you freak out if she thought someone else was hot and then never acted on it?”

It wouldn’t feel great. But you suppose it’s kind of sweet, being tempted and still choosing you.

“That’s not the point. I want to know why you thought this was okay in the first place.”

“I was going to tell you and Cuicatl after dinner. I guess I can move that up?”

She says it like she has an explanation. One good enough to somehow justify all of this. Manipulating your sexuality just like your parents. Without telling you. While acting like she could be trusted. Like you should love her. Was she planning to just steal you away like an object?

If she wants to explain, you’ll let her. But it had better be a damn good explanation.
 
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