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Pokémon Communication

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Location
*aurorus noise*
Heya, here's another chapterfic for y'all. :D

I started writing this one in '04 and finished it ten years later. It takes place in the same continuity as The Origin of Storms. This isn't exactly a sequel, but it might be a good idea to read TOoS first (or read these side-by-side, if both are still in the process of being posted); some things that happen later in this one might make a bit more sense that way.

Content advisory: There'll be violence, some of which will be a bit on the bloody/gory side. There'll also be infrequent, mild swears and brief, undetailed nudity.


Index
Chapter 1 – Foreign Relations
Chapter 2 – Carried Away
Chapter 3 – The Deal
Chapter 4 – Spell of the Spotlight
Chapter 5 – Elements Embraced
Chapter 6 – Back Onstage
Chapter 7 – The Sought-For Matter
Chapter 8 – ?????
Chapter 9 – ?????
Chapter 10 – ?????
Chapter 11 – ?????
Chapter 12 – ?????
Chapter 13 – ?????
Chapter 14 – ?????
Chapter 15 – ?????
Chapter 16 – ?????
Chapter 17 – ?????
Chapter 18 – ?????
Chapter 19 – ?????
Chapter 20 – ?????
Chapter 21 – ?????
Chapter 22 – ?????
Chapter 23 – ?????
Chapter 24 – ?????
Chapter 25 – ?????
Chapter 26 – ?????
Chapter 27 – ?????
Chapter 28 – ?????
Chapter 29 – ?????
Chapter 30 – ?????
Chapter 31 – ?????
Chapter 32 – ?????
Chapter 33 – ?????
Chapter 34 – ?????
Chapter 35 – ?????
Chapter 36 – ?????
Chapter 37 – ?????
Chapter 38 – ?????
Chapter 39 – ?????
Chapter 40 – ?????
Chapter 41 – ?????
Chapter 42 – ?????



Chapter 1 – Foreign Relations


In the depths of Shoal Cave, unknown to humanity at large and almost completely untouched by other species of pokémon, there was a place known by the snorunt and glalie who called it home as Virc-Dho. Here, in a cavern whose ice-covered surfaces glittered eerily in the glow given off by her eyes, a glalie by the name of Azvida Zgil-Al sat waiting for two different things.

She was watching, staring intently at a round, black, featureless egg that was now beginning to shake slightly a couple of times each minute. It was bound to hatch at any moment now. She was also listening, just as she’d been doing for months now, for the first sign of an approach that might or might not even come.

Invoking the power of her element, the glalie spontaneously generated a small heap of snow, which she arranged in a ring around the increasingly animated egg. The baby would be ravenous upon hatching.

A grinding sound in the distance caught Azvida’s attention. She winced at its volume, not only out of physical discomfort but also concern over others hearing it. She had told him emphatically that he needed to make as inconspicuous an entrance as possible… but, as she reminded herself, the very nature of just what he was made that especially difficult.

Keeping the egg at the edge of her vision, Azvida only turned partly toward him as he came to a stop in the shadows nearby. “Hello, Grosh.”

Grosh only grunted in response, his face looking almost ghostly in what little of Azvida’s cyan light touched it.

Azvida’s attention was quickly monopolized by the egg again as it gave an almighty lurch, rolling straight into the snow that had been piled in front of it. The glalie inhaled with a long, rattling hiss and held her breath, anxiously watching the event that was unfolding before her eyes. The egg gave one last rustle, and then, with a tiny crack, something small and pointed broke through the shell. With something of a drilling motion, the tip of a cone-shaped head continued to emerge from the hole it had made, cracking it open wider and wider until finally the egg simply fell apart.

Amidst the broken eggshells, there now sat a tiny male snorunt. He tried to stand up, only to immediately fall right over. His conical body rolled pitifully as he tried in vain to right himself.

Azvida couldn’t suppress the gale of hissing, elated laughter that came forth at the sight of him. He was here. He was finally here. She rose from the ground and descended upon the snorunt, picking him up very gently and carefully and then setting him upright once more.

Her son blinked up at her for a moment. Then he noticed the fresh, powdery snow that surrounded him, and he became oblivious to all else.

Azvida grinned brightly at her new baby. She then looked into the shadows at her side. “Look, Grosh,” she said, her voice alight with pure wonder. “Look at your son. Isn’t he beautiful? Why don’t you come closer? Don’t you want to see him?”

The shadowed form of Grosh stirred in the darkness. His gaze turned toward the newborn—then turned away. The rest of Grosh immediately followed.

“Grosh, wait!” Azvida called to him. But Grosh kept moving on, scattering numerous rocks and chunks of ice in his wake. Within seconds, he was gone, back into the shadows from whence he’d come—never to return, Azvida was sure.

The new mother sighed. “It’ll just be us, then,” she said as she set herself back down before her son. No surprise, she thought, yet she couldn’t deny the pang of disappointment she felt at Grosh’s departure. “We’ll have to be everything for each other. But I know we can,” she said, hoping to sound reassuring.

Not that it mattered to the snorunt. He was too focused on the snow, which he was devouring voraciously. Once he’d eaten his fill, he discovered that he could also play in the snow, and he quickly became fully engrossed in that activity.

Azvida smiled again. “Now, what to call you?” she wondered aloud. She thought about it for a little while, rejecting several potential candidates for her son’s name until one that felt right finally came to her mind.

“I know exactly the right name for you,” Azvida said triumphantly. “You shall be called Solonn.”

* * *​

A little over seven years into his life, Solonn was deemed old enough to go up to the snowgrounds, where he could meet and play with other children. But to get there, one first had to make one’s way through a rather long series of tunnels, much to his displeasure. This was the farthest he’d ever had to walk; it was a little tiring, not to mention kind of slow compared to being carried in his mother’s jaws. But ultimately, he’d be too big to carry that way. He had to get used to walking everywhere, whether he liked it or not.

His weariness, combined with the fact that the tunnel they were taking looked practically the same through yard after yard, caused his patience to run out fairly quickly. “Are we there yet?” he finally asked, unable to keep himself from whining a bit.

“Almost,” Azvida answered, gliding along a few inches off the ground at less than half of her usual pace to let the snorunt’s tiny feet keep up with her. “I told you, you’ll know right away when we get there. It’s very different from this place, and from every other place you’ve seen, for that matter.”

Better be, Solonn thought rather grumpily.

Shortly thereafter, they finally arrived at the snowgrounds. Solonn saw at once that his mother had been right about this place—it was different. It was a huge, open space, nothing at all like the close confines of the winding tunnels and small caverns that made up the warren in which he lived.

What he found most remarkable about it wasn’t its size, however. It was the fact that the floor of this vast cavern was entirely blanketed in sparkling, white snow, just begging a snorunt to dive right in. Which is precisely what Solonn did.

Azvida laughed. “Have fun with the other kids,” she said, her son poking his head out of the snow at her words. “I’ll be back soon.” With that, she turned and left Solonn behind in the field of snow.

Solonn watched her leave, wishing that she would stay, wondering why she didn’t. He also wondered where those “other kids” she’d mentioned were. He didn’t see anyone else there…

POP! With absolutely no warning, something burst out of the snow, launching out right in front of his face.

“Aaah!” Solonn was scared right off of his feet. He tumbled over backwards and landed upside-down, his pointed head sticking in the snow, his short legs kicking uselessly.

He then heard a sound—laughter. Someone was laughing at him—and grabbing his feet. He screamed again as whoever it was started pulling on his legs just a little too hard. His ambusher didn’t relent until he suddenly pulled Solonn from the snow. Solonn went flying from his grasp, landing in the snow several feet away with a whumpf (and fortunately not landing on his head this time).

Solonn managed to right himself fairly quickly, and as he did, he heard footsteps approaching him. He turned to face the sound and found another snorunt, one who came to a stop a short distance before him. Was he the one who’d given Solonn that scare?

Solonn’s eyes flashed in anger. He lunged at the other snorunt, snapping his teeth and missing him by only a fraction of an inch.

The other snorunt jumped backward away from Solonn, staring back in surprise for a moment. Then he burst out into laughter once more. Solonn glared, looking as though he might try to bite him again, which made him fall silent in a hurry. He backed up a bit farther and held out his hands as if to keep Solonn at bay.

“Hey! It’s okay!” the other snorunt said. “I didn’t mean to scare you… well, not that bad, anyway…”

Solonn hesitated, frowning in uncertainty.

“I’m sorry,” the other snorunt said earnestly. “It was just a joke.” He approached Solonn again, albeit a bit gingerly. “I’m Zilag. Who are you?”

Solonn hesitated a moment before answering. “…Solonn,” he finally responded. “Are there any other kids here?” he asked warily.

“Yeah. They’re hiding,” Zilag answered. “Come on out,” he called out, “and don’t scare him!”

At Zilag’s call, twelve other snorunt popped up out of their hiding places beneath the snow. Solonn remained wary of them at first, but through the minutes that passed, they heeded Zilag’s advice; no one attempted to frighten him or otherwise make a joke at his expense. By the time his mother returned to take him home, Solonn had managed to shed his distrust and reluctance almost completely. As he left the snowgrounds, he actually looked forward to returning there.

* * *​

Azvida brought Solonn to the snowgrounds almost daily from that point onward. As the weeks went by, he and Zilag became very good friends. Every time Solonn returned to the snowgrounds, Zilag was there waiting for him.

One day, Zilag gathered eight of his closest friends, including Solonn, to tell them how they were about to have the “best day ever”.

“I’ve found something so awesome, you’ll go crazy when you see it,” he said.

“And what’s that?” Solonn asked.

Zilag smirked. He rolled up a snowball, turned around, and chucked it with full force into the ground. The snow it struck crumbled away on impact, falling into the rather steep-looking, downward-slanting passageway that he’d just revealed. The other eight snorunt all drew closer to the hole to try and peer down into it, but they were all wary of getting too close to it.

“Right down there is a portal to another world,” Zilag said in a exaggeratedly grand tone.

“Yeah, right,” Reizirr said.

“It’s true!” Zilag insisted. He grabbed her and pushed her face toward the hole, eliciting a very sharp little shriek out of her. “All you have to do to see it is to just go through there.”

“No, thanks!” Reizirr said as she managed to wriggle away from Zilag.

“You’re gonna miss out…” Zilag told her. He glanced about at the others, seeing a lot of uncertain faces looking back at him. Their clear trepidation did nothing to deter him from putting on a huge grin and going on to say, “Okay. Who wants to go first?”

The others all exchanged nervous glances. Then, in unison, they took a big step farther back from the hole.

“Oh, come on. It’s so cool, I promise… Sical, how about you?” Zilag asked.

“No way,” she said firmly.

“Davron?”

Davron shook his head, insofar as he could.

“Faroski?”

Faroski just turned and left the small crowd, having decided he’d be better off just watching the others from the opposite side of the cavern.

Zilag sighed loudly in frustration. Then he turned to Solonn. “I know you’d love it. So come on, go for it.”

Solonn remained doubtful. “Uh…”

“It’s just a little slide and then a little climb,” Zilag said a little impatiently. “You’re not a wuss, are you?” he added.

“What? No!” Solonn said. He looked down into the hole, wondering just how deep it really was. “I guess I could…”

“That’s the spirit!” Zilag said cheerfully, and then he shoved Solonn into the hole.

“Aaaaaah!” Solonn screamed as he found himself rushing down the slide. The tightly-packed snow coating its walls made the ride smoother than it might have been otherwise—that is, until he reached the bottom and smacked right into a stone wall.

Solonn pitched backward and fell to the floor, little lights exploding in his vision, his face smarting. After a few moments, he came back to his senses and became fully aware of his surroundings. He was in a very small chamber made of stone. Before and slightly above him, he saw a hole in the wall, one that was more than wide enough for him to enter.

Solonn stood and stared with uncertainty into the hole for a short while, reluctant to enter it. He turned back around and looked back up the length of the snow chute… how in the world was someone supposed to get back up there? Zilag had neglected to explain that detail…

Sighing, Solonn turned back toward the hole in the wall—there seemed to be no other way to go. Resigned, he hopped up, pulled himself into the hole, and started crawling upward.

The climb through the secret tunnel was hardly enjoyable. At a couple of points, it was fairly steep; Solonn feared that he could easily slip and go tumbling back down the tunnel. Furthermore, the tunnel’s rocky floor was uncomfortable and more than a little worrisome to crawl over—one wrong move, and those jagged edges could slice right into a hand or foot.

Why, he wondered, had Zilag thought anyone would like this?

Quite a while later, Solonn finally reached the end of the tunnel and gratefully hoisted himself out of there. Exhausted, he just lay still for a short time, glad to be on smooth, level ground again.

Once he’d caught his breath, he got back on his feet and took a look around. He was in a very large cavern which, just as Zilag had promised, was like another world. For one thing, it was much brighter up here than it had been below. Solonn found the source of the light overhead: strange, pale rays were seeping into the cavern from cracks in the ceiling.

As Solonn explored with growing curiosity, he found snow, ice and rocks—all of which he could find at home, of course. Here, however, they were just scattered about; rocky, uneven surfaces abruptly gave way to vast, shimmering expanses of smooth, ice-coated floors, and mounds of snow rose randomly over both. This contrasted considerably with the way things looked back in the warren; there, every aspect of the environment had been adapted by glalie to conform to their tastes and purposes. Solonn wondered to what sort of people and purpose, if any, a place like this could possibly belong.

Right around the next hill of snow, he got his answer.

He didn’t move. He barely even breathed. The same was true of the creature that stared back at him through her dark brown eyes.

Her appearance was stranger than anything Solonn could have ever imagined, especially with regards to the fact that there was a peculiar, mesmerizing glow emanating from her entire body. He’d never seen anything like it; he didn’t have that glow, and neither did any of his friends. For that matter, neither did glalie.

“What… what are you?” Solonn finally worked up the courage to ask.

“What are you?” the creature countered.

Solonn was almost too bewildered to answer. This creature even sounded so different… “I’m a snorunt,” he said finally.

“Oh. Never heard of that… Anyway, I’m a spheal.”

“I’ve never heard of what you are, either,” Solonn said. As he stared at this creature—this spheal—his curiosity gave rise to a compulsion. “Can… can I touch you?” he asked.

“Uh… sure, I guess,” the spheal responded.

Solonn stepped forward after a moment’s delay. His hand shook as it reached out toward the spheal. When he touched her, he gasped and pulled his hand back at once, his eyes wide. She felt strange, and in a way that was rather startling.

“What? Is something wrong?” the spheal asked.

“No… it’s just that you’re so… ” Solonn trailed off and stared with both fear and wonder shining through his eyes as he realized that he knew no word for the way that the spheal felt. He had no way of knowing it, but he’d just felt heat for the very first time. Though it hadn’t hurt him, it had definitely made him uneasy.

In spite of this, his curiosity led him to touch the spheal again, and he wasn’t so startled by her warmth this time. Something else soon caught his fascination.

“It’s… soft…” Solonn remarked, “and fluffy… What’s this stuff you’re covered in?” he asked.

“Er… that’s fur,” the spheal answered, giving him a funny look.

“It’s neat,” Solonn said.

“Uh, sure it is… Hey, could you stop petting me already?” the spheal finally demanded.

“Oh… sorry,” Solonn said, quite embarrassed, and took his hands off of the spheal in a hurry.

Just then, a voice sounded from not too far away—another strange, foreign voice. “Sophine? Where are you?”

Before Solonn could wonder about the voice’s owner, she came into view. Solonn didn’t know that it was a sealeo who had just arrived on the scene, but he could guess from her appearance that she was an evolved spheal.

“There you are! You can’t keep wandering away from me like that!” she scolded the spheal, though not too harshly. Then her gaze fell upon Solonn, and it froze there. “Sophine, get away from that,” she said tensely. “Now. Those things are dangerous.”

“What? I’m not dangerous!” Solonn protested, stepping forward with his arms outstretched. “Honest!”

“You stay away from my daughter, you little monster!” the sealeo cried, and then she lunged at Solonn.

But just then, Sophine screamed, and the sound jarred her mother out of her charge. Her mother looked to see what had frightened Sophine and then cried out in fear, as well.

Confused, Solonn followed the others’ gazes. Now it was his turn to scream—hovering there with an absolutely livid expression was none other than his own mother.

“Leave him alone!” Azvida spat. With a furious hiss, she darted forward. Her massive teeth snapped together with bone-shattering force bare inches away from the face of Sophine’s mother.

The sealeo gave a yelping bark as she turned away from the striking glalie. Then she gathered up her daughter in a single flipper and waddled off with her as fast as she could.

Solonn watched them leave. Then, very nervously, he turned and approached his mother. Azvida turned to face him in an instant, making him jump back in startled surprise. Then she opened her jaws and grabbed Solonn up in her teeth by the top of his head. Her hold on him was painful, and he cried out, but she didn’t put him down, carrying him in this fashion for the rest of the trip back home.

* * *​

“For the love of all gods, what were you thinking?” Azvida demanded.

It wasn’t my idea! Solonn thought but didn’t dare say, fearing that doing so would mean betraying Zilag. “…I don’t know!” he finally blurted.

“Well, you’re not going up there again, that’s for sure,” Azvida said firmly. “In fact, you’re not going to be going anywhere for a long time, not even to the snowgrounds.”

“But… Mom, no! You can’t!” Solonn protested. Surely she had to be bluffing, or so he hoped.

“Oh, yes I can, and yes I will! It’s for your own good, Solonn. You have to learn that there are places where you don’t belong, places that are not safe!”

“Not safe?” Apart from the behavior of the sealeo he’d met there, the secret cavern above hadn’t seemed terribly dangerous, just strange…

Azvida lowered her face, staring right into Solonn’s eyes. “You think you’re the first who’s ever gone sneaking around up there? There have been plenty of kids before you who’ve had that bright idea. And you know what? Many of them never came back.”

“…What happened to them?” Solonn asked in a very small voice, though he wasn’t altogether certain that he really wanted to know.

“They vanished,” Azvida replied simply. “Taken away by the creatures from above, we suspect,” she elaborated.

“You mean the spheal? Spheal took them?” Solonn asked incredulously.

Azvida shook her head. “Other beings. Stranger beings.”

What could be stranger than a spheal? Solonn wondered, rather amazed by the notion.

But that wasn’t all he wondered about. “Mom?”

“Yes?”

“That spheal’s mom… she called me a monster,” Solonn said quietly. “She said I’m dangerous, but I’m not dangerous at all… am I?”

“What? No, of course you’re not,” Azvida said. “And you’re not a monster, either.”

“But… then why would she say that?” Solonn asked.

Azvida sighed. “It’s all right, Solonn. She meant nothing against you personally. It’s just that… well, her kind fear ours. They always have.” She sighed again. “To be fair, they do have a perfectly good reason to.”

“Well… what is it?” Solonn asked, a little afraid of the sort of answer he might receive.

Azvida broke eye contact with Solonn. This wasn’t a discussion she’d been in any hurry to have with him—she’d dreaded it as much as the eventual discussion of how eggs were made.

Reluctantly, she sat down beside him. “There are certain things that every living creature has to do to stay alive,” she began uneasily. “We have to breathe. We have to sleep. We have to eat. When creatures are different, the ways they keep themselves alive are also different. The spheal and their evolved forms, the sealeo and walrein, are different from us, and so they have their own ways that are right for them. Likewise, glalie are different from snorunt. And we have our own ways.

“Now, one of the ways that creatures can have different needs is that for some, like snorunt, the things they need to eat in order to live are not alive themselves. But for others… like glalie… well, the things that creatures like us need to eat in order to live are alive.”

Solonn absorbed that. Then his heart froze. “You… you eat the spheal?” he ventured in disbelief, his voice cracking.

“Yes,” Azvida answered honestly, “sometimes. But not usually. Usually, we take the winged creatures instead; zubat, they’re called.”

“It doesn’t matter what they are. You still kill them!” Solonn shouted.

“Yes,” Azvida said, sounding very flustered. “Yes, we do, but we do it quickly. We do it gently. It doesn’t hurt them. They just… they just stop. It’s just like going to sleep, only permanently.”

How can you know that?” Solonn countered. Azvida didn’t answer. Solonn said nothing more for several minutes, just sitting and shaking silently. Then, with barely any voice at all, “Why can’t you just eat the snow? Why?”

“It’s just not enough for us, Solonn,” Azvida said quietly. “Someday, once you’ve evolved, you’ll understand.”

“No, I don’t want to! I don’t want to grow up and eat people!”

“Listen, I know how it sounds, but there really isn’t anything wrong with it!” Azvida tried to assure him. “It’s just part of how nature works. And a lot of creatures live this way, too, not just glalie. Even the spheal you met and her people; they feed on creatures called magikarp…”

But Solonn wasn’t listening anymore, and Azvida knew it. She sighed and fell silent, and neither of them said anything to one another for the remainder of that day.

* * *​

After the long weeks separating Solonn from the snowgrounds were finally behind him, he returned there to find Zilag just sitting there by himself.

Solonn was immediately wary. “Where is everyone hiding?”

“There’s no one else here,” Zilag said gloomily.

Solonn walked over to him, frowning. “You got me into huge trouble, you know,” he said.

“Hey, I didn’t get away with it, either!” Zilag shot back.

“Well, I didn’t tell on you!” Solonn insisted. “I swear!”

“You didn’t have to,” Zilag said grimly. “My big sister came in and saw me trying to get Dileras to go down that hole. She went straight home and told Mom everything.” He sighed. “And then everyone else’s parents found out, too. Now no one wants to hang out with me cause they’re all scared of getting into trouble again.”

“Oh…” Solonn sat down beside Zilag. “Well… I’m not really worried about that,” he said, although a small part of him was. “I’ll still hang out with you.”

Zilag’s eyes widened, and he broke out into a huge grin. “Really? Thanks!”

It was then that a strange sound caught the attention of both snorunt: a sort of fluttering noise coming from above. Zilag and Solonn looked up and saw its source flying about overhead. It was yet another creature that shone with that strange glow—the glow of heat, Solonn now knew.

“A zubat,” Solonn guessed aloud in a hushed voice as he gazed up at the newcomer. “What’s one of those doing here?”

“I don’t know… I’ve never even seen one before,” Zilag said.

“I bet your parents have,” Solonn said darkly. “My mom told me that glalie eat those things.”

Zilag turned to face Solonn at those words and stared incredulously at him for a moment. Then he broke into laughter. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! They do not!”

“Oh, yes they do,” Solonn said as he continued to watch the zubat flit around, seemingly without direction, near the ceiling of the cavern.

“No way!” Zilag said, still laughing. “I know! Let’s ask the zubat if it’s true! HEY, ZUBAT!” he shouted.

The zubat steadfastly ignored the snorunt below, just wanting to focus on getting out of that place. It was bad enough that she’d gotten herself lost there—she didn’t want to add to her troubles by getting herself mixed up with the locals.

“The zubat’s not listening,” Solonn pointed out.

“Well, maybe this’ll get that thing to listen.” Zilag made a snowball and chucked it into the air, but missed the zubat entirely. His second shot missed, too. “Come on, hold still!” he urged his target, throwing a third snowball. That one very nearly didn’t miss, whizzing past the zubat’s face just a hair’s breadth away.

The zubat shrieked, then turned on Zilag. Chittering angrily, she fired a spiraling, sparkling confuse ray at him. It struck him before he could do anything to avoid it and instantly and severely disoriented him, leaving him staggering around and screaming intermittently in a spontaneous panic.

“What did you do to him?” Solonn demanded of the zubat, both scared and angry. The bat responded with a wing attack, forcing Solonn to duck in a hurry to avoid her as she dove at him, her wings glowing.

As the zubat arced back up toward the ceiling, Solonn got back up onto his feet, gathered a number of snowballs as fast as he could, and began throwing them at the zubat, but to no avail. The zubat soon wheeled around for another wing attack; he only barely ducked out of the way in time.

At this point, Solonn decided to give up on the snowballs. He began to gather ice-type energy… then lost hold of it as Zilag, who was still confused, came stumbling right into him and nearly knocked him over.

“Hey!” Solonn shouted as he got himself out of the way of his brain-addled friend. He tapped into the power of his element once again, and this time he managed to summon a powder snow attack. It scattered snowflakes all about as it whistled toward the zubat on a small gust—but before it could connect, a similar but much stronger attack—a blizzard—came howling in and blew the powder snow completely off course.

The blizzard was the work of Azvida, who had apparently just arrived and was clearly quite displeased. “Solonn Ahshi Zgil-Al!” she shouted. “You stop picking on that poor zubat right this instant; she’s obviously lost here and needs help, not harassment!”

Azvida’s shouting brought Zilag back to his senses. “Ahshi?” He exploded into giggles. Both Azvida and Solonn glared potently at him—he shut up at once.

“But Mom, she did something to Zilag! She made him freak out—I couldn’t just let her get away with it!” Solonn said. “And what do you care what anybody does to her, anyway? She’s just meat to you!”

Azvida’s eyes widened greatly, and their light intensified. “How dare you say such a thing,” she hissed, appalled. “I would never think of such a creature as ‘just meat’. They give us life; they’re to be honored and respected!”

To the zubat, Azvida said, “You’ll certainly die from the cold if you stay here much longer. If you’ll follow me, I’ll lead you back up where you belong.”

The zubat made no response, no sound at all other than the faint flapping of her wings as she hovered warily in place.

“It’s all right,” Azvida said, trying to sound as pleasant and soothing as possible. “I won’t even touch you.”

The zubat hesitated at first, then flapped a short distance forward. She hesitated again, for longer this time. Finally, though still obviously very uncertain about the whole thing, she descended and began to follow Azvida out of the cavern, albeit at a healthy distance.

“Please stay put until I return,” Azvida instructed her son as she left. “Please.” She and the zubat then vanished into the tunnels of the warren.

As Solonn watched them leave, he was no longer sure which was stranger: other species or his own.
 
Last edited:

Negrek

Spindrift
Staff
Always a pleasure to see this story again. It was a bit of a whirlwind the last time I read it, so it'll be nice to take things again at a slower pace.

And of course, Solonn is painfully cute as a little snorunt. It would be fun to follow him even if he'd stayed in Virc-Dho his entire life and been an ordinary glalie--and I'm sure in some ways he might have preferred that--but for all our sakes he has to go out into the world, doesn't he?

I probably mentioned it before, but one of the things I really enjoy about this story and this section in particular are the names. Azvida, Virc-Dho, Zilag, etc. all sound like such wonderfully glalie-ish names, rather hissy and sharp, and then they contrast nicely with the names of pokémon of different species as well.

I don't recall, do we ever get the backstory on Grosh and Azvida's relationship? You have to wonder how the two of them even met, much less how they ended up with an egg together!

I forgot how much happened in this first chapter, too. Solonn hatches, meets other pokémon, and learns about the nature of glalie... really getting into the swing of things already! From what I recall, we're going to get introduced to his talent next, and then it won't be too long before we're leaving Virc-Dho for a while. Good times! I'm looking forward to following along with this.
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Location
*aurorus noise*
Negrek: Solonn would have absolutely preferred to have not had to deal with a good chunk of what's to come, at least initially. If he thought about it, he'd concede that he might not have been able to [redacted] without the aid of [also redacted] and access to [redaction x3 combob], and he probably would feel at least a little guilty about throwing those particular babies out with the bathwater because Solonn. But he'd get to wondering about other ways the necessary pieces might've fallen into place.

Re: Azvida and Grosh:

It comes up later, yeah.

Thanks lots for the read 'n' reply! :D
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Location
*aurorus noise*
Chapter 2 – Carried Away


The sound of footsteps echoed through the tunnel as Solonn walked along the route that led to the snowgrounds, and he walked alone. At the age of nineteen, he was old enough to go there unaccompanied and had been for several years.

Solonn usually didn’t run into anyone when traveling to the snowgrounds, and this was shaping up to be yet another uneventful trip. He heard no steps other than his own, and the level of the blue eyelight shining on the ice-covered surfaces that surrounded him stayed constant and low. There was nothing to indicate anyone of any other kind around, either.

Without much farther to go to reach his destination, Solonn took to wondering who might already be there. He also wondered if today’s activities would include sparring—he rather hoped they wouldn’t. He’d battled on not only the previous day but the day before that; he wanted something different for today’s trip to the snowgrounds.

Then, abruptly, he ceased to care about the other snorunt’s plans—or anything else, for that matter. The light in the tunnel cut out altogether, and the footsteps stopped and gave way to the sound of their now insensible maker falling to the floor.

* * *​

The next sight to greet Solonn’s eyes quickly confused him. The space surrounding him was significantly wider now but also far less empty—a crowd of glalie now surrounded him. No sooner had he awoken than a great rush of murmurs rose up around him.

“Oh, thank the gods, he’s awake!” said a voice that he recognized as Azvida’s, which just managed to rise above the din. “It’s all right now, Solonn,” she told him, responding to the growing bewilderment in his eyes. “You’re home again.”

“Huh?” Solonn sat up, trying to finish coming to his senses quickly. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“We found you here this morning. You were unconscious for a while; you’ve only just awoken,” answered an elderly male glalie whom Solonn didn’t know. At the sound of his voice, the crowd ceased its murmuring.

“Solonn, this is Sile Van-Kil,” Azvida said, introducing the glalie who had just spoken. “He’s with the Security Guild. Don’t worry, you’re not in any trouble with them,” she added quickly, seeing the worried look that flitted across her son’s face. “He just wants to ask you some questions.”

“That’s right,” Sile said. “First, we’d like to know if you left the warren of your own accord, or if you were taken involuntarily.”

Solonn’s eyes widened. “…What? I didn’t leave the warren,” he said, growing even more confused. He hadn’t set foot outside of Virc-Dho’s borders even once since that day roughly twelve years prior when he’d encountered Sophine and her mother—or, at least, he couldn’t recall having gone out there since then… What in the world is going on here?

“You did leave, Mr. Zgil-Al,” Sile said, his tone considerably sterner than before. “You were gone for nearly fifteen days.”

Solonn’s confusion shifted toward fear. Part of his life was missing from his mind, and it wasn’t exactly a small part… “I… I don’t remember going out there, though, sir,” he insisted. “Last thing I remember, I was on my way to the snowgrounds…”

“You’re certain you have no memory of where you went or whom or what you might have encountered?” Sile asked.

“Yes, sir… I’m certain,” Solonn answered shakily. “It’s… it’s like nothing happened at all.”

“Well, I’m afraid something did happen,” Sile said, his tone softening with what sounded like pity. “As for what… well, we can’t be certain, but one possibility is that your missing time is the result of a deliberate act of memory erasure. That, in turn, could be evidence of abduction by unknown psychic pokémon.” At these words, murmurs arose in a fresh wave among the attendants.

“But why? What would any such creatures want with him?” Azvida asked.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Sile replied. “Needless to say, this means we’ll all have to live with increased vigilance. We must keep our eyes open for anything strange. Mr. Zgil-Al is safely among us again, but the next victim may not be so fortunate…”

“Well, whoever and whatever it was that took him, they’d better not show themselves around me. Not if they want to avoid pain, anyway,” Azvida said with a flash of her eyes. She smiled weakly at Solonn. “I’m just so glad you got back safely. You had me worried half to death!”

Solonn might have been glad to be back, too. The only obstacle was that lingering hole in his memory. Guess it’s my turn to be worried half to death, he thought dismally as the crowd dissipated and he and his mother headed for home.

* * *​

Weeks passed before Azvida felt certain enough of her son’s safety to let him set foot outside their residence again. Once she had, however, Solonn quickly came to wish she hadn’t. It seemed there wasn’t a single person Solonn could run into who didn’t try to ask him a battery of questions about his disappearance. He had no answers for them regarding that topic, and at first he was able to explain that to them in a calm and patient manner. But it quickly became clear that they wouldn’t accept that answer. They continued to hound him about the matter, and it wasn’t long before he lost patience for their persistent interrogations.

As a result, he took to spending as much time alone as he could. He visited the snowgrounds only when he was absolutely sure no one else was there (he’d long ago learned how to detect snorunt trying to hide in the snow) and thus not very often. For a time, at least, he was able to successfully avoid others and their questions both in the snowgrounds and everywhere else.

Ultimately, it wasn’t a snorunt or a glalie who broke his solitude. It was a zubat, one who came fluttering unexpectedly into the snowgrounds one day. It wasn’t the same one Solonn had seen all those years ago, however; this one was noticeably smaller. He did have something in common with the previous zubat, though: he looked lost—very lost, in fact, and very anxious about it.

Solonn watched as the zubat flapped about in frantic figure-eights overhead. The flying creature didn’t seem to notice him at all and talked continuously to himself about how scared he was, how he didn’t know where he was, and how he didn’t know what to do—Solonn half expected the poor thing to pass out and fall to the snow below from not pausing to take a breath.

When Solonn thought he could get a word in edgewise between the zubat’s chitterings, “Hey!” he called up to him. “Do you need help?”

The zubat gave a startled squeak. The next second, he plummeted from the air without any warning, diving right into the snorunt’s face—Solonn braced himself for a wing attack or something equally unpleasant, but the zubat thankfully didn’t attack him. Instead he merely asked, in a very high-strung voice, “Where am I?”

Solonn winced at the volume and pitch of the zubat’s voice. “You’re where you don’t belong,” he then answered, which immediately earned a shriek of terror from the zubat. “Relax! It’s all right. I can take you to someone who knows the way out of here.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really,” Solonn said. “Now, come on; I don’t want you to freeze.”

If the zubat had possessed eyes, they might have been sparkling. “Oh, thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you—”

“Are you coming along or not?” Solonn interrupted. He turned and started walking away.

“Oh yes, yes, right,” the zubat said hastily, fluttering after Solonn in a hurry.

As Solonn made his way through the warren, he tried to ignore the person following him. True, the last zubat he’d encountered had been rather hostile, but at least she’d also been relatively quiet. This zubat, on the other hand…

“Wow! This place is so weird!” the zubat chittered, rattling on and on and on. “But it’s still pretty cool, though! Super cool! …And super cold. Brrr! I don’t like the cold. No, I sure don’t like it. Of course, for that matter, I don’t really like the sun, either… But that’s okay, cause I still like you! And that’s cause you’re helping me get out of here! What a pal!” he squealed.

Solonn cringed, his ears ringing. He reminded himself that he was doing the right thing by aiding this creature… or tried to remind himself of that, but the zubat’s voice seemed to be trying its hardest to destroy his mind. Every word was like a little stone splinter in his brain.

The zubat got right in his face—again. “Name’s Zyrzir, by the way,” the zubat said.

Solonn knew that already. Zyrzir had already introduced himself six times since leaving the snowgrounds.

“So, what’s your name? Huh? Huh? Huh?” Zyrzir asked as he resumed following behind the snorunt.

“Mr. Ice Beam,” Solonn said, utterly deadpan.

“Hey… that’s not what you said last time!” Zyrzir said with a frown. “Last time, you said your name was Mr. Bitey! The time before that, you said your name was Mr. Snowball! And all the times before that, you didn’t say anything at all, as if you didn’t have a name, and that was your answer! Why won’t you just please cooperate and tell me what your real name is, huh?” Zyrzir whined.

Because you’re annoying me to death, and I’m trying to ignore you so my brain doesn’t explode! Solonn thought.

But then Zyrzir laid down his ultimatum. “I won’t stop asking until you tell me the truth.”

The snorunt produced a sound halfway between a groan and a sigh. “Fine. My name is Solonn. Satisfied?”

“Oh yes, yes, yes! Thanks a thousand, Mr. Satisfied!” Zyrzir squeaked joyfully, at which Solonn made a face. “Oh, by the way, are we almost where we’re supposed to be going? Are we? Are we? Are we?” the zubat then asked.

“Yes, luckily for you.” And even more luckily for me, Solonn added silently. Sure enough, they soon reached the Zgil-Al residence, where they were greeted almost immediately by Azvida.

“Oh good,” she said. “I was hoping you’d get back soon. Zilag was here looking for you. He just left not too long ago. I told him he could come back here after a little while.”

Solonn started to turn to leave at once.

“No, you don’t,” Azvida said. She shifted the ice on the walls to form a barrier in front of Solonn. “Now, I don’t know what’s going on between you two, but I think it’s time you sorted it out. And you’re not leaving until you do just that.”

Solonn grudgingly started toward his room, but was obstructed once again, this time by his mother’s face.

“And might I ask why you’ve brought a zubat here?” she asked.

“He needs out,” Solonn said.

“Fine, then. I’ll deal with that, and you’ll stay here and wait for Zilag,” Azvida said. “And I mean it, stay here. I’ll know if you don’t.” With that, she left, leading Zyrzir away with her.

And just how would you know? Solonn wondered, but he decided not to chance it. He went to his room, and for several minutes he just sat there with nothing to do but dread Zilag’s visit. He wished he could devise a way to distract himself from that inevitability, but when he tried to think of one, he couldn’t come up with anything at all.

The reason was that Zyrzir’s voice was still infesting his brain for some reason. It was leaving no room whatsoever for any other thought processes to take place. Solonn tried to displace those memories, but it remained firmly stuck in his head, the words repeating again and again at a maddening pace. It was genuinely giving him a headache at this point.

He groaned. “Why couldn’t he just shut up?” he wondered aloud. “Gods, it was nonstop: ‘Are we there yet? Brrr, it’s cold! You’re my friend!’”

Solonn abruptly shut his mouth in surprise. That impression of Zyrzir’s voice had been eerily close to the real thing… Feeling a giddy little spark of wonder, he tried it out again. “Hi, I’m Zyrzir! And I’m… so… annoying!”

Dead on! he congratulated himself silently, bursting into laughter. It was then that the iron grip of the Zyrzir-voice on his brain finally relented, the headache subsiding all at once. In their wake, an idea occurred to him: maybe now he could give people something to talk about that they just might find more interesting than his recent abduction…

Grinning in anticipation, Solonn put on the Zyrzir-voice once more. “Wait’ll Zilag hears this!”

* * *​

In time, Azvida returned, checking at once to see if her son was still home. Shortly thereafter, Zilag arrived. Azvida showed him to Solonn’s room right away, then left the two snorunt alone.

“Uh…” Zilag started somewhat warily as he stood several paces behind Solonn, who had his back turned toward him.

Solonn turned slightly to acknowledge Zilag, wearing an unreadable expression.

“Yeah, hi,” Zilag said awkwardly, sounding a bit troubled. “I just… you know, wanted to make sure that you’re okay.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Solonn asked nonchalantly.

“Well… since that thing that happened—”

“I really don’t want to talk about that,” Solonn interrupted flatly. “I can’t anyway—I said I don’t remember anything about that, and that’s the truth.”

“I know! I believe you!” Zilag said.

“And what about the others?” Solonn asked. “Have they finally got it through their heads yet?”

“I told them to quit bugging you about that. I figured out that was why you’ve been avoiding everybody.”

“And you’re sure they’ll really listen to you?” Solonn asked, wearing a skeptical look on his face.

“Well, even if they won’t listen to me, I bet they’d listen to you. You’re taller than any of us,” Zilag pointed out.

“Not by that much,” Solonn said, rolling his eyes. “And I am not going to start pushing people around just because I’m bigger than them,” he said, sounding slightly offended.

“That’s not exactly what I meant… ” Zilag said—although it was almost what he meant. “Look, I just want you to be able to go out without having to worry about being harassed,” he said earnestly, “and I promise I’ll do whatever I can to keep people off your back about—well, you know what.”

Solonn turned around completely to face Zilag. Smiling, he said, “Thanks. I appreciate that.”

“No problem,” Zilag said coolly. “So, uh… feel like hitting the snowgrounds and letting everybody know you’re still alive?”

“Well…” Solonn began. Then, he smiled craftily. Time to bring out the secret weapon… “Sure, why not?” he said perkily in his impression of Zyrzir’s voice.

Zilag stood completely still and silent for a moment as if petrified, his mouth slightly agape as he stared like an idiot. “…What was that?” he finally asked.

“That,” Solonn said slyly, “was the voice of a zubat.”

Zilag continued staring stupidly for a moment. Then he broke into disproportionately loud giggles, which brought Azvida rushing into the room.

“What’s going on in here?” she asked, sounding fairly bewildered.

“I’m sorry,” Zilag said, gasping a bit. He gestured toward Solonn. “It’s just him; he’s doing something funny. Do that zubat voice again!” he then requested of Solonn.

“Zubat voice?” Azvida asked with a puzzled look at her son.

Solonn hesitated, not sure how his mother would react to his impression; perhaps this sort of thing fell under the category of disrespecting the “sacred prey”. In the end, he reckoned she probably wouldn’t take it too seriously—it was just a silly little impression, after all.

Proceeding with his performance, “Hi, I’m Zyrzir! My voice causes brain damage!” he chittered cheerfully.

Azvida’s eyes widened. Then she laughed, albeit in a much more subdued way than Zilag had. “Oh gods,” she said once it had subsided, “that sounds exactly like him. I’d thought I’d never hear that horrid voice again!”

“Isn’t it just awful?” Solonn said, keeping the zubat voice.

“Oh yes,” Azvida agreed, chuckling a bit more as she turned to exit the room.

“You have got to go and do that at the snowgrounds,” Zilag said once she’d left. “I bet everyone’ll be there if we go now.”

“Okay, then,” Solonn said in his own voice, smiling. “Let’s go.”

The two of them passed by Azvida as they headed out. “Guess you’re going to go show off to everyone you can, aren’t you?” Azvida teased Solonn.

“Guess so,” Solonn admitted as he and Zilag left the Zgil-Al residence.

Azvida was glad to see that Solonn was up for social interaction again, especially given the way that he’d found to go about it. She chuckled to herself again in amusement and pride as she thought about Solonn’s zubat impression again. She not only thought it was funny—Zyrzir’s was the single most ridiculous voice and manner of speaking she’d ever heard, after all—she also thought that it was uncannily, even disturbingly accurate.

How does he do that? she wondered. Solonn’s zubat impression was so accurate that it was as if he wasn’t just using the zubat’s voice, but also—

Azvida stopped laughing, quite astounded, as she realized that no, her son wasn’t merely using the voice of a zubat. He was using their language, as well.


* * *​

Once Solonn and Zilag arrived at the snowgrounds, Solonn produced the zubat impression yet again. It went over fairly well with the crowd of snorunt who were gathered there.

“That was so cool!” Reizirr said.

“Yeah,” Davron agreed. “Hey, let’s see if I can do it.” Davron’s attempt at a zubat impression didn’t sound like anyone or anything other than Davron, however. “Aw, crap…”

“Just keep trying,” Solonn said, and using the zubat voice in demonstration, added, “Like this, see?”

“Wow, that’s so impressive,” said a sarcastic voice, one not belonging to a snorunt. Everyone in attendance turned toward its source. There, at the entrance to the snowgrounds, lingered a smirking glalie.

“Kashisha, go away!” Zilag hissed. Kashisha was his older sister—though he wished she weren’t.

Ignoring her brother entirely, Kashisha advanced into the room, shoving aside any snorunt unfortunate enough to be in her path. “Seriously, I thought there was an actual zubat in here,” she went on, “but it turns out to be just a bunch of snow-twerps. Shame, really. I was looking forward to biting its wings off.”

She stopped in front of Solonn. “You’re the one responsible for that little trick?” she asked.

Solonn remained utterly still and silent, wary of interacting with Kashisha in any way.

“Better answer her,” Zilag said. “She’s evil incarnate.”

“Why, thank you for the compliment, dear brother,” Kashisha said in a sugary tone, abruptly getting in Zilag’s face; with a tiny squeak of fright, he dove into hiding under the snow. Then she got in Solonn’s face. “Well?”

“Yes,” Solonn confirmed in a small voice.

“Oh, I’m sorry, what was that? I didn’t hear you…” Kashisha said melodiously.

“I said yes! It was me!” Solonn shouted.

Kashisha backed off slightly—very slightly. “Well, then. I guess that makes you pretty cool—for a stupid kid, anyway,” she said.

Stupid kid? Solonn thought indignantly. You’re barely any older than I am! Which was true; Kashisha was only twenty-one months his senior, and just a year older than her brother. But she, like all her friends, had chosen to evolve early (six years ago, in her case). And like them, she treated those who waited until a respectable age to evolve like dirt.

“I have a request for you, zubat-boy,” Kashisha said then. “Let’s hear… a spheal. Can you do that? Or is that too hard for the little baby?”

The distinct feeling that Solonn got from Kashisha was that he’d better deliver. He tried hard to remember the way that Sophine had sounded. All of a sudden, the memory of that voice flooded his mind in just the same way that the memory of Zyrzir’s voice had done right before he’d replicated it for the first time, though without the pain.

“Is this what you mean?” Solonn asked, using Sophine’s voice. This earned some impressed noises from the crowd and an approving nod of sorts from the glalie hovering before him.

“Bravo,” Kashisha said, grinning wickedly. “Say… why don’t you come with me and entertain some of my friends?”

“I don’t know…” Solonn wanted to back away from her, but he felt rooted to the spot.

“Oh, I think you’d better—unless you’d rather I snap you in half…”

“Okay, fine, I’ll go!”

“Good! And while we’re at it…” Kashisha plunged her face into the snow, pulled Zilag out of hiding, and dropped her protesting brother at Solonn’s feet. “He’ll be coming along with us, too. He is your best friend, after all, right? Surely he wouldn’t want to miss your big debut in front of a real audience?”

“No, ma’am, I wouldn’t,” Zilag said weakly in defeat.

“Off we go, then!” Kashisha said merrily. She circled around Solonn and Zilag and began shoving them along before her. The two snorunt got moving in a hurry as Kashisha herded them out of the snowgrounds.

“What should we do?” Reizirr asked once Kashisha and her victims had left.

“Start composing their eulogies,” Davron answered grimly.

* * *​

Solonn and Zilag scrambled to stay on their feet and ahead of Kashisha’s periodically snapping jaws. She’d driven them into a part of the warren that Solonn had never seen before. With one last shove, she brought the journey of the two snorunt to an end, forcing them into a wide, low-ceilinged room.

Solonn saw at once that he, Zilag, and the glalie who’d brought them here weren’t the only ones present. The room was also occupied by nine other glalie who were sitting in a row and glaring at the two snorunt like some sort of sinister council.

“I see you brought your pathetic little brother again,” the male in the center of the row said. “I’m getting bored of tormenting him, though… but who’s this other brat?”

“This is Solonn,” Kashisha told him. “He’s our new court jester,” she added with a grin. She nudged Solonn toward the glalie in the center of the row. “That, Solonn, is Sanaika, the Master of Ceremonies. And I do mean ‘master’. Bow before him!”

“Yes, bow!” Sanaika snapped.

Solonn lowered his head slightly. Sanaika responded by spitting a chunk of ice that struck him in the forehead, eliciting a shout of pain from the snorunt.

“The Master approves! You are now initiated into the Fellowship of Slaves!” Kashisha said gleefully. “Now! Perform for your master!”

With a small sigh, Solonn ran through his impression of Zyrzir’s voice, followed by that of Sophine’s voice. Then, after rummaging briefly through his memories, he produced a third impression: the voice of Sophine’s mother.

“What an entertaining little weenie you are!” Sanaika remarked once Solonn had finished.

“I knew you’d like him!” Kashisha exclaimed proudly. “That sealeo voice trick at the end was a nice touch, by the way,” she told Solonn.

“Yeah, but I can think of one impression that I guarantee you he doesn’t know,” Sanaika said. The glalie at either side of him gazed expectantly at him with looks of toadying curiosity. “Human.”

“Oh, that’s brilliant!” Kashisha crowed, her eyes flashing diabolically. The other glalie echoed her enthusiastic approval.

“…Wait, did you say ‘human’?” Solonn asked. He was sure he couldn’t have heard that right…

“Yes, you little turd, human,” Sanaika spat disdainfully. “You know, those weird, stupid-looking things with the long limbs and tiny little heads who sound completely ridiculous when they talk…”

“And taste like crap,” the glalie to Sanaika’s left offered.

You wouldn’t know,” Sanaika scoffed at him. “But yes, they do taste like crap.”

“Humans don’t exist,” Solonn dared to say. “They’re just a myth…”

All of the glalie stared incredulously at Solonn. Zilag quickly looked away from him, fearful that something hideous was about to befall his friend.

“Oh, they do exist,” Sanaika said in a low, rather ominous voice. “In fact, you’re going to find out for yourself just how real they are, and you might find yourself very, very grateful that they are, too.”

Sanaika brought himself to hover right in front of Solonn, just inches away from his face. “I am giving you a quest and an offer. You’ll go up to where the humans are. You’ll meet one, see them with your own eyes, and hopefully get to hear the idiotic sound of their voice. And if you can return to us with a perfectly realistic impression of that voice, then I promise you’ll never have to come here again if you don’t want to.”

“What do you say, little baby? You want to go human-hunting?” Kashisha asked playfully.

“Oh, it’s not his choice,” Sanaika told her. “Now, you and the others can stay here and babysit your little brother while I deliver this twerp to his date with a human.”

“Aw, we wanted to come and watch!” Kashisha said. The other glalie griped, as well, and one of them even snapped at Sanaika in her outrage. Sanaika turned toward the offender. His eyes suddenly turned a blazing white, and a resounding crack split the air. His would-be attacker’s eyes rolled back, and she dropped heavily to the floor.

Solonn shuddered. That had been a nhaza, a glalie’s primary predatory weapon. It can't kill us, he reminded himself. Azvida had told him as much. The worst it could do to any of their own kind was to knock them out. Sure enough, the stricken glalie quivered very slightly where she lay—still breathing.

He shuddered again all the same.

“You brain wrecks!” Sanaika said. “We can’t all gather at the exit like that! Do you not realize how conspicuous we’d be? What if we were spotted by some ball-chucking human, huh? Or worse, by the authorities? Now, all of you, stay put, or else you’ll all find icicles where you’d rather not.”

With that, Sanaika seized Solonn rather harshly in his jaws and set off into the warren with him. He carried the snorunt through a series of tunnels that led, much to Solonn’s surprise, up to the very same cavern where Solonn had met Sophine and her mother all those years ago. Then Sanaika left the cavern, sealing the exit behind him with a wall of ice.

Solonn knew there was no way for him to get through that ice wall. Barriers like that one were commonplace in the warren, existing to control where snorunt could and couldn’t go. The ice they were made of was too thick for even teeth like his to break through. It was reinforced with the raw power of the ice element and could only be removed by the kind of control over ice that no snorunt possessed.

He knew the tunnel that led up into this place from the snowgrounds had been blocked off in the same way not long after Kashisha had told on Zilag for encouraging others to travel through it. Zilag had told him as much years ago. So it seemed there was no option for Solonn other than to sit and wait for some glalie—and hopefully a decent one rather than someone like Sanaika—to discover he was here. He figured he couldn’t rightly get into trouble like last time once he’d had a chance to tell how, and because of whom, he’d ended up here—or, at least, he hoped he couldn’t…

Solonn fidgeted where he sat, hoping he wouldn’t have to wait much longer to be discovered, regardless of any punishment that might or might not be awaiting him. He was getting nervous about being here, and when he realized that it was because of those humans that Sanaika had spoken of, he couldn’t help but give a little laugh.

Gods, that’s not what you’re afraid of, is it? Solonn thought incredulously. Don’t be stupid, he scolded himself silently. You know there’s no such thing as humans!

“Well, well, well. I just knew that if we kept coming back here, we were sure to find one sooner or later.”

Startled, Solonn jumped to his feet at the unexpected, somewhat gruff-sounding voice. He turned toward its source. Standing only a couple of feet away was a manectric, but Solonn had no way of recognizing that. The electric-type had managed to sneak right up behind Solonn, completely unnoticed until he’d spoken.

“Who… who are you?” Solonn asked nervously.

“Oh, there’ll be plenty of time for introductions once we’re back in Lilycove, buddy,” the manectric said. He then unleashed a chilling, wavering howl, which was magnified and echoed by the cavern.

As the howl faded, another sound arose. Solonn recognized it as the sound of snow crunching underfoot, but these footfalls sounded much heavier than those of any snorunt. The footsteps were approaching swiftly, and soon their owner came into view.

For a very long moment, Solonn’s mind went blank at the sight of the newcomer. They do exist, he finally managed, his eyes wide with wonder. Some tiny part of him still insisted it was impossible, but the creature that now stood a short distance before him fit Sanaika’s description of a human well enough to make him believe otherwise.

“Ah, Brett, you found one! Good job!” the human said brightly. Her voice surprised Solonn; he didn’t think it fit Sanaika’s descriptions of how humans sounded at all.

The human detached a pokéball from its resting place at her hip. It expanded in her hand, more than tripling in size. “Come out, Aaron!” she said.

The sphere burst open at its equator. Energy exploded from within it in a surge of white light, and then, much to Solonn’s astonishment, it coagulated into a living creature. Another unfamiliar creature—a sceptile—now stood at the human’s side.

“Don’t be afraid, snorunt,” the human said gently. “We don’t really want to hurt you. We’re going to make this as easy on you as possible. You won’t even feel a thing.”

She looked toward Brett and then toward Aaron. “Thunder wave and false swipe, please,” she instructed them respectively. The two pokémon gave quick nods of acknowledgment, then began moving toward Solonn. Brett’s fur crackled with dancing sparks of electricity, while one of the bladelike structures at Aaron’s left wrist took on a white glow.

Solonn could only stand and stare at first, transfixed by fascination and lingering disbelief at the human and the two pokémon who accompanied her. Then he screamed and tried to make a run for it.

Brett released a small pulse of electric-type energy, which caught the fleeing snorunt with ease. Solonn cried out at the initial pain as the attack struck him, but a second later, that pain was gone—along with all other sensation throughout his body. His legs gave out from under him in the next instant, and he toppled over onto his side.

Aaron was now standing over him, peering down through dull yellow eyes as he raised his glowing wrist blade. But Solonn couldn’t see this. His view of Aaron was limited to the sceptile’s tail and clawed feet. He didn’t see the careful, precise strike that left him on the sheer edge of consciousness, and just as the human had promised, he didn’t feel it either.

“All right, that ought to do it,” the human said. From a pouch strapped to her shoulder, she produced another capture ball, a great ball this time.

Barely able to stay conscious, Solonn didn’t quite register the human’s next action: she threw the ball at him. It opened in midair before him and released a red beam that struck him and filled his fading vision with crimson light.

One second, Solonn was lying paralyzed and nearly unconscious on the cavern’s floor. The next… he was nowhere.
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Location
*aurorus noise*
Chapter 3 – The Deal


Solonn felt a number of things when he was released from the capture ball. First came sheer relief, both at no longer being drained and paralyzed (he distantly wondered how he had recovered so completely and suddenly) and, to a greater degree, at just being out of that ball—its particular style of confinement was just too surreal. He’d been conscious all the while that he’d been inside, but didn’t seem to actually exist. It was as though the great ball had reduced him to nothing more than a mind without a body, impossible though such a thing should be. Trying to make sense of it earned him nothing more than a headache, so Solonn pushed that particular matter aside for the time being.

With the mysteries of the capture ball no longer first and foremost on his mind, Solonn’s focus shifted to the human who stood nearby. Since his captor was no longer wearing the heavy clothing that had protected her from the cold of Shoal Cave, she looked somewhat smaller now, and with her head no longer covered by a hood, he could now see her brown, shoulder-length hair.

The next thing Solonn noticed about his present situation was that the environment he had been brought into was too warm for his liking. “Er… excuse me,” he said as he looked up at the human. “It’s a little too warm in here… could you do anything about that?”

The human merely stared at him in response.

Solonn repeated his request. This time, the human cocked her head a bit and smiled at him, but she still didn’t answer, nor did she make any move to change the temperature.

It was then that Solonn realized the human wasn’t understanding a single word he was saying. This didn’t make sense; whenever Solonn had encountered a member of another species before, they’d been able to understand him just like his own people could. Why, he wondered, was the human any different?

Solonn wondered if she might understand him if he were to speak to her with a human voice. As he considered it, memories of her voice filled his mind, and he was sure he could pull off an imitation of it.

With that confidence, he was about to give it a try—but then stopped himself. Doing these “impressions” was what had gotten him swept up into this situation to begin with. It was because he’d revealed that talent that he’d gotten mixed up with Sanaika’s gang, and now—it hit him all at once—he would likely never see home again.

Solonn started trembling in a sudden panic, and the human reacted right away. “Oh, poor little guy,” she said, looking upon him with pity as she knelt down in front of him. “It’s okay; you have nothing to be scared of.”

She opened her arms to Solonn, which only confused him. She then wrapped her arms around him and tried to lift him up, but he was heavier than she’d expected. Solonn, meanwhile, didn’t like what she was doing. For a moment, his instincts took over, and he tried to wriggle free of her grasp. He just barely managed to stop himself short of biting her.

Finally, recognizing both the futility of her efforts and Solonn’s aversion to what she was trying to do, the human gave up and let go of him. Shaking the cold from her arms, she stood and fetched a pillow from the bed. She placed it on the floor for Solonn to sit on, hoping it’d make him more comfortable. The snorunt ignored it completely, giving her a penetrating stare.

The human sighed. “Okay. I’ll tell you what: I’ll go get you something nice, something I promise you’ll like. In the meantime, I’ll give you a chance to get acquainted with a couple of your new friends. You’ve already met Aaron and Brett, but I have three other pokémon friends. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait to meet Sei until she gets out of the pokémon center; she’s been pretty sick. But you can go ahead and introduce yourself to these two.”

She removed two capture balls from her belt and released their occupants in twin surges of white light. A skarmory materialized at her right, while a claydol appeared at her left. There was something strangely disconcerting on a very primal level about the former, but Solonn couldn’t quite place what it was.

“This is Raze,” the human said as she pointed at the skarmory, “and this is Ominous.” She pointed at the claydol. “Oh… I forgot to introduce myself, didn’t I?” she realized aloud with a giggle. “My name is Morgan Yorke. Anyway, these pokémon are some of my best friends, and I just know that ultimately you and I are going to be really good friends, too. See you in a few minutes!” she said, then left the room.

For a moment, the other two pokémon just stared at Solonn, and he could only stare back. He soon began to wish they’d stop it, particularly with regards to Ominous—it was more than a little unnerving to have that many eyes staring at him from the same face.

All those eyes left no room on Ominous’s face for a mouth, which made it quite the surprise when the claydol spoke to him—although it didn’t sound as though Ominous was actually saying anything. Their voice consisted of a rapid-fire series of low-pitched, hollow-sounding noises. Solonn got an immediate sense that he could never replicate that voice, no matter how hard he tried.

“With your brain, nitwit!” Raze squawked, interrupting the claydol.

Ominous winced, closing all of their eyes in unison. <I apologize,> they said. <I should not still be forgetting about that…>

A second after Ominous had spoken, Solonn realized, astounded, that he hadn’t exactly heard what they’d said. While their actual voice had rattled on incomprehensibly in his ears, the claydol’s words had sounded within his mind, almost as if they were his own thoughts. Solonn wasn’t quite sure what to make of this phenomenon.

<As I was attempting to say,> Ominous went on, <the name by which Morgan called me is not my actual name. My true name is Oth.>

“My name really is Raze, though,” the skarmory said, sounding less than happy about it. “I was born in this house, and that’s when Morgan gave me that name. I don’t think it’s such a great name, but…” She ruffled her magenta-feathered wings in the skarmory equivalent of a shrug. “So, what’d she name you?” Raze asked then.

“Er… I don’t know,” Solonn admitted. “My real name is Solonn, though.”

<She must not have given him his new name yet, then,> Oth supposed.

“Maybe she isn’t going to give me another name,” Solonn said.

“Oh, she’ll give you one,” Raze said. “Maybe you’ll like it, and maybe you won’t. But you’ll be grateful for it, and also grateful that you got landed with Morgan and not some other coordinator, because with some coordinators, you would just get called ‘Snorunt’.”

“…Coordinators?” Solonn had never heard of such a thing.

Raze cocked her head at Solonn. “You have a lot to learn,” she said.

“Then you have a lot to explain,” Solonn countered. “What’s a coordinator?”

“Well, a coordinator is your human coach and partner for the contests,” Raze explained. “And before you ask: in a contest, you just basically have to show off your powers. Use them in ways that impress humans. In your case, that means you can’t just blow a couple of snowflakes at them and expect to win.”

Somehow the idea of “showing off” for the humans was less than appealing—in fact, it rather reminded Solonn of being ushered off by Kashisha to show off for her friends. “Wait, why would I want to do this, anyway?” he asked. “What’s in it for me?”

Raze’s yellow eyes suddenly widened with glee. “I’ll show you!” she said eagerly, then speedily crossed the room. “Come here!” she beckoned, standing before a bookcase that was just a bit shorter than she was. After a moment of skeptical hesitation, Solonn complied. “Have a look at these!” Raze said once the snorunt had joined her, inclining her head toward something sitting on the top shelf.

“I can’t see up there,” Solonn told her.

“Oh… oops,” Raze said with a small, embarrassed laugh. Somewhat awkwardly, she used her beak to pick up the thing she was trying to show to Solonn, then set it down on the floor between herself and the snorunt.

Solonn peered at the thing she’d placed before him. It was a large, flat, plastic case. Through its transparent lid, he could see a collection of twelve small trinkets: colored ribbons, each adorned with a little metal medallion. The case also contained slots for eight more of these ribbons.

“The red ones are mine,” Raze said, positively radiating pride, “the yellow ones are Oth’s, and the green ones are Sei’s. Now, yours, if I’m not mistaken, are gonna be blue.”

“Hm.” You sure are assuming a lot, Raze… It was going to take more than just a bunch of ribbons to convince Solonn that these “contests” were anything he wanted to be involved with. “So,” he spoke up after a long moment’s silence, looking up from the ribbon case and right into Raze’s eyes, “this is what Morgan keeps us for?”

“Well, yeah, pretty much,” Raze answered. She put the ribbon case back up on top of the bookcase, taking one last moment to admire her ribbons before turning her attention fully to the snorunt once more.

“So… suppose I didn’t want to be a part of these contests… would she take me back home, then?” Solonn asked.

There was a prolonged silence. Raze and Oth exchanged awkward glances.

“Well?” Solonn pressed.

<Solonn…> Oth began hesitantly. <Morgan had been seeking a snorunt to train for entry into contests for quite some time. She has spent many hours composing routines and strategies for you… I do not imagine that she would want her plans to go to waste.>

“Well, maybe she can just go find some other snorunt for the job,” Solonn suggested. “Someone who actually wants it.”

<I do not believe you would really want that,> Oth said. <You do not truly wish for another snorunt, possibly one of your friends, to be taken from his or her home just so that you can return to your own.>

Solonn stared agape at Oth for a moment. The claydol was completely right; Solonn didn’t even try in the slightest to contradict them.

“This… this is your home now, Solonn,” Raze said, knowing the consolation was futile even as she offered it. “You’ll get used to it eventually; I know you will.”

“Yeah, of course you can say that,” Solonn muttered, not really bothering to make himself inaudible. “You were born here.”

“I—” Raze began to counter, but she couldn’t quite find the right words and thus abandoned her comeback with a sigh.

The door opened, and Morgan returned. Another human female accompanied her this time, slightly taller and with shorter, darker hair.

“There he is,” Morgan said as the two entered, pointing at Solonn. “What do you think of him?”

“Oh, he’s adorable,” the other human remarked. She stooped slightly to bring herself closer to the snorunt’s eye level. “Hi,” she said amiably. “Let me introduce myself. I’m Eliza, Morgan’s mother.” She extended her arms to Solonn with an expecting gaze.

“He doesn’t do hugs,” Morgan informed her.

“Oh… Well, that’s all right,” Eliza said, withdrawing her arms and straightening her posture. “What’s his name?” she asked.

“I’ve decided to call him Azrael,” Morgan replied.

Solonn gave her a funny look. That’s really the best you could come up with?

“Oh, that’s lovely,” Eliza commented.

Morgan smiled in response. Then she held a small, polystyrene bowl out in front of Solonn.

Distracted by the new human, Solonn hadn’t even noticed that Morgan had been holding the bowl. He now stared at it with uncertainty, edging somewhat closer to it to get a look inside. It contained something that looked more or less like snow but was bright blue.

“This is for you,” Morgan told him. “Try it, it’s really good.”

Solonn gazed into the bowl for another second or two, then turned a skeptical gaze toward Morgan.

“Go on, it’s tasty. I promise you’ll like it,” Morgan tried to assure him.

Still wearing a doubtful expression, Solonn took the bowl from Morgan’s hands. He hesitated for another long moment before unenthusiastically dipping his hand into the blue snow, scooping some of it up, and putting it in his mouth. The snow had a flavor he could’ve never imagined—he conceded at once that it was just as good as Morgan had promised, if not moreso.

However… the knowledge that performing tricks for people’s amusement like some kind of jester was apparently his sole purpose here, and that there seemed to be no way to return to the life that he’d previously known, was now attending heavily upon him, leaving a rather unpleasant feeling in the pit of his stomach. He didn’t feel like eating. With a despondent sigh, he set the bowl down and turned away from Morgan.

“Hey… are you feeling okay?” Morgan asked worriedly.

Solonn didn’t respond to her, neither then nor following her several subsequent attempts to get through to him. More than once, she tried to tempt him with that blue snow, but he continued to refuse it. He couldn’t change this new life, but for a while, at least, he could try to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t happening.

* * *​

The rest of the evening consisted of an awkward pattern of failed interactions between Solonn and his would-be coordinator. Morgan tried time and time again to converse and be friendly with him, but each time, she was met with resolute silence. After each unsuccessful attempt to socialize with him, she left him alone for an hour or so before giving it another go, only to fail to get through to him yet again.

She did, at least, leave Solonn out of the great ball through the night, for which he was grateful. Perhaps, he considered, she’d thought this would offer her new pokémon some time to get more accustomed to his surroundings. Instead the snorunt viewed it as a potential opportunity to flee from the human’s custody while she slept.

Unfortunately, he found out very quickly that escape wasn’t an option. The door was rendered an impassible barrier by a sliding lock, one that was installed at a height beyond Solonn’s reach. If it weren’t for the fact that Morgan’s bookcase contained small, pewter pokémon statues and nothing else, he might have been able to stack up a few books as a means to reach it.

The room’s only window was within Solonn’s reach, but it didn’t offer an avenue of escape, either; Morgan’s room was upstairs in a two-story house. Though by no means enjoying his present situation, Solonn didn’t want to escape it by falling to likely injury and possible death.

Having given up on finding a way to slip out, he just sat there on the windowsill, staring out through the window at the alien environment outside. This was not his world, not his place… but he couldn’t deny that he found it fascinating, even kind of lovely, as he watched the light show put on by the cars below.

Though tired in many ways, most of which weren’t physical, Solonn found that he couldn’t sleep. His eyes remained open and fixed on the city outside, watching as the rising sun brought a new day over the horizon.

A couple of hours later, Morgan stirred nearby in her bed, waking up. Sighing, Solonn turned away from the window at last, wondering how the human would try to reach him today.

He got his answer quite shortly. Morgan left the room for a few minutes, then returned with more of that blue snow and set it down in front of him. He accepted it this time and ate nearly all of it, but only because he was earnestly very hungry. The human smiled at him as she took away the empty bowl, then left to have her own breakfast.

It was when she returned that she attempted to step up the level of interaction between herself and her new pokémon a little more.

“I’ll bet you’re wondering why you’re here, aren’t you?” she said, trying to sound as kindly and non-threatening as possible. “Well, you don’t have to worry. It’s not going to be anywhere near as scary as you might think. In fact, I bet you’ll have more fun than you’ve ever had before.”

Morgan proceeded to illustrate her intention to enter Solonn in contests, not really telling him anything that he hadn’t already heard from Raze and Oth the evening before. He pretended not to pay any attention to her, though in reality he was absorbing her every word. It seemed that he simply couldn’t tune out an alien voice.

The day progressed, and Morgan continued to share her ideas, telling him about the routines he could employ in contests. As she spoke, he had to admit to himself that she didn’t sound as though she truly had any malevolent intentions for him. She wasn’t really coming across as a human version of Kashisha; as far as he could tell, she only had a friendly desire to invite him into her strange little hobby, not any intent to prey on him in any sense.

Whether Morgan’s intentions were benign or not, Solonn still wasn’t too keen on the idea of making a spectacle of himself, having learned all too well how that could earn the wrong kind of attention. There was also still the matter of his captor’s unwillingness to let Solonn leave if he wished, which made it hard for him to readily accept any sort of friendship or partnership with her. As such, when Morgan offered to begin Solonn’s training, he refused her efforts to bring him into the role she’d chosen for him, in silent protest of his detainment.

That night, Solonn sat in the moonlight once again, contemplating his situation as he perched upon the windowsill and gazed outside. Lilycove bore no resemblance to the world Solonn had known, which left him certain that he was very far from home—too far for him to make it back there by himself.

His eyes fell upon the bed where the human was peacefully sleeping. Solonn wanted to go home again, but this creature wouldn’t allow it.

Wait, though… how do I really know she wouldn’t? the thought occurred to him. Raze and Oth had implied that Morgan had no intentions of letting him go, but the human herself had never said anything along the lines of, You’re never leaving. You’re mine forever.” Morgan had never specifically mentioned anything at all regarding whether or not Solonn could ever leave. Moreover, she didn’t even know that he wanted to.

What if she did know? he wondered. But he could really only guess what her response would be, for the problem remained that she was, for whatever reason, unable to understand his speech. He could not communicate with her.

…Although, maybe he could. After all, he still hadn’t tried to see if Morgan could understand him if he were to speak like a human. He was still hesitant to attempt it, however. The memory of what the last use of his mimicry had earned for him was still fresh on his mind.

But the fact remained that Solonn would probably never know how Morgan would respond to his wish to go home unless he shared it with her. As he thought about it, it began to seem like he was doing himself more of a disservice by not giving it a try than by taking the risk.

Furthermore, he questioned if there really was that much of a risk involved where she was concerned. True, he’d gotten into trouble the last time he’d done impressions. But as he considered again, Morgan was no Kashisha, at least not as far as he could tell, so maybe it wouldn’t be like last time. Perhaps Morgan would simply hear him out and give him what he wanted without making him sorry for reaching out to her.

But then, Solonn found himself considering what Oth had told him: <I do not imagine that she would want her plans to go to waste.> Morgan truly seemed to have her heart set on entering contests with him, and he suspected that she wouldn’t abandon those plans so readily. He could tell her he wanted to leave, but as long as she held these intentions for him, what chance was there, really, that she’d let him go?

That’s when the idea hit him: maybe, just maybe, a deal could be struck.

Solonn carefully gauged the distance between the windowsill and the bed, then sprang from his perch. The mattress yielded to his weight with a bounce as he landed, yet Morgan slept on, snoring slightly. Solonn gazed at her from the foot of the bed. Her sleeping form glowed softly through the darkness with her warmth, giving her an almost spectrelike appearance.

Solonn made his way toward the concentrated glow that surrounded the human’s head as if it were a beacon. Morgan’s face was half concealed by a few errant strands of her hair. Solonn moved them aside, revealing the serene face of his captor. It was interesting, he thought, how a creature whose practice was to abduct people from their homes could look so incredibly benign. The snorunt then reached toward her face again, slowly drawing his hand across her cheek this time.

Morgan stirred, but only slightly. Solonn had assumed the contrasting cold of his hand against her warm skin would wake her, but he realized now that he should’ve recognized her as a heavy sleeper when jumping on the bed had failed to do the job. He began prodding her in the temple, hoping that that would wake her up. If it didn’t, he was prepared to do whatever was necessary. He wasn’t averse to giving her a small bite if that was what it took.

Luckily for Morgan (at least compared to the biting she’d have received otherwise), Solonn’s current efforts succeeded, if only because one of his prods missed its mark somewhat and found its way into her left eye.

“Hey!” she responded at once, waking up instantly but not quite fully. She lifted her head slightly from the pillow, grumbling incoherently and rubbing her sore eye for a moment, then shook her head in an effort to more fully awaken herself. Yawning loudly, she shifted and turned, sitting up a little more and craning her neck awkwardly to try and get a look at what could have possibly poked her in the eye. Her still-blurry vision just managed to make out the pointed silhouette of the snorunt standing next to her. Solonn’s eyelight partially illuminated his face and reflected brightly off of his teeth, giving him a rather eerie appearance.

“Hello, Morgan,” he said quietly, nearly whispering, in a voice that wavered slightly but sounded like Morgan’s nonetheless.

Morgan blinked sleepily at the snorunt for a second. “…Hi,” she said finally, half-yawning as she spoke.

Then she realized whom and what she’d just replied to.

In an instant, she was wide awake, sitting upright and staring with wide eyes at the pokémon beside her. For several seconds, a vocal response of any sort to the situation failed her. Eventually, she managed a half-gasped, “What?”

“I said hello,” Solonn repeated.

Morgan was silently agape for a brief while before she could get her next words out. “…But… no, you can’t…”

“Yes, I can.”

“But… how?” Morgan asked, her voice sounding rather strained.

“…I don’t know how I can,” Solonn admitted uneasily.

Morgan took a moment to digest that silently. “This is a dream,” she then decided aloud, and began to turn away from Solonn and back toward her pillow.

“No, it’s not,” Solonn said. “And you know it’s not.” He leaned over her slightly so that the light from his eyes washed over her face. “But if you want to be sure, I can bite you. It’d hurt, and I’m sorry it would, but you’d be sure you were really feeling it, I promise you.”

Morgan sat up once again. For a second, she looked at Solonn as if she wanted to accuse him of lying, but that gaze faltered almost as soon as it had formed. She turned slightly, seeming less than willing to look him in the eye now. “It’s okay, Azrael. You don’t have to bite me. I… I believe you.”

Solonn nodded slightly. “Good. That’s good,” he said, then sighed in slight relief. There went the first obstacle—Morgan seemed to have accepted that she could now understand him. Hopefully, he could count on her to hear him out now. “…But Morgan? My name isn’t Azrael. It’s Solonn,” he told her.

Morgan looked surprised for a moment, but quickly relaxed once more. “It shouldn’t surprise me that you have your own name,” she said, sounding a bit apologetic. “I bet a lot of pokémon do. Like Sei; she told me hers the first time she evolved, and I’ve been calling her that ever since. Before that, I’d been calling her Enchantress…”

Morgan chuckled faintly. “I liked that name, but she told me not to call her that anymore, so I don’t. Now, Ominous… Sei told me what their real name was, and so I asked them if they wanted me to start calling them Oth from now on—that’s their name—but according to Sei, they said not to. I think they might have been worried about hurting my feelings by turning down the name I gave them; they’re such a softie, really…”

“So… you mean you can understand Sei, too?” Solonn asked, a bit surprised.

“Yeah. But that’s only because she’s a very powerful psychic-type. She has really advanced telepathic skills, and that’s how she can make me understand her.”

“Oth has telepathy, too. Why can’t you understand them?” Solonn asked.

“…I actually didn’t know that they had telepathy,” Morgan said.

Oth must be hiding it from her… Solonn realized, and began to wonder why they would. He also began to worry that maybe he shouldn’t have told Morgan about their telepathy, seeing as Oth apparently desired to keep it a secret.

Morgan, meanwhile, was able to make eye contact with Solonn again. Her expression now spoke of burgeoning amazement. “…I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be goggling at you like this,” she said as she realized the way she was looking at him. “It’s just… God, this is so incredible. I thought pokémon had to use telepathy to make themselves understood.”

“Guess you were wrong,” Solonn said simply.

“Guess so.” Morgan laughed softly and smiled; she looked as if she were proud of him. Why she should be, Solonn couldn’t figure out; it wasn’t as if she were responsible for his ability to speak to humans.

The human’s features shifted suddenly, becoming strangely unreadable. “Hey. Could you do me a favor, though?” she asked.

“What?”

“Do you… do you have to sound like a human when you talk?” Morgan asked. A very odd look came over her face as she realized something. “Do you have to sound like me? How can you sound like me?” she asked, sounding slightly alarmed.

“Shh! Try to keep quiet; I don’t want your mother to wake up,” Solonn said. “And I already told you: I don’t know how I do it.”

“…Sorry,” Morgan said, lowering her voice significantly. “But anyway, could you just… um, not sound like me? No offense, but it’s… kind of weirding me out. Why don’t you just use your normal voice from now on, okay?”

Solonn was about to tell Morgan that she wouldn’t understand him anymore if he stopped using that voice. But then something caught in his mind: Why should what voice I use affect whether or not anyone understands me? A different voice should still produce the same words; it shouldn’t have the power to transform those words into others. If someone couldn’t understand him, he should have to use different words to be understood. Their words. Their language.

The gears of his mind momentarily stopped turning as epiphany struck him like a falling stone. The only way Morgan could be understanding him was if he was, in fact, speaking her language instead of his own. And that was precisely what he was doing.

Solonn was stupefied. How this could be possible? How could he just fluently speak a language that he didn’t, couldn’t know, a language of which he’d only heard a couple of handfuls of words? He swallowed hard, and his mouth went dry immediately afterward. He was fond of wondering, but his desire to understand this matter was so desperate that he could hardly stand it. He started trembling, his eyelight wavering.

“Is… is something wrong?” Morgan asked, sounding more than a little concerned.

Solonn met her gaze, the earnest care behind the human’s eyes managing to register despite everything else going on behind his own eyes at the time. He tried to respond but couldn’t decide what to say, especially since he wasn’t quite sure of how he should say it. He should be able to use his own voice, he tried to reason silently—it had to be the language and not the voice—but he still couldn’t quite believe it.

“It’s okay,” Morgan said. “If you’re not comfortable talking to me in your own voice, you don’t really have to.”

Solonn closed his eyes. “No,” he croaked softly, continuing to use Morgan’s voice, his throat feeling as though it were trying to seal itself shut. “No, it’s… it’s not that.”

To prove that wasn’t the issue, he’d have to try and speak to Morgan with his own voice while still speaking her language. The mental block was still there, the sense that he was doing something that shouldn’t be possible, but he’d just have to find his way around it.

Solonn took a deep breath and forced himself to return Morgan’s gaze once more. “…It’s nothing,” he finally managed. Conscious as he was of the seemingly impossible thing he was doing, every word felt like he was pushing a boulder out of his mouth. Get a grip, he tried to command himself, you’re supposed to be talking to her for a reason, remember? “Listen…” he began slowly, all too self-consciously. “I’m sorry I woke you… but we need to talk.”

Morgan nodded. “Okay. What about?”

“Well… it’s about those contests…”

“You don’t want to do them, do you?” Morgan said. “I’ve kind of gotten that impression.”

“…What?” Solonn was taken aback—he hadn’t expected her to have recognized his desires already. “No… I mean, I’d rather not, but… I’ll do them.”

“Azr—Solonn… you don’t have to. Seriously, if you don’t want to…”

“No, it’s okay,” Solonn insisted. By the impression he’d gotten from Raze and Oth, he’d imagined that Morgan would take offense to his wishes to have nothing to do with the contests. He’d thought she’d vehemently refuse to relinquish her plans for him. Yet here she was, ready to give up her intentions for him without any sign of a conflict. Suddenly Solonn felt rather guilty about his unfavorable preconceptions of her.

He sighed. “I know… I know you’ve been planning for this for a long time… and I know it means a lot to you. It’s… it’s not a big deal. Really. I’ll do it—but only on one condition.”

“What?” Morgan asked, with a troubled, doubtful look into Solonn’s eyes.

Solonn took another deep breath. “Okay. Raze and Oth… they showed me their ribbons. Four each. That’s… that’s how many I have to get myself, isn’t it? Four?” he asked. Morgan nodded. “Okay. After I get the fourth one—you have to promise me, Morgan—after I get that fourth ribbon… you have to let me go. You have to take me back home. Promise me, Morgan. Or I won’t do it.”

“Oh, Solonn…” Morgan’s gaze turned from merely troubled to earnestly sad, earnestly sorry. “If you want to go so bad, I’ll take you home right now. I’ll get Ominous out of their ball and wake them up, and we’ll teleport there right—”

“No!” Solonn interrupted her. His guilt had increased greatly—not only was Morgan fully accepting of his wishes regarding the contests, she was even completely ready and willing to take him right back home. And all this time, he’d imagined her as immovably, irreconcilably possessive of him, as a creature who’d never release his life from the grip of her own…

“No… I said it’s okay, and I meant it,” he insisted, trying his best to convey firm conviction in spite of the way his voice was shaking. “I’ll do this. I don’t mind, I really don’t, just as long as I know I’ll be going home when this is done. That way… that way, we can both get what we want.” He swallowed. “It’s only fair, don’t you think?”

There was a long silence. Morgan just stared at Solonn until an odd, strangled sound escaped from her throat. In the next moment, her eyes filled with tears, which shone in the moonlight as they streamed down her face. Solonn had never seen such a thing in his life; he couldn’t help but stare in wonder at it.

Morgan nodded, but that action was overshadowed by a sudden, forward motion that was halfway between lunging and collapsing. Her arms encircled Solonn, and she pressed her forehead against his. The snorunt stiffened, initially surprised by and resistant to the unexpected embrace, but he managed to relax quickly enough.

“Okay,” Morgan said, half-whispering. “If you’re really okay with this, then we’ll go ahead with it. And then afterward, I’ll take you home. I promise.”

Solonn nodded, acknowledging Morgan’s acceptance of his terms. He’d imagined that he’d be greatly surprised should the deal go through. Now he couldn’t believe he’d honestly expected it wouldn’t. Morgan cared as much about his wishes as her own; that much was now certain. She was perfectly willing to give him what he wanted. In return for that—and as an apology for harboring such harsh preconceptions, though he did a fairly good job of convincing himself that guilt had little to do with it—he’d give her what she wanted. It seemed only fair, after all.

The definite impression Solonn got from the human now was that her word could be trusted. One day, she’d take him home. But until then… It was now, with the initial panic at the thought of never returning to the warren having passed, that the opportunities of Solonn’s situation dared to come forward at last. Until the day when he’d return to Virc-Dho, perhaps he’d get to encounter and experience more strange things, more wonders he could never have conceived of. This, he reckoned, could be interesting…
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Location
*aurorus noise*

Chapter 4 – Spell of the Spotlight


The following morning brought a choice.

“All right, Solonn. The contest hall here in town will be holding two normal rank contests—those are the ones for newcomers—in the upcoming months,” Morgan said. “There’ll be one in three weeks, on the twenty-fifth, and then there’ll be another one two months afterward, on August twenty-fifth. Now, if you start your training now, you could enter into the earlier one, but you might want to wait until the August contest so you can get more practice in and be more prepared. But it’s your call, Solonn.”

“I’ll go for the earlier one,” Solonn said at once. In his mind, it was no question at all—the sooner he got started with these contests, the sooner he could be done with them and go home.

Morgan nodded. “Okay, then.” She’d have preferred for him to wait until the later contest; the extra time to prepare might have done him good. But she chose to respect Solonn’s choice and allowed his decision to stand.

* * *​

That afternoon, Solonn’s contest training began in earnest. It started in a strange manner: Morgan offered him a small, indigo-colored cube and told him to eat it, claiming it would help him do well in the contests.

Solonn looked at Morgan as if she were crazy. “How is this thing supposed to affect whether or not I win?”

“Well… what it does is it refines your appearance. These pokéblocks will help you look as healthy and as… er, handsome as you can look. Making a good visual impression on the audience and judges is very important.”

Solonn continued to gaze skeptically at the human. Whatever, he decided finally, and took the pokéblock from Morgan, devouring it quickly. The little candy was… okay; it was kind of good, except it had this funny, sort of sour aftertaste. That was really the only fault Solonn could find with the pokéblock, though, and it was really only mildly unpleasant—at first. Then he found the little candy cube beginning to disagree with him… then to strongly disagree with him…

Morgan looked on with pity and poorly concealed revulsion. But the snorunt’s reaction to the candy didn’t dissuade her from attempting to feed him another one later that evening. Solonn resisted at first—he wasn’t exactly eager to throw up again, after all.

“This one’s different,” Morgan tried to assure him. “I made more than one formula since I didn’t know which you’d do best with. Unfortunately, they just so happen to be the same color—but I promise you, they’re not the same. I even got rid of all of the other kind, so there won’t be any mix-ups.”

Solonn stared warily at her for a long while, his stomach threatening to go sour at just the mere memory of what the last pokéblock had done to him. Then, with a resigned sigh, he accepted the identical yet supposedly different pokéblock—and immediately discovered that Morgan had indeed been telling the truth. This little indigo cube was a far cry from its predecessor, with a great flavor and no disagreeable aftertaste. Seconds passed, and it showed no threat of sickening him. Solonn looked up at Morgan with an approving smile.

Morgan smiled back. “Ah, so this one’s a winner, huh?” Solonn nodded. “Good! Okay, then. You’ll be getting two of these a day until they’ve done as much for you as they can,” she told him.

This was certainly an aspect of contest training that Solonn didn’t mind in the least. Still, he was skeptical that merely eating candies would be enough to prepare him for any sort of competition. What else, he wondered, might Morgan have in store for him?

* * *​

Around noon the next day, Morgan left and returned a short while later accompanied by someone unfamiliar.

“Solonn, this is Sei Salma, an alakazam,” Morgan said.

The pokémon at her side bowed, her blonde mustache twitching slightly as she smiled warmly. <A pleasure to meet you,> the alakazam said, her telepathic “voice” simulating a slightly gruff contralto that Solonn guessed was also the sound of Sei’s actual voice. <I understand that you and Ms. Yorke have a most unique relationship, yes?>

“…What?” Somehow Sei’s statement had come across in a way that she surely hadn’t intended.

<You’re able to speak to Ms. Yorke in her own language, are you not?> Sei said.

“Oh… Yeah, that’s right,” Solonn confirmed, albeit a bit hesitantly.

<Ms. Yorke and I were discussing this on the way here. We’ve arrived at a conclusion regarding your abilities. It’s best that other humans don’t discover your abilities, don’t you agree?> Sei asked.

“Yeah,” Solonn said. “I’d really feel better if as few people knew about this as possible.” By “people” he was referring not only to humans but to other pokémon, as well. In fact, he really would’ve preferred for Morgan to ask him for permission before revealing his secret to Sei…

<I understand your concern,> Sei said then, <but I assure you, Ms. Yorke had your best interests in mind when she told me what you’re able to do. She wouldn’t have told me otherwise. Furthermore, you have my word that I won’t reveal your secret to anyone without your consent… And yes, I’ve just read your thoughts. I do try to tune such things out for the sake of courtesy, but…> She shrugged. <Sometimes thoughts are simply too strong to block.>

A mind-reader… Solonn figured that, courteous or not, Sei would’ve probably absorbed the knowledge of his abilities on her own sooner or later.

<The privacy of those with no form of mental defense is something my people take very seriously,> Sei assured him earnestly. <We wouldn’t be trusted very well by the majority of other species if we didn’t stay out of their minds as much as possible. Even with our measures to respect their privacy in place, many species still don’t trust us.>

Whether or not that was meant as a guilt-trip, it certainly worked as one. “…Sorry,” he said. “I’m sure you don’t mean to pry into anybody’s business.”

Sei gave a relieved, satisfied smile. <Now. Since protecting the secret of your skills is so important, I’m offering you a means to speak more securely with Ms. Yorke.>

“And what would that be?” Solonn asked.

<This.> There was a brief flash of light in Sei’s eyes.

<Well? What do you think?> Morgan asked.

<What do I think of… Hey! How are you using telepathy?> Solonn asked—then, with a jolt, he realized that he, too, was speaking telepathically.

<Sei. She’s connected us via her own mind,> Morgan explained. <That way, we can talk to each other without anyone figuring out that… well, that we can talk to each other, get it?>

<…I think so,> Solonn said, still somewhat bewildered at the notion of being able to communicate telepathically. There was something about it that made him feel oddly powerful yet kind of vulnerable at the same time. He wondered if he’d have agreed to try this if he’d known beforehand that it would involve his mind being opened and shared in such a way.

<Telepathic communication is undetectable to humans,> Sei told Solonn then, <and you should be concerned with protecting your secret from humans above all others. You see, pokémon who can speak to and be understood by humans are quite rare, and humans often look upon rarity as something from which they can profit. If certain humans learned of your abilities, they would seek to exploit you for their own ends. I can guarantee you that you wouldn’t find such exploitation to your liking.>

Solonn cast a troubled gaze at Morgan. <Is this true?> he asked. Morgan had come across as trustworthy, but now Solonn wondered if she was merely a rare exception to a generally untrustworthy species.

<Yes,> Morgan said, sounding more than a little ashamed. <Solonn, I would never want to see you exploited like that.>

<Well, I wouldn’t want that, either,> he said, shuddering slightly. He turned toward Sei. <Okay. I’ll accept your connection,> he said. <Thanks.>

<Think nothing of it,> the alakazam said, and with that she severed the psychic link between herself and the other two.

Sei’s offering was a welcome convenience indeed. As Solonn thought about it, something dawned on him: he wondered if the link could be used to let Morgan communicate with her other pokémon. After all, Sei’s telepathic abilities could trick people into hearing words they understood, thus eliminating the language barrier between Morgan and her pokémon. Why hasn’t Sei offered this to the others?

To Solonn’s surprise, Sei turned her gaze upon him and then shrugged her plated shoulders. “Because they never asked,” she said simply, using her natural voice and the language of her own kind this time. The snorunt only stared at her in response, not quite knowing how to reply.

Sei let out a long sigh. <Whew… It seems I’ve still got a bit of recovering to do before I’m quite up to speed again…>

“You want to return to your ball for a while?” Morgan asked her.

<Mmm… yes, I think so,> Sei answered. <I could do with a little time out of this poor, downtrodden flesh,> she added with a laugh.

Morgan chuckled. “All right, then.” She removed an ultra ball from her belt and recalled Sei with a beam of red light. The alakazam smiled wearily at Solonn before dissolving into energy and being drawn back into her ball.

“I just don’t understand how anybody could stand being inside one of those things,” Solonn said with a small shudder, eying the ultra ball as Morgan minimized it and reattached it to her belt. “It’s just so… ” He trailed off, unable to truly describe what it was like in a capture ball.

“So you really don’t like being in a ball, huh?” Morgan asked. Solonn made a disapproving noise and shook his head. “Well, okay. You don’t have to go back in there if you don’t want to,” she told him.

Solonn smiled at her. With no return to the great ball looming over him, the time he’d spend with Morgan would be much easier to endure—and perhaps even enjoy.

* * *​

Several hours later, Solonn stood outside with Morgan and Sei in the backyard. Though evening was approaching, the sun was still hot enough and bright enough to bother him. Direct sunlight had a peculiar sort of harshness about it that the artificial light indoors lacked.

There wasn’t much Solonn could really do about it, other than to seek shade. Without delay, he made his way across the yard to stand under the large sitrus tree that stood tall in the backyard. Much better, he thought, satisfied.

Morgan and Sei crossed the lawn to join Solonn. Sei promptly took a seat, leaning back contentedly against the trunk of the tree and opening a magazine. Meanwhile Morgan came to stand before the snorunt and presented a small, cylindrical plastic case. She opened it and produced a cyan-colored disc from inside.

<I’ll bet you’re wondering what this is, huh?> Morgan said, making use of Sei’s telepathy. <Well, this is a TM, Solonn. A technical machine. You can gain a new technique from it.>

An elemental technique being obtained from a little plastic disc. It wasn’t the most ridiculous idea Solonn had ever heard, although it came very close.

<Now, we might not even need to use this,> Morgan continued. <Let’s find out if we do… Solonn, could you show me the strongest ice-type technique you know?>

<The strongest? I guess that would be this.> Solonn called on the power of his element. The glow of his eyes intensified momentarily as he gathered the ice-type energy that he’d need for the technique. A second later, the elemental charge coalesced between his hands, then fired forth as a jagged, electric blue beam that blasted a flurry of frozen leaves and twigs from the branches as it streaked off toward the sky.

<Ice beam, huh? Okay, then it looks like we will need to use this.> Morgan knelt before Solonn, then popped open a compartment on one end of the TM case and slipped the disc inside. <There’s another, stronger ice technique that you’ll need to pull off your routine,> she said as she closed the compartment once more. <You’ll get it from this.>

Solonn eyed the case with uncertainty, his gaze caught and held by the lens that seemed to stare right back at him from one end of the case. <…This won’t hurt, will it?>

<No, it doesn’t hurt,> Sei tried to reassure him. <I’ve received one myself. It’ll be a funny feeling, but it won’t last long. You have nothing to fear from it.>

<Oh. Go ahead, then,> Solonn said, nodding toward Morgan.

Morgan nodded back, then activated the TM, bringing the lens to bear on Solonn’s forehead and pressing a button on the top of the case. It whirred to life, but apart from that nothing seemed to be happening at first; the beam projected by the case was invisible, and its initial impact was intangible.

Then, with a rather strong shudder, Solonn found himself overwhelmed by a sudden surge of power. It reminded him of how it felt to summon some of his ice-type techniques, only it was stronger and went straight to his head rather than spreading throughout his entire body. It escalated into a giddying rush, and when it reached its abrupt end, he found himself feeling incredibly lightheaded.

Solonn teetered comically for a moment, nearly falling onto his butt before he managed to shake himself out of his dizzy spell. <That was weird,> he remarked. <So, that’s it? That’s all it took?>

<Mmm-hmm. You’ve just learned the blizzard technique,> Morgan confirmed as she removed the disc from the front compartment and put it away. <Go on, try it out—but be careful where you aim it, though; it can be pretty nasty.>

<…Wait, blizzard? Are you serious?> Solonn asked. Morgan nodded, smiling brightly. But Solonn remained too bewildered to try out his new technique right away. It was just all too incredible that a simple disc could bestow any sort of power upon him, let alone one of the highest powers of his element.

Though still skeptical, Solonn finally decided to go for it. Once again, he gathered elemental energy. He felt a sizable thrill as the surge of power defied his expectations and answered his summons, then manifested itself in a blast of icy wind and snow.

As the blizzard howled forth, Solonn realized with a jolt of horror that he’d forgotten to aim the attack—its present course could blow a hole in the Yorkes’ back fence. Fortunately, the blizzard proved underpowered, petering out before it could do any real damage.

Solonn stared briefly at the small pile of snow that sat in the grass, watching as it began to melt in the heat of the June afternoon. That thing actually worked… He laughed to himself, pleasantly surprised.

<Not bad,> Morgan remarked. <That was just a little one, but with practice, you should be able to pull off a much more impressive blizzard. And wait ‘til you see what you can do when you combine that with other techniques!>

<You can actually do that?> Solonn asked, intrigued. He’d never seen multiple techniques used in combination, not even by glalie.

<Oh yes,> Morgan said. <In fact, artful combination of techniques is what contests are really all about. A good, creative, graceful presentation is what comes out on top every time. Now,> she went on, opening the TM case once more, <there’s another one of these that you won’t necessarily need, but it could still do you some good. Do you want to go ahead and take it now, or do you want to wait a little while before you take another one?>

Solonn considered it for a moment, finally deciding there was no real reason to turn the offer down. <I’ll take it,> he told Morgan. <Let’s do this now.>

The human nodded in acknowledgment and pulled another TM from the case, a fuchsia-colored disc this time. Solonn watched as she loaded it into the front compartment and activated it, wondering what sort of new power it would give him.

Absorbing this technique felt quite different this time. The sensation of connecting with the raw power of his element was absent—he wasn’t gaining an ice-type technique this time. Solonn didn’t even have a chance to guess the alien element of his new power; the rush that accompanied its acquisition was gone almost as swiftly as it had come.

<So what was that one?> Solonn asked once his head had cleared.

<Light screen,> Morgan answered. <It’s mostly a defensive technique, but there are also some pretty cool things you can do with it that are just for show. Try and call one up now,> she suggested. <It’s not as difficult or powerful a move as blizzard, so you should be able to pull it off pretty easily.>

<Okay.> Seeking the new, unfamiliar element within him, Solonn found the root of his new power and called it forth. There was a fleeting, tingling sensation in his head, peculiar but not unpleasant. Then he saw a bright pink aura form around each of his hands. He watched, fascinated, as it swiftly spread out into a force field that surrounded him completely.

<Wow… this is pretty neat…> Solonn said as he gazed upon the wall of psychic energy that now surrounded him. <Wait, though… how do I get out of this thing?>

<Oh, you don’t have to get out of it. You’re not trapped in one place by that thing; it’ll follow you as you move,> Morgan said.

Solonn decided to test that claim for himself. Sure enough, as he walked back and forth across the lawn, the shield that surrounded him stayed up and around him through his every movement. Then, unexpectedly, the light screen simply vanished.

<What happened?> Solonn asked.

<A light screen can only stay up for a few minutes at a time,> Morgan explained.

<Oh. So are there any more of these I can use?> Solonn asked with a glance at the case.

<I’m afraid not. Nearly all of the techniques you’ll be using come naturally to you—your routine will mostly be ice-based. Anyway, it’s not really very good for you to learn so many moves in one sitting. You could get a nasty headache,> Morgan said.

Solonn’s eyelight dimmed slightly; he was mildly disappointed to hear that he wouldn’t be gaining any more new abilities anytime soon. <Well, okay then. So now what?>

<Hmm. Right now, nothing,> Morgan replied. <You’ve really had enough excitement for one day. You may not feel like it right now, but physically, you’ve just had quite an experience. You’ve instantly learned two moves that usually take pokémon several years and lots of hard work to learn. Give it a little while, and you’ll probably start feeling pretty tired. So let’s just take it easy for the rest of the day, okay?>

Solonn nodded. He would’ve liked to go ahead and continue preparing for the upcoming contest, but his energy had begun to wane the moment Morgan had said it would.

<Your training will really start tomorrow,> Morgan told him. <You see, there are three rounds to each contest. Each one’s different, so you’ll be training in different ways.

<For the first round, we’ll just go out on stage along with all the other contestants, and the audience will basically just compare all the pokémon contestants based solely on their looks, and they’ll all vote on which one they think looks the best. You don’t really have to train for that; the pokéblocks pretty much take care of that aspect.

<The second round will be your solo performance. This is where you’ll be showing your techniques, combining them to make nice effects, et cetera. Don’t worry too much about it—you’ll be rehearsing your routine plenty every day. You’ll get it down just fine.

<Now, the third round is a battle,> Morgan told him. <Have you ever battled another pokémon before? You know, just for fun.>

<Yeah,> Solonn answered, <but not very often, though.> He recalled the matches that Zilag and a few of his friends had held just for sport. The snorunt had never seriously hurt each other; they’d mostly just wrestled, with only the occasional, half-hearted bite or headbutt thrown in here and there. Ice-type techniques had been thrown around sometimes, too, to little effect. On several occasions, Zilag had invited Solonn to take part, but Solonn had only occasionally obliged. By and large, Solonn had been unenthusiastic about battling, even though he sometimes won those matches. As far as he’d been concerned, it was merely something to do in the event that there was nothing else to do. It hadn’t exactly been his idea of fun.

<That’s okay,> Morgan assured him. <Some experience is better than none. Besides which, contest battling really isn’t the same as battling anywhere else. Your goal won’t be to hurt the opponent so much as to upstage them. You don’t even necessarily have to ‘beat’ the other guy as long as you manage to look better during the match. I’ll let you practice battling against a couple of the others here. Raze’d definitely be up for it—don’t worry, she won’t use any steel moves on you. Her style’s a little different than the one you’ll be using, but you’ll still get the gist of how to handle yourself in one of these matches. All you have to do is to keep your poise and battle with grace.>

Solonn nodded in acknowledgment, mentally reviewing what Morgan had told him to expect. It seemed there was more involved with being a contest pokémon than he’d initially imagined. He hoped the span of time separating him from that first contest would be enough to adequately prepare him. The sooner he could get that first ribbon, that first step behind him, the better.

* * *​

Each day that followed brought diligent training. Solonn spent many hours rehearsing his solo performance, as well as battling with Raze and even once with Sei Salma. He also continued to receive two pokéblocks each day until Morgan told him they’d finally done all they could for him.

Solonn had assumed these measures were the only ones they’d need to take in order to prepare him for his debut. Then one night, five days before the date of the next contest, he was offered one last suggestion.

He was sitting on Morgan’s bed, waiting for her to return from an errand. When she got back, the first thing she did was take a capture ball from her belt, maximize it, and release Oth from inside it.

“All right,” Morgan said to the claydol. “It’s time for you to check him out and see if he’s ready.” She gestured at Solonn.

Huh? As Oth brought themself before Solonn, he wondered what in the world could possibly be going on. Without any form of explanation or warning, the foremost of the claydol’s eyes dilated dramatically, and a pale red beam lanced forth from it and struck the snorunt. He almost cried out, but realized a split-second later that there was no pain. Very puzzled, he merely stared at Oth as they expanded the beam and swept it up and down over his body.

Mere seconds later, Oth stopped scanning him, the beam disappearing. They turned toward Morgan (which seemed strange given the fact that Oth had eyes on every side of their head) and nodded as well as they could, inclining their entire body slightly in her direction.

Morgan smiled. “Good news, Solonn. Ominous says you’re ready.”

“That’s nice, but ready for what?” Solonn asked in a quiet voice. He and Morgan had decided it was safe enough to converse openly in Morgan’s room as long as they kept their voices down. Solonn had also decided, though not at all hastily, that Morgan’s other pokémon could be trusted with his secret; he didn’t mind Oth’s presence there as he spoke with her.

“Ready… for this!” Morgan reached into her pocket and pulled something out for Solonn to see. Nestled in her palm was something small in a blue wrapper. “I’d been looking around town for one, and I finally managed to scare one up.”

Solonn gazed at the proffered object for a moment, then turned a questioning gaze up toward Morgan.

“This,” Morgan explained, “is a rare candy. These give pokémon something of a boost. According to Ominous…” Morgan paused as excitement flitted across her features. “Well, this’ll give you just enough of a boost to make a huge difference. With this… you could evolve.”

Solonn’s eyes widened. “…That thing can’t possibly cause evolution!” he said, laughing.

“Oh, yes it can. So what do you say? Are you ready to do this?” Morgan asked.

Solonn hesitated to answer. Part of him still couldn’t believe that evolution could be induced by a piece of candy, but the part that could believe remained apprehensive in its own way. “Is there any particular reason why I need to evolve?”

“Well, you don’t necessarily have to do it, but it might work out to your advantage to go through with it,” Morgan said. “Your routine is based almost exclusively on your ice-type powers, after all, and glalie have more finely-tuned abilities where their element is concerned. They can handle ice-type techniques more easily than snorunt can.”

Solonn couldn’t argue with that. He knew firsthand that his people didn’t truly come into their ice-type abilities until they evolved. And he had no doubt that he could execute his routine more easily as a glalie, and he was certainly concerned with succeeding in the upcoming contest.

Still… this was a physical transformation she was suggesting. This wasn’t something to be taken lightly—particularly not where his kind were concerned. Snorunt who evolved too early ran the risk of being corrupted by incomplete instincts. Furthermore, the changes involved with becoming a glalie were so drastic that it was almost like a change into a different species altogether. They began as snow-eating bipeds. They turned into limbless, floating predators.

“The choice is yours, Solonn,” Morgan told him gently. “I won’t make you evolve if you don’t want to.”

So… am I really ready to evolve? Solonn asked himself. Well… technically, I probably am, he answered. He was at roughly the age that was considered the safest and most appropriate time to start considering evolution. In fact, once they got to be very much older than he was now, his kind found themselves having to make a conscious effort to stop the process from occurring on its own.

But… do I really want to go through with this now?

Solonn couldn’t answer that question, though he certainly tried. He wished he’d been given more time to think this through rather than having it dropped on him out of nowhere at nearly the last minute. In the end, he could only lower his gaze and sigh in response.

“You don’t want to do it, do you?” Morgan asked. Solonn shook his head. “That’s okay, Solonn. That’s perfectly fine.”

“Okay.” Solonn’s eyes followed the rare candy as Morgan put it back in her pocket. “Hey. Hold on to that. Just… you know, for whenever.”

Morgan nodded in acknowledgment. “Sure thing. If you ever decide you want it, just let me know. Do you want back in the ball?” Morgan then asked Oth. The claydol nodded in their curious fashion and was subsequently recalled.

“All right, then,” Morgan said. “Now, don’t worry about your decision, okay? Like I said, you don’t really have to evolve to do this. You’ll do just fine.”

Solonn sincerely hoped that Morgan was right.

* * *​


In what felt like no time at all, the twenty-fifth had arrived. All at once, the task at hand was upon him, and it swept him up into a situation that made him realize that nothing could have truly, completely prepared him for it.

Next thing he knew, he found himself riding in a car for the very first time. As he gazed out through the window, the scenery rushing by mirrored his perceptions of this experience: hurtling irresistibly forward, he scarcely had a chance to take it all in.

The car came to a stop, and as he hopped out into the parking lot, Lilycove’s contest hall seemed to blossom into being before him, right out of thin air. It was huge, and it loomed even larger with each step closer to its entrance.

Solonn was immediately awestruck as he passed through the front doors into the contest hall’s lobby. All around him, humans of widely varying appearance stood, accompanied by pokémon partners Solonn could’ve never imagined.

Morgan led him into a queue, and there they waited for their turn at the desk before them. After a fairly short wait, they made it to the front, and the receptionist waiting there asked Morgan to present her contest pass. Without delay, Morgan produced a card and handed it to the human behind the desk. The receptionist held on to the pass for a few seconds; Solonn wasn’t tall enough to see exactly what she was doing with it.

When the receptionist gave the pass back to Morgan, she took a moment to peek over the edge of the desk at Solonn. “Oh, now isn’t that a cutie,” she remarked airily, flashing a very bright smile.

Solonn returned her gaze with a slightly skeptical look. Cute? I’m not cute

“You may now proceed,” the receptionist then said. Morgan smiled at her, then led Solonn out of the lobby and toward the backstage area.

Several minutes of doing nothing but waiting followed. The other contestants gathered backstage along with Solonn and his coordinator, anticipating the impending events with varying degrees of patience. A television mounted in the corner showed the scene that awaited the contestants. With an incredible amount of noise and a level of enthusiasm that was almost tangible, an audience was filing into the seemingly endless rows of seats, eagerly cheering for the show to begin.

Their wait wasn’t prolonged much further. The voice of the announcer came blaring forth, the audience quieting somewhat while he spoke.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” boomed his greatly magnified voice, “get ready to witness the hottest up-and-coming faces in the Hoenn contest circuit! The normal rank beauty contest shall now begin!”

“It’s time,” Morgan informed Solonn in an excited whisper, then began guiding him before her as they made their way to the stage in an orderly procession along with all the other contestants.

As Solonn emerged onto the stage, he was greeted by an unbelievable level of light and noise. The number of humans gathered just to look upon him and the other contestants was staggering—Solonn had never seen so many people in any one place before.

He hadn’t expected the audience to be that large…

The coordinators and their pokémon partners lined up side by side across the stage, facing the audience. One by one, the announcer stopped before each team and introduced them, then moved on down the line to the next team. Before long, he arrived at Solonn and Morgan.

“Next up, hailing from right here in Lilycove, it’s Morgan Yorke and her snorunt, Solonn!” the announcer said. The audience gave them a peal of applause, just as they’d done for the other teams. Part of Solonn wondered just what they were applauding; neither he nor any of the other contestants had actually done anything yet.

“Now it’s time for you to cast your votes,” the announcer told the audience after introducing the last few contestants. “Who will make it to the next round? You decide!”

Solonn couldn’t count the moments that passed as the audience cast their votes. His awareness of their scrutiny only intensified now that they were literally judging him. Unbeknownst to him, a close-up view of each of the pokémon in turn appeared on the colossal screen behind him—he might have been surprised, to say the least, to see a gigantic image of his own face staring back at him.

Finally, the votes were all tallied, and the results appeared on the screen behind the contestants, who all turned to see who among them would proceed to the next round.

“Look!” Morgan exclaimed. “There we are!” She pointed to the upper right corner of the screen; she and Solonn were indeed pictured there. They’d made it through the first round. With that obstacle out of the way, Solonn followed Morgan with a funny little detached sort of thrill as they and the other contestants returned backstage to prepare for the second round.

The television there allowed him to watch the contestants who’d been slated to go on before him. For a crop of newcomers, their performances were generally pretty competent; none of them thus far had made any mistakes, at least not as far as Solonn could tell. He found a few of the routines boring despite their technical integrity, but there were a couple of the others that really stood out.

Those performances easily held Solonn’s rapt attention—and also managed to stoke the doubt within him even further. As his own turn came along, he found himself worrying that maybe he hadn’t sufficiently trained for this after all.

That worry followed Solonn out onto the stage as he was called forth. It was much darker as he emerged than it had been during the first round, but he could still see the crowd, could still make out all those faces. He’d been told what to expect since his training had begun, yet Morgan’s descriptions seemed awfully weak and ill-fitting when held against this moment, these surroundings, the expectations held by all these people he had to impress…

He came to stand in the center of the stage, and a single, bright spotlight fell upon him as the music that Morgan had chosen to accompany his routine rose up, seeming to emanate from the very walls of the contest hall itself. Under the ray of white light bearing down upon him, he felt overemphasized to dimensions far greater than his own, yet all too aware of how small he was compared to the vast, scrutinizing crowd.

A moment later, the spell of the spotlight abated enough to let Solonn realize that he’d missed his cue. With a jolt, he hastily cast his hail technique up into the air above him. The summoned hailstones began falling at once, but at twice the normal intensity and not at all in the pattern he’d rehearsed—it was fortunate that this was a solo performance. Had Morgan accompanied Solonn on stage for this round, she’d have had to take cover from his bungled first move.

Solonn winced a little at the mistake, hoping to make some sort of recovery with his next move. He called upon powder snow and felt the faintest relief as it bowed to his will, its winds sweeping up the falling hail in a gently turning, tamed cyclone. Solonn’s creation partly obscured his view of the audience, for which he felt a wave of gratitude spread throughout his nerves. But he knew that his next move required him to forfeit that comforting veil.

Sighing softly, Solonn kept the powder snow blowing as he slowly expanded the vortex of snowflakes and hailstones around himself, the music swelling in a slow crescendo. The winds swept around him in a growing spiral, and as the cyclone widened and thinned out, the multitude of humans before him filled his sights once more.

Don’t pay attention to them, Solonn urged himself, just pretend they’re not there… He fought the urge to close his eyes and shut them out; letting his nervousness show could count against him in the judges’ eyes. He was also fighting a burgeoning desire to simply cut his performance short and run.

Trying desperately to keep a hold on his fraying nerves, he called upon the next aspect of his routine—the one that had given him the most trouble during his training. He still couldn’t quite believe that he’d gained one of the highest powers of his element in a single moment’s rush, disbelief that had caused him to struggle all the more with the technique.

Don’t think about what you’re doing, Solonn tried to remind himself, just do it… At the music’s cue, Solonn unleashed a blizzard to join his dancing cyclone. It howled forth, stirring the spiraling snowstorm into a frenzy as it was meant to do… but then, disobligingly, its winds began to falter. Solonn swore that he could feel his heart stop as the blizzard, along with the rest of the cyclone, came apart right before his eyes. As if in slow motion, snowflakes, sleet, and hailstones alike all fell to the stage.

No… Solonn lamented, certain that his chance to obtain the ribbon and thereby take his first step back to Virc-Dho had died along with his enchanted snowstorm. His musical accompaniment suddenly blurred into a formless din in his ears. The spotlight swelled to an abnormal brightness, then swiftly vanished altogether, taking the stage, the audience, the surrounding noise, and Solonn’s consciousness along with it.
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Location
*aurorus noise*
Chapter 5 – Elements Embraced


Solonn awoke several hours later, unaware of how much time had passed since his failure within the contest hall. His eyes opened to a view of Morgan’s room, which was more dimly lit than usual.

With a delay, he noted that he was lying at the foot of Morgan’s bed, with a small, thin blanket draped over the lower half of his body. The blanket was slightly itchy and warmer than he liked, but he didn’t bother to remove it just yet.

His most recent memories gathered to bear down upon him in the present. The haze brought on by his unconsciousness gave way to focus, which in turn led him to actively muse on his failure. Again and again, his mind replayed the scene of his botched performance, and all the while he earnestly wondered what had happened to him up on that stage. Why had his routine—and then he himself—fallen apart before the audience?

Because you weren’t ready, he answered himself at last.

I should have been… he countered. But he knew better, really. He hadn’t been ready. He hadn’t taken enough time to prepare for his first performance. He’d been in such a rush to get that first step toward home behind him, and it was because of that haste that his goal now lay further away.

You should have waited until the later contest to try and get that ribbon, he admonished himself. Now you’re just going to have to wait anyway.

In that sense, perhaps, no harm done. He could just try again in two months, which would give him the extra time to train that he probably should have taken the first time around.

But as Solonn continued to dwell on his failure, he couldn’t help but wonder if his next performance wouldn’t just end up suffering the same fate as his first, even with another two months’ worth of preparation preceding it. After all, wouldn’t the audience be just as large as it had been before? Wouldn’t he be just as alone and exposed on that stage, with not only the spotlight but all of those countless human eyes focused on him?

Solonn groaned, annoyed and disappointed in himself for how easily he’d succumbed to the pressure of his performance. You were supposed to be paying attention to what you were doing, not to the audience, he thought miserably. Morgan had even told him something along those lines during his training, yet he’d managed to lose sight of that advice right when he’d needed it most.

As Solonn recalled, there’d been a couple of moments during his performance, albeit woefully brief ones, in which he almost—just almost—felt like he could just shut out everything around him and vanish into his routine. It was, he realized, a weaker version of something he’d felt a couple of times during his training. In harnessing some of his stronger ice-type abilities, he’d occasionally felt like he was becoming one with those powers, practically losing himself in them…

Solonn sighed. That right there was the key. To maintain control over his performance despite what awaited him on stage, he had to somehow achieve and sustain unity with the element that brought his routine to life.

But how?

At that moment, he remembered something he was told just a few days prior. Glalie have more finely-tuned abilities where their element is concerned,” Morgan reminded him within his memory. They can handle ice-type techniques more easily.”

Gods… she’s right about that…
Glalie could indeed perform ice techniques more easily than snorunt could—and perhaps not on account of having more elemental power so much as being closer to the power of their element…

As if rallying to the point, words from a more distant past came forth, the words of his mother: Our element is our very life, Solonn. We couldn’t survive without its power, and by practicing its ways, we achieve some of the most rewarding experiences in our lives.”

So, that’s the answer, then, isn’t it?
Solonn reckoned. If I evolve, maybe then I won’t lose it in the middle of my routine next time… but gods Whether or not it was a solution, even if it was the only solution, the fact remained that it was still evolution—physical, permanent change. If he came to regret it, there’d be no way to undo it.

Furthermore, he didn’t even know what he could expect from the process itself. Having never evolved before, he couldn’t be sure what it was actually like. He’d once asked his mother about it, but she’d told him that she couldn’t adequately describe it. She’d also tried to assure him that the process usually didn’t hurt, which was no real comfort, especially not with the presence of that nasty little “usually”.

Solonn couldn’t deny that he was still apprehensive about evolving. But he also considered what it would be like to endure another performance that ended like the last one… and he realized that was something he actually feared more.

He sat up, finally bothering to cast off that uncomfortable blanket. For minutes, he just sat there, staring at his hands as he tried to let his decision settle within him. He figured Morgan would probably return soon—he wanted to be ready to give her the news as soon as possible.

Just as he’d managed to stop counting the passing seconds, the door to the bedroom opened slowly, with barely a creak. At first, Morgan only peeked in from the hall outside. Then, slowly and silently, she slipped into the room, closing the door almost noiselessly behind her.

It was later than it had seemed, Solonn realized; Morgan was dressed for bed. He hoped she wouldn’t mind being kept awake for a little while, especially since he wasn’t sure he could maintain his resolve throughout the night.

Inhaling very deeply, Solonn turned to face her. “Get it out,” he said, sounding calmer than he felt.

Morgan stared in bewilderment at him, a bit startled by how suddenly he’d spoken up, not quite processing what he’d said. “…Get what out?”

“The candy, Morgan,” Solonn said, maintaining an even tone with an effort. “It’s time.”

Morgan blinked in utter surprise for a moment. “Oh,” she said, and she looked a little worried. “…Now?”

Solonn nodded slowly. “I’m sure you’d rather go to sleep, but…”

“No, that’s okay,” Morgan assured him, though she sounded a bit shaken. She made her way over to the dresser, opened the topmost drawer, and rummaged through its contents a bit before she found what she was seeking.

She started to take the rare candy out of the drawer, but then hesitated. “Solonn… are you sure you’re really ready for this?”

“Yes. I’m ready,” Solonn said without much inflection, inwardly cursing the human’s choice of words. Few phrases in existence bred as much doubt in him as “are you sure”. The snorunt’s gaze stayed fixed upon Morgan, nearly unblinking, but his eyelight was beginning to pulsate and flicker unsteadily, betraying his trepidation.

“You just seem awfully nervous,” Morgan said concernedly.

Solonn made a small, dismissive noise. “It’s really nothing. Everyone gets nervous right before they evolve,” he said, guessing rather than actually knowing this. “It’s not exactly a minor thing, you know.”

“No, it isn’t,” Morgan concurred. “But if you’re sure you’re ready… well, here goes nothing, I guess…” She unwrapped the rare candy and brought it to Solonn, placing it in his hand. “There. Just eat that, and the rest should follow.”

Solonn gave a quick nod. He looked down at the little pink candy that now sat in his hand… and kept on looking.

“Are you gonna go ahead, then?” Morgan asked.

Solonn snapped out of it. “Huh? Oh… right.” He furrowed his brow at the rare candy, still staring down at it but making no further move other than to poke at it.

“I don’t blame you at all for being nervous, you know? I’m pretty nervous right now, myself,” Morgan admitted.

Solonn had already figured as much; he could hear both their hearts hammering. He gave her a little smile to try and ease some of the tension, but he knew the corners of his mouth were shaking all the while.

Just get it over with! urged a voice in the back of his mind. Fighting in vain to stop his hand from trembling, he brought the rare candy to his mouth. His jaws were reluctant to part, but he finally pried them open just enough to shove the candy in, barely bothering to chew it or enjoy its somewhat sweet flavor before rushing it down his throat.

There, he consoled himself, the voice of his mind trembling just as much as his body. Now just try to relax and wait for it to happen…

Nothing happened.

Moment after moment passed, and still the candy just sat there in his stomach, doing nothing whatsoever to change him. He felt absolutely no different than he had prior to eating the rare candy. The boost Morgan spoke of was completely absent, as were any feelings that even remotely suggested he was going to turn into a glalie anytime soon.

“Guess you and Oth weren’t right about me after all,” Solonn said finally.

“Guess not,” Morgan said with a sigh. “It’s just hard to believe, though. Ominous was so sure, and they know from such things… Are you sure you don’t feel any different?”

“No difference at all,” Solonn replied.

“It should have given you a boost, though, even if not enough of one to make you evolve,” Morgan said.

“It hasn’t given me anything.”

“Hmm… maybe you just need enough time to digest it first,” Morgan suggested.

“Hmph.” Solonn was done expecting anything from the rare candy. All it had made him was annoyed over suffering all that anticipation for nothing.

Then there came the buzz.

It was a distinct tingling that radiated from the pit of his stomach and spread throughout his entire body. It felt like pure energy was flowing through his veins. Exhilaration flooded his brain, making his breath catch in his throat. His eyes went huge.

Morgan noticed, and her eyes did likewise. “Are you okay?” she asked anxiously. Her eyes grew even wider. “Is it happening?”

Before Solonn could even begin to answer, a powerful jolt from deep within him struck with almost no warning, taking his breath away. The tingling sensation that was still coursing throughout his body shifted in an instant into a strong vibration, intensifying by the second and stoking a dull ache in his bones.

His mouth opened in a silent scream as the sensations made a turn toward earnest pain. He stared wildly at Morgan, who now looked more terrified than excited. She could clearly see the fear and pain in his eyes. Then her face vanished from Solonn’s sight as bright light began to shine from his entire body, filling his vision with a blindingly white emptiness.

In an instant, Solonn went from feeling full to bursting with energy to feeling as though he were made of energy. In a sense, it was similar to entering a capture ball. The difference was that instead of feeling like he’d ceased to exist, he felt as though he were becoming more real, more alive.

There was no longer any pain. Distantly, as he began to rematerialize into his new form, he could sense that he was growing larger, but it didn’t register as a truly physical sensation—after all, he wasn’t a truly physical being at the moment.

But there was another, much stronger feeling that had no trouble at all getting through to him. This, he recognized with joy and amazement, was the raw power of the element of ice—and here he was, joined with it in a way that made his prior experiences look like the poor facsimiles of this strange, sweet union that they truly were. At last, he’d truly become one with his element, and it was wonderful.

The bright, white nothingness finally drained from Solonn’s vision, letting his surroundings come back into focus. The first thing he saw, through much sharper eyes than he’d had before, was the face of his coordinator. Her eyes were still very wide, and her mouth was agape.

Solonn couldn’t blame her. Along with his sight, all of his other senses had returned as well, giving him a full sense of what he’d become. He was well aware of the sheer size of his new body—he was huge, even if he didn’t feel very heavy at all.

He realized then that he’d taken to hovering without even trying; he now hung in midair just above Morgan’s bed. Solonn became fascinated at once with his newly gained levitation. He moved himself for the first time in this new fashion, gliding a very short distance forward, marveling at how effortless it felt.

Solonn was instantly at home in his new form. Elation and immense relief washed over him—he wondered how he could’ve ever feared to become this. A contented sigh escaped him, and he began to set himself down upon the bed with a smile—only to get right back up in a hurry when the bed creaked ominously beneath him, lightly knocking his horns against the ceiling in the process. Biting back a swear, Solonn looked up to see if they’d done any damage. To his relief, they hadn’t.

Morgan laughed. “Oh God, be careful! You’re almost too big for this room, you know that?”

She wasn’t kidding. It was a good thing Morgan’s room was so large; he took up a considerable share of its space as it was. If the room had been much smaller…

“Actually… you’re too big, period,” Morgan noted. “No offense, but normally, glalie don’t get quite so large; I’d expected you to be closer to my height, actually. Do you have any idea what could have made you turn out this way?”

Solonn would have shrugged if it weren’t for the fact that he no longer had shoulders. “Well, uh… I’ve always been kind of tall,” he said in his new, much deeper voice, “but I have to admit, this is…” He trailed off, at a loss for words. He was easily half again the size of even the largest glalie he’d ever seen, and he had no idea why.

“You know,” Morgan said, “this might actually be a development that could work out in our favor. The audience is likely to be impressed by your size, and so are the judges.”

“Mm. Well, that’s good to know.”

Morgan nodded. A second later, she looked as though something had just occurred to her. She glanced uneasily at the doorway, then at Solonn, and then back to the doorway once more. “Hey… um, how do you suppose we’re even going to get you out of here so we can take you to the contest hall?”

Solonn gave her a puzzled look, then followed her gaze and understood at once. “I will never fit through there,” he said with a small, hissing chuckle. “Never again.”

“No, you won’t,” Morgan concurred, laughing.

“…The ball will, though,” Solonn noted.

Morgan frowned slightly. “Well… you’re right about that, but…” She sighed. “I don’t know. I mean, I know you don’t like it in there…”

Solonn made a dismissive noise, shaking his head. “It’s fine. You and I both know I can’t be trapped here in this room forever. There’s barely any room for us both to be in here at the same time; you’d hardly be able to get around in here with me in your way. You can’t even get into your own bed with me in here.”

Morgan glanced backwards at where her belt was hung. Solonn’s great ball gave off a slight, teal glint in the soft lamplight. “Yeah, I know,” she said, still sounding rather guilty about the whole matter, “but…”

“But nothing,” Solonn said gently. “I don’t mind going in there from time to time as long as it’s only when I really have to. For now, just go ahead and get some sleep, all right? I’ll go in the ball for the night, and in the morning you can just take me out to the backyard where there’s plenty of room, and I’ll just stay out there from now on.”

Morgan gave him one last look of uncertainty. “Well, as long as you’re sure you don’t mind…” she said, then went to fetch the great ball.

“Hey,” Solonn said. Morgan gave him an inquisitive look. “…I just wanted to thank you for making this happen… I never imagined this change would be so wonderful,” he said earnestly.

“Oh…” Morgan turned her head and smiled broadly, blushing a little. “You’re welcome,” she said. “I’m glad you’re happy with your new form.”

She raised the ball toward Solonn, preparing to activate its recall function. “Goodnight, Solonn.”

“Goodnight,” the glalie echoed. As the capture ball absorbed his body, thoughts of all that he had become absorbed the rest.

* * *​

Four days after Solonn’s evolution, Morgan and Sei Salma stepped out into the backyard to join him. The former brought along a small, portable stereo, just as she’d done on Solonn’s request every day since he had evolved.

Solonn sat beneath the sitrus tree, watching the others as they approached. Morgan took a seat next to him, while Sei, carrying a large stack of magazines, levitated herself up into the branches above, picking a large sitrus berry as she settled into a comfortable position. Morgan then started the music with a smile.

Solonn got the feeling he’d never cease to be amazed by the stereo that sat nearby, with the way it somehow produced human voices and the wide varieties of their music. Today’s selection was especially impressive, and one song in particular took a peculiar hold of him.

He closed his eyes, and he swore that he could actually see the music in his mind. He visualized it in the form of twisting, spiraling shapes that branched upward and outward, forming intricate patterns…

A gasp from nearby interrupted his reverie. A second later, the music stopped. Solonn opened his eyes, and he hissed in surprise at what he saw. The shapes that he’d envisioned within his mind now surrounded the three of them, formed out of spontaneously generated ice.

<But… how?> Solonn asked.

<You’re a cryokinetic,> Sei said, gazing down with a smile as she munched on the sitrus berry. <Among other things, this gives you the ability to generate ice. You’re also able to mentally manipulate it. All glalie have these abilities.>

<Well, yes, I knew that,> Solonn said, <but—>

<—You didn’t mean to use them,> Sei finished. <The subconscious activities of a cryokinetic can sometimes manifest themselves in a visible display, especially when said cryokinetic’s abilities first awaken. And I didn’t mean to read your mind there,> she added.

Solonn continued to stare, stupefied by the sight that surrounded him. He’d created that display completely unwittingly. He’d managed to lose himself in that act, just as he’d lost himself in the music that had inspired it.

His gaze fell upon Morgan, who looked fairly impressed as her eyes swept from one part of the ice formation to another. <Do you… do you like it?> he asked tentatively.

Morgan turned toward him and nodded, beaming brightly. Her finger moved over the “PLAY” button. <Keep it up. Please,> she said, then pushed the button.

The song resumed, and Solonn closed his eyes and tried to let the music absorb him once again, succeeding quite readily. For a moment, he wondered if manipulating the ice would be harder now that he was conscious of his actions, but he found that it was just as easy—and much more delightful. Solonn let his eyes open and serenely watched the manifestations of ice as they continued to change, dance, and grow in time with the music.
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Location
*aurorus noise*
Chapter 6 – Back Onstage


In the weeks that followed, Solonn underwent a far more stringent regimen of training and rehearsing than the one preceding his previous contest appearance, and he did so at his own request. On occasion, he spent an entire night rehearsing his routine alone in the backyard.

“You don’t really have to work so hard,” Morgan told him more than once, but each time, Solonn insisted on continuing to rehearse to this extent.

This was partly because he was, of course, intent on performing better than he had last time, but there was another motive behind his desire to devote so much time to perfecting his routine. Following that first interpretive ice display in the backyard, he and Morgan had decided to work one into his routine, even opting to replace the song he’d performed to last time with the one that had played when his abilities had awakened. Nothing else in his prior experience compared to the sensation of unity with his element—a sensation he now attained every time he practiced his routine. He became very keen on achieving that feeling as often as he could.

Soon, those two months of preparation were behind him, and he found himself back onstage with his coordinator and all the other contestants in the Lilycove contest hall. The vast audience before him was in the process of voting, and Solonn quickly found that he couldn’t help but wonder what they all thought of him. Consideration of this subject had come unbidden, but he made a conscious effort to dismiss it.

If you can just get past this part, he told himself, then in just a short while, you can get away from all of them…

The announcement that he’d received a sufficiently high rating from the audience to advance brought him a sense of relief and something else, as well: a mild but undeniable sort of eagerness. Soon he’d be alone on that stage, performing before that huge audience—but it would still be a chance to experience that incomparable unity with his element.

And they won’t be a part of that, he reminded himself as he went backstage with Morgan.

Solonn made a point not to watch any of the performances preceding his own this time, remembering well how doing so had only intimidated him before. They don’t matter, he thought resolutely. This is about something far beyond them.

Finally, the time had come. Solonn emerged onto the stage, trying as he took his place there to view it as merely a stop en route to the far better place he was about to go.

The lights went out. Nothing was visible to the crowd gathered within the auditorium except for two large, blue eyes glowing brightly from the center of the stage. Those eyes could still see the individual faces in the crowd quite well, more clearly than he had the time before…

They will not be part of this.

The music came alive. Very slowly, lights mounted in the stage turned on, shining pale blue beams on Solonn. Glistening within the glow, ice began rising in thin, vinelike shapes from the stage. They branched out and twisted as they grew slowly but steadily upward, swaying and flicking at the air in time with the music.

The many branches of the seemingly living ice curled downward and inward toward their maker and joined together beneath his hovering body, forming a cradle of sorts. It began to ascend, lifting Solonn toward the ceiling.

Meanwhile, more branches extended outward from the cradle to dance around him, then transformed into seven long, thin needles. Atop each of them, ice formed in the shape of a diamond.

Solonn rose slowly from the ice along with the song’s building crescendo. A protect aura bloomed around him as he lifted himself ever higher, surrounding himself with a deep blue glow. At the apex of his ascent, his eyes suddenly blazed with a surge of white light—and so did the diamonds of ice, which exploded one by one in time with the music in sparkling bursts of frozen mist.

As the glow of the protect aura faded, Solonn descended to the stage once more, the ice beneath him gradually dissipating. The music worked itself into a frenzy soon after, and accordingly, Solonn summoned a miniature storm. Blizzard, icy wind and powder snow rushed in a spiral around him, the blue stage lights strobing all the while.

Then the song abruptly ended, and Solonn’s performance did likewise. The lights cut out; when they came back on a second later, there wasn’t a trace of ice or of snow to be found anywhere. Nothing remained of the wintry spectacle save for the glalie who’d made it happen.

Solonn looked out upon a silent audience as he hovered at the center of the stage, trembling a bit and breathing rather hard. Closing his eyes, he bowed deeply, inclining his face toward the floor. Then the audience erupted into applause—Solonn was grateful for their enthusiasm, but this was one moment when he kind of wished his evolution hadn’t enhanced his hearing. The judges approved of his routine, as well; his score was in the top two, meaning that he’d proceed to the third and final round along with just one other finalist.

Solonn momentarily returned to his great ball for a trip to the rejuvenation machine backstage. Second-round performances usually took quite a bit out of a pokémon, and Solonn’s performance was no exception—without rejuvenation, he certainly wouldn’t have the strength to perform well enough in the final round’s battle. Once both he and his opponent had taken their turn in the machine, the third round was ready to begin.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer said, “we’ve seen quite a parade of truly skilled performers tonight. Now we’re down to the very best of the crop, the final two. Let’s hear it for Alex Rhodes and Kelly from Mauville and Morgan Yorke and Solonn from right here in Lilycove!”

The exuberant noise of the crowd filled the air as the finalists made their way onto the stage. Solonn took his place a couple of yards in front of Morgan and gazed across the stage at the opposing team, which consisted of a girl with long, blonde, braided hair and a golduck who was giggling to herself.

“The match will end when the clock runs out, when one pokémon’s points are entirely depleted, or when one pokémon is rendered unable to battle,” the announcer explained. Without any further ado, let the final round begin!” With that, a loud tone rang out over the PA system, signaling the commencement of the battle.

“All right, Solonn. Let’s show them our icy wind/ice beam combo,” Morgan said.

“Then we’ll start with psybeam and water pulse!” Alex said.

Solonn summoned two of his ice-type abilities simultaneously. Charged with the pure elemental energy of the beam, the small, razor-edged ice particles contained within the icy wind took on a brilliant cyan glow as they rushed toward Kelly on a frigid gust.

Meanwhile, Kelly launched her own attack, continuing to giggle inexplicably as she did so. Her combination of psybeam and water pulse created a rainbow-hued ray through which glowing blue rings of water-type energy rippled.

Solonn’s attack turned out to be the stronger of the two, the result of both halves of his combination coming from his own element. The ice-type combo overtook Kelly’s attack and scattered its energies, foiling it. The shredding gale then assaulted Kelly herself. Being a water-type, she suffered very little from its charge of elemental energy, but the sharp edges of its icy shrapnel managed to tear shallow cuts all over the golduck’s body, making her squawk in pain.

Kelly’s points suffered as a result of the hit. The bar that represented them on the scoreboard shortened, albeit only slightly.

“Now, let’s take some defensive measures, shall we? Light screen, Solonn,” Morgan said.

“We’ll try our psybeam and water pulse combo again, then,” Alex said. “He’s sure to dislike it…”

A glowing pink force field rose around Solonn, enveloping him completely. At the same time, Kelly fired her psychic/water-type combination attack again, which lanced forth in a rush of psychedelic colors. Solonn’s psychic shield negated the water-type aspect of Kelly’s attack, but the psybeam at the combo’s core managed to penetrate the barrier. It struck him squarely between the eyes, its psychic-type energy drilling straight into his brain to try and addle his mind. Solonn snarled at the pain, shaking his head furiously to dispel the psychic assault. Confusion didn’t set in this time, but he and his points still took a hit.

“Okay, now give him a hydro pump!” Alex said enthusiastically.

“Uh-oh… you’d better protect, Solonn,” Morgan warned.

Still giggling, Kelly summoned one of the highest powers of her element. An intense, blue glow filled her eyes, and a thick, powerful jet of highly pressurized water suddenly surged forth from her open bill.

But just as the golduck launched her water-type assault, Solonn conjured a deep blue aura around himself. The hydro pump dissipated spectacularly on contact with the protect shield in a great burst of mist; the aura fell an instant later. Kelly’s point bar shortened further due to the utter failure of her attack.

Alex sighed. “Well, I was really hoping we wouldn’t have to resort to this, but it looks like you guys have left us little choice. Attract, Kelly!”

“What? Ah, no… protect, Solonn! Hurry!” Morgan urged. It was a gamble; she knew a protect aura couldn’t always be counted on to form more than once in succession. But there was simply no other hope for Solonn to avoid Kelly’s technique.

Solonn tried to bring the shield back, and for a fleeting moment, he seemed to have succeeded. But the aura was gone a split-second later, leaving Solonn with no form of defense between him and Kelly, the latter of whom was now surrounded by a rose-colored glow. With a sweeping motion of her arms, the pink light rolled off in a wave that washed swiftly and inescapably over Solonn.

All at once, he was rather appalled at himself. Good gods, have I seriously been attacking that? How could I have even considered doing harm to such a beautiful creature? How could anyone? A very cheesy smile crept across his face as he surveyed Kelly from across the stage. Look at her, over there… so elegant… so exotic… those eyes… that tail!

Morgan cast an uneasy glance at the scoreboard as Solonn’s points suffered from both his failed protect technique and his succumbing to Kelly’s attract. “Solonn!” Morgan shouted. “Listen to me: you’ve got to keep your head! She doesn’t love you, and you don’t really love her. It’s just a trick! Now, quickly, hit her with a blizzard/icy wind combo before she can attack again!”

Solonn ignored Morgan’s instructions, simply refusing to attack the suddenly attractive golduck on the other side of the stage. Kelly, meanwhile, was giggling her brains out more than ever. It was a wonder that she even heard her coordinator’s next command, which was to blast Solonn with a hydro pump while he was still dopily goggling at her. But she heard indeed, and she didn’t hesitate for even a second to attack her infatuated opponent.

The water-type blast came hurtling toward Solonn. Oh, how pretty… he remarked silently and vacantly as it approached…

With a loud crash and a veritable explosion of water on impact, the hydro pump blasted Solonn with such force that he was nearly sent flying on a collision course with his coordinator. Solonn’s points decreased greatly—they were now perilously low.

Righting himself with some difficulty, Solonn gasped wildly for air in the wake of the hydro pump. In the next instant, the light screen he’d summoned finally faded away. If it hadn’t been there when the hydro pump had struck, Solonn might not have been able to get back up afterward.

Hey… that wasn’t very nice… Solonn thought dazedly as he fought to catch his breath. I thought she liked me! He decided to go over to Kelly and ask her why she’d done that.

“No, Solonn, don’t get closer!” Morgan tried to warn him. “That’ll just make it easier for her to blast you!”

No way! She’d never blast me! Solonn objected internally; somehow he’d forgotten that Kelly had done just that mere moments ago. She loves me!

And then something clicked in his brain: Wait… no, she doesn’t…

“All right, Kelly, let’s finish him off now,” Alex called out, sounding very pleased with the current situation. “Surf!”

“Come on, Solonn!” Morgan urged. “Cut through her tricks and give her a blizzard/ice beam combo! Come on, I know you can snap out of it!”

As it so happened, Solonn already had.

Kelly’s giggles escalated into a sharp, triumphant quack of a laugh. She closed her eyes, then clasped her hands together and lifted them toward the ceiling. There was a brief, blue shimmer of water-type energy at her feet, followed by a pillar of water that began to rise from the stage beneath her. She inhaled deeply just before it engulfed her. The pillar lifted her from the stage and up through itself as it rose, ready to surge forth at any instant. Even as Kelly still rose up through the wave toward the position in which she’d ride it over her opponent, the summoned wall of water suddenly lurched forward toward its target.

Solonn’s eyes blazed with bluish-white light as his gaze fixed itself firmly on the burgeoning wave. As the water surged toward him, he threw his jaws wide open, and a narrow, highly concentrated blast of wind, ice, and snow exploded forth with raw ice-type energy crackling through it like lightning.

The combination attack roared as it rushed through the air, intercepting Kelly’s attack swiftly. With a series of cracking sounds, the ice-type blast froze the summoned wave around the golduck. Only the spiked crown of feathers atop her head had crested the wave before the water had frozen; not desiring to smother Kelly, Solonn quickly shifted the part of the frozen wave that surrounded her into a hollow sphere around her.

“Oh crap! Kelly, you’ve got to get out of there!” Alex cried.

Kelly was already trying to escape her icy prison. She clawed frantically at the frozen walls with fury swipes, but the surrounding ice was just too thick to succumb very readily to her claws. She fired a psybeam at the ice, but much of the psychic-type energy dissipated against the frozen barrier, while the rest just passed inconsequentially through it.

Panicking, the golduck desperately tried once more to claw her way out, tearing savagely at the sphere with all her might. The ice was finally starting to give way to her efforts, but not by much.

Meanwhile… there was only so much fresh air in that frozen prison, and Kelly was spending her oxygen quite swiftly through her struggles to free herself. Thus it was that in fairly short order, the golduck exhausted herself thoroughly and passed out. Seeing that she was out cold, Solonn sublimated the ice bubble that surrounded her, then slowly dissipated the pillar of frozen water beneath her, gently lowering her to the stage below.

A loud buzzer sounded, and a large, red “X” appeared over Kelly’s picture on the scoreboard. Solonn had won the final round—and just in time, too. The clock had nearly run out for the match, and despite the points Kelly had lost when her own attack had been turned against her, Solonn’s score had still been lower. If Kelly hadn’t fainted before the timer could hit zero, she would have won.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” the announcer said in an exuberant voice. “Please give a great, big, hearty round of applause for the winners of the Lilycove normal rank beauty contest, Morgan Yorke and Solonn!”

The lights in the auditorium blazed into vibrant colors, and showers of confetti began falling from the ceiling. A great surge of noise rose up from the audience, many of whom stood as they applauded and cheered.

A shriek of delight sounded behind Solonn, making him wince slightly. Its source then tackled him in a joyous semi-embrace; Morgan was hardly fazed by the fact that her arms barely encircled him at all.

After recalling Kelly, Alex rushed across the stage to shake her opponent’s hand, looking impressed. A moment later, the short, mustached head judge approached Solonn and the two coordinators, then handed the normal rank beauty ribbon to Morgan.

Good, the glalie thought as he gratefully lowered his weary body to the stage, good. One down, three to go…
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Location
*aurorus noise*
Chapter 7 – The Sought-For Matter


Having earned the normal rank beauty ribbon, Solonn’s next goal was to obtain the super rank ribbon. The next super rank contest was slated for the fourteenth of November. Solonn lamented the amount of time that separated him from his next trip to the contest hall, but he also recognized its value. He’d have even more time to rehearse than he’d had prior to his last contest, and he was sure he’d need it in order to compete to the higher standard demanded by his higher rank.

Though he’d have more time to prepare for this contest, he’d have less time to train with his coordinator. It was now early September, and a new school year had begun, leaving Morgan with less time to spend at home. Morgan wasn’t the only one spending hours at school each day; Eliza was a teacher at one of the local elementary schools.

As such, Solonn was left home alone for several hours on end nearly every day. Even Morgan’s other pokémon weren’t around to keep him company; most of them preferred to remain in their capture balls at nearly all times, for whatever reason. Sei didn’t, but she preferred to go out into the city while the humans were away, doing gods only knew what.

Not that Solonn exactly minded the solitude. He readily made use of the quiet time to meditate upon his connection to his element, which in turn helped him conceive and practice new ice displays. Solonn quickly grew to treasure these hours alone, time that belonged strictly to himself and his element. The only thing he could think of that would make these sessions better was if he could operate Morgan’s stereo.

One Tuesday morning, Solonn began another of these sessions, initiating a ritual that now preceded each rehearsal. He was about to enter the meditative state that would allow him to quickly achieve a very strong and deep connection with his element… but then he heard something moving in the grass just beyond the fence. Solonn would’ve normally dismissed the sound, but the one that followed—a puzzled vocalization of some sort—made it hard to ignore.

He kept listening and caught an odd scrabbling noise—There’s something climbing the fence… he knew at once, but couldn’t even begin to guess what that something might be.

A second later, the mystery solved itself. Solonn was now staring into the huge, crystalline eyes of a sableye who now sat upon the fence. He cocked his head at Solonn as if puzzled.

“Who’re you?” the sableye asked in a perky, slightly rasping voice.

Solonn gave the sableye a bemused look. “I could ask you the same.”

The sableye chuckled weirdly, giving no other response to Solonn’s retort. He then sprang from the fence and onto the sitrus tree, clinging to the bark with sprawled limbs. He scrabbled up the trunk and sat upon one of its branches, letting his short legs dangle off the side.

Solonn couldn’t even begin to figure out what in the world the little creature was up to, but quickly decided he had better things to do than bother with the sableye. He closed his eyes and commenced his meditation, determined to pay no mind to the presence perched above. He might have succeeded in this endeavor if it weren’t for the overripe sitrus berry that burst against the top of his head a second later.

Solonn turned a flat, annoyed glare upward. The sableye above him was grinning, showing an incredible number of tiny, pointed teeth. “What do you want, exactly?” Solonn demanded.

The sableye stared down at Solonn for several moments with his brow furrowed, feigning deep thought. “I think I want to throw more fruit at you,” he replied finally. With a faint whoosh, the sableye turned to smoke and shadows, then vanished in a feint attack. There was a bit of rustling amidst the branches before the sableye reappeared on the branch above Solonn, both arms laden with more sitrus berries. He started throwing them at Solonn but gave up after the first pair of them collided in vain with the glalie’s deep blue protect aura.

“You’re no fun,” the sableye pouted. He clambered down the tree trunk and sat down next to Solonn, drumming his fingers on the ground for a brief while. Then he began poking Solonn in the side, prodding at the gaps in the glalie’s armor.

With an exasperated sigh, Solonn turned to face him. “Could you leave me alone, please?”

The sableye left Solonn alone—for about five seconds. Then he gave an exaggerated groan of boredom. A second later, he climbed back up the tree. He hung upside-down from a branch for a moment, then dropped down right onto the glalie’s head.

Solonn tried very hard to ignore the sableye, who was now dancing on top of his head. There is something wrong with that creature’s mind. As far as he was aware, people typically didn’t just enter someone’s personal space and begin pestering them with no explanation.

“Is there any reason why you need to be doing this to me?” Solonn asked, somehow managing to keep most of his impatience out of his tone.

“Hm? No, not really,” the sableye answered airily. He continued skittering around on Solonn’s head for a few moments, then crawled headfirst down the glalie’s forehead and lowered his face between Solonn’s eyes, grinning. “Hi.”

“Go away, please,” Solonn said.

The sableye shook his head solemnly and began staring right into the glalie’s eyes—and then recoiled, pulling his head back as though something had just taken a swipe at it. His faceted eyes flashed; he’d have been blinking in surprise if he’d had eyelids.

“Hmmm…” the sableye said as he brought his face even closer to Solonn’s.

“What in the name of all gods are you doing now?”

“I’m seeing you in a whole new way…” the sableye said, trying to sound mystical. “Hmmm… very interesting. Very interesting, indeed…”

“Are you quite finished bothering me?” Solonn asked.

The sableye took a moment to consider the question. “Almost,” he responded. Then he planted a very juicy kiss right on the diamond-shaped patch of bare hide in the middle of Solonn’s forehead. With that, he sprang off of the glalie’s head and into the grass, then turned and gave Solonn a Cheshire grin. “Buh-bye!” he said cheerfully, then scampered off across the lawn, scaled the fence, and disappeared over the side.

Supremely baffled by what had just happened, Solonn breathed a sigh of relief now that the sableye had left the scene. Stop trying to make sense of him, Solonn advised himself. You’ll only end up giving yourself a headache. Giving the sableye no further thought, Solonn finally, gratefully resumed his session.

* * *​

The sableye hurried through the alleyways of Lilycove, anxious to get home as quickly as possible—he’d made quite the discovery while pestering that oversized glalie. The sableye’s eyes held an peculiar sort of sight; if he looked hard enough, it showed him more than a person’s appearance—it could also show him secrets. Among the glalie’s, there was one in particular that was especially remarkable, and the sableye knew he wasn’t the only one who’d take interest in it.

In no time at all, he arrived at a modest brick house, a place he’d called home for only the past few days. He hurried up the walkway, pausing at the front door. Initiating a feint attack, he felt a momentary tingling of dark-type energy all throughout him before it swept him into a quick transformation. His body changed into shadowy wisps of black vapor before disappearing altogether. He reappeared inside the house, solidifying on the other side of the door.

Once indoors, the sableye started screeching excitedly to alert another resident of the house of his arrival. Soon, a male human picked his way swiftly but carefully through an adjacent hallway and into the living room, dodging scattered cardboard boxes full of things he still hadn’t unpacked. He’d only just emerged from the shower; his slightly long, auburn hair was still sopping wet, and he’d only bothered to throw on a pair of boxers before going to greet his pokémon.

“Hey, Xi,” he said. “Back kind of early today, aren’t you? Are you feeling all right?”

<I’m okay, Daron!> Xi cheerfully assured the human, employing the telepathic skills he’d inherited from his gastly father. He chuckled effervescently, his multitude of pointed teeth flashing in another of his enormous grins. <I just found something really neat, and I just couldn’t wait to tell you about it! Oh, you won’t believe it!>

“Heh. Is that right?” Daron said as he crossed the living room to the front door and scooped his pokémon up into his arms. He carried Xi to the sofa and sat down. “So what’d you find, hmm?”

Xi chuckled again. <You might not believe me if I just told you… I have to show you instead…> Xi told Daron, gesticulating dramatically and using the telepathic version of his “mystical” voice.

Daron sighed. “Ah, that’s never pleasant… but, if you insist…” He lifted Xi up to eye-level. The sableye beamed at him, then pressed his palms against Daron’s temples. Daron braced himself, forcing himself to stare unwaveringly right into Xi’s crystalline eyes. Those eyes lit up from within, and a sudden, painful jolt lanced into Daron’s head as Xi’s most recent memories rushed into his brain.

Almost as soon as the memory transfer had begun, it was finished. Xi let go of his trainer’s head, and Daron made a sound halfway between a sigh and a groan as he set the sableye down on the sofa cushion beside him, grateful that the process was quick, at least.

Xi grinned up at his human companion. Daron returned the sableye’s gaze with a positively awestruck expression, his eyes wide and staring.

“You did it…” Daron said. “I don’t believe it… less than a week on the job, and already you’ve hit pay dirt!” He laughed in sheer amazement and pride. “Great work, Xi!”

Xi gave a squeal of delight. <I knew you’d like it!> he exclaimed while cheerfully applauding himself for his discovery.

“Oh, I’m not the only one who’ll like it,” Daron said. “I’m gonna go call him right now,” he added. He got up and made his way into the kitchen, retrieving the cell phone that he’d left on the counter and immediately placing a call he’d thought he might never get to make.

“Mr. Saller?” a kindly-sounding, elderly man’s voice answered within seconds. “What a pleasant surprise to hear from you, my boy! Have you quite settled in to your new home yet?”

“Getting there,” Daron replied. “I’ve still got a bit of unpacking to do, I’ll admit, but I’ve gotten pretty accustomed to this place already. Xi and Cleo love it here,” he added.

“Oh good, good!” the voice on the phone responded. “So, tell me, my boy. What’s the occasion for this conversation, hmm?”

Daron smiled. “You might want to make sure you’re sitting down, sir.” He took a deep breath, then announced, “We’ve found one.”

Not a word issued from the receiver for a long moment. “…You’re quite certain?” the old man finally asked.

“One hundred percent,” Daron said with confidence. “Xi’s eyes don’t lie, and he showed me exactly what they showed him.”

“Well, he’ll need to show me, as well. Can’t be certain any other way, after all, and we mustn’t move ahead until we are indeed certain,” the old man said. “You can transfer him here from the pokémon center.”

“Will do, sir,” Daron assured him.

“Good, good…” The old man sighed happily. “It’s a wondrous thing, my boy, to see our goals coming to fruition so soon…”

“It sure is,” Daron concurred, nodding.

“Well, then,” the old man said crisply, “once I’ve had my meeting with Mr. Xi, we’ll discuss our further course of action. Be on standby, my boy.”

“No problem, sir… And the authorities?”

“A non-issue, as I stated during our first meeting,” the voice on the phone assured him. “You need only concern yourself with the task at hand. See to it that everything is carried out without a hitch, and both you and your partners will be handsomely rewarded.”

“You can count on us,” Daron said coolly, and then the old man hung up.

* * *​

Eight days had passed since the sableye’s visit. Thankfully, the sableye hadn’t returned since, leaving Solonn free to practice his art without any disturbances.

At his summons, twin spires of ice extended toward the heavens, catching the sun’s rays with a brilliant sparkle. They began a sinuous dance while their choreographer watched them, smiling serenely.

“That’s very pretty,” said an unexpected, monotone voice from above.

Surprised, Solonn looked up. A venomoth hovered overhead, scattering a small quantity of fine powder into the air with every flap of her wings.

Another unexpected guest, Solonn thought, looking up at her somewhat warily. He could only hope this visitor wouldn’t give him the same sort of company the previous one had. “Er… thank you,” he said a bit awkwardly. He moved out from under the venomoth; the powder falling from her wings was beginning to irritate his eyes.

“Sorry to interrupt your performance,” the venomoth said, “but I was sent to give you something.”

The venomoth gave no further explanation for her next actions. Her wings made a dramatic shift from lavender to baby blue, and with a single, powerful flap, they tossed a cloud of pale blue sleep powder on a swift gust of wind at Solonn.

Taken by surprise, Solonn failed to do anything to avoid the attack and inhaled some of its dust before he could stop himself. He tried to retaliate at once, but his ice beam missed its mark; his eyelids had closed irresistibly just before he could aim it. He dropped to the ground, swallowed up in a profoundly deep sleep.

There was a faint rushing sound, and a mass of black vapors formed out of thin air just outside the back door. Xi now stood in the backyard, clutching a great ball in his hands. His faceted eyes found the sleeping glalie, and he broke into a grin. “You did it, Cleo!” he congratulated the venomoth, happily scampering across the lawn to join her.

Cleo glanced down at the capture ball that Xi held. “Are you sure that’s the right one?” she asked.

“Uh-huh. I checked them all. This is the one!” the sableye answered with confidence; he’d scanned each of the capture balls and thereby found the digital signature marking this one as the glalie’s.

“And are you sure you know how to use that?”

“Uh, yeah,” Xi said a little crossly. With a exaggeratedly demonstrative air, he aimed the capture ball’s lens at the sleeping glalie and recalled him into the device. “See? I told you I could do it,” the sableye said triumphantly. Cleo just rolled her eyes at him.

“Okay! We got what we came for,” Xi said. “Let’s go!” With the great ball clutched tightly in his hand, he quickly scampered up and over the fence and departed the scene in gleeful haste, with Cleo winging her way close behind him.
 
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