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Pokémon From the Vast (Pokémon Manga / Anime)

Chapter 1: Cold Open


the gay agenda

From the Vast

In a remote corner of Unova, a village of Pokémon hides from the omnipresent humanity and the barbarity it brings with itself, flourishing through cooperation and rising above the uncaring brutality of the natural order. Which works remarkably well...

...until a half dead human shows up on their doorstep.

Will this hidden pocket of Pokémon civilization remain a secret once other humans come looking? Are its denizens prepared to learn just who exactly this unwelcome stranger is and how much of an impact they've already left on their village, and act accordingly?

Drama-focused mystery thriller with a heavy focus on humanity being "the other", trauma, and trust.

Tags: Hurt/Comfort, Mystery, Thriller, Humans as "the other"
Content Warnings: Child Abuse, occasional Gore


Cover art by the wonderful @anthrodyniacoms on Twitter!​

Chapter 1: Cold Open

“There is a human at the clinic.”

The unthinkable fact reverberated through the gathered minds as the gentle glow of the earliest dawn filled the clinic’s tiny side chamber.

Everything that needed to be said had already been exchanged, leaving the three figures shrouded in expectant silence as they awaited the last person they were waiting for. The only sounds piercing through the quiet were an occasional held-in yawn from the pair of diurnal scouts, and the bustle in the room beside theirs.

Bustle of their medics tending to the sole reason behind all this commotion.

Even if most present wished they had gotten another hour of sleep instead—or four—they all agreed that said reason was… important enough to warrant being here. Even if begrudgingly.

If only Aria could finally show up to let them discuss the mess that they were in—

“^Apologies for the delay. I had a hard time putting Bell back to sleep, but I’m here now. Anyone care to fill me in beyond ‘oh no, human’?^”

The crystal-clear words filled the minds of everyone gathered as a pale, tall figure stepped into the room. Her dimly glowing, red eyes immediately squinted as they tried to make out a large object in the corner. Before she could work out what the item was, another voice finally responded.

“So far, there’s not much beyond that, really. Sprout found it crashed and dying in the ravine east of the village, and carried it over here. Then she woke us up while the medics got to work to watch over it, and went back to clean all the blood up.” - Lumi spoke up with quiet, rough woofs, his black fur arcing as he picked himself up from the carpeted floor.

“^The ravine? Isn’t it ways off their path? Rather close, considering.^”

“That’s what we ended up at, yes. Though, even if they had been spying on us, Sprout would’ve found them in that spot, eventually. And in that case, they probably wouldn’t have just fallen like that.” - The faint golden sparkle on Ruby’s forehead was the only sign of her being there, the rest of the Weavile entirely obscured in the shadow.

“Perhaps their contraption malfunctioned on them. That possibility does not explain their presence there in the first place, however.” - The loud, harsh voice was no easier to overlook than its source. Ori’s towering exoskeleton of red metal stuck out from its surroundings as he investigated the nondescript object in the far corner.

It was very narrow and split between metal for its center, and an unknown black material for the pair of attached wheels and a T-shaped segment at the front. Aria’s attempt to figure out its purpose failed so utterly it threatened to give her a headache.

Since it had wheels, it might have been meant for carrying objects? With how little room it had to carry anything, that sounded very unlikely. Whatever that human had used it for, its front wheel now being bent at a harsh angle rendered it unusable.

At least the object beside the metal contraption was much more self-explanatory. A colorful, closed bag with a pair of straps on it, obviously meant for carrying items.

“^No, it doesn’t indeed. Hopefully Sprout has enough experience with human watching to know what... this is, and help us figure out a plan for this mess.^”

“Plan? Not sure what there is to plan Aria, at least beyond ‘we help it not die in here and then dump it off back at the human village’.” - Lumi said dismissively, flicking his paw off to the side.

“What if another human comes searching for them? What if they had found what they were looking for before falling down the ravine, and we’re at risk of our cover being blown now? What if they wake up and start fighting?” - Ruby cut back in, eyeing the Luxray down.

“Are you implying that all of us couldn’t take on a single half-dead human without all its silly objects?”

“Hopefully not. Either way, we have to know why they were there before deciding what to do with them next.”

As the tall psychic kept trying to make sense of the damaged contraption, she felt attention being drawn back to her. She groaned inwardly at being expected to dig into the subconscious of a human, of all things. Her coworkers were right, though. There wasn’t much else they could do right now.

“^I can take a look once the medics are done with them. How long have they been tending to them?^”

“Couple hours, give or take. Their injuries must be nasty; the crash site had blood all over. Covered it all before any wilding could get too good of a sniff, thankfully.” - Ruby shuddered as she spoke, the gruesome scene still fresh in her memory.

“I don’t get it. Why move it here in the first place? Why not have human medics deal with their own injured and save us this mess?” - The annoyance in Lumi’s voice grew with each word.

“Sprout wasn’t sure whether they’d survive long enough for her to carry them to the human town. Better to have a bit more of a hassle on our paws than condemn someone possibly innocent to death, don’t you think, Lumi? Besides, as I said, we don’t yet know what they had seen. Better to be safe on that front as well.” - Ruby shot him right down, eyes narrowing ever more at his complaints. The Luxray sighed before relenting and laying back down on the cold floor.

“What if they indeed had seen too much. What is your contingency for that outcome, Ruby?” - Ori’s question wasn’t intended as a gotcha. Merely, it was the tallest, most metal speaker in the room wanting everyone to be on the same page.

“Well—” - The Weavile looked up at the green-haired psychic as she stepped out of the shadows - “—from what I know, targeted memory removal is an option. And we’re certainly not lacking in skilled psychics.”

“^I appreciate the flattery, but it won’t make what you’re describing any less difficult. Or messy. Not that I won’t try my best should the worst come to it. But it’s something that can go wrong in more ways than one, and I don’t even want to consider it until we’re absolutely sure it’s necessary.^”

“But it’s always an option, got it. Hopefully, we won’t need it. Either way, let’s not preemptively antagonize them any more than we need to. They’ve already been through a lot.”

Everyone nodded with various levels of reluctance. Nobody looked forward to having to deal with a human, even if an incapacitated one, but they understood that fate didn’t leave them with any other choice.

Or at least, any other choice that wouldn’t make them worse than the very beings they were hiding from.

As the sun rose further, pushing through the snowy, white sky, the commotion in the human’s room gradually died down. Eventually, Aria walked over to take a peek, the sight hard to make anything out of.

Most of the human either laid under a thick blanket, or was covered in bandages. Their left arm was entirely enveloped in a bulky, blocky cast, and under the effects of paralytic venoms to numb the pain. The only part that was clearly visible was their head, remarkable in how unremarkable it was. Pale skin, two small eyes, a mouth, a pointy, comically shaped nose, a pair of ears. A decent bit of long, brown hair.

Utterly nonthreatening.

And maybe, in some other world, in some other time, they might have very well been.

“^How are they doing?^” - Aria cautiously approached the human’s bed as she addressed the Leavanny reinforcing their cast.

“About as well as possible for someone with their injuries. Their left arm was shattered, must’ve landed on it. Took a while to put the bones back into place. Plenty of bruising and trauma elsewhere as well. The recovery won’t be quick. Though, judging by some of their scars, it’s hardly their first scuffle.”

As if Aria needed even more reasons to dread all this.

“^What do you mean?^”

“Wish I had a better idea of what I was looking at myself. A few burn scars like I’ve never seen before. All the same size, small and rounded. Signs of past bone bruising.” - Maple wrapped up her work with a light pat before pulling the blanket over the human’s arm.

Aria didn’t want to think about what all that implied.

She just hoped they would figure out how to move this human back to their world before they woke up and started making trouble. With the Leavanny’s words in mind, the idea of digging into their unconscious suddenly became even less attractive.

“^Thank you for your work, Maple. Hopefully, you won’t have to put any more effort into them before we hand them over to their own medics to deal with.^”

“Eh, unsure how much they’re ready to be carried, unless you’re intending to hover them all the way over there yourself. Too much pressure on the injuries and they’re likely to reopen. Human or not, I do not appreciate my effort being wasted.”

Oh joy.

Aria nodded, acknowledging the Leavanny’s concern. She spared one last glance at the bedful of trouble on their hands and paws before heading back to the other room, interrupting the idle chatter by speaking up.

“^So, turns out our... ‘guest’ might be something of a troublemaker. Have you all had a sweep through their things to make sure there’s nothing dangerous in there?^”

The other three glanced at each other before slowly shaking their heads. Nobody was exactly eager to go digging through human creations, the horror tales of what they were capable of far from alien to them.

Aria didn’t even have to inspect their thoughts to realize that the expectation was being silently placed on her. After all, why should anyone have to physically touch it if she could handle it all at a safe distance?

Which—yeah, they were right.

The realization didn’t make her eyes roll any less as they lit up, surrounding the beg in a bright blue shimmer. As the Gardevoir moved the bag to the opposite corner of the room, Lumi and Ruby scooted over towards her, giving the potential threat as wide of a berth as they could. All the while, Ori remained focused, bracing himself to Protect them all should the need arise.

Before they could investigate any further, though, the group of scouts ran into a… conundrum.

“^Does—does anyone know how to open this thing?^”

At a closer inspection, the bag did not appear to have any visible openings. The fabric was connected to what looked like a metal seam, but was otherwise uninterrupted.

Humans were dedicated to making sure nothing they ever did or created made sense, weren’t they?

“Wait, maybe there’s... no, no wait, how’s this thing even work?” - Ruby was no less confounded after her own attempt to investigate the one object they all expected to be relatively self explanatory.

As the scouts were about to start arguing about how this ‘bag’ even worked, the shuffling behind them caught the attention of the two that weren’t busy either holding up a potential danger or safeguarding against it. They turned around to see the one who’d found the human in the first place step in, her exhaustion mixing with bafflement at the scene in front of her.

“What... are you all doing?”

“^Trying to see if the human was carrying anything dangerous with themselves without getting ourselves killed.^” - Aria responded without budging her vise-like mental grip on the hovering bag.

“In the immediate moment, attempting to open this bag they had brought.” - Ori looked flatly at the Decidueye, hoping she might crack the mystery of the human’s hole-less bag.

Sprout let out a tired, drawn-out sigh as she buried her face in her wing. After getting that out of her system, she stepped forward and grabbed one of the small dangling bits at the end of the largest metal seam before giving it a solid yank. Before anyone could react, the seam came undone, showing off the bag’s insides.

“That’s how ya do it. And that’s not how... these work, nothing’s gonna blow up in your faces, heh. Besides, I really doubt this human was carrying anything dangerous with them. How are they doing, by the way?”

Aria could only blink, dumbfounded at Sprout’s apparent recklessness as she lowered the bag down closer to the floor.

“^The medics finished patching the human up for now. I’ve heard them mention they found some scars of past fighting on their body, so if anything, I’d be even more suspicious of them. What makes you so doubtful, Sprout?^”

The news woke the owl up from her morning exhaustion, sleepy expression turning concerned as she looked back at the psychic.

“I certainly wouldn’t expect a child to have anything too dangerous on themselves, Aria dear. Or to be the aggressor in any fighting they might have been a part of.”


A... child?

The bag landed on the carpeted floor with a faint thud as everyone stared at the owl in astonishment. Her revelation painted every single detail in a whole new light—a much more unsettling one.

“S-Sprout, are you sure of that? What if it’s j-just a small one—”

“I sure haven’t seen a grown human this tiny in all my time scouting, Lumi. Adults are easily my height if not taller, and this lil’ one would fit snugly under my wing.” - The owl lifted the brown limb up for emphasis, accentuating the size difference.

As much as the Luxray was unsettled by the news, his yellow, piercing eyes staring with unease at the sleeping human behind a nearby wall, the Weavile was deep in thought. Her sharp claws rhythmically tapped against the damaged contraption’s metal frame before she spoke up, asking for clarification.

“Humans are diurnal, correct?”

Sprout answered with a nod and a chuckle. Being nocturnal teaches one to not assume on that front, after all.

“A diurnal child getting into a lethal accident, on their own, at night, away from their settlement... something’s off about all this.”

It was hard to disagree with Ruby’s assessment, even if the conclusions the scouts’ minds went to couldn’t be further apart. They ranged from assessing the situation as a deliberate subterfuge, knowing that a child in distress would be helped and taken in no matter what... somehow, to an even more disturbing possibility of said child having tried to run away from a danger that had already claimed its family.

...the latter more so than the former.

“Undoubtedly. With any luck, an inspection of this bag’s contents will let us establish what led them here.” - Ori’s voice gained the smallest hint of excitement. The Scizor was just about ready to go inspect all the mysterious items by himself, if needed.

“I hope you’re not seriously considering the idea that this is all some nefarious action, Ori.”

“Certainly not Sprout. That sounds... incredibly foolish. Disregarding that, I still think we can glean much from the items they have brought with themselves.”

With everyone else nodding and Lumi innocently looking away from the rest of the party, their attention once more shifted to the inert bag. Its open seam was enveloped in a bright aura before being parted wider. The entire bag was then lifted and flipped upside down, pouring all its contents.

Which, to everyone’s relief, featured an absence of those round, wretched things.

And a marked presence of... a whole lot of cloth.

Which, at a closer inspection—namely, Ori walking a couple steps closer and picking the topmost item up—turned out to be clothing. It was obviously tailored for a human, with a particularly perplexing make. Simultaneously, of higher quality than any craftsmanship their village could produce, and in an objectively rough state. Full of holes at the seams, discolored yellow in places, and creased all over from the haphazard packing.

As much cloth as there was in there, though, the other loose items were even more interesting.

A small metal object, thin and about as long as one of Ruby’s claws, pointed at one end. A larger, tubular… thing, black and flaring out towards one end, its material an enigma to everyone gathered. A simple and undecorated, if high-quality knife, sized for a human hand.

And last... a Fennekin doll, a really well made one at that.

“That is an unreasonable amount of clothes for one person.”

“Well Ori... yes, but humans do wear lots of clothes constantly, so it’s only appropriate, I suppose, ha. This one was wearing three layers in places when I found it, sure baffled the medics!”

As confused as the others were to hear that, the revelation could just be swept under ‘Humans are weird’. It didn’t tell them much if apparently all humans each wore about as many clothes as a dozen denizens of their village combined—

“Though, I can’t say I’ve ever seen them carry that many spare clothes. Not without setting camp somewhere for the night, at least.”

Or maybe it did?

“Well, what then could it mean, do you think?” - Ruby tried to cut to the point, the entire mystery unnerving her more and more by the moment.

The Decidueye could only sigh and shrug as her expression grew increasingly tired. The sun continued with its late, but unrelenting ascent, and thinking got harder and harder by the moment.

“I only keep watch of them, not their thoughts. Though, taking a gander at these would probably help as well—“

“^After we’re done with these.^”

As much as their guest being a youngling changed how she felt about them, Aria was still far from eager to dive under a human’s skullcap for no reason.

“That’s a remarkably well made knife, but why would they need one?” - The Weavile inspected the knife from all around, taken aback at how flawless it looked. She had heard plenty about the human mastery of metal despite them being neither Fire nor Steel typed, but never had a chance to see it for herself until now. Hell, she’d even managed to sharpen a claw on this thing’s edge, and effortlessly at that.

“No clue about that, either. I’ve never seen a human with a knife on them, not one this large, at least. I guess it’d be helpful in food preparation on the go—though why would they even bring one instead of just preparing a meal beforehand is beyond me, *yawn*...”

This was even more confusing than the clothes’ sheer quantity.

They figured humans would use knives without either claws, blades or Psycho Cut in their stead—but even then, why would this child bring once with themselves? Maybe they were a cook of some sort, though they still wouldn’t get any use out of it unless they went foraging. It couldn’t have been a weapon, because if humans most definitely weren’t something, it was hunters.

“^Guess it’s just one more unknown in the end.^”

“Now, this item.”

The black cylinder was by far the most obviously human item on the pile. It was made of a smooth, yet ever so slightly bendy material. Its wider end had a large opening with what appeared to be like glass inside it, and something too small to tell behind said glass.

“To have access to so much pristine glass and use it for what appears to be decoration. I do not understand it.”

The barely noticeable confusion in Ori’s voice caught the others’ attention. Aria took the risk and stepped closer to investigate, reaching over towards the Scizor with an unspoken request. The seemingly perfectly clear glass fascinated her in particular. It was so unlike the dirty, colored beads the village’s own craftspeople made, to where—if not for hearing tales of humans knowing how to manufacture clear glass in abundance—she wouldn’t have been able to connect the two as being the same material—


As Aria inspected the item, her hands shifted along the smooth material. One finger eventually landed on a softer part that gave in when pressed, until an unexpected click made the glassy end of the device explode with light.

The sudden, blinding glare aimed at her face made the Gardevoir psychically toss the item away out of reflex. It bounced off the floor and rolled for a bit before coming to a stop; the light still shone out of the glass-tipped end.

After a few moments for everyone to calm down after the abrupt action, and for Aria to blink the glare away, Ruby cautiously picked the device up. The cone of light moved along with it, making its purpose clear.

“Guess that’s quite handy if you can’t see in the dark. You alright there, Aria?”

“^Y-yeah, just caught me off guard all wide eyed. Ugh, that stung.^”

Even if it was much too weak to be a Dazzling Gleam on a stick, Ruby still handled the item carefully. She kept the light away from everyone before spotting a differently looking spot on the handle—


—and turning the sudden Flasher off.

“Mikiri will have an incredible field day with this item.”

“Will she now?”

Sprout’s tone made it clear that the only correct answer was ‘no, she will not’. The tinkerer in Ori let out a tiny, metallic sigh of disappointment as the owl continued.

“One thing to find some abandoned scrap out there and pick it apart to see what makes it tick, another to destroy something that belongs to someone under our collective care.”

“An unconscious human—” - Lumi attempted to cut in, but Sprout had none of it.

“Someone under our collective care. A child, no less.”

“Even then—if you’re not planning on keeping all their junk in here, taking up a clinic room, maybe handing it off to someone who knows what they’re doing so that they can watch over isn’t the worst of ideas?” - The Luxray persisted, his point more agreeable now.

“The best of ideas would be stashing it all for nobody to touch until the human’s awake and can decide for themselves. Though... *sigh*, there isn’t exactly anywhere else appropriate or with as much free space as her workshop now, is there.”

It was way too late in the morning for her to be dealing with any of this.

“Just—just tell her not to touch anything once you move it over.”

As much as the extent of her knowledge was helping the ongoing investigation, Sprout more than deserved some shut eye. Aria’s green hand laying on her shoulder combined with a caring expression wordlessly got the Gardevoir’s suggestion across, the Decidueye nodding deeply in response.

“Yeah, just move all the human things over there, tell Mikiri to contain herself, and I suppose any further decisions can wait for now...”

“If it is a child, what happens when their parents come looking for them?” - The eventuality in Ruby’s question gave everyone a pause. Sprout sighed again and muttered the best plan she could come up with on the spot.

“I told Lucere to contact you all if some human does come looking, and I trust your combined judgment to think of an appropriate response when that happens, as much as I hope it does not come to it.”

The other scouts were torn between appreciating Sprout’s trust and dreading the exact situation she’d just described. Whether they liked it or not, it was as good of an answer as they’d get. With that in mind, they all gently urged Sprout out—even experienced scouts have bedtimes, and she was way past hers.

“Rest easy, Sprout, we’ll figure it out.”

As everyone else bid the owl goodbye, the Fennekin doll in the corner, overlooked until now with all the other, more eye-catching trinkets around, caught Aria’s attention.

Upon a closer inspection, that certainly wasn’t a fabric she was familiar with, simultaneously slicker and rougher to the touch than any she’d ever felt. It made for a poor imitation of fur, even though the actual craftsmanship was once again finer than any doll she’s ever seen. So much detail, such a cute expression, even got little fabric paw pads—


Aria’s glance at the doll’s underside revealed a newly familiar—if utterly unexpected—element. A metal seam ran down the length of its tummy, with a small metal element hanging off one of its ends.

“It appears humans enjoy using this kind of metal seam.”

Aria could only shrug at Ori’s comment as she recalled the trick Sprout used to open the bag. She carefully grabbing the dangling bit and gave it a firm pull—


Well, at least it worked.

The immediate result of that action, though, was a handful of small metal disks falling out of the opening, bouncing off one another as they scattered across the carpeted floor.

Even if it was nowhere near as abrupt or blinding as the black device from earlier, everyone still needed a moment to process what had just happened. And, naturally, leaned in to get a closer look at the metal disks afterwards.

“Would they forget what they are if they didn’t have these... reminder circles?”

“It wouldn’t hurt you to try and be less snarky sometimes, Lumi. They’re too well made not to be decorative, maybe some kind of charm?” - Ruby rolled her eyes as she inspected the tiny disk in her claws. The intricacy of its etchings was stunning—especially the Serperior motif wrapping around the outer rim—even if its function was nowhere near clear.

“^Why would you carry several identical charms, and keep them so hidden while at it?^” - Despite Aria’s counter-argument, she’d be lying to say she had any better ideas.

With a bit of focus and her psychics, the Gardevoir picked up all the disks littering the floor all at once. Ruby flicked the one she was holding up for Aria’s mental reach to grasp as well. If there’s anything the item seemed to be made for, it was that.

“A human custom, perhaps? The more charms the better, or something.” - Ruby suggested offhandedly as her paw itched to flick one of those disks again.

“Sure wouldn’t be out of character for them...” - Lumi mumbled under his breath.

As Aria was about to slide the disks back into their hiding spot, she spotted something else in the small pocket. Her gentle tugging slid several rectangular pieces of a canvas-like material out of it. The artwork on them was incredibly detailed, though seemed to be identical on all the smaller rectangles.

“More charms I suppose?”

The Gardevoir ignored Lumi’s sarcastic comment as she focused on the one rectangular object that stood out. It was larger, stiffer, and much smoother to the touch. Its artwork was also incredibly detailed, but… in an entirely different way.

Whereas the metal disks and canvas rectangles bore art that was as detailed as it was abstract, this stiffer item featured a scene so realistic it looked as if Aria was observing it with her own eyes.

It pictured a human—seemingly the same human that ended up here—looking up directly at the viewer with a smile as they held an actual Fennekin in their arms. The little mon seemed no less happy than the human as they followed their gaze, staring motionlessly at the Gardevoir.

It looked so much like a window to a real place that Aria tried moving it around just to see if the perspective would shift. To her slight disappointment, it did not. Suppose it was just a painting after all, even if an apparently infinitely detailed one. The backside was blank aside from a few symbols of what must’ve been the fabled human writing, contents as inscrutable as ever.

The depicted scene was so quaint that the Gardevoir had a hard time not smiling at it, even despite the seriousness of their current situation. The human was clearly happy, the Fennekin also looked content—though, was there something wrong with their eye—

“Did you find something interesting, Aria?”

The psychic wordlessly passed the realistic artwork over to Ori, sliding all the disks and other rectangles back into the doll. The Steel-type brought the rectangle right in front of his eyes, seemingly no less baffled by all the detail.

“I have no idea how one would create a painting like this. There does not appear to even be a visible paint texture anywhere. It’s as if a piece of reality was directly etched into thin wood.”

Such an interesting curio couldn’t resist being passed between all the scouts. The red pincer soon handed it off to a white, clawed paw, the attached face forming a small smile.

“That’s cute. Wonder how long they had to hold the pose for the artist to finish painting it.”

“^Do you think it was made after an actual scene?^” - Aria asked, wholly dumbfounded by the tiny painting.

“Sure can’t imagine it not being. Creativity’s one thing, but making all this detail up from scratch doesn’t exactly sound feasible.”

The Gardevoir couldn’t help but agree, at a second thought. She wondered what connection there was between the doll she was holding and the real firefox that the human apparently knew and had an affection for. Meanwhile, the picture was shown to the least handed scout in the room.

“Wonder how much the little one was actually enjoying it, hmph...”

“It wouldn’t hurt you to not assume the worst of people for once.” - Ruby jabbed in, not appreciating Lumi’s snark any.

“Humans sure ain’t people—”

“Let me guess, they’re just some mindless beasts that only want to harm and prey on ‘us’, the enlightened species?”

Silence fell over the chamber as the Weavile leered at the Luxray. Despite her best efforts, exhaustion eventually tempered her glare, prompting her to take the picture away and wordlessly pass it back to Aria.

While Lumi attempted to shrink or preferably collapse underground under the ice-type’s scalding gaze, Ori took it upon himself to diffuse the tension by redirecting everyone’s attention towards something more productive. He peeked out of the room, glancing over at the sleeping human. To the scouts’ relief, the unexpected guest was still right where they’d last seen them.

“How difficult is it to investigate a person’s memories, Aria?”

With the detailed image slid back into the doll, the Gardevoir closed its metal seam and looked up at the Steel-type. She shuddered at the begrudging reminder of her upcoming duty, but knew all well there was no other way through but forward.

“^Harder than it would be if they were awake to cooperate. Though, ultimately, not too difficult either way. Not waking them up will be the trickier part.^”

“All four of us could easily restrain a half dead, juvenile human even if that were to happen.” - Lumi gathered the courage to quip once more, before it was swiftly dashed again.

“Either of us could probably pacify them with a stern look in their current state. The point is to not put them through any unnecessary fright and pain, Lumi.” - The quadruped took his clue to shut up at the Weavile’s half-gritted words.

“Do you need us to do anything while you are in the middle of that process, Aria?”

“^Not wake them up, preferably.^”

With a deep breath, the Gardevoir entered the chamber with the sleeping human and approached them once more. Her hands shook slightly as she examined the unconscious child.

“What if it ends up being too much?” - Ruby chimed in with tired concern in her voice as Aria took her position beside the bed. A bright, pale shimmer enveloped her eyes and hand alike while she concentrated on the task ahead.

“^What do you mean?^”

“Well, you’re the expert here. I don’t know the specifics, but I’d imagine some memories could be a bit too much to bear, especially ones as... potentially traumatic as in this case.”

Aria paused for a moment, not paying the possibility much mind before proceeding.

“^In theory, yes, though I heavily doubt it will be anything I can’t snap myself out of.^”

“And what if it will?”

The question came through too late. Aria’s shimmering hand was already resting on the human’s forehead, their minds melding together as the psychic descended into the child’s subconscious.

Traversing through an unconscious mind was just similar enough to the usual awake existence to lead those who had accomplished it to describe it with regular, commonplace terms—but also just different enough for these same terms to fall far short.

The analogy Aria opted for most of the time was a walk through a sparse forest or an orchard. Each tree was an individual memory, and related memories were physically bundled together.

Of course, this analogy too was woefully flawed.

Trees—most trees at least—didn’t move or change shape in real time, had reasonable minimum and maximum sizes, and couldn’t conjoin themselves with other trees on a whim. The latter process was always particularly gruesome to imagine with actual trees, but only made sense in the quasi-dreamscape Aria was now wading through.

A headspace that even knowing the underlying truth of what she’d have to do, stripped of the layers of abstraction inherent in an analogy, couldn’t have prepared Aria for.

It was far from her first time diving into an unconscious mind. Even if their owners weren’t awake to help guide her towards what she needed to see, she usually had no issue finding her way towards the specific events or knowledge she was interested in.

This one was different. Darker, murkier. The usual mist that shrouded asleep minds was so thick in here she could barely see even a few feet in front of herself.

This must’ve been what a comatose mind was like.

With a bit more focus, Aria attempted to clear the way ahead of her. She’d pushed the fog just back enough to give her some breathing room, before steeling further into the murky realm. She examined every “tree” she passed by, looking around rather blindly for the child’s recent memories.

In most circumstances, they’d be the first thing she saw in here. But, as it was growing increasingly clear, these were not most circumstances she or the other scouts were dealing with.

Her own unease at what she would find in here wasn’t helping one bit. Doubly so, with it being steadily fueled by the scattered noises, bits of human speech, and especially distant screams she occasionally heard echoing through the desolate mindscape.

Fortunately for Aria’s resolve, they weren’t too common, lest the whole thing devolved into a haunted cacophony. Each time they reached her, though—sometimes painful, sometimes wrathful—Aria couldn’t help but feel a shiver run through her fin.

The sooner she found her answer and got out of here, the better.

As murky as this place was, it was only a temporary setback. Her dislike of empty flattery aside, Aria was good at this, quickly honing onto and following along whatever traces of awareness she could sense. Each step brought her closer to where the child’s consciousness had last faded.

Or, more realistically, was abruptly snuffed.

The closer she got, the louder and more frequent the surrounding shrieks became. At times, she could just barely glimpse shadowy outlines at the edges of her vision.

She knew she had nothing to fear. They weren’t real, merely a reflection of how the beings that had cast them haunted the poor mind she was wading through. She might’ve only been caught in the crossfire of the child’s subconscious torturing itself, but hell if it didn’t provide further motivation to up her pace and get through all this sooner.

And, considering the hour of the day and the emptiness of her stomach, get some breakfast afterwards.

It was hard to estimate just how long it took for her to find what she was looking for. It could’ve been anywhere from minutes to hours. All that Aria knew was that she was becoming desensitized to the unnerving stimuli around her at a pace her aware mind would’ve found disturbing.

And then, one final step later, she finally saw it.

The sapling of a memory looked paradoxical, dead and alive in equal measure. Most of its trunk was wilting away even as the branches and leaves continued to grow.

Traumatic start, with an indeterminate conclusion.

Aria would do everything in her power to make the latter a good one, but first, she needed to see how it had begun...

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Also check out my other fic, Another Way!
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Chapter 2: Whispers


the gay agenda

Chapter 2: Whispers

keep going

keep going

I’m so tired

keep going

it’s so cold

keep going

my legs hurt

I can’t stop now

I can’t turn back

I can’t ever stop

The point of view Aria was forced into was far from a clear one, in a very literal way.

The corners of the human’s vision were blurred beyond all comprehension. Even the center was slightly frosted over, obscuring the scene even further—a scene that was far from clear to begin with. The human was surrounded by almost complete darkness, with only the weak light coming from somewhere below their point of view illuminating the snow-covered path ahead.

After she got over the initial disorientation, Aria made out the T-shaped part of that metal contraption in the lower part of the child’s vision. Judging by how the blurry scenery shifted around her, they were using it for locomotion, somehow. Confounding as the sights were, the sounds she heard painted a much clearer, much bleaker picture.

The rumble of the contraption’s wheels against snow and dirt, night ambiance, strained panting, and the hammering of a racing heart.

how long still

it’s so far

what was that noise

please be just me

I’m so tired

The recollection was murky, even beyond what Aria could see and hear. Their entire thought process appeared to have almost melted into one continuous stream, any specific focus difficult to discern from the mental flood. What wasn’t difficult to make out, though, was the sheer fear saturating their mind.

Fear, exhaustion, and strain at what this child was pushing themselves through. They were only barely pushing through, and every single movement had their body screaming for them to stop, even if just for a moment—

But they couldn’t.

What they were afraid of wouldn’t let them.

I can’t stop now

keep going

I want to go home

keep going

keep going

keep going

can’t turn back now

Despite the growing panic in the child’s thoughts, the view itself scarcely changed at all. The human path they were on cut through the woods in a largely straight path, letting Aria try dissecting the panic filling the human’s head.

No matter how hard she tried to make out what they were afraid of, though, the answer remained out of her reach. The little one was running away from home, that much was clear, but the ‘why’ didn’t cross their mind even once. It made for a confusing, but no less disturbing, spectacle.

A spectacle with a foregone conclusion, no less.

my legs hurt

how much more

need to stop for a moment

need to catch my breath




they’re already after me

have to be

or maybe they’re not

The view shifted slightly as the child squinted towards something barely visible in the distance. They soon determined it to be a fallen log cutting the forest path in half, forcing the human to slow down as they approached, their body shaking harder and harder.

need to stop

carry bike over

have to stop

maybe catch a breath

I’m thirsty

just a couple min-


To the best of Aria’s ability to tell, the voice was little more than the echo originating from their own mind, not unlike what she experienced while traversing their subconscious. It couldn’t have been anything else—it was much too clear, too directionless to be anything but that.

But it didn’t matter.





What mattered was that the girl thought it was real.

That she just heard her name being barked out by a gruff, masculine voice. The thought made the fear’s grip on her body even tighter as she bolted onward, eyes frantically scanning the path ahead.





With a yanking motion, the view swerved into the tree line, dodging the fallen log. The uneven terrain turned an already barely coherent scene into a blurry patchwork of light and dark, of black trees and white snow around them. Grunts of pain escaped the girl with every rougher spot as she kept giving it her all; her body screamed for a reprieve that wouldn’t come.


everything hurts

legs hurt

can’t stop

don’t let me stop

The view rattled on as the human made their way through the trees at alarming speeds. Her eyes madly darted from side to side, trying to find a path back to the road without stopping; the density of the surrounding forest rendered that task nigh impossible.

ow ow ow

back to the road

can’t stop

just keep going


there has to be an opening ahead


head hurts

Despite the nigh-delirious state she was in by that point, the human eventually spotted a way back onto the road. In her focus, however, she failed to notice the ravine quickly closing in on her current path from the other side as she pushed the contraption to its, and her limit.



don’t stop

keep at it

it’s gonna be over soon

I’ll be safe



Anne let out a strained grunt as she tried pushing on just that bit harder. Giving it her all, she turned the contraption to scale the incline and get back onto the path—

Only for the snow and ground under her to finally give in.

The crumbling edge of the ravine dragged her in along with itself, toppling the contraption and its rider alike. The human’s eyes got the briefest of glimpses at the endless abyss she was falling into before they turned skyward.

For a couple of heartbeats, there was nothing. No more thought, no more movement, not even any screams; the human’s breath stuck in her own throat. Only once she was into freefall, staring at the brilliant moon above, did more thoughts come through, slow and staggered.

I’m gonna die

I don’t want to die

I don’t want to die

please don’t let it hurt

I’m sorry ember—

And then, the vision tore itself apart in an instant.

Aria was ejected from the girl’s mind with enough force to physically stagger her, the violence of it all leaving her stunned. The child in front of her shook and sobbed fearfully in her dreams; the limbs that weren’t paralyzed jostled as if trying to run away from an impossible threat.

“Aria, are you alright!? You were gone for almost an hour, what’s—what’s going on?”

The Weavile was only managing to stay awake because of wanting to watch over her friend. It looked like her worst fears were confirmed—Aria looked thoroughly spooked; the human was suddenly having a nightmare; and neither could immediately speak up about what had just happened.

The Gardevoir didn’t respond, beelining for the bed once she’d snapped herself out of her daze. Once there, she laid a hand on the child’s forehead again, shaking as she drove away the nightmare with a bit of applied Calm Mind.

At that point, though, she could’ve probably used some as well.

“^They—she—was running for her life.^”

Silence fell over the room as everyone chewed through Aria’s words, including the two scouts that until now have either been examining the once-moving contraption or taking a nap. Thankfully, the psychic’s intervention was effective, letting the girl return to as peaceful a slumber as was possible after a crash like that.

“Running for her life from what in specific?”

“^I’m... uncertain Ruby, she was too exhausted to think coherently. All I gathered was that she was running away from home, likely because of some other human, but I couldn’t figure out who that was.^”

Aria didn’t want to move, didn’t want to let go of this scared, traumatized child. Her innermost nature called for her to protect her as much as she could; to do everything in her power to keep her safe—before being overruled by the eventual realization that she already was. Belatedly, Aria finally took her hand away, hoping Anne’s dreams wouldn’t include any more recollections of what she’d been through.

“Can’t you dive into its head again and find that part out?”

“^I’d rather spare her the pain for now. Not like any other human is gonna find her here, anyway—^”

“Are you done with your psychicing, Aria?”

The low, feminine voice pulled the attention of everyone gathered over to the room’s entrance. The elderly Blissey looking in might’ve only been about as eager to deal with the human as Lumi was, but her vows took precedence.

“^Yes, Esther. Did you want to administer another treatment?^”

“More so just double-check everything. I’m sure Maple and others did a great job, but you never know with humans…”

Aria winced internally at their chief medic’s tone as she took a few steps away from the bed. It was easy to dismiss the Luxray as just being abrasive and prejudiced, but the Blissey, with all her lived experience? Much less so.

Esther’s moderate annoyance at having to deal with a human again after all these years wasn’t difficult to sense. Thankfully, it didn’t manifest beyond just a few minor grumbles. In a few quick moments, her check-up around the sleeping human’s body was done, finding nothing amiss.

Before the medic left, though, the Gardevoir had something to ask her.

“^Esther, is she really just a child?^”

An immediate, thoughtless nod, the truth plain to see.

“^How old is she?^”

Now that was an interesting question, one that the Blissey had to chew through. She walked back over to the bed and took a much closer look. Her recollection wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, leaving her uncomfortably uncertain about the girl’s age.

“I’m… unsure. Could be anywhere from seven or eight to maybe eleven.”

The description left most gathered confused, rendered very ambiguous by the lack of a unit. ‘Seasons’ made the most sense considering this being a child, but an elaboration wouldn’t hurt.

“Seven or eight what, moons?”


Ruby blinked in confusion, the answer taking her aback. To think that this human that wasn’t just a child, but was clearly a child, could’ve been almost her age was… weird to think about.

“^Is there any way you could know with certainty?^”

This wasn’t anything Aria needed to know, but… it still could help in piecing together what could’ve happened to her. Or, at least, that was the Gardevoir’s justification to herself.

“Not without checking her papers, hah, doubt that’s gonna be happening.”

Right as the Blissey was about to turn for the exit, doubt crossed her soft, weathered face.

“Though… she brought some items with herself, didn't she?”

“Yes. They are located in the side room.”

Esther didn’t even wait for Ori to finish before heading over there. In her wake, an array of rustling, clicking noises, leaving Aria worried the medic would unintentionally damage some of the girl’s possessions—before finally, a louder ‘aha!’.

“There we go, I think that’s an ID. Let me try to read this… ‘Student’… ‘Identification’—yep, an ID.”

The Blissey’s words went squarely over the heads of everyone gathered, but she was much too invested in her little investigation to notice.

“First name ‘Anne’, last name ‘Martin’. Date of birth—10th of February, 538 AR. Which…”

Esther emerged from the side room flicking the card against her other hand. She grumbled quietly at realizing that even that clue wouldn’t amount to much, not without knowing what year it was in the human calendar. The last date she remembered seeing with confidence before making her escape was 528—or was it 529? It couldn’t have been more than a couple of decades since.

She hoped.

“…I’d guess she’s nine, then.”

The number didn’t mean much on its own, and the Blissey was well aware.

“Around Cadence’s age, relatively.”

Now that was something everyone could work with—and be unnerved by. A stray human child, still far from maturity, ending up with such injuries on her own…

“^Thank you so much for your help, Esther. I hope ‘Anne’ will be able to clarify it for us herself in not too long.^”

“I don’t.”

The acerbic comment left most of the room uneasy as the Blissey departed. Her tone, Anne’s situation, all the unknowns still surrounding it… it all sent shivers down their backs.

“I suppose with everything said, keeping her here until we know more would be an appropriate course of action, even once she does sufficiently recover enough to be transported. There is no purpose in potentially exposing her to the threats she originally ran away from.”

There was a nearly unanimous agreement in the room with that notion. The peril that Anne had been in, combined with her age, made most everyone see her in a very different light, even if the mystery at the root of it all remained unanswered.

Not a whole lot they could do about it at the moment, though.

“Guess that’s about it for now, then?”

“^Seems so. Go get some rest Ruby, we can take care of her items on our own.^”

With the question she was actually asking answered in the way she preferred, the Weavile sighed out loud and headed for the exit, sending everyone off with a wave.

“Have a good day everyone—and keep Mikiri off of all this stuff. I’d rather not find her workshop in pieces when I wake up.”

After Ruby’s sendoff, the rest of the group started preparing to leave as well. Ori hoisted the metal contraption over his shoulder as if it weighed nothing while Aria put all the assorted items back into the human’s bag.

While the Gardevoir clumsily tried to close its metal seam, she noticed the room grow darker for a moment, looking at the small, Safeguard-protected window on its other side. She might’ve only glimpsed the Whimsicott there before they flew off, but knew instantly what their sight implied.

There goes any secrecy they might’ve had about this entire human mess.

Aria sighed, distracting herself from that realization by focusing on grabbing the small pile of clothes in the corner—the ones Anne was probably wearing when she crashed—up together into the air together with the bag. Yep, definitely the ones she was wearing when she crashed; the reek of blood Aria could recognize anywhere.

Why did she have to disturb that pile, ugh...

“Can I help with anything?”

Lumi wasn’t exactly in the position to carry a whole ton. Maybe the bag in his mouth, but that was about it. With how little it weighed, though, there was no need for that, especially while he could be useful in a different way.

“^No, we’re good, I think. Though—if you could run ahead to Holly’s and get us some breakfast in advance, that’d be very appreciated.^”

Rumbling of her stomach was the only comment Aria needed to motivate the Luxray into action.

As she was about to leave, Aria looked over her shoulder one last time, watching the Leavanny check up on the girl again. She wished she could do more for her right now. With a deep breath, she put that thought aside and followed Ori out. They had their own duties to take care of.

Their village wouldn’t keep itself hidden, after all.

The pair’s walk was uneventful as far as their cargo went. To little surprise and more than a bit of relief, the human items continued to be as inert as metal, cloth, and some other materials could be.

Unfortunately, that didn’t extend to the passersby.

The massive contraption attracted a lot of attention in particular, only feeding further into the rumors already spreading through the village. They could understand some of it; much of what they carried was rather unusual, but in any other circumstances, the items wouldn’t have earned more than a curious look or two.

Alas, these weren’t any other circumstances.

“M-Mrs. Aria?”

The quiet, palpably unnerved woofs dragged the Gardevoir’s attention away from tired annoyance. She smiled weakly at the Braixen, extending an arm towards her as she marched on.

“Good morning, Ember. I take you’ve already heard the ‘news’?”

Aria’s physical voice helped soothe the Fire-type’s nerves some as she walked over closer, gently hugging the psychic’s side. Her shudder answered for her while the icy wind made her eye patch flutter; the Gardevoir sighing inwardly in response.

Thanks, Sol.

“I know a human in our village sounds scary, sweetie, but I promise we’ve got it under control. They’re badly injured, comatose, and don’t have any human items on them. We’re all safe.”

The Gardevoir meant every single thing she said, but she knew there was one thing in particular that the lil’ fox needed to hear more than anything else.

“Nobody will hurt you again, sweetie.”

Ember nodded fearfully, her shaky hug tightening for just a moment. Aria came to a stop, giving the Braixen all the time she needed and then some. Saddening as the sight was, it doubled as a dire reminder of how important her duties were, filling her with some well-needed motivation on the cold winter morning.

“Th-th-thank you, Mrs. Aria…”

After steadying her breath, Ember leaned back and swiped the wetness out of her eyes. Her smile up at the Gardevoir was so weak it only barely qualified as one, but it was a smile, nonetheless.

“Take it easy today, okay? Pearl and Jovan will understand if you can’t help out with the little ones today—”

“N-no no, I—I can! I-it helps me out, and without that m-my mom would keep trying to train moves with me and…”

Ember shuddered, earning herself another pat on the back.

“I know it’s a lot of effort to catch up, but you’ll get there in time.”

“It’s—it’s not that, it’s… n-nevermind.”

Whatever the cause might have been, this seemed to be a topic the Braixen was even less keen to talk about. Enough so that she excused herself soon after, her mix of embarrassment and ineffectively hidden anxiety much easier to sense than she would’ve wanted.

No matter how much Aria wanted to help, her duties took precedence.

As they resumed their march on, the pair of scouts had to constantly answer questions about a scary human in their midst, growing ever more absurd as the rumors evolved and twisted on themselves. They were the guardians of this place, and soothing everyone’s fears about this most unusual visitor was a part of their role, after all.

It sure didn’t help Aria keep herself from eyerolling at the third question in a row about this half dead child Cadence’s age being a ‘trainer’, though.

Especially since even if that was the case, Anne wouldn’t have any of her toys with her once she woke up. Unless the humans had developed an uncanny ability of kidnapping other living beings by looking at them, they would all be more than safe.

Thankfully, not everyone was so afraid of their unintentional guest.

“I-is the human okay?”

The chirped out words got both scouts looking up at their source, one particular Dartrix that had perched on top of the contraption’s metal handle. Ori was quite literally too strong to care, not even having noticed her landing, while Aria answered shortly after.

“^She’s not doing the best Blossom, but is already much better than when your mom found her thanks to our medics.^”

The owlet nodded somberly at the news—she was glad they were being tended to, even if they still were in a rough state. With how hard they had apparently been injured, guess it only made sense for them to need a long while to feel better.

“O-okay. A-are the rumors true?”

“You will have to be more specific than that, Blossom.”

“Is she really just a ch-child?”

Blossom’s sleepy expression grew startled at the crazy rumor turning out to be true as both scouts nodded. She had a hard time not empathizing with the stranger in a situation like that, no matter what terrifying species they might’ve been.

“Oh, g-gosh. Her parents m-must be so scared...”

Her own mom would likely scour every single last inch of the woods if something like this had happened to her. Even if humans couldn’t fly, with all the wild things they supposedly could do, they probably had some other way of accomplishing the same goal.

It was a fact the pair below her were also acutely aware of.

The longer all this took, the higher the odds were that despite their best efforts, humans would eventually stumble upon them while searching for the girl. And if there were enough of them, the risk that at least one human would slip through the cracks and blow their cover grew higher and higher.

A nightmarish situation, no matter how they sliced it.

“Yes, they likely are. The medics are working on getting her back into shape as fast as they can, though, so hopefully she’ll be back home safe before humans can do too much searching.”

Blossom nodded firmly, wanting to support their healer as much as she could with that. Even if it just meant avoiding hurting herself in the meantime to not take up any of their attention.

But maybe… she could help in some other way, too.

“Mhm! Oh—could I v-visit her once she feels better? She’s g-gotta be so lonely in there...”

She might not have known much about humanity—though still more than most others thought she did—but figured that being friendly was universal enough.

Sadly, friendliness wasn’t an option either.

“^She’s still unconscious, Blossom, so sadly not. Even if she comes to, she’s not supposed to know our village exists and we won’t let her see more of it. Once she’s ready to return to the human town, we’ll have to make her forget everything she saw here before she leaves, anyway.^”

Bleh, that was gonna be a messy job, and Aria wasn’t looking forward to it in the slightest.

“Awwh... b-but, if she’ll forget it all, w-won’t it end up not mattering what she saw?”

“^I know what you mean, but it doesn’t work like that, sweetie. It’s not as simple as just me snapping my fingers and suddenly she doesn’t remember any of this anymore. It’s slow and messy, and there’s always a risk of me either forgetting to erase something which could have her potentially start recalling it all, or worse—erasing too much by accident. The less there is to remove, the lower the chance something goes wrong.^”

The Dartrix chewed through Aria’s words for a moment before nodding with a slump. It wasn’t fair; she just wanted to help and give the poor human some friendship, but she couldn’t even do that.

“^It's rough. I know, sweetie. It’s still very nice of you to offer that, though. And, who knows, maybe once you’re older and your mom lets you fly all the way over to the human village, you’ll find her there and become her friend then?^”

It was certainly a Farfetch’d theoretical, but hardly impossible. It lifted Blossom’s spirits up a bit, but at the same time left her nervous in a way that Aria wanted to follow up on—only for the owlet to speak up first.

“Yeah! I hope I’ll be able to do that... u-um, wh-where are you taking her things, anyway?”

“We are moving them to Mikiri’s burrow for storage.”

That made sense—if there was anyone who knew how to handle human things, it was Mikiri.

But if there was anyone who knew how to break human things, it was also Mikiri. And after one too many accidental fires her tinkering had started, Blossom knew better than to get too close to her cobbled deathtrap of a burrow.

“Oh, I hope it goes well! U-um, I have to go now!”

Wasting no more time for politeness, Blossom took off in the exact direction away from their destination. Aria only barely held in a chuckle at overhearing her thought process. She had to admit, it’s not like the owlet’s concern was baseless, growing antsy as they neared the burrow.

The structure itself escaped easy description.

It was massive compared to other dwellings in the village, embedded into the side of a large hill, and made of equal parts mud, stone, brick, wood, and several of those weird wavy metal plates that humans occasionally litter the woods with.

It was chaos, but—to the best of everyone’s knowledge—it was at least somewhat controlled chaos.

A very loudly rumbling chaos. The scouts glanced at each other before Ori knocked on the oversized door—at least relative to the inhabitant’s actual size.

The noise ceased shortly afterwards; the newfound silence soon followed by heavy shuffling and quick steps toward the patchwork door. Mikiri stepped out right away, looking up at the unexpected visitors.

Her eyes and a good chunk of her front face were covered by something neither of the two scouts knew how to describe. Black, reflective, and vastly oversized eye coverings, with thin extensions that wrapped around her head, kept in place with some string.

Her front mouth might’ve expressed the words ‘what now’ without even needing to speak, but that changed the moment she noticed the contraption on Ori’s shoulder. She pointed at it right away, wasting no time for greetings.

“That! Gimme that!”

“^Mikiri, these aren’t for you to toy with.^”

The Mawile was about to protest, though considering she really didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to at least inspect a non-corroded instance of that particular human contraption, she forced herself to pause. One deep breath later, she asked more calmly, eye coverings still on her face.

“Alrighty. What’s all this then?”

“^I take you’ve already heard of the human ending up in—^”

“Human? What human?”

Her head and maw alike tilted to the side, both left slightly agape as she waited for an explanation.

“You have not gone out today yet, Mikiri, have you.”

“Not until I get that dumb mess inside to stop getting stuck every few minutes, just can’t get these dumb gears to align right, ugh! But that’s all besides—what human? A useful one?”

“A young girl that almost died on the outskirts of our village tonight, and is now in the medics’ tent until she recovers.”

That kind of response was enough to chill the Mawile’s enthusiasm significantly. Both because it was just a messed up situation, and because she doubted someone in that state could help explain a few trinkets she had been wondering about.

And that was assuming Aria would even facilitate such an exchange in the first place. Which sure didn’t sound likely with how stern her expression was.

“That’s... rough. What about this thing then? Is it hers?”

“^Yes, it is. But we’re not moving it here for you to take it apart, but because... *sigh*, there isn’t exactly anywhere else where all that’d fit, so we now ask you to keep an eye on it in your workshop.^”

“And trust you not to meddle with it.”

Both scouts thought an unspoken ‘too much’ afterwards.

Getting to take a closer look at a less-broken example of the contraption she’d been curious about for a while for the price of just using up some space in her oversized burrow? A deal she’d take any day, even if it limited her ability to take the device apart and figure out what makes it tick.

Hopefully, she’d at least be able to figure out its purpose.

“Hmmmmm—deal. What’s all the other stuff and why does it smell of blood?”

“These are her other belongings, a bag of clothes and a couple other items, and the clothes she was wearing at the time of her accident.”

“...why so many clothes?”

“^Why are you wearing this thing on your face?^”

Aria couldn’t wait with the pressing question any longer. Mikiri blinked in confusion before remembering that there, in fact, was something on her front face. She reached behind her head to untie the string that held the object in place, holding it up afterwards for the scouts to gawk at.

“Helps a ton with sun glare. Or when welding metal. Or when stuff messes up and there’s a ton of sparks everywhere all of a sudden. No clue what it actually is, though. Looks cool, at least.”

The Mawile accentuated the last point by putting the eye cover back on, re-tying the string behind her front head as she led her guests in. The inside was unusually well lit by her standards; the sunroof opened up all the way.

Most of the space on the inside was taken up by a massive mess of gears, rust-covered metal ones and makeshift-looking wood ones alike, all connected to a grindstone in an arrangement Aria knew better than to even attempt to understand. The only part that she could figure out was a crank at the side of it all, placed high enough that it required a small ladder next to it just for the Mawile to reach it.

“Just drop it off in the back. Though, I gotta ask, what’s up with that bag? Not seeing any openings there.”

Despite the sheer cool factor of her eye coverings, Mikiri couldn’t deny them being rather cumbersome to use in the dimmer parts of her burrow. She blinked a couple times as she took them off, holding them by the side extension in her maw as she inspected the pile of human stuff.

“There is a peculiar mechanism within it. It requires one to grab the loose part and pull it across the metal seam.”

Intrigued, the Mawile did as instructed. Her eyes went wide with the ease with which the formerly hole-less bag was opened. She experimented a few times by opening and closing it very slowly while paying close attention to the lines of metal teeth on the sides of the seam. Her hands and maw itched for more tinkering—

But, on a second thought, she realized she didn’t even have to look up at Aria to know that the Gardevoir wouldn’t be approving of any further tinkering. With a dejected sigh, she zipped the bag closed once more, half groaning and half asking her next question.

“You sure you can’t let that human stay just so that I can take a proper look at their stuff?”

“^Only if you house her here, keep her safe and content, keep her from escaping, and fend off all the dozens of humans that will come in search of her.^”

“You’re driving a hard bargain there Aria, but I might just—”

She might not have been even tangentially related to any Ice types, but Aria’s glare was very good at freezing people in their tracks, especially when backed by a subtle, yet firm expression of ‘this isn’t funny’.

“You’re a killjoy at times, Aria.”

“^Better a killjoy than to even consider letting us all do something we’re more than likely to really regret. I’m already dreading when the first of their ‘search party’ will show up, though Lucere will at least inform us of that when it happens.^”

“Something tells me you and your brother won’t have too much of an issue leading a couple clueless humans astray when that happens.”

“^Maybe not the first time, no, but that same something tells me they won’t give up after just one search. Sooner or later, they’ll force themselves here no matter what we do. Hopefully, the girl is off of our hands long before that can happen.^”

“Then why not just dump her back on their doorstep and not have to worry about any of that? Y’know, return to sender and all that.”

“She is much too badly injured for that.”

“^That and because she almost died while running for her life away from something or someone, and until we can figure out what it is, we’d rather not leave her in certain danger.^”

Well, shoot.

Mikiri rocked in place as her every idea was shot down, finally drained of enough fixated momentum to actually think things through. She sure wasn’t arriving at anything reassuring, whistling to herself before admitting the obvious.

“Sounds like you’ve got a big ol’ bloody mess on your hands.”

Both scouts could only sigh and nod in response. This was way too much to think about on an empty stomach this late in the morning.

“Well—don’t let me hold you up then. You gotta do what you gotta do to keep this whole place safe and all, and hopefully it won’t include a humanling kicking the bucket in all this mess.”

But if she does, dibs on all this stuff.

Aria was about to scold her for that thought, but after the emotional rollercoaster of this morning, she couldn’t help but burst giggling at just how abruptly morbid the joke was. All the while, Ori was looking at her with visible concern.

“^Pffft, can’t promise anything, but hopefully it won’t come to that anyway. Take care, Mikiri.^”

“Ha, and you best don’t go mad over all this—someone’s gotta keep your brother in check from getting too annoying after all.”

Truly, her most important duty.

With a light stretch of their limbs, the pair of scouts left the spacious burrow, Aria’s mental reach closing the door behind them. Their village was quickly getting to its busiest, the winter sun not too far from its zenith already.


“Right frickin’ away. My stomach is already beginning to scream at me.”

Ori didn’t have to be told twice, his steps as brisk as possible as they took off towards the pantry. Aria levitated beside him to keep up. A direct Teleport would’ve gotten her there even faster, but also leave her exhausted before even noon.

And the little of the future she could intuit told her there would be a lot more of this mess to deal with before any rest came.

“Do you think humans can eat Holly’s cooking?”

The robotic words took the Gardevoir out of her thoughts; the topic unlike the Scizor.

“^Considering she told me a decent chunk of her cooking was inspired by human recipes she’d heard about, I’d guess so.^”

“How does the idea of saving some for the girl once she wakes up sound, then?”

“^Hah, a welcome gift?^”

“It appears to me that it would help recover sooner. Nobody has ever not felt better after having some of Holly’s food.”

Ain’t that the truth.

“Yeah, good call Ori.”

The intensifying aroma of freshly baked goods, combined with the rumbling in their stomachs, encouraged the two scouts to keep at their haste. After one last turn, the pantry finally came into view. Larger than anything nearby, made of brick and stone, extending a floor underground and doubling as Holly’s dwelling.

Only barely sturdy enough to contain the cook herself.

If not for the morning rush having already passed some time ago, Lumi would likely still have been waiting in the queue for their portions. Then again, with how chatty the Azumarill was, she would have probably offered them a shortcut through the queue in return for a scoop on the topic the entire village was buzzing about.

Not like that hasn’t happened in the past.

To their stomach’s joy, Lumi had already waited his turn. He was busy going through his own portion as he laid beside the pantry’s counter, keeping guard of his coworkers’ meals. The kitchen’s ambient heat helped keep them warm, but it only did so much.

Even a lukewarm breakfast beat no breakfast, and Aria wasted no time levitating their portions over, catching the Luxray’s attention while he was busy stretching and discharging into the snowy ground.

“Got Mikiri under control?”

“^As much as anyone can hope to, yes.^”

“So, not at all?”

Aria rolled her eyes as her and Ori’s portions arrived into her physical reach, letting them finally sate their hunger. After swapping them, of course. A metal shaving reinforced roll would likely... not go along too well with her fairy physiology.

As they bit into their meals, the cook herself noticed their arrival. A drawn out whistle caught their attention as they were waved over; the Azumarill standing on her toe tips on top of a stool to make sure they noticed her.

It was incredibly hard not to notice, and that applied to Holly’s presence in general.

“Oi! Grumpypaws here wouldn’t say anything about the whole affair, but I know you two were there too. Get to spillin’!”

Holly unceremoniously opened the front counter of the bakery before walking out of it and placing a stool in the snow to sit on and stare at the scouts expectantly from.

“I imagine an appropriate place to start from is to ask how much have you heard already.” - As disappointed as Ori was at being unable to dodge the cook’s gossipy questioning, he figured he could at least skip some of it by not being redundant.

“A whole lot of nonsense is what I’ve heard. Human in a medical tent, and then everyone tells the rest of it differently. I need the truth, babes, and only the truth.”

Guess they wouldn’t be skipping anything after all.

“^Well, to be more accurate, a human girl—^”

“Wait wait wait, you mean just a young’un?”

A firm nod confirmed Holly’s suspicions. She seemed to be genuinely surprised at that turn of events, something rarely seen from her.

“Well, I’ll be damned. So a kid got themselves messed up enough to need our help bad enough to get taken in, eh? That’s... poor thing.”

“^Yes, it’s awful. Especially since it looks like she was running away from something, or someone—^”

“Wait wait wait a bloody minute, a kid running for her life? Don’t they literally have a town a couple of hours from here?”

“That is where she came from, to the best of our knowledge.”

The Azumarill silently mouthed out something that was probably obscenities before shaking her head, eyes wide at the insanity of it all.

“So what, did a bloody Tyranitar just stroll in there and level the place? Why would she be running?”

“^We just don’t know yet. I’ll have to dig into it deeper, just not today to spare her any more stress.^”

“Can’t y’all send someone over to check up on their town in the meantime? This—this makes no sense!”

“If something destructive had happened to their town, I would expect to see a lot more than a single child try to flee from there.”

“^That, and from what I could make out, it felt like she was running from another human and not a mon or some sort of natural disaster. If it was the latter, we’d probably feel it over here too.^”

“Not like we have the spare manpower to watch their weird settlement, either.”

Lumi’s addition in particular shut down Holly’s idea. This was the one time where they really couldn’t afford to divert anyone from their regular scouting duties, not with the heightened risk of humans sending their own reconnaissance.

Holly pondered through it all for an approximate three seconds before groaning in frustration. From the outside, it sounded like an absolute mess, and even her hyperactive brain couldn’t figure any of it out.

“Whoever hurt her best sleep lightly—if I ever get my paws on them, I’ll make them fear water alright.”

With the assorted grumbling and smacking of her bulbous tail against the snow, Holly was done venting her anger out. Now that her anger had been dealt with, it was time to switch gears into something actually constructive.

“And until then, might as well make her something nice. Now what do humans like...”


Lumi’s badly timed joke was rewarded with his head becoming surrounded in a bright, shimmering aura before being forced down, faceplanting into the snow.

“^She’s unconscious, so preferably something that can be reheated without too much difficulty, and can last a couple of days. And... thanks Holly. We meant to ask you earlier if you could do something like this, make something for her once she wakes up.^”

Holly scoffed at that, flicking her wrist limply. She couldn’t keep a prideful smile from creeping onto her expression for too long, though.

“Babes, babes, thought you knew me better than this—of course I’ll cook for anyone who needs their stomach filled, that’s hardly even a question. I’m already itching with ideas... Salac to give her a kick of energy once she’s back up, Pecha to help fight off any disease, Kasib for flavor... oh oh oh am I loving it already. Now, you three!”

The Azumarill’s sudden call startled the scouts, stopping them in their tracks as the cook picked her stool up and moved it back into the pantry. She almost dove into more cooking there and then, before remembering to follow up—

“Enjoy your meals! And good luck with your duties, not like y’all need it, hah! Keep safe.”

With their portions wrapped up, the scouts departed for their duties shortly afterwards.

A couple of Agilities let Aria get to the area she patrolled relatively quickly, and without exerting her too much. ‘Too’ was definitely the load-bearing word in that sentence, but thankfully she could keep sensing for nearby humans while she caught her breath and had to slow down to a walking pace.

Most of the time, her shifts were uneventful. The forest in which their village was located might’ve been sandwiched in between two human settlements—one of which was very sizable—but very few humans ever ventured close enough to be of any danger. They tended to stick to that neat, straight path of theirs, and even then it saw maybe a couple of humans a day, if that.

Still, they had to remain ever vigilant. If even one human had learned the truth and walked away with it, the rest would inevitably know too before long.

And once that happened, they were doomed.

Aria remembered thinking that humans were some sort of collective organism, back when she first wound up here. Her mentor had to explain to her that wasn’t the case, which only confused her even more—at least, until he offered an alternate explanation.

There were just too many humans to handle.

Their village had somewhere around two to three hundred souls the last time they counted. Meanwhile, the larger of the nearby human settlements had thousands upon thousands. Even if very few of them enslaved Pokemon for fighting, many others still had access to those terrifying ‘balls’ of theirs. More than enough, taken together, to leave them horribly outmatched.

And that’s without taking reinforcements into account. For as large as that nearby town was, it paled compared to humanity’s largest.

The sheer scale of the human world made Aria’s head spin whenever she attempted to comprehend any of it.

To her chagrin, this wouldn’t end up being another day of steadily patrolling between a couple of abandoned human structures without ever spotting anyone. Shivers ran down her spine after spotting a distinctively human aura in the distance, snapping her away from pondering and back to reality.

Sneaking up on people was much easier than she had thought it’d be growing up.

Full invisibility, while possible, was difficult and draining to maintain. Thankfully, it wasn’t necessary much of the time. All she needed to do was to make herself harder to notice and most other living beings, mons or humans alike, grew almost completely blind to her presence. Their eyes would just glaze right over where she was and over at the rest of the forest whenever she had accidentally made a noise.

Though, just to be sure, she mentally reached over and blocked all stimuli coming from her from registering for them as well. The goal was to redirect them without them ever consciously noticing, her typing awarding her that leg up above most of the other scouts. Her brother could also confuse them into leaving, and so could Cypress, but everyone else had to resort to intimidation much of the time.

Which—while just as effective in the moment, no doubt—always carried the risk of drawing further attention down the line. Especially when done by a scout whose species didn’t live here natively.

Part of why Ori exclusively handled other mons that would think to predate on them instead. That, and he just really wasn’t good at being threatening beyond his sheer size, tried as he might.

The human Aria had snuck up on seemed to be there on their own. A companion wouldn’t have been much of an issue for her either—unless it was a Dark-type, of course. After making sure they weren’t able to see, hear, or otherwise perceive her at all, she dove into their surface thoughts, the human stopping to look around at the sudden sensation of being watched.

The immediate good news was that this human had nothing to do with Anne.

The slightly worse news was that she was a ‘birdwatcher’, and that she was venturing over in the approximate direction of their village in order to get ‘photos’ of the Rowlet family after hearing of them being here. Aria had no idea what some of that meant, but the Rowlet part was clear at least.

Clear, and odd—Sprout was much better than to ever let herself get spotted by whoever she was observing. Sigh, Blossom has been getting out there on her own, hasn’t she? Something to bring up once Aria was back.

And in the meantime—

“^There aren’t any Rowlet in these woods. Whoever told you that made it up.^”

Her mental utterances were much more so commands than words. A light form of Hypnosis let her steer the human’s thoughts without them ever realizing anything was afoul.

“^There’s nothing to see here. Also, you... forgot about a ‘stove’ back home.^”

She wasn’t sure whether that particular suggestion would accomplish much beyond confusing the human further. Most of the concepts she dredged up from their mind were only partial at best.


Well, it looked like her idea worked almost too well. The human turned around on a dime, breaking into the fastest panicked jog they could manage with such a heavy bag bouncing on their back.

That went smoothly, thank gods—

“Aria, Aria!”

The bird cries were loud enough that the Gardevoir worried about the human doubling back to investigate them, but before she could do anything about it, Lucere perched on a nearby branch and continued.

“The humans are on their way!”

Aria’s attention narrowed in an instant.

“^How many, where, how far along are they?^”

“Two with one mon, slowly following the human path! Lumi is keeping an eye on them!”

“^Where’s Marco?^”

“I don’t know, I found you first! Though, between the two of us, I trust you more than your brother to handle this with the delicacy it needs…”

As serious as the atmosphere was, Aria couldn’t help but chuckle weakly, before shaking her amusement off as she relaxed her body for another Agility.

“Fair enough. Lead the way, Lucere.”

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other fic, Another Way!
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Chapter 3: Pity


the gay agenda

Chapter 3: Pity

As the Altaria guided her through the forest, Aria couldn’t help but keep replaying what she’d seen in Anne’s memories to herself. So much of it didn’t make a lick of sense, answering almost nothing beyond the girl having ran away from something.

Despite her confusion, she still felt protective of the human girl out of reflex, more so than she probably should’ve been. Guess a child is a child in the end, and wanting to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves was her innermost nature.

Even if that child also happened to be human.

Don’t worry, Anne, we’ll get you back home safely.


The Gardevoir’s questioning tone had the Dragon-type dive to fly beside her, easily matching her pace.

“Everything alrighty, Aria?”

“^Yes, yes, just… goodness is this entire topic a mess.^”

“Yep yep. Just awful, I hope the medics hurry up!”

“^They’re already doing what they can, I’m sure of it.^”

“Hope to bits that’s true! We need to get rid of the human before they wake!”

“^It would be the best for our security, yes.^”

“And more~! Nobody wanna deal with an awake human!”

The forcefulness of Lucere’s words made Aria raise an eyebrow as she ran through the nondescript woods. She wasn’t aware of the Altaria having had any particular experiences with humanity in the past, but it was always a possibility.

“^Why so?^”

“Oh, you know! They’re awful and think of us as dirt! They hate us, why wouldn’t we do the same?”

It certainly was an interesting conjecture, based almost entirely on concentrated ‘trust me’. A part of Aria doubted that she’d get anything out of this discussion at all, but figured she could at least push it a bit further and see what reasoning the Altaria had for her claim.

“^And why would that be, you think?^”

“Oh, Aria, we and humans are different! Everyone hates difference when it’s this big!”

Now that was a much more concrete, and yet much broader reason. It also made Aria immediately call nonsense, but the last thing she wanted to do right now was engage in an argument with her coworker.

Especially since they were finally coming up on where Lumi had been waiting for them.

The Gardevoir gradually undid her Agility as she slowed down, trying her hardest to keep her breathing quiet. Once she was done putting up a small Safeguard for them all, Lumi stepped down from the small hill overlooking the bespoke human path and brought the other two up to speed.

“Two humans with a leashed Growlithe. They’re following the trail that the crashed human left behind themselves.” - Lumi spoke matter-of-factly, keeping his snark down for the time being.

“^Any chance they’re just using the same path and not following her?^”

“Very doubtful. It seems they’re having the Growlithe track her scent. Came close to picking mine up a couple times earlier.”

That settled it, leaving Aria no other choice than to get in there herself while hopefully remaining undetected. As she prepared herself for it, though, Lumi’s follow-up comment caught her attention.

“They’re walking very slowly, for some reason.” - The Luxray was no less confused than Aria at hearing that, the confusion in his voice very unlike him.

“Can confirm!”

Lucere’s chirped confirmation had the psychic think about reconsidering her plan for a moment. Though, she soon realized that it didn’t matter for much, anyway. Sprinting or crawling, their purpose here was clear enough.

As was her need to stop them.

“Alright. I’ll try to follow them, and see if I can put any of this together. Lucere, scout along the path towards their town to see whether any reinforcements are on the way. Lumi, be on your guard in case I’ll need backup.”

“Okie-dokie!” / “Aye aye.”

After the Altaria flew off, Aria went for it. With a deep breath, she extended her mental reach; sensing and effortlessly breaching into the three minds on the other side of the hill. Once that was done, she finally approached them, keeping a close eye on their appearance as she scanned their surface thoughts.

Their outfits were very bulky, making them look much larger than they would have otherwise. Almost all their clothes were either black, or a very dark shade of blue—thick jackets, leg coverings, large… belts with a multitude of pouches.

The only exception was a sleeveless garment on their upper half, colored a very… unusual kind of yellow. On it were a couple of stripes and an unknown human symbol, possibly writing, made of a reflective silver material.

As many layers as they wore, though, noticing how cold they felt wasn’t exactly a feat. Aria was eternally grateful at how much more effective the thin Safeguard sheen surrounding her body was at keeping her warm compared to human clothing, even if the result was still only just bearable.

The bulk of the Gardevoir’s attention, however, was placed on someone else.

The Growlithe pup was likely only a couple of years old at most. They constantly kept trying to outrun the reach of their leash, the jolts of pain every time they tried to do what they were supposed to—follow the scent—clear to sense.

In any other circumstances, Aria would have seriously considered teaching the humans a lesson, or at least giving the lil’ Fire-type some much-needed reprieve. Unfortunately, she couldn’t do that this time.

Not with so much at stake.

To her dismay, the group remained silent for a while. Aria cursed herself for ending up just late enough for them to have wrapped up their previous conversation topic.

Right as she was preparing to dive deeper into their thoughts the hard way, though, the Growlithe perked up in her direction. Fortunately, their human handlers didn’t immediately get the significance of that—

“~What is it now?~” - The first voice was gravely and unamused, glancing over their shoulder. All they perceived were snow and trees, making them grumble at the puppy.

Even if their handlers’ senses were too limited to spot her, the Growlithe’s most definitely weren’t. The little one tried to bolt towards her, only to find themselves thrashing against the limits of their leash.

“~Get back here, you dumb fucking dog.~” - The second voice was exasperated, a hangover tainting their words and actions alike. They yanked at the Fire-type’s leash out of spite to get back at them, while Aria ensured the puppy couldn’t smell her anymore.

“~Even it’s going nuts at this pointless shit.~”

The second voice chuckled at the remark, breaking into a harsh cough before shaking it off with a low groan.

“~It’s just a straight path isn’t it.~”

“~It is!~”

“~So why the fuck do we have to track that kid all the way over to Lillywood!?~”

“~Fuck if I know!~”

“~Of course that bitch is in Lillywood, where fucking else. C’mon, let’s get back, write it in and be done with it.~”

As unenthused as the second voice was at them being here to begin with, such a blatant disregard for procedure made them pause and second guess themselves. They looked over at the unending path ahead and back at the other human, Growlithe yanking at the leash in their hands all the while.

“~You sure?~”

“~Course I am! Where else could she be?~”

“~I don’t know, Lillywood guys apparently couldn’t find her.~”

“~Didn’t look hard enough is what it is, not our fucking problem.~”

The second voice was rather unnerved by that. They were torn between agreeing with the first voice and being down to just turn tail and get back, and genuinely concerned about the remote possibility that some dumb kid managed to get themselves hurt on a straight stretch of path.

“~Besides—the fuck is her bum mother gonna do, throw a bottle at us?~”

“~What about Tom?~”

“~What about him?~”

The non-answer left the second voice speechless for a moment, before they finally relented with a quiet ‘yeah’. In just a few moments, the two humans were walking back the other way. The Fire-type beside them thrashed against their leash for a while before one stronger yank finally made them obey with a painful whine.

As stunned as Aria was at that entire sequence of events, this one she wouldn’t let slide.

She glared at the group passing mere feet away from her, completely unnoticed. Suddenly, the human holding the leash lost their footing, falling face first onto the snow-covered dirt. The first voice offered only snark.

“~Speaking of bottles, you’d do well to skip on one or two.~”

“~Shut the fuck up, ugh—no idea how I even slipped there.~”

As the second human picked themselves back up, Aria backed off towards Lumi. Her expression was as flat as it ever got as the Luxray offered her quiet appreciation.

“Nice work. As far as I’m concerned, that asshole deserved worse, but I’ll take what I can get.”

“^I didn’t do anything.^”

Aria’s quiet admission caught Lumi off guard, leaving him unsure how to interpret that.

“What do you mean?”

“^They backed off on their own. All I did was trip one of them over.^”

“They did? Why—were they not looking for the girl after all?”

“^They were, it’s... I-I don’t know. They were searching for Anne, but then at some point, they just... didn’t want to bother anymore. Decided to go back and lie that she had made it to the town on the other end of the path.^”


Lumi was speechless—sure, his expectations were already nonexistent as far as humanity was concerned, but this was somehow even more loathsome than anything he could’ve imagined. Despicable as it was, though, it still left questions.

“Are they just not gonna search for her anymore?”

“^It would seem so. They mentioned something about her mother maybe doing that, but weren’t taking that idea seriously either.^”

“Humans just keep finding ways to sink even lower, eh?”

“^I don’t know if I can even argue with that, I...^”

“Take your time Aria, at least this threat is averted. I’ll spread the news so we’re all on the same page.”

“^Good call, thanks Lumi. And—^”

The follow-up caught the Luxray right as he was about to storm out. Light blue arcs of electricity jumped around his fur as he looked over his shoulder, ready to take off.

“^Let’s meet again at the medic tent, tomorrow morning.^”

“Gonna dig through more memories after all?”

“^Not sure if there’s a way to avoid that anymore, I’m afraid.^”

“Hah. Sure thing—take it easy today.”

Much as Aria didn’t want Lumi to end up being right in the end, she didn’t see any other way out of this mess. She was stuck with just her thoughts as she watched him head out, the winter cold stinging particularly hard at that moment.

The sheer attitude with which these people had treated not just a missing one of theirs, but a missing child, was harrowing.

Was that just how humans were deep down?

She sure hadn’t felt anything near this despicable from her previous interactions with them, their minds not too different from her own. But these two… Aria had no idea whether they were uniquely horrible, or if that was humanity’s true nature.

Her soul kept trying to convince her it was the former, but her mind couldn’t shake all the doubt off.

Who knows—maybe the potential for that kind of indifferent cruelty lied in her, too. She couldn’t imagine herself ever acting like that, the mere idea so against everything that made her her, against everything that made her a Gardevoir, that it made her feel ill.

That didn’t mean it was impossible, of course.

What Aria knew for sure, though, was that after several hours of thoughts running in circles around that topic and ultimately getting nowhere, the only thing she wanted to do was to go home and fill her soul with something warmer.

If there was one part of winter that Aria liked, it was the much shorter scouting shifts.

Nothing stopped humans from sneaking over in the dark, of course, but very few were foolish enough to attempt that even in the summer. Sprout could count all the instances where she had to actually give some potential intruders a scare on her talons over her many years of scouting.

After what she’d witnessed earlier today, Aria doubted any humans would come looking for Anne overnight.

Or ever again, for that matter.

Thankfully, she wouldn’t have to think about that unpleasant subject for much longer. A smile crept to her face as she beelined for the entrance to the large burrow, under a larger hill, under an even larger oak that crowned its peak.

Her home.

As puny, downright miserly, as the wooden door at its front was, the light flowing out of the gaps between it and its frame gave its homeliness away. Aria closed her eyes and undid her Safeguard as she stepped in and made her way down these familiar, worn steps, the warmth and pleasant smells making her shudder.

“Good evening, honey~.”

To an untrained ear, her husband sounded harsh, bestial, angry even. Aria knew, however, that this was his happy voice. His species left him with an unfortunately limited vocal range, and what he had of it came off as intimidating to many. His face suffered from the same issue, the always-visible fangs especially unnerving in a vacuum.

“Hey, sweetie.”

Regardless of how he sounded to strangers, Aria knew the person underneath the demonic Grimmsnarl facade well enough to be as comfortable around him as she got. She walked over with a dreamy expression and let him pull her into a gentle, warm embrace as he worked on the dinner.

“Long day?”


The squirmy sensation of his individual hairs moving around was equal parts ticklish and comforting. Aria let herself get moved and held even closer, nuzzling into her husband’s shoulder.

A part of Garret wanted to ask about the murmurs about a human in their village he’d heard earlier, but there was no need to rush. His head leaned on hers as they basked in the hearth’s warmth, the Gardevoir’s lithe body getting warmed up fast.

“Smells delicious.”

“Thank you~. Holly’s advice doesn’t ever fail, hah.”

“Indeed, it does not. She recommended some new ingredients?”

“Spices! A bit less pepper, a bit more salt, and to try out a bay leaf or two. Aroma wise I have no complaints so far, and I doubt the flavor is gonna be disappointing either~.”

“Nothing you ever make is~.”

It was hard to spot a blush on the fiercely green skin of his cheeks, making knowing how to do so feel extra special to Aria. Her tired smile grew wider as she allowed herself to close her eyes and focus on all the other, more pleasant stimuli.

Though, as she focused more on her psychic senses, something unusual became apparent.

“Where’s everyone?”

As much as she appreciated some peace and quiet after a long day, Aria wasn’t used to seeing her dwelling be so calm after dark. She sensed a couple of minds playing in an adjacent room, and had a very good idea of who they were, but that still left a few heads absent.

“I know Cadence and mom went out to grab something, haven’t seen Marco all day, Bell and Elric—”

Before he could finish, the door to the kids’ room flung open, a pink blur scrambling out of it right away. His every motion filled the burrow with rattling noises as he was being persistently, yet futilely, chased by a teeny Ralts.

The lil’ psychic’s best efforts only earned him laughter from the Gligar as the bat kept shaking the rattle in his tail’s grasp. His gentle taunting made the Ralts try even harder. His glow surrounded the toy before it was inevitably yanked out of his mental grip again and again, pushing him to frustration.

“Give it back!”

As amused as the bat was at the situation, his smile washed from his face the moment he saw the tyke’s mom having made her way back. Her unamused expression told it all, distracting the Gligar for long enough for the Ralts to finally pull the rattle out of his tail’s grip.


“I’m sorry Mrs. Aria, I-I just got carried away with it—”

“I know, I know, you’re not in trouble, sweetie. I just want you to be careful and know when to stop so that it’s fun for you both.”

She couldn’t even pretend to be upset at any of this, especially now that Bell had gone from frustrated to happy at reclaiming his toy. He excitedly waved it around as he ran around the room—before finally spotting his mom having made it back home.


“Hey Bell~.”

The tyke giggled in glee as his mom psychic’d him into her arms and held him close. Aria’s tired expression softened as she looked back at the Gligar. The last thing she wanted was to make the boy think he was in trouble, moving her little one off to one arm and outstretching the other one for a hug.

Elric accepted the invitation right away, flying over and clinging onto Garret’s arm as he let the Gardevoir provide some well-needed affection.


“It’s okay Elric, it’s okay. Bell really likes you—right, Bell?”

“Yeah!” - The Ralts’ squeaked-out answer filled everyone else with warmth, and especially his bat friend.

“I-I’m glad.”

“I just don’t want that to change because you went too far by accident.”

“H-he’s not angry at me, right?”

“Oh no, not at all. Just something to keep in mind for the future.”

Aria smiled wider, stroking the back of Elric’s head as the last of his worries left him.

“You’ve already grown up a lot this winter, you know? Your dad is gonna be really proud of you once he wakes back up.”

The comment did wonders at lifting the bat’s spirits back up as he held onto his temporary guardians. He knew it’d be at least a month more before his dad would snap out of his hibernation, but that didn’t stop him from checking on him every morning, just in case.

“Y-you think?”

“Absolutely, Elric~! I remember how scared you were the last winter, and look at you now, you’re taking it like a champ!” - Garret’s comment had the Gligar grow flustered at the light praise, settling into the affection as the dinner was quickly getting wrapped up.

“Thank you, Mr. Garret...”

Comfy as the scene was, Aria realized it’d get even comfier soon.

She let go of her husband and carefully lowered both kids down on the floor, her quick remark instructing everyone what to do—

“Everyone’s on their way, let’s lay things out for dinner~.”

“Yes, ma’am!”

As Elric swooped to grab a handful of wooden bowls, the Gardevoir pulled the short table from the corner to the center of the chamber. She then whisked a few pillows from her bedroom and laid them around; some of the Whimsicott fluff leaking out of the slowly tattering fabric.

Bell helped by clapping and squeaking at the sight of so much motion happening around him.

They got done with the preparations just in time, the front door opening right as Elric set down the final spoon. Before the gust of icy wind could chill the atmosphere in the burrow, Cadence excitedly running down the stairs reignited it again.

“Mom mom mom is it true with the human!?”

“Cadence sweetie, one thing at a time.”

“Okay, grandma!”

The Kirlia-shaped bundle of energy bounced into the kids’ room to drop her scarf off before running back over to her mom. Behind her, the elderly Indeedee chuckled at the sight as she made her way over and undid her shawl.

“Is it true, mom!?”

“What’s true?” - Bell asked confusedly, looking up at his sister and her red cheeks. Cadence groaned under her breath at him not following along—

“The human!”


“We can talk about it over dinner sweeties, now get yourself seated.”

“Okay, mommy!” / “Okay mom!” / “Okay ma’am!”

Aria chuckled at the three squeaky voices responding nearly simultaneously before they took their seats. The Gardevoir lowered herself onto the pillow next to Bell as her mother-in-law took a seat beside Cadence. Right as they did, the final missing member of the family made his way back home, the Gallade’s expression even more focused than usual.

“Evening Marco, something on your mind?”

Her brother chuckled weakly, the subject of his thoughts obvious enough. He knew better than to rush that topic ahead of dinner, sitting down as Garret carried the entire pot of stew over to the table with one arm.

With the portions getting handed out, the wooden spoons got to work—Bell’s under his mom’s careful watch. The rich flavor rejuvenated the family’s bodies, Autumn noting her son’s tweak in his recipe.

“^Hmm. More salt this time?^”

As used as the Indeedee might have been to mentally communicating with her Dark-type son, she couldn’t deny that it grew more difficult as the years kept coming. No matter how hard Garret tried to lower his mental guard around his family—letting them link up to him in the first place—doing so remained incomparably harder than linking up with anyone else.

Thankfully, this was just a fallback—spoken language was more than sufficient most of the time. It didn’t stop Autumn from feeling down at the realization of just how much her abilities were slipping by the season.

“Mhm! Holly’s recommendation.”

For a few solid minutes, the only sounds filling the burrow were the scraping of wood on wood. Even Cadence waited until she was done through most of her portion before bringing the talk of the day back up.

“^Is it true with the human, mom?^”

“^You’ll have to be more specific than that, sweetie.^”

“^Is there really a human in our village?^”

“^Yes, yes there is.^”

As obviously true as the news was to her, Aria saw her husband, her mother-in-law, and the boy her family watched over all pause at the revelation. Their eyes went wide at the incredulous rumor being confirmed, Cadence growing giddy in particular.

“^Eeeee—what’s their name? Are they scary? Can I meet—^”


“^Sorry grandma.^”

“^Don’t be sorry sweetie, just take your time. Your mom isn’t running anywhere, and neither are we. Now—what was that with the human Aria?^”

The Gardevoir chuckled at the elderly Indeedee’s barely veiled enthusiasm, emptying her bowl as she continued.

“^Her name is Anne. Sprout found her before dawn. She had gotten hurt near the human road to the east, and was in a very rough state.^”

“^Ooooh... was she mean to someone so they hurt her—^”

“^No sweetie, no, it was an accident.^”

“^How come she was there in the middle of the night in the first place?^”

“^That is a very good question, Autumn.^”

Marco’s knowing tone caught his sister’s attention. The two locked eyes as the rest of the table ate on, switching to communicating directly without anyone else overhearing.

“^Do you know something more about it?^”

“^Followed the trail back to their town while you dealt with the group they sent. I think I even know which building it started from.^”

“^Any finds there?^”

“^Whole place reeked of spoiled wine and looked ransacked. It was just that single building, though.^”

Aria had no idea about just how significant that find was, but it didn’t sound pretty in the slightest. She nodded deeply before following that lead.

“^Found anyone there?^”

“^Regrettably, no. The whole place had a miserable aura, and there was a lot of human attention around it, so I didn’t stay long.^”

“^Makes sense. Could her family be ostracized in their own town?^”

“^Not impossible, but... something tells me that’s not quite it.^”

The Gardevoir nodded as she continued with her meal; the mystery refusing being neatly answered—or even having any meaningful progress done with it. Seems she would have to have a sweep through Anne’s memories after all—

“^What are you two chatting abooooout~?^” - Cadence couldn’t resist chiming in at seeing her mom and uncle talking covertly for any longer. Marco chuckled in response, while Aria answered vaguely enough to not be lying.

“^Scouting stuff.^”

“Are other humans looking for her?” - Elric’s question got the two siblings to glance at him and nod simultaneously. Marco picked up the slack of explaining it this time.

“^They sent a search party earlier today, but Aria diverted them.^”

“^Not even. It was...^”

By the time Aria realized she’d spilled more than she should have, the entire table’s attention was already on her.

It seemed that not even Marco was in the loop about what she’d seen earlier that day. Ultimately, there was no real reason to keep secretive about all this beyond it just being… upsetting.

“^They just backed out on their own, didn’t want to bother. Treated the whole thing more like a nuisance rather than a search for a lost child.^”

“^A child!?^” - Autumn raised her voice at hearing that, taken aback in a mix of disbelief, worry, and outright disgust. Her thoughts and attention kept glancing over to her adoptive son, something deep inside her refusing to accept such a vile state of things.

“^Yes, she’s a child. Around Cadence’s age from what Esther told us.^”

“^To get treated like that by one's own kin...^”

“^Can we visit her mom?^”

Cadence’s request made Aria consider it more than Blossom’s earlier in the day, but only just. As unnerving as Anne’s circumstances already were and kept growing, it wasn’t like they could just send visits to her freely.

Sooner or later, they’d figure out what had happened to her and get her home, safe and sound.

“^No sweetie, we don’t want her to know she’s here. Besides, she’s still comatose, so it’d be a very one-sided visit.^”

Aria’s response deflated all three kids, even if Bell didn’t quite grasp everything being discussed. He may not have understood the significance of the village’s unexpected guest, but was disappointed at not being able to visit a potential friend all the same.

“^But that’s just mean! She’s here on her own and hurt, she’ll be so scared when she wakes up!^”

“^I—I know, sweetie. We’ll have to figure something out if that happens while she’s still here, but we’re not doing this to be mean, I promise. We just want to keep you all safe.^”

Aria might’ve spoken for the scouts as a whole, but she couldn’t deny that her daughter’s remark got to her in particular. Each new revelation made her increasingly doubtful of whether it would be possible for them to just return Anne back home peacefully.

She didn’t have any ideas about what they could do instead if the push came to shove, either. It was probably for the best to leave that topic for now, and just hope that things would sort themselves out.

Fortunately, Cadence wasn’t privy to her mom’s doubts. The lil’ Kirlia sighed as she tried to accept the explanation at face value. She didn’t fully believe it, but at the same time, she knew she wasn’t gonna be getting anything different.

The rest of the family dinner passed on mostly silence, only occasionally interrupted by the more mundane, daily topics. Aria kept quiet throughout, her mind busy churning through all the uncomfortable facts on her own. She was the first to excuse herself back to her and Garret’s room once she’d wrapped her portion—she knew she’d need all the rest she could get her hands on before tomorrow’s meeting.

Sunroof closed, Will-o’-Wisps extinguished, door shut, Safeguard to muffle the commotion in the living room raised—

Dreams, stubbornly not coming.

The harrowing possibility of Anne not having a place to return to swirled around in the Gardevoir’s head. It didn’t feel particularly likely—not yet at least—but at the same time, couldn’t be eliminated entirely, especially with the apparently awful state of the building she ran away from. If that truly was the case, deciding her fate would most likely come down to the Elders.

Which didn’t exactly fill Aria with confidence.

They wouldn’t kill her, but they wouldn’t let her stay either, both possibilities equally impossible. Anne would have to be returned to humanity, but who was to say she’d be treated well in the town she came from? Or even in the town at the other end of the woods?

Was there anything they could do to guarantee her safety?


Aria laid still as she grappled with the question, answers stubbornly not coming. Her husband’s eventual arrival helped soothe the worst of her worries, replacing them with this most familiar, most welcome warmth. His soft snores provided a steady rhythm to mimic, deep breaths slowly reining the emotional whirlpool in.

Things would turn out alright. She had nothing concrete to base that hope off, but… she felt it deep inside her all the same. Any details could be hashed out later—for now, she just had to breathe in, and out. And in, and out.

And in, and...

As welcome as her rest was, it had to end eventually. Much earlier than she would’ve preferred, no less.

The bedroom was completely dark as Aria came to. The sunroof getting opened with her telekinetic reach didn’t help either—no sun or moon to be seen; whichever stray starlight there was couldn’t illuminate anything at all.

Guess duty called whether the sun was up or not.

The Gardevoir grunted at yesterday’s exertion as she slid out of her husband’s embrace, the contrast between his warmth and the surrounding chill making her shudder. She remembered to apply her Safeguard just moments before she opened the front door, drowsiness not doing her any favors.


Even at night, their village was nowhere near lifeless. A bunch of Dark and Ghost-types were making their way around, greeting her as she passed by. She drew a couple of curious looks, but only by the arguable virtue of being up so ungodly early.

Far from the earliest one around, even for the village’s diurnal inhabitants.

“Aria darling, why in the blazes are you up so early!?”

Holly’s shrill greeting snapped the Gardevoir out of her half-conscious stupor, prompting her to try shaking the remaining tiredness aside as she answered.

“^Scout meeting, we gotta discuss what to do with the human.^”

“Help her, that’s what! Speaking of, got around to fixing something for her—oughta get her right back on her legs once she comes to!”

The Azumarill accentuated her follow-up by slamming the small bundle on the counter with much more force than needed. The bang helped the Gardevoir come to some more as she examined its contents.

A pair of very thick, very buttery pastries weren’t the healthiest choice—especially with how sugary they smelled and looked—but if anything would be effective at filling the little one with energy, it’d be that. She wasn’t sure what contents the wooden bottle beside them held. Knowing the cook, though, it was her own special blend of sweetened berry juices.

“^Thanks, Holly.^”

“Anytime, darlin’! Same ol’ for you?”

“^Same old for me.^”

“Coooomin’ up!”

Alas, Aria couldn’t deny having a sweet tooth herself—much to her kids’ chagrin when she kept nudging them towards heartier meals than Holly’s sugary goodies, while herself being no better.

Granted, her nutritional needs were much different than—


The low hum accompanying the buzzed-out words clued the Gardevoir as to the speaker. She tried to shake what remained of her worries off before looking to her side, staring the weathered Vespiquen in the eye.

“^Good morning, Liz.^”

“I need the rundown of the human situation.”

Aria knew better than to sigh out loud at the understandable question—or to answer it straight. Messy as the situation was, most only cared about one specific angle of it, and the Vespiquen’s was very easy to guess from experience.

“^She’s approximately this tall, and in a coma. She had extensive damage over the left side of her body, needed a full limb cast. Build similar to mine, apparently similar to Cadence’s age mentally. Her items were moved to Mikiri’s burrow.^”

Liz stared at nothing as she reached a claw up to drag it along the front of her horns, using the tally marks carved into them for counting. New head to feed was unsurprising, even if everything else about them was unusual. Them being comparably large was a concern, as was their rough state—dressings and salves were a limited resource, after all.

The final remark made her stop dead in her tracks and refocus on Aria, the little she had of an expression growing concerned.

“Why there?”

“^Couldn’t think of anywhere else with enough space.^”

Mikiri’s human know-how was also a contributing factor, but one that would make the Vespiquen quartermaster before her drop in despair if stated outright.

“Bad choice. Too late to change. Need to ask Lavender and Sol for more dressings.”

It’d be nice for the latter to do something productive as opposed to snooping and spreading rumors; Aria wasn’t about to disagree with that…

“When will the human be gone?”

The one question everyone was asking themselves, if each for very different reasons.

“^We don’t know, I’ll let you know once we do.^”

Liz was well aware she wouldn’t be getting any further revelations about the human case this early in. She accepted the response with a faint nod and headed off, leaving Aria to endure the rest of the wait until her meal was done.

As the Gardevoir waited, she looked up at the sky, the sight lifting her spirits. The east was shifting into lighter purples and darker reds by the moment, dimming out the surrounding stars. The sunrise brought with itself as much calm as it did uncertainty.

Before the unnerving topics of the day could worm further into her mind, the bubbly whistle snapped her out of her daze, to the sight of Holly waving her meal around.

“There ya go. Pass on good wishes from me over to that kid once she comes to.”

“^No guarantee she will today, Holly.^”

“Then tomorrow, or wheneva’—I just want her to know she’s got someone in here cheering for her, is all.”

Aria forced out a weak smile, picking up both hers and Anne’s portions before responding.

“I will, thank you. We’ll make sure she’s alright.”

“Oh, I know that, silly. Nursing them back to health ain’t the same as treating them friendly though, and that’s the thing I’m less certain on.”

“I’ll... do what I can to make her feel welcome.”

“That’s the spirit! Now off you go, you have this whole place to keep safe, don’t lemme keep ya waitin’!”

For once, Aria wasn’t the last one to show up at the medical tent.

The few minutes until Lumi showed up were spent in tense, if somewhat amusing, silence. Aria could feel Ori’s hungry attention at Anne’s meal, even if he didn’t let it get to his expression. Ruby’s shifty eyes, constantly trying to force themselves away from the levitating meal, betrayed her focus as well. Sprout looked about one lapse of judgment from devouring it in an instant.

Once the Luxray had finally arrived, he didn’t remain inconspicuous, either.

“Lemme guess, that one’s for the human?”


“Let’s get this over with. That smell’s gonna drive me insane without anything in me.”

“I concur.”

Aria rolled her eyes at her coworker’s reactions, levitating the bundle into the air before enveloping it in its own Safeguard bubble. The gesture might’ve dulled the meal’s scent, but the associated shimmer only drew more visual attention to a warm meal that others lacked.

“^Let’s get to it, then. Any overnight developments, Sprout?^”

“None. Ain’t seen any humans tonight, neither on the path nor anywhere else. Heard about what happened with the group they sent yesterday, bloody despicable.”

“No better words for it, are there.” - Ruby concurred with a growl. She might not have thought of humans as all that different to them in the end, but goddamn if these two in particular were making that difficult in the moment.

“^Marco had checked up on their town yesterday. The building the girl’s trail originated from looked and smelled absolutely run down.^”

The group grew quieter at that revelation. Their minds all ventured in a similar direction, and not one they were keen on delving deeper into—at least not yet.

“I do not like the sound of that one bit.”

“^Me neither, Ruby. I really hope it won’t come down to that, but it might be a good idea to figure out what we’re gonna do if it turns out her home isn’t safe to come back to.^”

“Well, that sounds obvious enough to me! If she doesn’t have a safe home outside our village, we give her one here until she can go back to her kin.”

The rest of the group stared incredulously at Sprout, her idea equal parts obvious and unimaginable. A human in their shelter against humanity? Was she out of her mind!?

“You can't seriously suggest that, Sprout.” - The Luxray hoped his coworker had simply fired a woefully ill-timed joke, the shock clear even despite his deadpan tone.

Hoped incorrectly.

“I can and I am. She’s a battered child, about as dangerous as a Metapod. Denying her safety because of her kin sounds like the kinda things humans do, and we are supposed to be better than them, aren’t we!?”

The Decidueye’s raised tone made everyone feel even uneasier. Most of the group was stuck in a bind between not necessarily disagreeing with what she was saying, but being instinctively opposed to what her words implied. The tense silence filled the room for a while, with Ori being the one to eventually break it.

“Perhaps it is wise to change the subject for the time being. For all we know, we’re just entertaining a blatantly incorrect possibility.”

The group took a deeper breath each at that. They all agreed with the Scizor’s suggestion at a rational level, but their hearts lied in very different directions about the issue of what would happen to the human.

“Aria, you had mentioned investigating further into the human child’s memories. Do you still want to attempt that?”

“^Yes Ori, I... yes. It’s a good idea to get that done, just so we have a better idea of just what in the world is going on with—^“


The shrill, hoarse scream coming from the human’s room made the entire group’s hearts skip a beat. In just a few seconds, it turned into whimpers of pain, accompanied by the sounds of scrambling medics.

“Too late.”

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other fic, Another Way!

Also also check out my series of shorts, The Alarm Goes Off at Six!
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Chapter 4: Facade


the gay agenda

Chapter 4: Facade

The sight the scouts were treated to after looking out of their room was less scary than it was sudden, the couple medics that had been tending to the girl backing off as she began to scream, left unsure how to proceed or even what had caused it. With Aria's reemergence into the main chamber of the tent, the medics had turned to face her, wordlessly asking her to advise- she wasn't about to do that though, instead walking right up to the screaming child to intervene herself.

The good news was that Anne clearly wasn't screaming because of what she saw, her eyes clenched shut as she shook on the soft bedding, feebly trying to twist her body to its right side. Unfortunately, that left the other main possibility, even a cursory check of her thoughts revealing the pain she was feeling in her left arm, unceasing even as her screams turned into pained whimpers. Aria's own medical expertise was very limited, but she still had enough of it to put a Healing Pulse and a Calm Mind to use, her touch on the cast-wrapped arm numbing the nerves and gently cooling the panic building inside of the poor child, whimpers replaced by quiet gasps and then eventually deep breaths as the pain left her be.

"^She was in pain.^"

"Must've underestimated the dose, damn it. Can you hold her like this for a while?"

Close watch over the child's thoughts let Aria know she'd heard Maple's words even if they were not understood in the slightest- and also that she was much too tired to pay any real attention to them, content in laying on her right side for the time being, the Gardevoir nodding towards the Leavanny as her hands gently held the cast-clad arm. The leafy medic wasted no time walking back over to the bed, one leaf-like arm looking for the right spot of exposed skin as the tip of the other began to glow light purple. The Poison Jab that followed was almost entirely painless, completely paralyzing the girl's left side once more.

"Better now?"

"^Much better, thank you Maple.^"

"Are you gonna put her back to sleep?"

"^I may, but it'd be good to see if I could figure out what-^"

The girl's mumbled words interrupted the hushed conversation, the rest of the gathered group freezing as they realized they still had an awake human in their midst as they saw her slowly rotate back onto her back, Aria quickly glancing between Maple, other medics, and the rest of the scout team, passing a message to them all-

"^Back off for now, I'll handle this.^"

Aria watched nervously as Anne's head turned to look over in her direction, remembering to link up with the girl this time, torn between wanting to help the injured child and protecting her village and its secret, though Anne's current weakness skewed her mostly towards the former. After a few long moments, their patient was back to laying on her back, eyes slowly beginning to pry themselves open and staring into the ceiling, squinting almost immediately. Her gaze took its time moving around the walls before eventually landing on Aria, squinting just as hard, the whole room's collective beat skipping as they watched how would their inadvertent guest react to their current situation-

"~T-thank you, n-nurse...~"

Out of everything Anne could mutter out in her pained state, Aria wasn't expecting gratitude, the mentally translated words making her feel that much warmer- at least until she finished taking the rest of them in, having no idea what did the girl mean by that, or why was she squinting at her like that. Without saying anything in response, Aria walked a half step closer, eyes closing as she tried to more invasively dig into her thoughts and piece together just what was going on in here-


Figures she wasn't scared, she could barely see her.

An attempt to see through the girl's eyes revealed the resulting image to be unfocused beyond all recognition, Aria's own appearance reduced to a tall white and greenish blur, blur that Anne was interpreting as some sort of human with a white and green outfit with a mask covering their face-


The confusion in Anne's voice made Aria realize she wasn't sure how to respond, though that uncertainty soon gave way into going along with what the girl was already thinking she was seeing, Aria taking a quiet breath before answering in character-

"^I'm here Anne, I'm here. How are you feeling?^"

She sighed inwardly in relief at the realization that Anne wasn't suspecting anything, slow and muddled thoughts slowly coalescing to come up with a response as the Gardevoir glanced at the rest of the group- or at least the rest that had still remained, Sprout having taken her leave in the meantime, with all medics but Maple over in other parts of the clinic tending to someone else for the time being. Before anyone else could try catching Aria's attention or speak up, Anne spoke back up-

"~I-I'm thirsty. C-could I have some water?~"

The request was wordlessly passed over to Maple as Aria's expression continued to soften, the girl's miserable state firing up every last bit of empathy in her system, making her want nothing more than for Anne to feel better. Still, her duty continued to weigh on her mind, forcing her to maintain an impersonal facade and simply respond with-

"^Water is on its way Anne. Would you want something to eat as well?^"


Anne closed her eyes and attempted to relax further into the bedding, giving Aria an opportunity to quickly dash over to grab the meal Holly had made for her, taking it out of its smell-proof bubble before scrambling back to Anne's bedside, the sweet, buttery aroma immediately filling the air as the meal was set down on the bed stand. The girl was much too exhausted to think though the weird logic of food being provided so instantaneously, most of the senses that weren't busy hurting instead focusing on how nice that smell was, making the cold air feel so much more welcome.

"~T-that smells so nice...~"

"^It does, doesn't it?^"

The allure of a nice meal got the injured girl trying to squirm around on her bedding, grunting and wincing as she tried to move the rest of her body closer to the pillow and closer to the meal. She managed some steady if slow progress towards that before suddenly stopping, Aria getting taken off guard by the sudden hesitation and nervousness inside the girl's head, about to speak up before Anne did it first-

"~C-could I have m-m-my clothes back? If there's n-nothing medical stopping t-that. A-and glasses...~"

The first part of the request was easier to understand, though not exactly trivial to fulfill in the heat of the moment either, especially with how vague it was. The second part had Aria dumbfounded completely, the Gardevoir freezing for a moment as she thought through ways to respond, eventually settling on something that would buy them time-

"^We'll get to looking for your clothes sweetie. In the meantime, could you describe how do glasses look?^"

At the same time, she reached out to just Lumi, deciding to just play it safe with what to bring-

"^Lumi, run to Mikiri's and bring over Anne's bag and all the clean clothes it had in it, asap.^"

"Aye aye."

The Luxray didn't have to be told twice, bolting out of the tent, passing the leafy medic holding a large cupful of water on his way out. The part of the exchange Anne could hear confused her even further than she already was following the nurse's response, eventually managing to shake it off and answer the very oddly phrased question-

"~V-very t-thick lenses, metal rims and temples, black with some paint fl-flaking.~"

As unhelpful as the description on its own would've been, the mental visualization that had accompanied it was very helpful for the Gardevoir, letting her get a clear enough image of the item in question. It also made her realize they hadn't seen anything like that from digging through the girl's bag, nodding in response to the description while also passing the visualization over to Ori and Ruby-

"^She asked for this thing. There wasn't anything like it in her bag, right?^"

Ori was about to respond, mouth opening before he remembered that their little guest could hear him too, instead trying to put on the quietest whisper he could manage, to somewhat mixed results-

"None to my recollection."

"I'll have a sweep through where Sprout found her just in case." - Ruby had the right idea to keep her voice down as well, though it was only partially successful at not catching Anne's attention, the girl attempting to look over in their direction but annoyingly only seeing a dark blur in the unlit part of the room.

That is, if she had actually been focusing on that, the much closer green-yellow blur with something brown in its arms catching her more immediate attention, this odd small hospital she must've been in becoming weirder and weirder by the moment. Figures asking about this one thing won't hurt-

"~Is th-this a Leavanny?~"

The question finally brought Aria's attention back to Maple having made her way back, the Gardevoir relieved at their facade remaining unbroken. She only barely avoided breaking her disguise, mental reach waning an instant before it would've become visible as she reached over to grab the wooden cup with her physical hands.

"^Yes, Anne. She... helps us with our patients.^"

Thankfully, the human took the response at face value, as vague as it might've otherwise been- especially with the words that followed steering her train of thought away from trying to further pry into just what exactly was going on in here-

"^I've got the water, will you need help with drinking Anne?^"


Slowly, Aria made her way around the bed towards the side of the human with a functional arm, the human girl clumsily sliding towards the back of the bed while using her good arm to keep the covers as closely pressed to her front as possible, not letting them slide even slightly. A rather confusing behaviour on the face of it, though if the Gardevoir could pick up on anything, it was just how uncomfortable not having clothes seemed to be making the girl, and this tied into that in some unclear way.

No matter what exactly was the culprit, Anne had a spare pair of hands to help her out regardless. The cup being brought over to her lips made the girl close her eyes and start drinking, her pretend medic helping her noodly arms keep the cup stable with a bit of telekinesis when her pretend patient wasn't looking. The girl downed the entire cup without pausing even briefly, gasping quietly afterwards as her eyes opened again, looking at her "nurse" from closer up, some of the details not adding up, but that was mostly of secondary concern for now-

"~C-could I have more?~"

The unnecessary nicety of the question brought a soft, sad smile over to Aria's face, the Gardevoir nodding as she took the cup away-

"^Of course Anne. Will you need help with eating as well?^"

"~N-no, I think I'll manage that one. Though I've a q-question if that's alright...~"

"^Of course, go right ahead.^"

With the cup getting passed back over to Maple, the human girl had Aria's undivided attention once more while she reached into the bundle prepared by the Azumarill a few hours prior. Her nose sniffed eagerly as she brought one of the buttery pastries over to her mouth hole, keeping her hunger in check for just long enough to manage to stammer the question out before biting into the meal-

"~W-where am I?~"

Aria froze in response, these specific few words being the one question she hoped she would not have to answer, her silence unnerving the human as she waited for a response. Fortunately, while she herself didn't have an idea of how she could possibly respond to that without making the girl either suspicious or outright panicky, Anne did, the human mumbling quietly as her train of thought was investigated, together with the name of the location she hoped she currently was in.

"^This is the Lillywood hospital sweetie. You... had a very rough accident in the woods, but the rescue came in time and helped move you here.^"

Anne sighed at her hunch turning out to be correct, while at the same time freezing at the mention of her accident, what she had previously assumed to be some sort of vague nightmare turning out to be exactly what had happened last night, the realization making her gulp quietly. Aria felt that pang of fear clearly, walking over that bit closer to immediately reassure her-

"^Don't worry Anne, you're safe here now-^"

"~A-a-are they here?~"

The fear dripping from those words gave Aria a pause, her attention narrowing on them as she responded, paying as close attention to how the girl would react as possible-


"~M-m-my parents...~"


The Gardevoir could only stare at the human for a while, the pieces of the rotten puzzle suddenly coming together in the most disgusting, harrowing way imaginable, whatever trace color there might have been there draining from Aria's face shortly afterwards. Something deep inside her cried out in pain at the realization, the psychic's body trembling as she gathered words, her response thankfully putting Anne's mind at temporary ease-

"^N-no, they're not Anne.^"

"~Oh good.~"

The girl was still thoroughly shook, her mind calming down only somewhat as it refocused on chewing through the delicious meal, the rich flavor providing a pleasant, if very fleeting reprieve. As she wrapped the portion up though, fear began to build up inside her once more while she looked over at her nurse and the Leavanny by her side. She knew full well that her request wouldn't be honored, but she had to do something, say something, try to fight what felt like the inevitable at this point, tears beginning to well up in the corners of her mostly blind eyes-

"~P-p-please don't make me go back...~"

Her whimper almost made Aria do something then and there as the child shrunk into her bedding, her terror the likes of which she wouldn't wish even on her worst enemies, eyes clenching as she shook harder and harder.


"~P-please! I-I'll do anything, PLEASE-~"

"^We won't let them hurt you again.^"

Anne's teary eyes snapped back open at that, looking over at her nurse in all their blurriness, a desperate question bubbling up from the depths of her terrified mind, carrying within it the tiniest spark of hope-


"^Y-yes Anne, really. Y-you're safe here, I... I-I promise.^"

It was the one response the human was not expecting in the slightest, and even if a healthier, less exhausted her would've doubted the truthfulness of these words, the painted, blind, tired her couldn't help but to feebly latch onto the promise she was given, nodding shakily as she tried to process it all.

"~T-thank you n-nurse...~"

The relief was as immense as its effects were immediate, the release of tension working in tandem with the girl's tiredness to bring forth rest, as nourishing as its foundations were shaky. In not too long, unconsciousness had claimed her recovering body once more, plunging the rest of the room into thick, largely confused silence. Nobody but the Gardevoir was aware of the details of the exchange that had just passed by them, having just been quietly observing their coworker for the previous few minutes.

Anne falling back asleep brought a fair bit of relief to the rest of the group, Maple just setting the cup of water down on the bed stand next to the unfinished pastry, swiping some leftover crumbs from the girl's hand and face all the while, Ruby attempting to catch Aria's attention by patting her arm all the while.


Her voice being spoken out loud finally got the scout to turn back to the rest of their group, nobody else expecting to see a couple stray tears flow down her cheeks, the psychic seeming to be only barely maintaining composure.

"We're- what happened?" - Lumi's question was, unusually for him, not dismissive, the sight of his coworker being distraught stopping any snark before it even had a chance to be thought of.

"^We need to talk.^"

Nobody was about to dispute that, the scout team heading back over to the side room, sparing one last look at the sleeping bedful of trouble on their hands and paws before making their way through the canvas flap and settling down. Lumi dropped the bag down onto the floor in the middle of the room while Ruby continued to hold onto her spoils, the small metal and glass trinket eventually found buried in snow, its frail appearance convincing her to keep holding onto it lest something would happen to it.

The whole room remained silent as everyone awaited Aria's words, words that kept not coming despite a couple attempts, the Gardevoir's mouth opening and closing for a while before she eventually just used telepathy-

"^I figured out what she was running away from.^"

"Great. What is it and what can we do about it-"

"^It's her own family."

The answer cut Lumi off before he could finish his sentence, a cold shudder running down his, and everyone else's spines at that answer the more they thought about it.

"W-what do you mean?"

"^I wish I had a more concrete idea, only had a chance to talk with her for a few minutes. But... the kind of fear she felt asking whether her parents were here was more than just being afraid of being chewed out. She was scared for her life, and if they're the reason she ran away in the first place... what do we even do?^"

The rest of the group looked among themselves as they thought back to their brief spat with Sprout earlier and what to do now, nobody exactly liking where their imaginations were ending up at when attempting to think it all through. Still, her parents being terrible didn't quite mean she didn't have any other family-

"I find it hard to believe she was simply running towards nowhere on that fateful night. She must have some other relatives she was in the process of heading towards before suffering her accident, and if we can make sure she ends up with them then should will be good."

While most of the group was persuaded by Ori's argument, Aria most definitely wasn't, not after seeing and feeling it all for herself. She was unable to imagine someone gripped with that much fear having a plan any larger than their immediate future. Though, it's not like either of them had any sort of concrete evidence to base any further decision making on and they both knew that, the Gardevoir simply sighing and nodding along- they'd have to dig into it all once Anne was awake again and could receive some questions.

But, at the same time... what if she indeed has nowhere else to go?

"And besides, judging from what Mikiri found I kinda doubt we'd ever want this one in particular living here with us."

Aria was about ready to snap at the Luxray for that remark, but ultimately held herself back, watching as the canine opened the bag by yanking on the dangly bit with his teeth, one paw reaching in to clumsily grasp the Fennekin doll.

"Look inside, at that weird painting again- that's our Ember."

This revelation chilled the room almost as much as the one from a few minutes before, the weirdly slick doll getting immediately grasped by Aria's Psychic and brought over closer before getting unzipped violently, her hand shaking as she reached into the hidden pocket. There's no way that could be true, that wouldn't make any sense whatsoever with what she'd seen of Anne-


A closer inspection of the picture had the doll unceremoniously fall down onto the floor, some of the metal circles and canvas rectangles slipping out as Aria stared transfixed, making out the tiny detail inscribed on that thin, stiff piece of wood, Lumi's words unfortunately coming true. The little Fennekin's left eye had the same misshapen iris and almost nonexistent pupil as she had seen on the Braixen that lived amongst them the couple times she took her eyepatch off in the public, the detail overlooked earlier in all the chaos, Aria's spirit deflating at that realization as she passed the picture to the other scouts.

"That is... terrible." - Ori's unusually curt response had the rest of the group agreeing, Lumi feeling a slight pang of guilt at lowering everyone's spirits by so much, even if the reason why was absolutely justifiable and they would've had to tackle it eventually.

"Not like it changes particularly much though. Her staying here was never in the books in the first place, all this means is that we'll have to pay closer attention to her and make sure she's out of here and someplace safe as soon as possible."

"Do you really think she deserves safety anymore Ruby?" - Lumi's response was contemptuous, less so towards the Weavile and more so towards the subject of their discussion.

"If this is true, then no. But if what Aria was saying is right and the girl was indeed running for her life, then sending her back to her parents would be sentencing her to death, and that isn't a punishment I'm comfortable sentencing anyone for no matter how severe a crime."

Even Lumi knew better than to try to argue a philosophical matter like that, swallowing his disagreement as the tiny painting was passed over to Ori. The Scizor expressed more emotion after briefly looking at the image than he had usually done in the span of a week by closing his eyes and immediately sticking his pincer back out for Aria to grab the item again.

"Though... what is this for, do you know Aria?"

Ruby showed off the trinket with two large glass circles and some bits of metal connecting them, two longer metal pieces sticking out to the sides of the glass circles, one of them bent harshly, some parts of the item still wet from melted snow.

"^I... am not certain. Though considering her eyesight is so terrible that she had a hard time differentiating me from a clothed human, I suspect these to have some use in alleviating that considering their shape.^"

Lumi was left blinking dumbfounded at that claim, having a terribly hard time imagining vision so crippled it couldn't differentiate his friend from one of those despicable creatures- though then again, compared to what his eyes were capable of, almost every other creature in existence was stunted in that regard.

"Perhaps it is best she stays parted with them then."

Aria felt like she ought to disagree, to claim that it was cruel to keep someone blind like that, but... she couldn't really bring herself to say that out loud, not after learning that the injured human apparently had something to do with what had befallen Ember all these years ago. Her desire to comfort Anne clashed violently with the scorn she felt like she ought to be showing the human girl, expression twisting briefly before settling back down.

Plus- no better way to maintain the facade of this being a human facility than to keep Anne unable to tell what she was even looking at.

That tiny silver lining couldn't hide the fact that the psychic scout still felt terribly conflicted about all this, the two facts refusing to make any sense whatsoever taken together. The conundrum left her pondering in place even as the rest of the group started to take their leave one by one, the glass trinket getting unceremoniously left on the ground next to the bag as Aria took another closer look at the image in her hand. The human was unmistakably Anne and the Fennekin was unmistakably Ember, but...

Why would both of them be happy together on that painting if that was the case?

A part of Aria considered bringing the painting with herself before ultimately deciding against it. If it was all true, if Anne was indeed one of Ember's tormentors, then the last thing the Gardevoir wanted was to bring that trauma back for the poor vixen.

She still remembered the night when Ember arrived at the village, her among so many others- there seemed to be some sort of human facility not too far from the edge of their woods where many mons were being housed in conditions Aria herself would consider barbarous, but which were apparently a marked improvement for some living there. Bright light, only a handful of square feet of personal space, being trapped in cohabited cages with metal bars- true, it apparently also came with food and water, and that fact for many was enough to make it better than what came beforehand, but that fact did little in making it all any less monstrous, any less... human.

They were all being held there, and one night someone had apparently figured out a way out when the humans weren't looking, some good couple dozen smaller mons successfully making a run for it to the woods. Many of them simply regained their freedom and ran off wherever the wind took them, never to be seen again, but the rest did eventually end up stumbling onto their little village, and Ember was one of them. Scared, scarred, traumatized, injured, the cruelty she'd been on the receiving end of from humans monstrous beyond words, especially from before she had ended up in that bright place she would eventually end up escaping from.

The memory of Cinder’s reaction after listening to the little one recount everything she'd been through was forever burned in the Gardevoir's mind, the Delphox's burning rage turning into an unbreakable resolve to never let any harm come her adoptive daughter's way from humans ever again. It was a laudable intent for sure, though even Aria couldn't deny it occasionally became uncomfortable at times to listen to, Cinder's desire for protection quite often veering all too close to wishing for a bloody, fiery vengeance for comfort.

Regardless of any objections Aria might have had towards her mother, the younger vixen herself was someone she had nothing but sympathy towards, especially after she began volunteering to help with looking after the little ones of the village and teaching them their language, Bell in particular seeming to like her a lot. If there was any place she had a decent chance of finding her at during the day it was tending to the younguns, and sure enough, it was the case today as well.

While most tykes were gathered in the vicinity of the Torkoal in the center of the large open tent, with most of them being either told stories to by their caretakers or napping, there were a few other smaller groups around the tent, mostly consisting of mons who tolerated cold well playing around with each other. The couple tots sitting on or next to Ember's lap didn’t really fit that criteria, but her warmth kept them comfortable all the same as they nibbled on a handful of nuts and berries. The Braixen kept a close watch over them all the while, her warm, shaky paws making any sort of casual affection that much more pleasant for the little ones, especially in the cold of winter. While most of her shaking and stuttering was well attributable to what humans had done to her, there was a notable undercurrent of worry that flowed through the fox's mind that contributed as well, Aria eventually speaking up making her jump-

"Good afternoon Ember."

As mellow as her voice was, it was still enough to startle the Braixen before she quickly calmed back down, the Whismur and Skiddo snuggling into her waving back at the visitor to the best of their anatomical ability.

"G-good afternoon M-Mrs. Aria! B-Bell is with the r-rest, next to-"

"Oh no no, I'm not here to pick him up, I wanted to talk to you actually."

Even through the off white shawl, the Gardevoir could see Ember's shaking intensify, a stray gust of wind making the white eyepatch flutter slightly.

"Oh, w-what about?"

Aria need not have been a psychic to tell the girl was rather spooked, though that trait did make it clear that it wasn't her that the Braixen's fear was centered about, one eyed glances over towards the direction of the medical tent telling her everything. As understandable as that was, it didn't make the Gardevoir regret having to ask her about this any less, the scout telekinetically shoveling some snow off to the side before taking a seat down next to the fox and offering her a shoulder to lean on.

"Well, I have one question in particular, but it can wait a bit. How are you doing sweetie?"

Ember eagerly accepted the offer, huddling in as she tried to keep her breathing under control, the little ones mimicking her without having a real idea of what was even going on.

"Scared. W-when w-will that human be gone?"

Aria's hand reached up to lightly pet the fox's head as she herself took a deep breath, the answer as straightforward as it was unsatisfactory, Ember's body language immediately shrinking in response.

"We don't know, sadly. Their situation is... a complex one, and we want to avoid potentially harming them even more through acting hastily."

Her mother would've likely snapped back with something dismissive, likely even scoffing at the scouts for even considering the human's wellbeing in all this. Not Ember though, the Braixen just nodding and leaning further into her, her hands occupied with petting the little ones, providing some well needed distraction all the while.

"I-I see. I hope they get well soon, I-I really do-"

"-even if just so they'd get out of here sooner?"

Ember froze at Aria completing the sentence for her, shrinking a bit and giving her a weak nod, as mean as it was to admit.

"Don't worry sweetie, if there's anyone justified in wanting them gone from here it's you."

"It feels m-mean to say..."

"Maybe, but I know you're not doing it out of malice."

Speaking of possible malice...

"But, I wanted to ask about something else."

The clarification might've been a lie and Aria might've been a terrible liar, but thankfully for her Ember didn't exactly have a lot of spare attention to notice, the words perking her up as she looked back up at the taller psychic.

"Does... does the name "Anne" ring any bells for you?"

She had to smudge the pronunciation a bit to hide the name's obviously human origin, and judging by the fact that the Braixen didn't immediately panic at hearing it, she was likely successful. Deep thought wasn't what Aria was expecting either though, leaning in closer to the vixen as she concentrated, her shaking seeming to completely subside for a moment. It wouldn't last long, especially after her expression started to scrunch up in a mix of uncertainty and a well, but not completely masked frustration, Ember's response not conveying any of the latter-

"N-no, I don't think so. Why do you ask M-Mrs. Aria?"

"Oh it's... it's nothing."

The Braixen might've been distracted last time, but this time she most definitely noticed the lie, looking up at the Gardevoir uncertainly as she got up, getting rid of any leftover snow on her skin dress before addressing the firefox-

"Alas, time for me to head back to my duties. Come visit sometimes sweetie, Cadence likes hanging out with you more than she'd admit~"

Ember chuckled quietly at that, the thought bringing a smile to her face, which persisted as she waved the scout away, focusing back on the tots near her afterwards. While Aria was of a mind to immediately head back to the clinic or at least to resume her duties in the meantime, a low, heavy voice caught her attention before she could walk more than a few steps forward-

"Aria? A private word if you could."

The Torkoal speaking up caught the attention of the tykes surrounding them only briefly, most of them focusing right back on the stories their caretakers were weaving for them, the Wigglytuff and the Grumpig waving briefly over at her as well, the wordless gesture returned as the Gardevoir addressed the fiery tortoise-

"^Yes, Elder Ana?^"

The fire type might not have been capable of telepathy proper, but she could make up for that by just thinking about her words really hard, letting Aria and any other psychics in the vicinity pick up on what she was trying to convey. Which was good enough, considering that the group in question currently consisted of a handful of toddlers, most of them asleep, and one very occupied caretaker.

"^What's the situation with the human?^"

"^Improving quickly healthwise, she woke up earlier today for a while. It would appear that she was escaping from her family when she ended up having her accident, and it is very uncertain whether she has anyplace to go. We'll be attempting to figure out whether she has anywhere else to go and how to get her there. And...^"

Aria paused briefly, the fact still not sitting quite right with her.

"^...it would appear that she is one of Ember's past tormentors.^"

Ana grew quiet at that, old age not helping any when it came to the speed of her thoughts, but she wasn't gonna let that stop her.

"^How... confident are you of that claim?^"

"^Not at all, but there is some evidence towards it that I can't argue with.^"

The Torkoal reciprocated with a slow, thoughtful nod, shuffling on the grass surrounding her a bit to get more comfortable.

"^Very well. I trust your judgment. Proceed as you were.^"

"^Understood, Elder Ana.^"

"^May the winds hasten you Aria.^"

The Gardevoir's walk back to their clinic took a while, conflicting thoughts continuing to swirl around in her mind, occluding enough of her thought process to not let her realize a couple very critical facts until she'd already stepped into the large multi chambered tent, the surprise startling and urging her on.

One, the girl was awake.

Two, Aria’s mother in law was here.

One hurried march later, the Gardevoir stepped into the girl's room herself, thankfully finding the situation to be nowhere near as out of control as she feared it to be, the Indeedee currently pouring the girl a cup of Holly's concoction as Anne watched with curiosity, the greenish glow of Autumn's telekinesis captivating, despite how little she could make of it.

"^Autumn, what are you doing!?^"

The private telepathic exchange went unnoticed by Anne thankfully- which couldn't be said about Autumn physically turning her head to look up at her daughter in law, the blurry motion making the human glance over in that direction as well, mood only improving further at the sight of her nurse.

"~H-hello nurse!~"

"^Making sure the girl's comfy- I'm not even sure she can drink anything like this Aria, someone had to come help her.^"

"^She thinks she's in a human hospital-^"

"^And she still does, don't you worry, I didn't try to speak to her.^"

Quick check of the human's surface thoughts had the Gardevoir confirm the Indeedee's words, Anne thankfully not suspecting anything much to Aria's relief and surprise, the tension quickly evaporating from her body with a couple nods.

"^Alright, I see. Sorry, I-^"

"^Shhhh. Don't go around worrying Aria, you're just trying to-^"


Anne speaking up again interrupted the mental exchange, Aria clearing her throat as she refocused on the human, taking in a couple deep breaths before responding as calmly as she could-

"^I'm here Anne, I'm here. How are you feeling?^"

"~Better. T-this Indeedee came and helped me w-with the drinking while you were gone.~"

Even if the choice of words wasn't ideal, both women could palpably feel the gratitude in the girl's voice, the nearly blind human looking back over at the shorter psychic with a weary, tired smile.

"~Um... c-can I thank them in a w-way they'll understand?~"

Autumn had to bite her tongue not to chuckle at the silliness of the question, a small smile on Aria's expression thankfully much harder to spot for their guest.

"^Just say it out loud and she'll get what you mean, don't worry.^"

"~O-okay. Um... thank you Mrs. Indeedee.~"

The elderly psychic responded with a light bow before helping to hover a newly refilled cup of juice over to the girl's mouth, the weary human eagerly downing the entire thing all at once despite how intense its flavor was. While Aria was glad she was feeling better, the pressing questions still remained, regardless of how unpleasant they were to think about- or difficult to segue into without the girl thinking she was being questioned in a hostile way... but she had an idea.

"^We've located your bag with clothes Anne, I'll move it over to your bed.^"

The news only had the girl drinking faster, even slight nods resulting in some of juice spilling onto the rest of her face, the affirmation and relief clear in her thoughts without the need for any words.

Aria was somewhat conflicted about what to do about the glass trinket that laid off to the side of the bag, eventually just following the conclusion she'd reached with her coworkers earlier today. A light telekinetic nudge shoved it into the corner as she picked up the rest of the bag by the weird feeling handle, the Fennekin doll peeking out from its opened metal seam. Even if she couldn't make out much of it, the girl was still very glad to get her bag back, even though the sight of the plushie poking out was an odd addition.

"~Thank you s-so much nurse! What about t-the glasses?~"

"^We're... still looking for them unfortunately.^"

"~Oh, o-okay. I really h-hope they're alright, they're so ex-expensive...~"

The thoughts about the trinket's price didn't immediately translate into anything Aria was familiar with, leaving her confused about what the 'expensiveness' actually implied. The internal question was quickly swept off to the side though, replaced by a cautious, close observation of what Anne would do with the bag's contents, Autumn no less curious herself, watching over from behind her daughter in law.

Reassuringly, the Fennekin doll was carefully picked up from the bag and given as close of a hug as the currently one armed girl could manage, internal warmth mixing with somber longing as she held onto the toy for a few moments longer, before setting it down to her side afterwards and reaching further into her items.

"^That's a nice Fennekin doll.^"

While the precise phrasing confused the girl a bit, the gist was understood nonetheless, almost blind eyes looking down at the dearly held item, shaky fingers brushing through the fake polyester fur as Anne grew sadder, taking both Aria and Autumn by surprise.

"~Mhm. It's nice and I'm g-glad I found it...~"

There was a lot left unspoken in that sentence, Anne closing her eyes as a couple tears began to leak through, the Gardevoir finally taking the risk by prodding the topic on hand-

"^Is there something wrong Anne?^"

"~Oh n-no, no, no, it's just... I-I miss her, t-the real her.~"


"~My F-Fennekin, Ember. We... we had to separate and I p-promised her that I would f-find her one day and we'd both finally be safe...~"

Autumn's gasp caught the human girl by surprise, making her look in the Indeedee's direction, shaking a bit more.

"~W-what was that?~"

"^Don't worry Anne, she just... sneezed. So, Ember used to live with you?^"

The Indeedee was slowly attempting to back out of the room, feeling conflicted and a bit disgusted by what she'd just heard, though the words that followed it up made her pause-

"~Mhm! We've known each other since sh-she was tiny. I loved her, and she l-loved me too it felt like, we'd go everywhere together, she'd snuggle i-into me at night, w-we'd hide together from the other kids o-or my parents...~"

With how different and yet entirely honest this recollection was compared to what they 'knew' about Ember's upbringing, both women couldn't help but glance at each other in utmost confusion, wholly stunned about just what was actually going on. Both of them believed the scaredy Braixen in their village more than a random human that just so happened to crash land here, but with how genuine the response was Aria in particular couldn't help but begin to think whether some tragic misunderstanding had actually taken place here, whether Anne's Ember was even their Ember, or perhaps even more distraughtly, whether whatever affection the girl had expressed towards the little fox only ended up harming her.

While the two exchanged thoughts on how realistic either possibility was, the human they were talking about was investigating a mystery of her own, accidentally stumbled upon as she reached up to wipe the tears from her face. Her eyes shot back open at feeling, or rather not feeling something, sliding the rest of her right arm along her nose and mouth before reaching it over to feel along the thick cast enveloping her left arm, motions growing more uncertain as they continued elsewhere around her body, with neck, shoulders and stomach similarly clear.

By the time Anne was done, both Aria and Autumn noticed the anxiety building within her even if neither had any idea on what it was caused by, the Gardevoir putting aside her internal debating to ask calmly-

"^Anne? Is something wr-^"

"~W-where's the I-IV tube thing... o-or t-the nose thing with oxygen, o-or-~"

The girl took another long look around the room, trying to spot anything white or metallic from the oddly brown and tan decor, anything that could look even remotely like medical equipment, shrinking more and more into the bed as the panic built inside her.

"~O-or anything...~"

Aria had no idea how to answer any of those questions, taking a couple steps back from the bed to give the girl space as their entire facade came undone in what felt like an instant, Anne left terrified, her voice little more than a quiet, fearful whisper-

"~W-where am I?~"

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Chapter 5: Trust


the gay agenda

Chapter 5: Trust

Aria and Autumn were completely blindsided by the girl's sudden realization of her circumstances not being what she was told they were, frozen in place as they tried to think through what to do or say, the terror flowing from the girl seeming like it only ever grew by the moment. The Gardevoir wanted to first and foremost reassure the girl that she was safe and that there was nothing here to fear, but of course, their village's safety in large part depended on the girl getting kept in the dark about everything going on around her, and this wasn't a duty she couldn’t just ignore.

The two forces clashed inside the tall psychic as the room stayed at an impasse, the Indeedee not wanting to accidentally do something wrong and endanger everyone here, her caring nature having to be forcibly and painfully overruled. With every passing moment, the atmosphere inside the room thickened, Anne's thoughts darting around the place, looking for someplace out before inevitably reminding herself that she was blind, injured and that there was a psychic in the room, the realization making her shrink further into the bed every time. What is that woman gonna use that Indeedee for-

"^Anne. You...^"

In every clash, however, one side will inevitably come out on top.

"^...you are in the middle of the Lillywood forest. We found you after you've suffered your accident, and took you in to patch you up. You are safe here, I promise.^"

Autumn stared completely dumbfounded at her daughter in law at giving out their secret like that, her shock clear enough for the Gardevoir to notice and respond to covertly without looking away from the girl-

"^At this rate she'll have needed her memories cleaned anyway, the least we can do is make sure she feels safe here.^"

Aria knew full well her justification was a flimsy excuse, one that wouldn't pass muster if she were to hear it from anyone else. Regardless of what the child on the bed a few meters away from her had done, they were injured, blind, and utterly terrified, her voice, age so similar to Cadence's at times that the mother within her couldn't resist the desire to comfort Anne any more, though her stoic expression gave little of that way.

Before the Indeedee could argue or even acknowledge that justification, the girl spoke first, utterly dumbfounded by what she'd just heard-

"~W-what do you- is th-this a cabin or-~"

A harrowing thought that had crept up onto the girl's mind had finally forced her to take another look at her """nurse""", eyes squinting harder than ever, mind sufficiently wiped of any idea of what she ought to be looking at to finally realize what it actually was that she was currently feebly trying to stare down. No amount of excess disposable scrubs could ever result in a look like that, why would anybody be wearing red eye protection glasses like that when facing patients, that wasn't just some red patch sewn onto the outfit-

The realization hit the girl hard, vague and cloudy fear and unknown taking shape into a very concrete fear of something very known, her body freezing with a single pitiful whimper before did the only thing she could do in that moment, laying down and pulling the covers onto her head, freezing soon giving way to hyperventilating.

"^I'll take care of this mom, just make sure nobody disturbs us.^"

"^Please be careful Aria.^"

"^I will.^"

With Autumn gone, the Indeedee taking post immediately outside and putting up a Safeguard to keep out most of the outside noise, the room now had only the terrified human and the Gardevoir she was so utterly afraid of, their mental link letting the latter see just what exactly was writhing below the girl's skullcap. Aria recognized some of the girl's fears all to well- fear of death, distrust of psychics as a whole taken to an extreme, acute awareness of just how powerful the wild mon in the same room as her was, contrasting her current powerlessness. The knowledge that, if it so desired, that Gardevoir could've probably killed her a dozen different ways before she even had a chance to scream, including some particularly disturbing ones Aria had never even conceived of before.

Others were related to terms and ideas Aria only knew faintly- she'd heard from her family, way way back, that humans tended to attach some particular amount of frightful reverence to her kin, thinking of them as malicious or evil, the phrase "ghost bride" popping in and out of the broth of Anne's panicking thoughts a handful of times. Tugging at these ideas made the frightened child shake in fear even more, and as nonsensical as the ideas of her gaze stealing souls or her mere appearance bringing terrible omens were, they were made viciously potent by the virtue of the girl believing in them, at least in her current state of panic.

Most of them Aria would've just internally scoffed at when coming from anyone else, perhaps even holding them against whoever held these ideas in a non-overt way- but in this case, she couldn't bring herself to do that, the shaky sight on the bed in front of her much too pitiful for judgement like that, Aria's own thoughts only moving in the direction of comforting the girl. A Calm Mind would've helped for sure, at least in the moment, but sooner or later she would've realized her mind was being toyed with like that, and her distrust would only deepen. The only way to win her trust was to go through this the riskiest, slowest, the most mundane way.

And so, Aria spoke towards the girl again-

"^Anne, we...^"

She considered her words for a while, eventually just going through with the whole truth.

"^...we found you gravely injured and unconscious in the snow. Even if we did know how to bring you over to the human medics, we wouldn't have gotten you there in time. I- I know this isn't what you expected to see and I wish I could've been honest with you from the get go, but I couldn't, and I'm sorry for that. I know you don't trust me, I know you're terrified of me... but I promise you Anne, you're safe here, I- I promise. Neither us nor... your parents will lay a hand on you while you're under our care.^"

The Gardevoir closed her eyes, trying to keep as close of a watch of the child's emotions and thoughts as possible, wincing internally before admitting what felt like defeat-

"^If you would prefer, I can give you some space and time to think it over. There's still some water on the stand for you, and I could bring you some more food if you wish.^"

To say Anne's thoughts were turbulent in response to Aria's words would be the understatement of the decade- from fearful shock at what had happened to her, to enmity towards the psychic at deceiving her, to further fear at the wild creature's fearsome power, the covers getting held that bit tighter with her working hand, to self deprecating shame at her even hiding like this to begin with from something that could kill her with a passing thought, to an attempt at actually considering its offer, all those within a span of moments each.

The intensity of negative thoughts expressed her way and the turbulence of it all was enough to almost give the Gardevoir a headache of her own, but she persevered, observing further still, her stoic appearance cracking into the tiniest frown as the girl admitted internal defeat, so convinced she was going to die that she didn't see any point in even hiding any more. Still, despite how harrowing it was, Aria could tell that at least some of her words had managed to begin worming their way further in, making the girl begin to doubt her assessment of the situation, bit by bit.

For the longest time, Aria's words remained unacknowledged, the psychic beginning to think she should just give her some space on her own volition and let her cool off, before hearing the weakest of whimpers, croaked out words clear to her mind-

"~Why d-did you s-save me?~"

The question gave the Gardevoir a pause, not thanks to what it said but rather what it implied, stinging her a bit. Still, the girl talking back to her was great progress on its own, some of her fear beginning to wane, bit by bit, the finding corroborated by the psychic opening her eyes to see the human trying to peek out from underneath the covers, the blurry sight of her red eyes making her stop that with a quiet whimper.

"^Isn't that what anyone with a shred of heart would do? An injured child out in the cold, about to bleed and freeze to death... why wouldn't we do what we can to save you?^"

That last part in particular seemed to stick around in Anne's mind especially, refusing to wash itself from the girl's focus. Of course, she did attempt to answer it, multiple times no less, each potential response more and more prejudiced and absurd alike- but none of them could withstand being scrutinized for any amount of time, so flimsy they fell apart in an instant when faced with what the girl knew she'd been through so far, especially with how much opportunity to end her that Gardevoir and likely other mons have had. The only idea that avoided being discarded by scrutiny like that was that of her being played with for that Gardevoir's perverse amusement, the wild beast no doubt finding joy in getting to fill the girl's head with a false sense of safety before pulling it out from underneath her not once but twice, the idea so inherently illogical and resistant to being disproved that Aria considered giving up for the time being-

But... even it didn't stick for too long. As scared as the girl still was, not even her panicking mind couldn't quite contort the facts to make that possibility seem particularly realistic, not with everything else that Gardevoir had said to her, be it as a pretend medic or as, presumably, itself. Gradually, that wild, dangerous possibility that the Gardevoir was actually telling the truth began taking up more and more of the girl's mind, certain fear slowly burning into an uncertain doubt, about the psychic, about herself, about whether any of this was even real.

As the child's mind tied itself into knots, Aria took a deep breath before deciding to try something else, her steps as loud as she could manage, almost stomps more than anything, as she slowly approached the bed, wanting to make sure the girl had noticed it. And notice it Anne did, shrinking further underneath the blankets, waiting at what would happen next, every step making her tremble. Eventually, they stopped, the tense silence that resulted making the girl skip a beat or two before she felt the rough mattress-like bedding near her left leg shift as if weight had been placed on it, the gentle rustle of fabric on fabric providing further evidence towards what she thought had just happened.

After getting over the shock of that Gardevoir having sat down on the edge of her bed, Anne slowly attempted to peek out and see just what exactly they were doing now, shaking hand reaching and lifting the edge of the covers just a bit-

Only to see the psychic's green hand laying down on the mattress in front of her, palm side up, ready to be grasped from what she could make of it. The sight transfixed her for a while, exhaustion dulled thoughts churning through what the intent or implication of that gesture even were before that voice reached her ears again, making her shrink and withdraw again.

"^I won't hurt you Anne, I promise. You don't have to fear me.^"

The previous time the girl had heard something to that vein she immediately dismissed it as a cruel joke at her expense, the mental image of safety being dangled in front of her face only for her to get stabbed should she attempt to reach out for it chilling as ever, especially considering just what a Gardevoir like that could do, how badly they could hurt her with their magic. The book she'd been reading and which she still should have in her backpack provided more than enough fuel for terrifying mental imagery of psychic abilities being used to harm her after all, but this time... this time it didn't quite manage to take hold on her. It was still scary, deeply so, but as hard as Anne's mind tried, and try it did very hard, it couldn't manage to make it fit with everything else so far, not this time.

In absence of a concrete reason as to why would that Gardevoir hurt her, the maelstrom inside Anne's mind began calming down piece by piece, enough for it to actually be able to look at what had happened to her and start putting pieces of it all together into a coherent image- an image that had the mon sitting mere feet away from her do what they could to help her out and make her feel safe. It all felt unbelievable in the most literal sense, especially once she had started to think of just where she was, the structure around her nothing like she would've thought existed in these woods, and tried thinking about the fact that she seemed to be being tended to entirely by mons, with seemingly no people around-

Unbelievable, and yet here she was.

Injured, blind, scared- but to the furthest extent she could manage to piece together on her own, safe.

Another peek out from underneath the protective blanket revealed that nothing had changed since the last time, the green hand was exactly where she'd last seen it, though now Anne had enough composure to look further along the arm, seeing the Gardevoir indeed sitting on the bed next to her, though she didn't dare to look all the way up at her face, not yet. If she was safe here, with this Gardevoir next to her, talking to her, seemingly trying their absolute hardest to comfort her- then maybe what she'd heard about them from other kids and some old people wasn't all that true in the end.

For a while, Anne could only eye the green hand laying a mere foot in front of her, still not sure what the gesture implied and still too scared to do much of anything. The longer she laid there though, the more the uncertainty within her boiled, her mind desperately wanting to cling to the idea of safety and to not let itself get torn by all the crippling fear again, but had no idea how to avoid it-

Except, of course, by acting.

Slowly, very slowly, Anne's hand began to reach out from under the pretend cocoon of her blanket over towards the Gardevoir's, part of the girl's mind screaming at her to stop while the rest cheered as loudly as it could for her to continue, the cacophony making her thoughts impossibly hard to follow for a few moments, Aria starting to worry about her backing out-

But thankfully, Anne pushed though, her pink, bruised hand making contact with the green one, the immediate sensation almost beyond description. Their skin was silken smooth, somehow so human and yet simultaneously so different. Softer than a baby's bottom and almost electric to the touch, the tingly, slightly numbing sensation the girl felt when touching it comforting, emanating an odd warmth, but not actual heat. Warm, gentle sensations- safety, refuge, even love, the sum total feeling like it could somehow out-protect the raggedy blanket covering her body.

"^It's okay Anne, you're safe. Take as much time as you need.^"

I won't hurt you Anne, I promise. You don't have to fear me.

By the wonderful @anthrodyniacoms on Twitter!​

Despite the clear inhumanity of the being that spoke towards her, she found herself nodding in affirmation, the comfort emanating from that Gardevoir's touch gradually stilling the relentless worry inside her head bit by bit, heart calming down alongside it, until all that were left was silence and peace. At least initially- freed of panic that had gripped it, the girl's mind began slowly drifting towards confusion at everything else that was going on, and with it came curiosity, bright and innocent, beginning to shyly peek out into Anne's thought process.

She felt her hand being held that much more firmly at that, though didn't connect the dots herself, instead focusing her entire resolve on working towards facing the world around her as it actually was, and that extended towards the being that helped her out, both in the past and now by helping her calm down. Slowly, the hand was withdrawn before reaching around to pull the blanket down from the girl's face, the sudden light bathing her making her squint extra hard before she looked up at the nearby Gardevoir. She felt a small, tiny bit of her shudder in fear at that sight, some small part of her still rambling on about how she should be afraid- but she refused to give it any more power, trying to focus on the psychic's expression and managing to barely make out a wide smile that filled it.

"^Hello there Anne. How are you feeling?^"

Aria thanked whichever deities were nearby for the girl managing to overcome her fear on her own enough for her to reach out towards her, the Calm Mind infused touch only speeding up what Anne's mind was already well on its path towards. The curiosity she felt slowly bubble to the forefront of Anne's mind made the psychic happier still, the Gardevoir wanting little more in that moment than to comfort this poor child further, and that included satisfying her understandable confusion.

"~I'm... I-I think I'm okay. I... t-thank you... um- what's your name? A-and how do you know m-mine?~"

"^You're very welcome sweetie, my name is Aria. And as to how I know your name... there's a fairly strong mental connection between us right now, and with it come some surface thoughts, your name, how you're feeling, and such.^"

It was a great simplification, true, but entirely appropriate for her needs at the moment. As the Gardevoir began to scoot over closer to the girl, bit by bit, she thanked the stars for her words not inspiring any more fear or disgust inside her, the little one seemingly already aware of at least that bit of what interacting with a psychic implied. It wouldn't be all peaceful though, as while her words didn't make Anne respond with fear, they did made her feel much more self conscious, thinking back to all these things she thought about the Gardevoir when she was panicking, a more sober reexamination making her realize just how messed up and offensive they were, the girl eventually mumbling out-

"~D-does that mean you c-could hear what I was th-thinking all along? If so then... I-I'm sorry...~"

While Anne may have tried to shrink away in shame, Aria had other ideas, the girl flinching at her body suddenly feeling like it was enveloped in the same warmth that emanated from the Gardevoir's hand, the sensation as soothing as it was unexpected, with the former eventually winning out between the two, especially as Aria spoke again-

"^Shhhh, settle, settle Anne. No need to apologize for panicking. It's only natural to be scared of those you don't know, especially in as scary and unexpected a situation as yours. You didn't do anything wrong here, I promise.^"

The reassurance helped calm the girl down greatly, Anne responding with light, shaky nods as she turned to look back up at the Gardevoir, gratitude at her gaffe not being held against her welling up inside her small, roughed up body.

"~Thank you, M-Mrs. Aria. That's a p-pretty name...~"

The Gardevoir giggled softly at that remark, the human squirming a bit in response as Aria slid over closer, the little one eventually managing onto that before looking up at her in surprise from up much closer.

"^Thank you Anne, your name is really pretty too.^"

Slowly, the same green hand she'd held moments before reached over towards Anne's head, gently petting her brown, unkempt hair, the pleasant, tingly, loving sensation melting through her worries so much more effectively than even her earlier touch. It felt so, so incredibly nice...

And Anne couldn't even remember the last time she was touched in a comforting way like that.

Before Aria could even investigate that stray thought, she heard her mother in law reach out to her from the other room-

"^Feels much better now- is it alright for me to walk back in?^"


Hearing her voice interrupted the girl's train of thought before it could go anywhere dark again, the human looking up at her attentively.

"~Y-yes Mrs. Aria?~"

"^The Indeedee you saw earlier... her name is Autumn, she's my mother in law. She's asking whether she could come back in and probably chat with you too.^"

A part of that sentence took Anne aback for a moment, the girl used to the mental image of an Indeedee as a nameless assistant at a hospital or a clinic more than she was to them being actual sentient beings with names, families, and personalities... but at the same time, much the same was true about the Gardevoir she was now talking with, the incongruence quickly getting swept out of her mind with a firm nod.

"^Come in mom.^"

Autumn wasted no time before waddling back in, smiling widely at the sight of her daughter in law comforting the poor child as she walked up closer, Anne's attention shifting between them both.

"^Hello there sweetie~. I am so glad to see you doing better- do you still need a drink dear?^"

The old, slightly croaky voice she heard in her head similarly threw Anne's mind for a loop, deeply unused to mons speaking up in that way and sounding like pe- humans, though with how alluring the offer was, confusion had to take a distant second place.

"~Yes, p-please, Mrs. Autumn.~"

"^Oh hush now sweetie, no need for formalities. Oh, seems you've dropped this~.^"

As the Indeedee walked around the bed, her eyes briefly lit up with a green sheen as the Fennekin plushie was levitated back to the edge of the bed, Anne wasting no time before holding it closer. Autumn still might've been deeply uncertain about just what exactly the relationship between the human child in front of her and the Braixen girl currently helping with the little ones was exactly, but from what she was seeing and feeling she had a terribly hard time imagining Anne having ever actually harmed the fox.

All the while, another thing she was uncertain about filled Aria's mind, now that the scene had calmed down enough for the realization that she blew their entire facade up in front of the human to begin sinking in. Still, she was good at this, once the need arose she would be able to remove all traces of this having ever happened from Anne's memory- or at least that's what she told herself to excuse what she was about to do. While most of the human girl was focused on observing the Indeedee grandma pour her another glass while holding onto her plushie, she caught another glowy sight in the corner of her vision, a faint white light filling Aria's eyes as she reached over towards the side room and grasped the bespoke glasses, the item whizzing through the air towards her hand shortly afterwards.

"^I'm sorry for keeping this away from you earlier Anne, here you go-^"

The girl had no idea what the Gardevoir was referring to exactly, squinting eyes not managing to quite make it out, the suspense making her down the rest of her drink quickly before she reached over to feel around- and finding what could've only been her glasses, squeeing quietly in relief.

"~O-oh thank you, thank you, they're alright...~"

Or at least that's what the girl thought, the closer examination revealing one of the lenses to have a decently sized crack in the corner and one of the temples to have gotten bent at a pretty harsh angle, though thankfully neither of these stopped the eyewear from being usable on their own. Still, she'd have to straighten this out if she wanted it to stay on her head, a quick attempt making her realize quickly that her fingers had nowhere near the strength needed to fix the piece of metal.

"^Do you need help Anne?^"

"~Umm... y-yeah. I can't wear them like this, th-they're bent here...~"

The link between them let Aria figure out what the girl was referring to easily, nodding before her white aura enveloped the thin piece of steel, one swift move straightening it back out before the human could elaborate, the suddenness and apparent effortlessness of the act catching her off guard. Still, at this point she was calmed enough to end up towards the latter end of the spectrum of terrified vs. awestruck at the sight, gently grabbing the glasses back and putting them on her face.

"~T-thank you Mrs. Aria...~"

The sight of the glass trinket getting used for its intended purpose caught both psychic's attention, Anne's vision returning as she stared at the world with the help of the eyewear, squinting eyes now finally opening all the way, letting the two make out the girl's hazel eyes.

And making Anne realize that yes indeed, all this was happening, she was indeed conversing with two very real mons, both mere feet from her and eagerly tending to her all the while, the sheer sudden clarity of it all taking her briefly aback. The look around the room revealed it not be a cabin as she'd previously thought, but something much different, almost making her think back to an old grainy photo of a recreation of ancient humans' dwellings, thick brown canvas surrounding her from most sides, a smallish opening not too far from her letting in light but seemingly not the cold, the faint sparkly sheen covering it no doubt responsible for that to some unclear extent.

"^Huh, so this thing helps you see~?^"

Autumn's creaky voice pulled Anne's attention back over towards her, the Indeedee coming off as even cuter in as high of a definition as anything ever got for the human.

"~Mhm! My s-sight is very bad, a-and these help c-curve the light to make up for that.~"

It sure seemed that the girl wouldn't end up being the only confused person in the room, her explanation seeming to not have made a ton of sense for either Aria or Autumn, making her start to second guess herself and attempt to come up with a better explanation before the Gardevoir interrupted her-

"^We'll have to ask you some more about it sometime, hah. Right now... would you mind answering a couple questions Anne?^"

The girl nodded in acknowledgment, shuffling along on the bed to get more comfy and resting her head back on the pillow as she listened in. Aria took a while to actually say her questions out loud- considering the messiness of the situation, she wasn't exactly racing to get back to asking about the no doubt terrible things that had befallen the girl and ruin the serene mood, but alas, she knew she would have to eventually.

Still, that didn't mean she would have to get to the worst one right away, though the question of which of the two topics she would have to ask her about was worse wasn't exactly an easily answered one.

"^Sooo, I was curious... you and Ember. How were you two like?^"

Even the slightly less bad question immediately chilled the girl's mood, not through fear but because of somber sadness, one good arm holding the plushie that much closer, petting its fake fur as she reminisced.

"~W-we were... it was us two against the world, f-for the most part. S-she meant the world to me. We'd go everywhere t-together, even to school. I wasn't allowed to bring her there, a-and she'd always get really scared wh-when I had to hide her in the backpack, a-and I'd apologize every time, but I-I had to, or they'd hurt her...~"

The words got closer and closer to whimpers as she continued, the two women listening intently and growing more and more aghast, the lead Anne left at the end one they had to investigate further, as much as neither them or the girl really wanted to listen to the very clearly painful events for the human to recall.

Aria's slow, gentle pets on Anne's head did help a fair bit, but they could only do so much, and eventually Aria could only ask her to continue-

"^Who was hurting her?^"

"~Other k-kids at school. Th-they made fun of me for bringing her, if I-I left her outside the class they'd chase her down and hurt her and she was t-too scared to fight back. O-or if they found me during recess they'd c-corner me and beat me until I let go of her, m-most of the time I'd manage to run or hide or find a place wh-where teachers were watching, o-or just endure it, b-but...~"

Even despite the psychically enhanced affection, Anne's tears kept flowing as she thought back to it all, the terrifying picture getting filled in one bloodstain at a time. A part of the elderly, timid Indeedee felt a wrath within her she had never felt before, a desire to storm into the human backwater and enact justice on those responsible in as ruthless of a form as she could think of... but it only lasted mere moments before it dimmed back into feeling sorry for the human and the fox. As terrible as all this was, Aria having to Calm Mind herself to keep herself from possibly tearing up, she knew she had to continue, there were still some things left unstated in her recollection.

"^I-I see... were there no safe places for her?^"

"~Sort of... w-when I could I left h-her at Mrs. Graham's library, b-but it wasn't always open in t-time, or on all days... a-and I couldn't leave her at home, o-o-or-~"

There was a long, painful pause, Anne shaking even harder than before, glasses clad eyes forcing themselves shut.

"~They would hurt her s-so much m-more...~"

"^Your parents?^"

Anne could only nod shakily, Autumn's heart breaking at the sight, the grandma wishing she could do or say something to help the poor child in the moment, to somehow undo or prevent all the suffering from those that should've been the ones closest to her- but alas, she was no Dialga, and all she could do in the moment was watch as her daughter questioned the poor one on, resolve to help the human however she could building up inside her. Before Aria could ask another question, Anne continued on her own volition, mind fraying as she retold it all-

"~They hurt m-me a lot when I-I went back to them, a-and when I stopped crying as much, th-they started hurting Ember, a-and I couldn't do anything...~"

Aria had enough, the girl's retelling genuine and painful enough to cast away any remaining doubt the Gardevoir might've had in her mind- which only meant that someone else wasn't telling the full truth about all this, and there was one person involved in all this that her doubts immediately began to creep towards. Still, that was a topic she'd have to investigate some other time, just nodding slowly as she continued to pet the abused girl on, a touch of Calm Mind steering Anne away from reliving it all. The other question remained though, and with how intimately it tied into all this, she figured this was the best moment to ask it just to get it all over with for Anne-

"^I'm so sorry Anne. When you were running away from your parents, on the night we found you... were you headed towards someone? A f-family member that would take you in-^"


The answer was as straightforward as it was damning to any plans or ideas Aria might have had, her free hand clenching from a brief flash of much the same anger that she felt in her mother in law earlier, the idea that someone would hurt and abuse their own little one like that one she couldn't comprehend, deep down- and yet, it was also the truth of this matter.

"~I-I just... I had to run. I-I overheard my father saying he w-was gonna kill me if I pissed him off again, I-I stayed up that night, c-crammed as much as I could into my bag, stole a neighbour's b-bike and t-took off. I thought I'd have the best chances in Lillywood, m-maybe I could take a train from th-there to Castelia, maybe I'd find someone who'd help me out, s-someplace I'd be safe...~"

Like here...

Both psychics overheard the stray thought that had left the girl after she was done talking, a pang of pain shooting through them both in response. No matter her previous composure or even Aria's continued help, Anne's tears continued to flow, the plea from earlier today coming back up in force, now that the fake human hospital around her was replaced by whatever non-human place this was, and feeling just as hopelessly impossible as it did the last time, the girl's whimper barely audible-

"~P-p-please don't make me g-go back...~"

As different as the circumstances were now, as utterly unthinkable a course of action as her words would now imply... Aria's response to that request, deep down, remained exactly the same, if not even more fierce and wholly determined.

"^We won't let them hurt you again Anne.^"

"~Mmm... I-I don't have anywhere t-to go-~"

"^Then let this be your home until you do.^"

As much as Autumn wholeheartedly agreed with her daughter's verdict, she couldn't help but give her a shocked look at seemingly unilaterally deciding on something so unheard of, so against the purpose of their little hiding spot away from humanity on the face of it, so hard for her to wrap her mind around all the implications of- and yet so, so inarguably correct.

Before Anne could whimper out a quiet 'really?', one teary look up at Aria's expression told her everything she needed to know, the at a glance stoic expression giving way to a determined expression that slowly turned into a smile as the girl kept looking, one final firm nod sealing the promise, for real this time.

Aria had no idea how would the girl react to that, but reaching out to grab the green hand that rested on her head before moving it over to her front to hold in a one armed embrace wasn't something she expected, or something she would leave at just that, Anne's yearning for further comfort clear as day. The girl might have gotten caught off guard at the sensations and motions that followed, her covers getting telekinetically held against her front, her body getting shuffled closer to the Gardevoir's, but she couldn't argue with the outcome, finding herself in a position to not just hold the psychic's hand but her entire body.

There was not a shred of hesitation in the side hug that followed, Anne's face pressing into the Gardevoir's side as the psychic's own arm wrapped around her in return, holding her close. The impromptu hugwas shaky, full of tears, slightly awkward- but so, so needed for the human, the sensation of a gentle, loving embrace, the kind Anne worried she'd forgotten entirely by now. The mess of thoughts that stirred inside the girl's mind felt just as, if not even more chaotic than the one from earlier, the realization that she had no idea where or what "here" even was exactly, the worries underlining the idea that whatever this place was it didn't seem to have another human being in it- but also the intense relief that a promise of safety brought, the acknowledgment of just how deeply comforting this embrace and Aria's presence as a whole was,

And an unspoken desire to have it last forever.

Unfortunately- it could only last a couple minutes, Aria shuddering as she felt a familiar aura approach the medical tent fast, one that seemed to be honing in on her presence in particular, squeezing the human girl tighter one last time before looking up at the entrance to the room and taking a deep breath. Just in time no less, the Luxray blitzing in mere seconds later, his fur arcing as he came to a stop, piercing eyes turning to look at his coworker only to go wide at what he actually saw, the electric type having absolutely no idea what was going on in here but liking exactly none of it. Before he could comment or otherwise act on it though, Aria's whisper filled his head first-

"^What is it Lumi?^"

The pointed question thankfully shook him out of any bad ideas, thinking back to the issue at hand as he watched the human look up at him as well, the sight taking it aback a great deal apparently- a sight that it somehow saw, the glassy trinket now on its face as opposed to where they all agreed earlier it ought to have been for the time being.

"Another human searching for this one. One, with an Arcanine, nobody following them, Marco is keeping track of them for the time being."

The news wasn't what Aria expected to hear one bit, but as she thought over who this new human could've been, the ideas she had ventured in the most unsavory direction, the impulse from earlier to punish those who had hurt the girl pressing into her side coming back in force, making the Gardevoir's expression narrow and her free hand briefly clench into a fist.

"^I see, I'll be on my way there, I have an idea of what may be-^"

"~W-what's going on?~"

Anne's shaking voice took Aria out of any further bloody thoughts, the tinge of fear of the intimidating Luxray that stained it clear as day, making the psychic lightly stroke the girl's hair before responding back, for everyone to hear-

"^I have to leave for my duties unfortunately, but I'll be back later, as soon as possible. Autumn, do you mind keep-^"

"^Say no more Aria~ I'll stay with you Anne, as long as is needed.^"

The girl still felt a bit distraught at the unexpected symbol of her safety here leaving so abruptly, but it's not like she had any room to argue, nodding a couple times as she let go of the Gardevoir, manually holding the blanket to her front while laying down as she watched Aria get up and follow Luxray out of the room, the space suddenly feeling so empty without her presence, making the human shrink into the bed a bit.

Aria, on the other hand, knew one thing more clearly than anything else in the world-

If she ran into the girl's parents, there would be hell to pay.

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other fic, Another Way!

Also also check out my series of shorts, The Alarm Goes Off at Six!
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Chapter 6: Encounter


the gay agenda

Chapter 6: Encounter

She could probably slow down just a bit...

The old woman took a moment to stop and catch her breath on the side of the snow covered road, passing the cane over to her other hand before attempting to resume her trek, any hopes of her managing to do so without grabbing her companions' attention dashed as the Arcanine stopped with her, turning to look up at her with clear worry on his snout.

"~Don't worry Leo, I'm good, I'm good, just- just need a moment, much more walking than usual but I'll manage.~"

A glove-clad hand reaching over to stroke the hound's rich mane helped her counteract the stinging cold at least somewhat and regain more feeling in that limb, but it did little to convince Leo himself, the reassurance falling flat when compared with his human's obviously pitiful state. Much the same was true of the passenger that emerged from his mane shortly afterwards, the Ribombee's expression just as uncertain of this entire excursion of theirs. She wasted no time before trying to convey that over to her human, buzzing softly as she flew over through the light snowfall and pretended to drag the woman's free hand in the direction they came from, only making her sigh in response.

It's not like she was wrong even- her years were catching up with her, she was in absolutely no condition to be undertaking anything like this, it shouldn't have been her tired old self pushing herself through the snow and dirt deeper and deeper into these woods in search of a lost child-

But if not her, then who?

The girl's damnable parents that fled the place the moment people realized and more cops started getting involved? The cops that barely even pretended to do any searching themselves and only put up a couple disposable 'missing person' posters? The rest of this anemic, half-dead town? She shouldn't have to be one doing this, but if she wouldn't at least try looking for her, even if just to confirm what felt at this point like the inevitable, nobody else would.

"~L-let's keep going for now. Still got the lead Leo?~"

Near constant snowfall of the past couple days had mostly covered over any trail the girl had left to begin with, visual and olfactory alike, the Arcanine letting out a low ruff before starting to sniff the air again, finding himself growing increasingly unsure, even if the current path didn't exactly leave many other directions for her to have gone in. The human knew what to do, Leo's head perking up as he saw her pull out the book out of her purse once more, sniffing it intently before picking up on the trail again, slowly making his way towards it as his guardian resumed her slow march, gripping her cane even more firmly than usual.

Heh, 'Understanding Pose and Motion, Illustrated'- she could bet a fair bit of change that not a single person aside from Anne had ever borrowed that one in all the years she'd been working as the librarian. Or likely even before that point, the book's cover holding up surprisingly well considering that it was about as old as she was, judging by the print date.

As the group got going again, the Ribombee flew over to her human's pocket, snuggling up to her free hand, torn between not wanting to be out there in such bitter cold one bit, but at the same time not wanting to stay back at home while her guardian was putting herself at a risk like that. The small hug was gently responded to with the human's thumb embracing her back, her tired, croaky voice speaking up shortly afterwards-

"~I'm okay Luxie, don't worry sweetie. It's... cold, and scary, I know, but we can do this, one step at a time. Hop back into Leo's mane and warm yourself up, don't feel like you have to be freezing yourself in there for me.~"

The words had their desired effect thankfully, the lil' bee soon squirming out of the woman's pocket and looking about ready to dive back into the hound's bright mane- before stopping herself at the last moment and flying up over her human's face, the determined expression making it clear that there will be no arguing with her about this, not really. The least she could do in that case was to just comfort her some more, the elder's features softening as she closed her eyes just for a moment at feeling Luxie nuzzle her cheek with her entire body, the tiny fairy thankfully returning back to warmth shortly afterwards.

The brief moment of comfort was appreciated all the same, softening the impact of yet another frigid gust that had followed it, a quiet grunt leaving the human before she just doubled down in response, aching legs pushing on to the best of their capability- for a while at least, spite proving to be a very fickle fuel for tasks like this. Fortunately, she wouldn't have to completely rely on it for much longer, a sight ahead of them catching her attention, a bump in the near uniform blanket of snow that surrounded them with a couple inches of wood peeking out from underneath the unceasing whiteness. Guess they'd have to push through the white menace around it, sigh-

At least, that was what she thought, Leo stopping to do a nasal double take before slowly, yet confidently leading them off into the trees, even the gentle down slope sufficient to make following him that much harder than merely following the trail, the dog not leaving his guardian's side even for a moment, providing a constant, constantly needed support. Each pebble or root deviously hidden underneath the snow made proceeding along the doomed path that much harder, both for them and for Anne alike all these days ago, and they weren't getting any closer to climbing back onto the path either.

"~Goodness Anne, what happened to you...~"

Both her companions shared that thought, Luxie's quiet squeaks sounding equally confounded about the girl's situation- they all knew at a certain level, deep down, that she didn't make it, but seeing her tragedy unfold like this only made that clinical realization that much more viscerally disturbing. Thankfully, the path eventually evened out, the absence of a slope making it that much easier on the old woman, letting the Arcanine lead the pack properly once more, sniffing intently all the while- before stopping eventually, at what felt like random, the sight unlike him.

"~Leo? What hap-~"

Only a couple more steps made the reason behind his sudden pause that much clearer, the woman's eyes going wide as she took a step back in reflex, the ravine in front of them as deadly deep as it was hard to spot in the uniform whiteness.


Much like the sinking feeling in their stomach's suggested, a glance down revealed Anne's ultimate destination, the handful of specks of red on white making that clear enough. At the same time though... the snow layer down there wasn't so thick as to even fully cover the muddy dirt, and there was no sight of either Anne's body, the bike she stole, or anything she might've worn on that night. As Luxie scrambled out of the warm mane to take a look at the commotion, gasping as loudly as her tiny body was capable of at the sight, her human was already thinking through what could've actually happened in there- they would have to see this to the end in either case.

"~There's no way she survived that fall, something must've dragged her, but... carnivores would likely do their deed on the spot, especially in such a hidden location. Even the few species that would store meat for later like that wouldn't bother with dragging a body whole and just cut the good bits and take them directly, and I'm not sure any Sneasel even live here to begin with...~"

As the human muttered to herself, trying to make any sense of the situation at hand, it was Leo's turn to suddenly realize something, freezing as he sniffed the air some more, suddenly finding another, incomparably stronger lead. Stronger, fresher,


Without waiting, Leo turned in the direction his nose was guiding him towards and bolted, mind deadset on either protecting and rescuing the lost youngling if it was her, or avenging her if it was the creature that got her in the end.

"~Leo, WAIT!~"

Having no choice, the old woman tried to bustle to catch up with him as fast as she could- which wasn't fast in the slightest even for human speeds, only reaching a light jog as she pushed through the snow, Luxie left unsure which of the two to stick with before zipping forward to catch up with the Fire-type, having no idea what was even going on.

Fortunately for them, they wouldn't have to run for long, the Arcanine having stopped in his tracks only a couple dozen meters in front of them after dashing within view of his target, intimidated at being outnumbered and confused as to what he even was seeing. He might have been a town hound most of all, but these two... kinda-humans-but-not-really sure didn't look like the kind of creature to get particularly hungry for something else's flesh, even if one of them was downright rife with the girl's scent. On the other hand, the mostly black leonine quadruped that accompanied them looked very carnivorous, but barely smelled of Anne at all, the scene not adding up in the slightest.

Having no clue how to proceed, Leo assumed a defensive stance and backed up a couple paces, eyes locked with the opposing group, shifting from one potential threat to another while he growled quietly. The Ribombee that followed had a similar reaction, though in her case a defensive stance consisted of diving back into Leo's mane to hide and only barely peeking out to keep track of what the wildlings were doing, or rather, presently, not doing.

It took a longer while for the human to finally catch up, even the short period of exertion and a sluggish pace leaving her completely out of breath, the woman supporting herself heavily on her cane as she stopped behind Leo, the hound shifting to shield her just in case while she recovered. Eventually, she found enough strength to look back up- and recoil a step or two at what she saw, gasping breathlessly. While the two mons’ reactions at the sight in front of them were mostly confusion at having never seen creatures like that before, the human's response was a very clear fear, fear based on knowing what these beings were, what they could do, and why crossing them like that was the kind of mistake one only made once.

"~L-Leo, L-Luxie, back slowly a-and don't make sudden moves...~"

The human followed her own advice as she began to inch backwards, the freezing air hurting her airways as she panted in a mix of strain and anxiety, fearful mind trying to figure out what was even going on- did Leo catch a cold or something to lead them there, right into the maw of danger? Or did these three do something to Anne and... oh god, oh god, Dialga merciful-

"^You're looking for someone, aren't you.^"

The feminine voice that manifested in the old woman's mind, as well as the minds of her companions, was much like an icicle- crystal clear, freezing cold, and pointed like a dagger, hitting the whole party differently. Leo and Luxie were taken aback at hearing such a... clearly understandable message for the first time in their lives, though the former was much too focused on protecting his human to acknowledge that much. The human on the other hand, only grew more afraid, the neutral question sounding taunting to her already terrified mind, as if offering to lead them all to the same fate Anne ended up with. Even beside that fear, the old textbooks she taught from years ago made it clear that telepathy was much more of a tool of intimidation, used to convey the message of "you can hear me clearly, back off now" rather than used for some amicable chit chatting...

"~K-keep going until we make it back t-to the path sweeties, k-keep going...~"

Before her elderly heart could give out, she heard the voice elaborate, slightly less tense this time-

"^A young girl named Anne.^"

The confirmation of her worst fears made her gradual retreat stop in a mixture of terror and grief, old hands shaking at the ghost bride's "words". A rational part of her knew she should've kept going, to not herself be taunted like that, but deep down she had to know, had to know just what exactly happened to the little one, her eyes affixed firmly in the back of Leo's head as she replied, croaked words drier than sand-

"~I-I take you know what... b-became of her then...~"

To even acknowledge the wraith's words felt like asking for trouble, to invite further interaction by responding to them was to sign one's own doom- though considering the circumstances, it's not like they weren't doomed already. As they awaited a response, the small group huddled, Leo's piercing gaze locked with the Luxray's before shifting over to stare down one of the white humanoids that stepped forward, the one with a faux dress, his low growl thankfully making the foe stop in place.

"^She had suffered a serious accident, but is now safe, and is being tended to.^"

The woman heard herself gasp quietly at that admission, despite how utterly infeasible it sounded. It felt impossible, but at the same time... what use was lying for that ghost bride, anyway- it had her on a platter if it so desired. The tiniest bit of relief crept into the elder's mind, and much more of it into the heads of her companions, though it also left the big and almost as morbid question of what would now happen to the girl while she was at the wraith's mercy like that-

"~T-that's... good. What... what will h-happen to her once she recovers?~"

There was a longer pause following the question, the Luxray barks and growls that intermittently filled it sending cold shivers down the human's spine as she kept trying to back off bit by bit, the rest of her group eventually getting the cue. Before she could skitter away too far though, she saw a motion in her peripheral vision, Leo barking ferociously at the not-human lifting its arm towards her as its eyes were enveloped with a white flare, his guardian bumping into an invisible wall right behind her an instant later, letting out the tiniest, most pitiful whine at realizing her own entrapment.

"^Who are you and what brings you looking for her?^"

This voice was more masculine, distant and not quite as pointed, though still just as cold and unwelcoming, the fright that had taken over the human's mind at realizing she was being essentially held at gunpoint making her thought process, ordinarily still glib despite her age, that much more slower and miserly, her dry throat eventually forcing out-

"~M-my name is Olive Graham. I'm- I'm Mylock's librarian. I used to see Anne all the time, she'd spend most of her afternoons i-in the library and stay until closing, doing homework or reading or t-trying to relax, with Ember or later on alone.~"

Olive's miserly body did not appreciate the current situation she was put in one bit, leaning on further on her cane as she shook in place, afraid of even reaching her hand towards her companion to warm it up.

"^That does not answer why would you push yourself though this cold in search of her.^"

Indeed it didn't, leaving Olive taking a deeper breath before replying-

"~We never t-talked much, but... if I didn't go find out what happened to her, then nobody else would. M-My library was one of the few places she ever felt safe in it felt like, I- I want to do right by her.~"

Olive found herself going back through her memories as she thought about the girl, the possibility of those recollections not being of her own volition not registering for her even briefly as they played back in her mind. One spring evening a couple years back, herself sorting through the recent arrivals and stocking the shelves while listening to Anne and Ember exchange giggles and woofs respectively just out of sight, the little fox essentially a fixture in the girl's lap. She wanted to get the whole box done in one go and not split it between one evening and the next morning, the library staying open a couple hours longer than normal- long enough for its most frequent visitor to end up dozing off in the corner after a couple cups of sweet tea, the little one on her lap sharing her fate. How much she wanted to be able to let them stay, to keep the two of them in possibly the only safe space they had left- but alas, they would have to head back to their horrid house, day after day, even the lightest touch on her shoulder ending up startling the girl awake.

Yet another scene, back when she briefly substituted as a biology teacher, when Leo was still just a lil' Growlithe pup and just as affixed to her lap as Ember was to Anne's, the two of them watching over the school's courtyard during recess. They took too long to notice the scene brewing off in the corner, a couple of boys from the rougher families cornering Anne as she knelt down facing the fence, comforting the lil' fox. One of them tried to taunt her, making her stand up while still facing away from him, Olive about to call out to make them disperse- before Anne herself cut her off, turning around with a sucker punch to the nose, knocking the hoodlum down on his rear and making their whole group scatter. As much as Olive wanted to cheer her at that, she limited herself to just looking the other way, and making sure Anne wouldn't get in trouble over any of that.

As she reminisced, the old woman felt her body become that bit lighter, some of the unceasing pressure being taken off of her elderly joints, a large weight leaving her chest because of what she could only explain to herself as her own conscience. After a long, increasingly less tense silence, the feminine wraith spoke again, though this time, she sounded... different. Much less imposing, less pointed, warmer, much more uncertain, with a clear gratitude in her words-

"^Thank you. As to your question... we aren't sure. We don't know how safe she'd be to return to... the human world eventually, and we hope you... can advise us, somehow.^"

The sentence made all the grammatical sense in the world, but Olive's mind was thrown for a loop when hearing it, hearing the voice of a cruel, deceiving spirit suddenly turn... questioning, uncertain, asking her for help and not the other way around, sounding so... normal. Like a person.

Olive breathed deeply as she chewed through that conundrum, the lessened pain around her body making that task easier than usual, though she wasn't arriving to any particularly reassuring conclusions, unfortunately.

"~I'm... unsure. She'd eventually end up with a foster family, though given her age I don't know how likely she'd be to find one before she turns 18 and gets kicked out of that system. With how underfunded that whole program is, I can't imagine the places she'd be staying at in the meantime to be all that much better than her present house...~"

The situation was even more grim the more she thought about it all, to the point where she found herself wondering whether Anne staying under the woods' and ghost brides' protection wasn't the best possible outcome for her, as outlandish as that idea was to consider. To think the very society from which she sprung failed her so much that her safest option is being given shelter by spirits...

Unknowingly to Olive, her thoughts were picked up upon by others beside just herself, the old woman finding herself thinking back to how normal that ghost bride sounded, again and again, mind wondering whether all this was just yet another cruel trick its kind so often engaged with based on all the stories she'd been told as a girl... or whether it was actually being genuine here. As she chewed through that idea, the sound of snow being waded through sent cold shivers down her spine, glance upwards revealing to be the more feminine of the wraiths to be approaching her. Olive knew better than to ever meet eyes with them, only trying to sneak in the briefest of glances- but from what she could make out, the spirit's expression was calm, sad even, lacking any ferocity aside from the vivid hue of its eyes.

"^I see. With how unsafe the human world sounds for her, it sounds like she'll have to stay with us for some time longer then. She told us she has no family left either...^"

"~N-not any that she should be with, no. Heard her mother ran off back to her folks when the news broke, that whole rotten bunch shouldn't be let anywhere near her, even if she's not near as awful as Anne's father.~"

Guess this really was it then, wasn't it. She found out what had happened to Anne, even if the answer in its fullest was one she had a hard time comprehending the full impact of, or fully trusting the beings that had conveyed it to her. She was in absolutely no position to debate, or worse yet argue for a more appropriate end for the girl though, both because doing so with a ghost bride is how one ended up being buried alive, and because she really had no argument for a different outcome- there wasn't anywhere safe for Anne, and if nothing else, the wraiths of the woods were at least powerful enough to protect her from other people.

It was an answer, it was the answer, but... she wasn't satisfied, not one bit. She couldn't just let it happen like this, not if she could help it- and help it she wanted to.

"~Is there... is there any way I could possibly help her out? I owe at least that to her.~"

There was another longer pause from the mostly wraith group, one once more interspersed with Luxray barking, sounding louder and more forceful this time, the harsh sound making the old woman shrink backwards, realizing there was no longer any barrier keeping her trapped. As much as she wanted to flee from all this and bring her companions to safety, her duty was not yet done here, and the resolve to help Anne out ended up outweighing her own waning fear. A couple more minutes of mostly inaudible exchange later, the group seemed to have arrived at some sort of agreement, even if a tenuous one, the sound of very fast steps trailing off into the woods making Olive glance up and watch as the more masculine of the wraiths left, leaving just the one near her and the Luxray, both walking over closer.

Leo was much too confused about what was even going on anymore to keep on posturing, shielding his human from the stranger but not otherwise trying to scare them back anymore, more concerned about the snarl on that Luxray's expression as it stared them down.

"^I would greatly appreciate any help, and I'm sure so would Anne. I don't- I don't know what a human girl like her needs. I will do all I can to keep her safe and cared for, but I am completely clueless on any specific human requirements or wants.^"

To meet a ghost bride in person was surreal enough, to have one outwardly ask for and admit needing help was an act so dumbfounding that it had a powerful side effect of slicing through the fear that many of the stories Olive heard growing up had instilled in her, making the being a few short feet away from her feel like just another person and not a mighty guardian of the woods. Enough so even for her to do the unthinkable, body shaking as she finally looked up the rest of the way, finding the white creature's expression soft and uncertain- and that bit warmer in response to her finally looking up, red eyes as striking as the myths would lead her to believe, but for once with no more malice behind them.

"~Well... shelter, food, and water are the obvious basics. Being wanted, cared for, clothes... beyond those, there really isn't anything that's strictly needed I don't think, especially in Anne's case, hah. Give her a book or something to draw on and watch her sink into her own little world.~"

The spirit acknowledged her words, seeming to be calmed a fair bit at that, internally thanking whoever was watching for the little one being almost just like everyone else in that regard- but only almost, and there were most definitely some places where Olive could help.

"^We can provide most of those, thankfully. Though, clothes and "books" in particular are something we lack.^"

"~Hah, books are my specialty you could say. With how few people visit the library I don't even see much of an issue with her getting to take a few of them for good, though knowing her she'll be done with them in a span of days. Clothes though... I imagine rifling through her wardrobe would be helpful here, as rundown as it is, no way she took every last thing with her after all. Beyond that... I don't think I have anything that fits her particularly well, but a bad fit is better than no fit, and there are definitely a few things that spent the last decade in my wardrobe uninterrupted. Plus, she'll grow into it assuming she stays there for long enough.~"

"^This would involve heading over to your town to take these items, wouldn't it?^"

As obvious as the truth was, it was worth acknowledging, Olive's free hand reaching into Leo's mane as she nodded, the hidden Ribombee snuggling into it all the while.

"You can't be seriously considering that Aria."

The low, gruff voice caught the human group completely off guard, neither of them seeing any obvious subjects but the intimidating Luxray that was staring up at the spirit a couple meters away from them, before giving their group a brief, narrowed stare.

"^I don't see why not. I know my stealth, and unless a sight of a Luxray accompanying Olive's group is sufficient to send that whole place into a panic I imagine we'll be inconspicuous enough. And- I figured it'd be the best for us all to be able to understand each other, if this is gonna take a while.^"

The Luxray looked like he was about to blow over at the freshly named Aria before her addendum made him look over at the group wide eyed, only able to spit out-

"Have you gone completely mad!?"

"A-all of us?" - The quiet, squeaky question made the whole group look over at its source, Luxie daring to peek out from Leo's mane properly this time, looking up at the tall pale stranger and watching her respond with an affirmative nod. Not an instant later, the little bee was back over at her human's cheek, nuzzling and hugging it to the extent her little body was capable of.

"T-thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! O-Olive, I-"

Luxie paused, never in a million years expecting to have an opportunity like that, everything she wanted to say welling up inside her fairy body, words caught in her throat leaving her just sniffling a couple times as she snuggled in, the human's hand reaching up to gently pet her back. Olive was similarly taken aback at it all, but knew just what to say in response, closing her eyes as a respite from it all and whispering-

"~Love you too Luxie.~"

Leo was nowhere near as talkative, instead just nuzzling into his human's cane hand with as much of his body as he could, the pale creature off to their side giving the Luxray a smug smirk, the electric feline just rolling his eyes in response. The librarian's group took a moment to compose themselves, the human herself eventually opening her eyes once more to look at the magical stranger.

"~So... would following us back to our village be something you'd be interested in?~"

"^Anything if it means I can help Anne out that bit more.^"

Olive found herself smiling at that conviction, feeling much the same deep down, a sense of purpose renewing her strength, as tired as she might've been.

"~Well, I suggest we get a move on then. The snow sure isn't stopping any time soon, and I'm feeling myself slowly lose sensation in my legs, hah...~"

The off the cuff remark made both companions look up at Olive worried as the whole group started to turn around and face where they came from, fresh snowfall already having slightly obscured their tracks. Before the librarian could properly push herself towards motion again, she saw yet another on an already very long list of completely unexpected sights today, the spirit's green hand hovering in the air for her to hold, the stranger offering her a soft smile. At any point in her life prior to now, she would've thought herself having mere minutes, if not seconds to live in a situation like that, but now... now she felt just about ready to take her chances.

And was she glad to have done so- the warmth that filled her body as her hand grasped the spirit's was almost the complete opposite of anything she could've expected, be it now or in the past, working away at the numbness and aching while undoing what felt like decades of strain and wear, making her feel almost weightless.

"~Ohhhh. N-not a situation I thought I would ever find myself in, and definitely not what I imagined it to feel like.~"

The spirit giggled at her words as they all got going, the sound so unlike anything she expected from her kin while also just being very pleasant at the face value, the librarian finding herself feeling just that bit more self conscious about the spooky stories she spent her life believing in.

"^Hah, I gathered. I've no idea who came up with half the things you were thinking I could or would do.^"

Despite her disillusionment, this seemed to be the one part that was indeed true, enough so that the stranger even offhandedly admitted to it, Olive not sure how she felt about her thoughts being read like that.

"^My name is Aria. I... can't thank you enough for agreeing to help us, Olive.^"

"~My pleasure... Aria. I expected, braced myself to find a dead body if even that, and to hear she's doing alright is... best news I've had in a long while, that's for sure.~"

"M-me too... that ravine looked so, so scary, h-how did she survive that?"

Hearing Luxie's voice again made the librarian smile, the sound such a dead ringer for how Olive imagined the lil' bee would sound if she could talk that it was almost baffling, but at the same time, so sweet she absolutely had no reason to even wonder how come it sounded the way it did.

"^Barely. Thankfully, we... found her quickly.^"

The pause in Aria's voice to carefully pick her words was noticed, but Olive was of no mind to even think of prying any into it- even if she wasn't a vengeful banshee the human was expecting one of her kin to be, she was still a magical creature, one that likely kept many secrets.

"Yeah... I-I was so scared for her when she went missing like that, I thought she was dead for sure a-a-and it'd probably just break my heart, A-Anne's too sweet to have something like that happen to her..."

"I knew she'd make it- she's much more resilient than she looks."

Leo's addition, delivered in a low, slow voice made Luxie raise her eyebrow as Olive chuckled, sighing deeply before nodding-

"~Indeed, even if it's by necessity.~"

The Luxray let out a low grumble at that as the now expanded group made their way back onto the main forest path, Aria's magical assistance helping make the return leg of their journey take less time than in the other direction.

"If you apparently 'care' for her so much, why didn't you help her before?"

The Electric type's snarled gotcha made most of the rest of the group glare down at him in response, the human herself sighing quietly as the question got to her, stinging her even as she knew, on a rational level, that she had done everything in her power to help.

"^Leave judging people's hearts to me Lumi-^"

"~No, no, he has a point, I think.~"

"No he doesn't! You g-gave her a safe place all the time in the library, made her feel as welcome as you could- you even called for people to come and investigate what her p-parents were doing to her-"

"~And what came of it?~"

Luxie couldn't respond to that, the simple lack of knowledge shutting her up there and then- though considering Anne's situation didn't improve any afterwards, the answer was likely 'not much, if anything'.

"B-but, didn't someone c-come to look at what was happening?"

"~They did. I saw a single police cruiser roll up to their home, then her father talking to one of his coworkers and blowing that entire thing off. Then the next day, a couple new bruises on her neck.~"

Aria's free hand clenched at hearing that, the pangs of fury she felt back at the clinic coming back in force as she tried to control herself to the best of her ability, the realization that she was saving the girl away from those horrible, evil people giving her more and more motivation each time she thought about it. Lumi on the other hand was still not fully convinced, though at least his next question wasn't dripped in as much smarm-

"Then why not take her under your own wing, if her own family is so monstrous towards her?"


"~Do you think I wouldn't have done so if I had the ability to?~"

As much as his first question made her pensive, Olive's response to the follow up was dripping with contempt for these words even being asked, contempt and more than a bit of regret at her own impotence in that regard- she wished so many times that she could just spirit the girl away from her day to day hell, but... alas.

"~I'm not her relative, and she has living family. Best case she'd spend a few days with me before I ended up behind bars for the rest of my life and she would be forced to get back to her house, and I can't even imagine what her father would do to her after having something like that happen.~"

Aria didn't need to know what exactly 'behind bars' meant to realize it referred to some sort of punishment, her heart shuddering at such an obviously generous act potentially being held against the elderly woman. As much as her perception of how virtuous individual humans could be kept changing by the minute, humanity as a whole remained little more than a monstrous, vile mass inside her mind, one that seemed to bring misery to everything it touched, including itself.

The terrific mental image chilled the discussion for a long while, enough for the group to start approaching the end of the forest path, Luxie hovering out of her warm shelter to nuzzle her guardian's cold hand, simultaneously succeeding at catching her attention away from the trance of psychically enhanced walking through snow.

"~We're getting close. Whatever stealth you had in mind Aria, now’s a high time to start exhibiting it-~"

The end results spoke for themselves, even if Olive was left temporarily speechless at how effective they were. She was still holding the spirit's hand, a couple momentary clenches that were then returned by Aria confirming that well enough, but attempting to look over at her, or even at the hand she knew she was holding yielded no results, eyes just sliding over the spots she would've been in.

"^How's that for stealth~?^"

"~What in the...~"

Another giggle from Aria, feeling much more disembodied on behalf of her functional invisibility helped in warming the atmosphere away from its previous gloom as they all neared the entrance back into the human village. The psychic herself almost never ventured this far, certainly not as an adult doing her duties, and never ever any further, but there was one unassuming sight in front of her that she felt compelled to ask about-

"^I've always wondered what was written on that sign.^"


The partially faded and grossly out of date sign that flanked the small gate at the end of the forest path was a sight Olive had already completely tuned out over the years, finding the wild creature's curiosity of it charming, cute almost.


POP: 1,634

"~It has the name of the town on it, Mylock, and its population. Says its sixteen hundred, nowadays the actual number is closer to eleven hundred.~"

The number was rather pitiful by the standards of human settlements, though still sufficient to make Aria sound genuinely surprised at it as she continued-

"^T-that's a good few people, goodness. And on the other side?^"

| 8 MI.

"~Name of the town at the other end of the path, Lillywood, and the distance to it.~"

"^And how big is that one? I've heard it's quite a bit bigger than even this place.^"

"~Not a high bar to clear. Hmm... last time I checked it was something like sixty, seventy thousand.~"

As fairly underwhelming as Lillywood was, especially when compared to the regional capital of Mistralton, the number was apparently high enough to completely stump both the Luxray and Aria, at least judging by Olive's arm suddenly being gently yanked backwards as she walked on, as if her impromptu companion had stopped.

"~What's wrong?~"

"^That's an astounding number of living beings, good heavens...^"

The librarian just chuckled, amused at Aria's apparent innocence on that matter.

"~I've a feeling that if I told you Castelia's population you'd faint on me.~"

"^May be if it's substantially higher than that...^"

Did two and a quarter orders of magnitude count as substantially higher?

Thankfully, Aria eventually managed to snap out of that momentary daze on her own, shaking it off as she pressed on, Olive in tow, the cane taps against the pavement making for a pleasant, rhythmic cadence. The sight that met the group immediately after the forest path ended was solidly underwhelming for the town's inhabitants, and confusing otherwise. The dirt trail opened into a wider one, made out of stone slabs, many of them cracked, with a much larger, also stone-looking black path beside it, faded white markings covering it in places giving little clue as to its function.

The most eye catching sight, by far, were a couple large, metallic objects standing inertly off to the side of the black path, each large enough to comfortably contain their entire group in them- probably even two of them if they squeezed in the right way.

"^What are those...^"

"~Cars. Used for getting around much faster than we can on foot.~"

The description left a lot to be desired, and a part of Aria was just about ready to ask Olive's ears off at all the objects around them, but ultimately, their mission here had priority over everything else, and it was a good idea to not waste time and be done with it as fast as they could. In addition, maintaining her stealth suddenly became that much more draining on account of so many more minds all around her, not giving the hidden psychic much capacity to further inquire into things, Aria having to focus quite deeply just to not let herself be spotted.

Thankfully, she had Olive to guide them along towards where they needed to go, the destination not too far from the entrance to the woods, Anne's former house one in a row of ugly, rectangular, multi story single family housing built decades ago, much of it now abandoned. Or in the case of the specific building they were heading towards, somehow even worse than abandoned.

The sight of a Luxray suddenly accompanying Mrs. Graham's Arcanine was one that turned a few heads as they passed, but it was far from anything that would deserve any stronger reaction than that, the electric canine just leering down any potential onlookers as he scouted the area. Even besides having way, way too many humans around for comfort, this place was just obscenely ugly, with the tide of gray and black around them only occasionally broken by a "car" of a different color passing by or a stark outfit of one of the locals. Even the massive, multi story building on the other side of this black road, much larger than any other the Luxray had seen in his life was rendered pitiful and off-putting by the drab, almost completely desaturated paint that much of it was painted with, raw stone and dark smudges peeking out in places only making it all more unsightly.

"What an ugly place."

"~Harsh, but true. Can't believe they still haven't renovated the school after all these years, good god.~"

A glance back over at the building they were heading towards had Olive's calm expression turn into a snarl of her own, the litter strewn around the building's front yard a perfect company for the opened front door and the reek that emanated from within, Luxie in particular reacting with a loud, whiny grumble before diving into her human's pocket.

"~Just a couple days and this place already feels like it's rotting. Only befits her family if nothing else. Hold your breath.~"

The party didn't have to be told twice, walking in through the front door and looking around in confusion for the most part, Olive trying to recall this place's layout. The atrium opened up to the kitchen immediately in front of them, lack of doors between the two rooms letting them determine with vivid clarity that it was the kitchen that was the source of the putrid odor, the door of the fridge hanging open providing even further clues for the city dwellers. To their right was a small closet, mostly full of junk, while the other side had the stairs up to the first floor, the librarian leading the group in that direction after a few moments. As used as she was to them, the two wilder members of her party paused at the sounds from the floor above mid step, Aria having caught enough of her breath to ask-

"^Is there someone up there? I can hear voices but can't feel anyone...^"

"~No, no, it's just the TV. The bastard didn't even turn it off.~"

There was enough contempt dripping in Olive's voice for her to physically spit the excess out as they made their way all the way up, the human voice from one of the rooms the corridor opened up into now clear enough to make out for anyone who could understand Unovan-

"~-and now for the recap of Hoenn Pro Series 47! Following eight tense weeks of battles, Trainer Brendan and Gym Leader Flannery with scores of sixteen to four and fifteen to five respectively have managed to secure the top two spots, giving them a possibly once in a lifetime opportunity to challenge the Hoenn Elite Four to potentially replace one of their members- and if they succeed at that, potentially even Champion Wallace himself! In anticipation to the no doubt grueling fights that shall await them and their teams, let's take a look at the best, most tense moments of all the battles that had led them here, right after the message from our sponsors, on League24 Extra 2!~"

The sensation of hearing a voice without any corresponding mental activity or even just physical presence associated with it was an extremely dumbfounding one for Aria, her aura's subconscious attempts to probe in the direction of where the sound originated only finding a quasi metallic slab it had a hard time penetrating, the mismatch between her senses making her head spin a little.

"^What's that voice saying even...^"

"~You don't want to know.~"

Olive's answer was as short as it was definitive, not leaving much room to argue with, the psychic just taking it at face value. Thankfully, she didn't have to concern herself with it for much longer, the elderly human beelining to what had to be the girl's now abandoned room, the sheer mess it had been left in making it look like it's been ransacked several times.

"~Here we are.~"

This might've been much more furniture than Aria was used to seeing in a single room, but the despairing state of all of it kinda offset that a fair amount. Desk and shelves falling apart, wardrobe missing one of its doors and chair one of its legs, half of the outer wall reduced to bare brick and mortar, the few plumes of mold on the ceiling completing the picture. And all over the place, smaller pieces of what looked like variously coloured fabric mixed in with white, rectangular sheets, some of them with black or blue symbols on them, none of it making any sense on the surface.

"~Might as well grab everything she has left at this point, underwear especially.~"

A colorful, glistening bag was pulled out of Olive's handbag and unfurled open, big enough to contain this entire mess, the librarian walking over to the wardrobe and grabbing pieces of clothing by the handful, most of them in a sorry condition.

"~Luxie, take a look at shelves and nooks, she had a whole pencil case she kept hidden.~"

"On it!"

Lumi and Aria were too taken aback to contribute much directly, the former standing guard outside the room instead as the latter paid close attention to everything the librarian and her friend were doing, the bee fly zooming around the room and collecting small, stick-shaped objects, slowly building a pile on top of the nearby desk as her hunt continued. A good dozen pens and a couple pencils was a good haul, but the actual pencil case remained stubbornly hidden, Luxie increasingly growing frustrated at double and triple checking every corner without spotting it.

"^What does that... 'pencil case' look like?^"

"About as big as I am, tubular I think... I remember seeing it just a few weeks ago, it has to be in there somewhere!"


"Hmm? Sigh... fine."

The Luxray's eyes glowed slightly as he swept the room, solid objects reduced to mere outlines and other living beings to what humans would call anatomical diagrams, the perspective one he rarely enjoyed seeing the world though, but which came in handy sometimes.

"Inside the top layer of this... bedding, I think?"

The rest of the group looked down at the unkempt bed, Leo reaching in and pulling the covers off with one firm motion, revealing mostly just a stained, bare mattress underneath- one with a barely visible hole in the side that faced the wall, Luxie spotting it first and buzzing right in that direction.

"Got it, thank you!"

The pencil case was rather heavy on behalf of being almost full, and considering how much the girl valued being able to draw, it only made sense for it to be so well hidden. A glance later though, it turned out to not be the only thing that was stuck in there, a large photo frame barely fitting through the gap, Aria about to ask whether Luxie needed help before the bee fly managed to pull it out, laying it out onto the bed for everyone to take a look.

An elderly woman, gray hair tied in a bun and a sea of wrinkles dotting her smiling expression, sitting on a large couch, hugging younger Anne on her lap as the girl leaned on her front, and even younger, sleeping Ember on Anne’s lap, the girl gently holding her all the while.

"Oh my goodness, we have to take it!"

"~Of course- pack it in, and all the pencils, we're scavenging everything in here. Aria, could you help us with paper?~"

The librarian's mental image was thankfully clear enough for the psychic to realize that the word referred to all the white rectangles, a shimmering glow surrounding them all as they were lifted off the ground at the same time and gathered into a neat heap, the sight making the bee fly 'wow' quietly under her breath.

"There's more of it on the shelves and inside the desks, and a few notebooks too, I think she'll appreciate everything we can grab."

Aria didn't have to be told twice, all the doors and drawers getting rattled open as her mental reach scoured every last inch, picking up everything that was either paper, looked like paper, or had paper in it, the sheer quantity of all the objects even in this rundown room utterly baffling for the psychic, making her own dwelling look ascetic by comparison. The heap ended up being a few inches tall by the end, and if even half of it was usable for drawing, it'd be at least a few weeks if not months of canvas for the girl, the drawing supplies getting stashed in next to all the clothing and valuables inside the large bag, filling it almost to the full when combined.

"~She took almost everything that wasn't falling apart clothes-wise with herself, not much else left. One more sweep and I think we can get going-~"

"Someone's coming."

Lumi's call had everyone freeze as they listened in, the Luxray himself staring down his target from behind several walls, the figure shambling forward through the front lawn after disembarking one of those metal cages on wheels, slamming the front door behind itself after it had walked in, a gruff grumble audible to the rest of the group by now.

"~Can only be the homeowner.~"

Olive's whisper made Aria in particular freeze, all the wrathful thoughts slipping back into her mind as she pieced together the identity of the newcomer, hands clenching into tight fists as she spoke to the rest of the group, her voice as pointed and cold as it was when she’d first addressed Olive, sending a shiver through them all-

"^Leave him to me.^"

With a short nod of acknowledgment, Olive began heading for the stairs, baseline fear of the person that awaited them getting subsumed by the emboldening effect of Aria's presence. The librarian didn't even try to keep her footsteps quiet as she descended down towards the atrium, the adrenaline making the bagful of spoils in her free hand not even weigh all that much as she turned to face the kitchen, and the wreck of a man inside it.

The brown bottle was held with shaky hands as the last of its contents were emptied with staggered, uncoordinated gulps, the excess of whiskey splashing down onto the man's unkempt, short beard and the vomit stained police uniform immediately underneath it. His face, already adorned with a permanent grimace, only twitched harder as it turned to face the intruder in HIS fucking house. Even as he began to shake in anger, the greasy, patchy mess that constituted his hair didn't move even a bit, uneven buzzcut looking glued onto his acne covered skin.

"~Tom. Fancy meeting you here after all this.~"

Anne's father responded with an animalistic, low grunt, Leo and Luxie alike staring him down beside their human, the former in particular about ready to tear this worthless human's throat out if he as much as tried hurting his guardian. As clear as their joined intimidation was, the human's inebriation and aggression were even stronger, shaky hand grabbing the freshly emptied bottle by the neck as he lunged towards Olive-

"~Get the FUCK out of my house you FUCKING BITCH-~"

Before Leo or Luxie could do anything, they felt something deep inside their minds hold them back from acting, Olive flinching in response to the other human's attempted swing before seeing his arm become enveloped in bright, white light, frozen in place completely as if air itself was holding it in a vise.

"~Wh-what the FUCK is-~"

The sight of a ghost bride, its eyes burning up with a white flare, emerging from behind that worthless bitch of a librarian made Tom start to panic, putting in his all to try to pry his arm out of the demon's magic as it approached, step by step, the limb not bulging in the slightest. His mind was equally entrapped, the fiendish eyes occupying his entire attention, tendrils of terror stabbing deeper and deeper into his psyche with the wraith’s every step.


His spat out demand was interrupted with a disgusting, visceral crunch as the bones in his wrist twisted and broke at the sudden application of more force, deep blue bruises enveloping his hand moments later. The agony broke out through his grimace with a pathetic shriek, his thoughts utterly filled with pain and anger-

And not even the tiniest shred of remorse, or even regret, an unceasing fury at the whole world being against him taking its place instead, removing all traces of doubt from his tormentor’s mind.

Before Tom could do anything more, his whole arm was yanked backwards with enough force to bend his elbow the other way as he was flung further into the kitchen, cracking sounds of bones breaking and ligaments snapping mixing in with the shatter of glass and plastic from the stove he impacted. The combined sounds sent a wave of nausea rolling through the librarian- though at the same time, she couldn't really say she disagreed with Aria's justice one bit either.

As inconceivable as Tom's pain was, he still wasn’t thinking of relenting, drug induced haze muffling it out enough for rage to continue to drive him on, the trash bin of a human being staring down the demon as he pushed through the torment, physical and mental alike. Near blinding migraine and the sensations of molten knives stabbing his head did little to slow him down as stood back up, trying to bolt over onto the other side of the kitchen to grab a knife-

Another disgusting crunch filled the room as his ankle was crushed into a thousand pieces, his shrill cry cut off as he collapsed onto the filthy floor, utensils and shards of glass digging into his skin with every motion, all the suffering magnified tenfold thanks to the ghost bride’s influence, finally beginning to burn the man’s unceasing fury out.

In desperation, his other hand reached down for his holster, managing to pull the pistol out through all the pain and adrenaline and aim it roughly in the demon's direction, his shrieks full of hatred as he tried to pull down on the trigger- only for the hand holding the gun to smash into his own face at full force, the sound of multiple bones breaking on both ends mixing in with the deafening gunshot and a bullet ricocheting off of metal before it pierced through his leg, the last of his resolve finally snapping.

Even as the monster of a human was utterly reduced to a screaming mess sprawled out on the kitchen floor, capable of little more than twitching and bleeding, a part of Aria wanted to keep on going still, to fully reciprocate the enormity of suffering Anne had experienced on her father’s hands, eyes burning up with white once more- and stopping shortly after, her own anger fueled high beginning to slowly die down.

An eerie sensation filled her as she stared the pathetic heap that was left of the man down, not joy or hateful glee, nothing as uplifting as that, more so… contentment, at the awareness that he would likely never be capable of hurting anyone else again, at Anne and Ember’s pain being avenged. Even if he were to eventually recover from all this, he would never be able to forget all the pain, it would remain his lifelong companion, its burning presence accompanying his every waking moment, as he deserved.

"^L-let's... let's get going...^"

The rest of the group didn't even think of disagreeing, all of them thoroughly shook by what they just saw take place in front of her, the display of violence so utterly unlike Aria much of the time it left even Lumi worried, the Luxray looking up uncertainly at his coworker as they hurried through the front door, Aria only barely remembering to reapply her disguise.

"D-did he r-really d-deserve all that..."

Luxie's quiet whimper stung the psychic's heart as she felt all the fear that emanated from it, the sensation saturating the air around her making it hard for her to think, Aria not sure what to even say in defense-

"~All that and worse. Hold on.~"

Olive's grim tone continued as she reached over for a small item from inside her purse, the bag full of their spoils so far getting set down beside her as she talked to the metallic device, its purpose unknown for the two wildlings-

"~Afternoon. There's a man with broken hands and a broken leg in here, I'm not sure if he can move. 17 Central Avenue, ML4 468, Mylock. My name is-~"


"~None of your business. Alright, let's go, before the ambulance gets here, he’ll live.~"

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other fic, Another Way!

Also also check out my series of shorts, The Alarm Goes Off at Six!
Chapter 7: Village


the gay agenda

Chapter 7: Village

Autumn wasn't immediately sure what to say after her daughter in law had left for her duties, uncertain about whether she ought to be cluing Anne in on just what was going on out there, especially in how it could be potentially related to her. One thing was clear though- she wanted to do something to help cheer the poor girl up, reaching over to gently stroke Anne's hand as it held the Fennekin doll to her side, the human's mind feeling like it was gradually withdrawing and spacing out of her immediate surroundings-

What she didn't expect was for Anne to recoil so abruptly at her touch with a sound somewhere between a whimper and a gasp, wide eyes immediately turning to look over at her as her own brain played catchup, growing more self aware at its own subconscious reaction-

"~O-oh, sorry Mrs-~"

"^Shhhhh, it's okay sweetie. It's my fault for not asking first.^"

The genuine reassurance did wonders at soothing Anne's mind before it had a chance to start tying itself into knots again, the glasses-clad face nodding before smiling shyly as her arm returned to its precious spot, within Autumn's reach this time, the Indeedee taking the cue and starting to deliver some well needed comfort again, more successfully this time.

"^There, there, I'm here Anne. If I can help in any way do let me know, okay?^"

Anne instinctively nodded along, taking a moment to actually start going through what these words implied, gaze roaming away from the little psychic as she gathered her words, eventually mumbling out-

"~Could I ask some qu-questions?~"

Autumn beamed at the little one in response, nodding firmly before looking around for a footstool or something else she could use to replicate her daughter's position from earlier, eventually realizing no such a thing was around.

"^Of course! Some clarity is the least you deserve in here after all this. Actually, lemme try-^"

Before Anne could even ask about what Autumn was about to try, the grandma answered for herself, her old body not appreciating the minor display of athletics as it attempted to climb onto the edge of the bed. Neither did the old mind that had to help her body out with a touch of telekinesis shortly afterwards, the end display awkward and clumsy enough to help break through Anne's anxiety a bit, her held in giggle music to Autumn's ears. As much as she could sense the girl tense up at the realization of her amusement being noticed though, her own quiet laughter in response thankfully defused the atmosphere before it could get more unpleasant for the little one.

"^Oh don't you worry Anne, I know full well I made a bit of a show of myself, hah!^"

"~...y-yeah, heheh. Umm, as to the question... w-where are we?~"

Autumn internally hesitated just a bit in response, unsure just how much of their secrecy was now fair game when it came to discussing it with the girl, but eventually settling on "all of it", especially since it felt like they wouldn't be sending her away anytime soon.

"^Well~ we never agreed on a single name for this village really. A village it is nonetheless, smaller than your human ones from what I know, nestled in between your towns.^"

The explanation made Anne's eyes go wider from behind the glasses, the girl instinctively leaning in closer as her hand continued to be pet.

"~L-like, an entire village? A village of P-Pokemon?~"



Anne's mind couldn't help but start roaming back towards a book she'd read years ago, its plot set in a place just like this, a secret Pokemon society away from prying human eyes... she'd read and reread it so many times the spine slowly began to wear out, and she was too self conscious to bring it up to Mrs. Graham, eventually just not borrowing it any more to make the wear less obvious. Granted, a prehistoric-looking settlement in the woods was nowhere near as sophisticated as a futuristic underworld, but she would take Autumn and Aria over almost every single character in that book combined.

"~That's... I-I had no idea places like that really existed, I-I remember reading a fictional story about it but just that...~"

"^I don't know how many others like us there are out there, but if we could make it work in such a tight bind between the two human towns, then I'd only imagine so can many others in more accommodating circumstances.^"

The mention of a bind between towns made Anne's mind start thinking through how that actually implied, the girl itching to sketch a map of the local area, really curious just where exactly this magical place in the woods fit in there-

"~O-oh, in between Mylock and L-Lillywood like-~"

Autumn was a bit taken aback at just how quickly Anne's thought process suddenly sped up there, the little one wanting to draw and show her something, but in order to do that she would have to retrieve something from her bag, making her try to shuffle other and awkwardly shift around with her immobilized arm and her blanket before finally admitting the inevitable to herself with a sigh. The reasoning behind each individual action was completely lost on Indeedee, and so was Anne's anxious resignation at the end, the chubby psychic just sliding over closer to her as she asked cautiously-

"^Is everything okay Anne?^"

Anne's gaze seemed to be affixed to the covers as she 'umm'ed and 'eh'ed for a moment, the awkward search for words taking Autumn off guard with how out of nowhere it was.

"~I'll have t-to put my clothes on...~"

"^Okay! Let me know if you need any help with it.^"

As confusing as Anne's anxiety was, the girl's blank, almost deadpan stare in Indeedee's direction in response to that comment only dumbfounded the grandma even more, Autumn's own eyebrow raising back at the little one she was watching over.

"^Is something wrong?^"

"~I-I... okay, right, I forgot. Umm... c-could you leave the room wh-while I do it?~"

The request was perfectly clear, but to say it made no sense for Autumn was quite an understatement. The elderly psychic was about to ask why before sensing just how much of the girl's uncertain anxiety was tied to the mundane-sounding act of putting clothes on, even if the clothes themselves were both more plentiful and fancier than anything she ever wore. Maybe clothes had some sort of religious importance to humans?

"^Alrighty, I can do that. Shout if you need any help Anne, I'll be waiting outside.^"

The relief that filled the human's frail body in response was palpable, the whole topic ending up something that Autumn would've had to talk with Aria about later, but for now there was no harm in giving Anne her privacy. The moment the Indeedee crossed the threshold of Anne's chamber, standing guard immediately outside, she could hear the sounds of cloth being shuffled and other items being rattled about, as good of a confirmation as any that the girl's anxiety was somehow tied to being watched when changing. Perhaps it maybe had something to do with her holding the covers to her front at all times like that as well- something to ask her once she's done.

Autumn was certainly in no rush herself either, observing the few medics either chatting or tending to the couple other patients inside the clinic, their injuries thankfully far smaller in scope than what Anne had been through. The human in the closed off room might've been much more immediately frightening or fascinating, but in time the Indeedee's stalwart's presence did catch the attention of a couple others, Autumn burning time by humming an old tune to herself, eyes closed, as she heard a low, feminine voice speak from nearby, sounding almost as old as she was-


"Good afternoon Esther. Is something the matter?"

"You have been standing like this for a while now, is something up with the human?"

"Oh no, worry not, she is just putting on clothes and asked me to step out for the duration."

The Indeedee opening her eyes revealed a mildly surprised Blissey staring down at her, a bit of frustration seeping into her thoughts at not being kept in the loop-

"I wasn't aware she woke up again. Well, once she is done let me know, we ought to take another look at the mess of her arm and see if it needs any further intervention."

"Hah, your expertise coming in useful again after all these years?"

"I wish it wasn't."

Esther's flat response took Willow aback, and she wasn't sure whether she liked it all that much, leading her to prod further-

"Well, from what I and Aria have been talking with her so far, she's been nothing but sweet."

"From my experience, many a human are until they're in a position where they can be terrible without ever suffering any repercussions."

"That's a rather cynical way to look at it all."

"It's also one I wouldn't follow if not for having experienced it more times than I can count."

The Blissey's more firm assertion had Autumn reneging for now- after all, only one of them had all the lived experience that was necessary to arrive at something like this in the first place, and it wasn't the Indeedee.

"Right, right, my bad. Well, I certainly hope that she'll be an exception to that rule then. If you don't mind me asking a question though..."


"Could you have a clue as to why the whole clothes thing had her going so anxious and asking me to step out?"

Esther chuckled under her breath at that- it might've been decades since the last time she had last seen a human up until this whole mess began, but the repetitive drilling to respect patients' privacy during her training was something she was likely never gonna forget.

"Ah yes, the human so-called modesty. I think it is a cultural thing- seems there's some big rule against the front or the groin being visible without any coverings in their society. Or just groin in case of males- I have no idea what's the reason for it really, I've seen what's under these coverings plenty enough while I served at their hospital and it's about as normal and mundane as I am. Some fatty lumps for females in the front I think, and the usual set of bits in the groin- more exposed than with most species so that may be why? I genuinely have no idea."

As their chief medic went through their memories, Autumn tried listening in on what was going on back in the other room, the shuffling noises having mostly ceased for now but without the girl giving them any sort of all clear yet, Anne's mental state seeming to be determined and annoyed more than anything else.

"I see... well, don't see a reason to disrespect it if it's that important for them. Though, she's been at it for a while now- ^Anne? Are you alright?^"

Autumn's mental call had clearly startled the girl a bit, several drawn out 'umms' and 'eh's leaving her as she kept shuffling around the bed, or at least that's how it sounded-

"~Oh no no, just c-can't get this stupid knife to go through, ugh...~"

Both Autumn and Esther were dumbfounded at that response, the Indeedee almost stepping back in there and then before asking again, more urgency in her mental voice-

"^Anne, what's wrong?^"

Thankfully, this time the response was a bit more shuffling and a defeated sigh, the girl responding a few moments later-

"~Nothing, just I-I tried to tear this sleeve a-and couldn't figure it out... you can come in.~"

The clarification cleared up precious nothing, but a go ahead was welcome much the same, both elderly women stepping in to a rather messy sight on Anne's bed. It was clear enough that most of her dressup had gone successfully, or at least as much as could be shown by a sock clad foot danging from the side of the bed, but that the upper body clothing was the main hitch there, left sleeve attempting to be torn open with the use of a big knife the girl had procured from... somewhere, completely unsuccessfully so far.

"^Goodness Anne, what were you trying to do there?^"

The girl looked away with a fair bit of embarrassment and shame at her little oops there, though more so at Autumn having to step in to help rather than at the big concerning display that was taking place on the bed.

"~The cast won't fit through, so I tried to c-cut the sleeve open and c-couldn't manage...~"

As straightforward as the explanation was, it still left several questions, Autumn walking over to the right side of Anne's bed to take a closer look at the knife, utterly confused by its presence there. Esther, on the other hand, took it upon herself to solve the problem directly, startling the girl as she grabbed the shirt's left sleeve and tore it open most of the way through to the collar, leaving only a thin strap to rest on her shoulder.

"~Like this! T-thank you... ummm, Mrs. Blissey?~"

Esther had to take a couple deep sighs in response, human speech being one of those sounds that has grown more and more grating in hindsight, but she couldn't deny that being innocently and genuinely thanked like that did feel rather nice, the Blissey eventually settling on a curt smile, equal parts forced and genuine, and a small bow.

"^Her name is Esther, Anne. But the knife- were you carrying it with yourself in that bag? What for?^"

"~Thank you Mrs. esther. A-and, um... I...~"

Needing help with tearing a sleeve open was embarrassing, sure, but it seemed that this topic was even worse in that regard, Autumn regretting asking a bit, about to clarify that Anne didn't need to answer before the girl went ahead anyway-

"~I-I was scared... thought that I c-could at least try defending myself with a knife like that if I-I ended up on the street...~"

Autumn's comprehension of the full explanation was limited on the account of her not immediately comprehending the meaning of "ending up on the street", but that wasn't an obstacle Esther faced, more and more of the Blissey's hesitation beginning to get melted through. Wanting something for self defense was clear enough even for the Indeedee however, which made little sense either until she remembered how supposedly weak humans stripped of all their inventions were, the mental sight of a child trying to wave a knife that's way too large for her hand for any sort of intimidation sad and pathetic.

"^Oh, dear... I'm so sorry.^"

"~It's okay now, d-don't worry Mrs. Autumn! It was a b-bit silly of me to bring it, I-I know...~"

"A bit, but I doubt you'd be able to get a hold of a gun. Autumn, could you tell her that we'll be taking a look at her arm and it might get bloody?"

Anne looked at the Blissey in surprise at her speaking up in her mumbly, squeaky voice, the contents of her message completely lost, Autumn conveying the gist shortly afterwards-

"^She's saying that they'll need to take a look at your arm and it'll be rather bloody.^"


Autumn barely needed her sixth sense to pick up on how spooked that idea made Anne, wanting to instinctively suggest something else before hearing Esther sigh, her own thoughts revving up in response.

"I think if we slide the bed a bit we'll be able to use curtains as a divider. Yeah, that'll work- tell her to finish changing and then we'll be able to get into it."

The message was passed on, the Indeedee not even needing a reminder this time to leave the room afterwards, the sensations of relief and triumph that followed clear enough to feel even from the next room over, calming the grandma down as the medics were assembling around her, waiting for a signal to be able to go in. It took a bit longer than expected, Anne clearly doing something else first instead of immediately giving them a go ahead, but thankfully it was only a brief distraction, just long enough for the girl to retrieve a couple eye catching items from the bag, laying them out next to her.

Right as she was about to speak up about potentially figuring something out for how to handle the arm, Esther sprung into action, reaching down and dragging the entire bed a foot or so in one direction, Anne's good arm gripping onto the covers tighter in response, though letting them fall down this time. Before the girl could say anything more, the curtains around the bed were rolled down just enough to completely cut off the sight of her arm from the girl's perspective while avoiding any further slack.

Autumn scooted over to the bed's other side shortly after, not particularly caring for the no doubt bloody sight that would await her underneath the cast, much more interested in comforting the human throughout it all, lightly stroking her hand as the rest of the medics got into it. The sensations were weird and slightly unnerving- the whole limb was still almost completely devoid of any feeling, with exception of a tiny bit of coldness that accompanied the cast being taken off, sending a chill down Anne's spine. Before she could get any more distraught thinking about it though, the Indeedee spoke up again, bringing up the topic from earlier-

"^So, what was it you wanted to show me Anne- and what are those?^"

As self explanatory as a large format notebook, looking slightly chewed in places, and a equally worn down pen were for the human, the chubby psychic had no idea about either of them, Anne not immediately realizing that fact before she went right into it, beginning to flip the pages to find a large enough clean spot for her drawing-

"~Oh, just my notebook and a pen. S-so, this village is like-~"

The rough bird's eye sketch of the surrounding area did little to clarify Autumn's confusion, including the way any of it was being drawn in the first place. The white, thick rectangular object seemed to be made out of uncountable number of hair thin rectangles, most of them already drawn on, with the short stick in Anne's good hand adding black lines onto the sheet with its every motion, the color making her think of decals being burned in wood, but without any of the associated warmth. While that scribble was being worked on, Autumn staved her confusion off by taking in the rest of the page, and all the other drawings it had in its every corner- there were more than a few Fennekin, all of them likely Ember, two sketches of an Arcanine roaring and sleeping respectively, a very lively drawing of some insectoid looking creature buzzing around... and all of them looked really good.

Much of the exact detail was absent, sure, largely owing to the medium not really allowing any colors except for the white of the background and the black of this magic stick, but what was there was clear enough to make it clear what species she was looking at, how were they feeling, and especially what they were doing, each pose and expression livelier than the last. It was far from the most intricate artwork even in the borders of the village, but that didn't make it any less aesthetically pleasing, Autumn so entranced by all the little drawings it took Anne tapping her paw to catch her attention again after she was done, the Indeedee immediately speaking up-

"^Goodness Anne these are all really pretty!^"

The girl was taken aback by such an immediate compliment, blushing a tiny bit while trying her hardest not to move, gaze darting all over except at the Indeedee.

"~T-th-thank you! I'm glad you like them- if- if you want I can draw you too Mrs. Autumn!~

The reception of Anne's art and the offer that followed came as unexpected for both sides, Anne not expecting her meager artistic skills to get appreciated like that ever, but especially not in a village full of Pokemon who all could do much more impressive things, while Autumn grew giddy at the opportunity to see herself depicted by someone so skilled, the previous topic quickly discarded.

"^Oh I'd love to! Should I try a specific pose or-^

"~This one works q-quite well I think, if you could hold it! N-need experience with more unusual poses l-like this anyway...~"

The awareness that less than two feet away her arm was being worked on in what would qualify as a surgery inside a human hospital didn't have room to settle into Anne's mind as she got into her groove, her shakiness and ambient anxiety seeming to evaporate, bit by bit, as she got into the swing of things. Autumn watched eagerly as a large empty spot in the girl's notebook began to get filled with her likeness- or at least what would become her likeness, the handful of circles and other basic geometric shapes a rather far cry from her appearance despite the simple body structure. Bit by bit however, each rougher part got worked on- one circle became her waist and got more of a definition, another became her head and horns, a series of smaller circles turning into her arm, all smoothly but skillfully enough that to the Indeedee it might as well have just been magic.

Occasionally, the grandma saw the girl's left shoulder twitch a bit before she reminded herself of the fact that that limb was out of service, putting the magic stick down and bringing her good hand up to her eye, muttering something about perspective or horizon as she stuck her fingers out all sorts of ways, letting Autumn notice how weird they were. She was far from unused to more defined hands, Aria's and Marco's were definitely on the more intricate end of the spectrum, with quite a few degrees of freedom, but they couldn't compare to Anne's hands, both in terms of number of fingers and their flexibility. Granted, with that came the less than pleasant realization of just how thin and sinewy they were, the individual bones that underlaid them much too visible for comfort on a second look, but if nothing else Anne was getting as much use of them as possible, an intricate grip of her stick giving her a very detailed control over what got drawn.

The whole process was involved enough for her that she didn't even notice the medics wrapping up their handiwork on the other side of the curtain, Anne's gaze only sparing Esther the tiniest blip of attention before jumping back onto the incredibly thin canvas. She was largely wrapped up with Autumn herself by that point and was busy just adding detail around her, including the occupied window, the creases on the covers, the corners of this irregularly shaped chamber, even the faintly visible specks of dust in the air, right hand continuing to twitch for a bit afterwards once she decided she was finally done.

"~Alright, I-I think I've got it done! W-what do you think Mrs. Autumn- oh?~"

It took her until now to actually consciously notice the curtain next to her having been pulled up and the cast replaced with a new, slightly less bulky one, Anne blinking dumbfoundedly as the Indeedee gasped at seeing the completed artwork right side up, taken aback at its quality.

"^Anne this is gorgeous! I've never seen myself drawn like this, this is incredible, I can't thank you enough for this sweetie.^"

While the human attempted to not combust in fluster at the unceasing praise, her own sudden exhaustion began to creep up on her, attention shifting over to the sour pick-me-up juice from earlier, the bottle getting opened and poured over into the cup- or at least what was left of it.

"~It's really n-nothing, it's just a sketch, so much missing d-detail a-and oversimplification-~"

"^But it looks so nice! I'm quite sure most of our artists could even learn a thing or two from you.^"

This particular piece of flattery had Anne blush bright red and glance away, mood shifting between embarrassed and giddy at a compliment like that, mind trying to figure out how much of an overexaggeration it was before the body answered with a drawn out yawn.

"^Aww, tired?^"

"~No no, I-I don't think so at least, I didn't f-feel tired before...~"

"^That's what Heal Pulse does to you honey. I'm sure some of Holly's concoction will help you push through that- oh?^"

The half filled glass led the Indeedee to try to telekinetically weigh the bottle, predictably finding it empty, the eager grandma knowing exactly what to do-

"^Sounds like you need a refill then! Would you want me to go get you some more while you nap or just rest in the meantime?^"

Nap, not really, but rest... Anne could definitely use some of that, yeah. Maybe she could even try walking a bit and stretch her legs in the meantime. The idea of having nobody around that could understand her until Autumn would get back was a bit worrying, yes, growing even more so the more she focused on it, but the antidote to that in not thinking about it and just focusing on something else instead was effective enough to get the girl to nod her head in affirmation. The sensation of having her hair ruffled without any physical touch that followed did catch her off guard a fair bit, confused eyes looking around much to Autumn's amusement as she left the room.

And now, it was just her, but with clothes this time.

A couple attempts at trying to close her eyes and clearing her mind had drowsiness creep up on her close enough to almost knock her out there and then, prompting a different approach, the girl instead reaching into the side pocket of her backpack and pulling out the stashed book, the card that served as a bookmark left slightly bent from handling.

Suffice to say that a crime thriller featuring a murderous, vengeful Gardevoir was nowhere near as chilling to read through with her only one on one interaction with said species ending up being more comforting than anything she'd experienced since her grandma was still around. The extent to which her perception of the book's events changed with that knowledge was very amusing to think about, quiet giggles leaving the girl as she pulled the book over, the bog on the front cover leaving her view as she started flipping the pages-

Before jumping in her seat as she glanced up at the window, a detail she spotted but didn't consciously recognize earlier currently staring back at her, making her freeze.

H-how long has that Dartrix b-been staring at her for?

The Rowlet family has always sat in a weird spot between cool and really intimidating for her, the possibility of literally being shot or impaled by one of their quills sending chills down her spine every time she got to their entries inside the big dexes in Mrs. Graham's library. At a rational level, it wasn't any more dangerous than a myriad of other very effective methods of hunting or self defence almost all species had available to them, but it just felt so much more viscerally unnerving in a way Anne had a hard time explaining.

Kinda like her father whenever he started waving his service gun around-

The train of thought was interrupted by the owl outside of the tent leaning in closer in response to being spotted, deciding to take the gun analogy to another level by waving their loaded wing at her, their expression inscrutable. Anne had no idea just what exactly the gesture implied, or what to even do in response, hoping that if she just waved back they'd get content and leave her alone- as opposed to many other more terrifying possibilities like them interpreting it as her own attempt at intimidation-

As luck would have it, neither of the two would end up happening after she returned the gesture, the girl flinching backwards on the bed with a yelp as the Dartrix breached the magical window and flew right in, perching on the edge of her bed, immediately getting to leaning forward and eying her out afterwards, constantly speaking in birdsong while at it. Anne could only imagine they were trying to speak at her, and that they'd hopefully get the cue that she couldn't understand them one bit, lack of any obvious aggression slowly melting through her fright.

Fortunately enough, the bird themselves seemed to be mindful of them having accidentally spooked her, the motions that followed much slower and more telegraphed as they slowly began to inch closer towards her on the edge of the bed, their steps clumsy from inexperience. Their head craning as they scanned over the front cover of her book and the current page of her notebook was a clear enough tell of what they wanted to see, Anne hoping she'd be able to speed it along towards them hopefully leaving afterwards by holding up her most recent scribble for them to take a better look. The owl's reactions were lively if nothing else, chirps loud and drawn out as their head craned all around, their attention snapping back over towards her afterwards, much to another, smaller startle from the girl.

Her reaction made them visibly pause, one wing holding towards their face in a gesture reminiscent of a human stroking their chin as they rather clearly tried to think through something, looking even a bit cute while doing so, even if the whole situation was still on the unnerving side. Their ultimate plan of action took the girl aback, even if she couldn't disagree with the results, a soft gasp leaving Anne as the owlet hopped the rest of the way over and... hugged her. For a couple long moments, Anne's only reaction was a startled freeze, her brain playing catchup- afterwards though, with how clear the gesture's intent was, she let go of her notebook and started returning it, the grassy birdie warmer to the touch than she would've thought, their quiet coos really feeling like they were trying to comfort her.

"~T-thank you...~"

They perked up at her words, Anne's eyes slightly damp as she held the owlet back, closing them afterwards and just relaxing to the backdrop of her guest's incomprehensible bird noises. The hug wouldn't last all that long ultimately, the Dartrix hopping back a couple paces and smiling up at her, their expression clear despite how little of a way they had of showing it.

"~D-did you come here to check on me?~"

As expected, their head tilt was the only response to Anne's own words, though she wasn't about to be discouraged by that, lightly bowing to show her gratitude instead, giggling at seeing it be returned towards her moments later.

"~Wonder if..."

With an idea having struck her, Anne reached to grab her notebook before starting to flip through pages to find another big enough spot for this sketch, the birdie watching with interest all the while, leaning in to a comical degree. It only took them a few lines to realize that they were the one being drawn in that moment, the sudden awareness clearly catching them off guard as they chirped loudly, looking around the room haphazardly for a few minutes before deciding to perch right in front of her, on her legs no less, and making a pose of either waving at her, or showing off the inside of their wing, the message drastically different depending on that context.

"~Hmm... I-I think I can salvage this, yeah-~"

The pen whizzed and glided over the lined paper as the initial outline of the Dartrix began to take form, the girl eventually not even needing to glance up at them anymore, filling in the detail from her memory, the drawing gaining more definition by the moment. Fortunately for the birdie, they caught onto that fact too after a moment, aching wing finally able to be lowered as they leaned in, cooing loudly at the progress of the drawing.

Right as Anne was getting into shading though, some louder noises coming in from nearby seemed to startle both her and the birdie, their chirps in response to the sounds coming off as confused more than anything else. though neither they nor Anne had too long to think about them, especially as they got more defined, turning into loud squeaks and honk-like noises, sounding like they came from right around the corner-

An owl watching her through the window was one thing, at least they were covert in their... curiosity of her, something that didn't apply in the slightest to the bouncy, bubbling Azumarill that half stepped, half hopped into the room, holding the bottle of juice and a tied up bundle in their hands, 'speaking' loudly at her all the while. As non-threatening as the fairy rabbits were in general, this one definitely pushed the envelope with how forcefully they came through, making noises for a good long moment uninterrupted before the owlet finally chimed in, quiet chirps finally making the blue guest stop. The pause to their outpouring of words was very temporary however, though at least once it resumed it was aimed the other way, their loud calls towards the exit out of this room answered with quiet, panted squeaks, Autumn left completely out of breath after she finally made her way back, Anne feeling bad at the sight and wanting to help somehow.

Thankfully, with the little psychic came clarity, something inside her mind itching briefly as the Indeedee focused, speaking telepathically before returning to catching their breath-

"^There, there Holly, she can hear you now, I told you you didn't have to run-^

"There we go! Now-"

The voice Anne heard was loud, boisterous, but also warm and genuine, the freshly identified Holly turning back to face Anne as the girl was left overwhelmed at all the sudden events-

"Here ya go Anne! Your meal."

Before the girl could try to reach over and start grabbing the items one at a time, they were both surrounded with Autumn's green shimmer and howevered over to the bedside table, the psychic sighing in exasperation as Anne looked for words-

"~Th-thank you! Wait, d-did you make these?~"

"Sure did! Your personal juice blend and a hearty batch of cookies, ya needed a proper welcome gift in here!"

The mention of cookies in particular took Anne aback a bit, even the mention of the treat evoking memories of a better, safer time, the girl shaking a bit as she smiled widely in response-

"~T-that's- that's so nice of you, I-I-~"

"Doncha fret about it Anne, my pleasure! Ya sure deserve an actual welcome after all the dumb worrying the scouts were doing earlier."

Anne wasn't entirely sure what these words implied, but she was more than content to just appreciate the gift in the moment, really wanting to return the kind gesture somehow-

"~Still, I-I want to pay back-~"

"Hush hush now! I mean it when I say I'm glad to do this, I don't ever need anything in return sweetie."

"~H-how about a drawing?~"

The Azumarill was the one dumbfounded for once, Anne clarifying her point by reaching over her notebook for Holly to take a better look, eyes going wide as she scanned the pages.

"Hot damn we're got an artisty girl in here! Jovie's gonna have a field day with you sometime, hah!"

"^Maybe let's not rush ahead that far into the future Holly...^"

"Right right right. Anywho- prolly best I haul myself back over to the pantry hah, the rush is gonna start picking up anytime now- you take care of yourself Anne, stop by sometime once you're better!"

With the encouraging words and a wave towards Anne that was then returned, the Azumarill turned on her heels and started heading out, tail bouncing on the carpeted floor as she turned the corner, calling out towards someone unseen-


Her greeting getting abruptly cut off dumbfounded Anne for a moment, but Autumn walking over to the right side of her bed caught her attention right afterwards, a soft smile filling the grandma's expression as she looked up at the occupied bed- and raised an eyebrow at the Dartrix that was still perched on Anne's legs, her voice equal parts gently chiding and curious-


"Good afternoon Autumn! I-I- umm..."

Anne certainly didn't expect the Dartrix's translated voice to sound like a teen a couple years older than herself, blinking at the owlet a couple times as Autumn smirked and broke into quiet chuckling, shaking her head a bit with a smile and a sigh.

"I wanted t-to check up on her!"

"^And how is she~?^"


The realization that the lanky, pink artist could now understand her own words took its time to hit Blossom, but once it did, the Dartrix wasted no time hopping over towards the girl and speaking back up, voice excited-

"Aaaaa hi! My name is Blossom! How do you draw so nicely?"

The question in particular had the human girl giggling, the owlet's earlier excitability all the sweeter in hindsight, Anne waving back once more-

"~I'm A-Anne! And heheh, I've b-been drawing for a few years now, had a lot of practice w-when I was younger.~"

As simple and obvious as the answer was, Blossom grew even giddier at hearing it, her curiosity spreading to other items, the medium on which Anne's art took place no less mysterious than the girl's humanity as a whole.

"That's so cool! What is that stick you draw with, it looks so weird! Oh oh oh, are you gonna be staying here!?"

The clear plastic pen was nothing out of the ordinary by human standards, most of the thin ink-holding part already drained, the brass tip shining faintly in the light that crept into the tent as it was held up for the owlet and the grandma to see. The follow up question made Anne pause before she could get into the weeds of explaining how the simple device worked, the uncertainty about her situation freezing her mind-

"^So far all the signs are pointing to 'yes', Blossom, Anne will likely stay here for a while.^"

Autumn's reassurance might not have been fully confident, but it was enough to calm Anne down a bit, at least enough for her to show off her very intricate drawing setup-

"~So, this is a pen. It l-lets out a tiny bit of ink when I move th-the tip over a surface, doesn't have to be paper-~"

Anne proceeded to demonstrate first on her right hand, briefly holding the pen with her teeth and drawing a short line on the back of her hand, showing it off and rubbing the spot against her chin afterwards to try to smudge it off, to limited success.

"It comes off, r-right?"

"~Yeah! Well, not from paper, b-but skin eventually just sheds it. I-I think that's how it works...~"

The mention of shedding skin was confusing to both listeners, both of them only really recognizing it from a handful of reptiles that lived around their village- and sure, fur did shed, but that was fur and not... skin.

"Y-your skin falls off!?"

"~W-what!? No, I-I mean- it's like when just a tiny bit of it falls off at the time, l-like hair, and regrows back.~"

The clarification that it was indeed like fur did calm Autumn and Blossom down, whole body skin shedding sounding like the kind of thing that would've made the humans as a whole even more weird and mysterious.

"Ooooohhhh. And this white thing? How does it break down like this!?"

"^Blossom, I think we should take it easy on Anne, she's had a very, very long day so far.^"

Anne herself wanted to object to that and to explain how paper worked of the very little she knew of it overall, but she couldn't deny her own exhaustion, a quiet yawn interrupting her attempted explanation, the girl admitting needing rest as she shifted her attention over to the Azumarill's drink- only to watch it already being poured by Autumn, the Indeedee giving her a wink off to the side.

"Awwwwhh, okay... O-oh oh, Anne, you're from that nearby human place, right? I think I've seen you before!"

Autumn blinked a couple times to the Dartrix admitting so casually to be venturing over to the village where her mom had told her not to go, Anne similarly taken aback at that- though on a second thoughts, she could swear she remembered overhearing a couple kids talking about having seen a weird brown and white bird on a lamppost a couple weeks back. She wasn't sure how to feel about that realization, but ultimately it was funny more than anything, the mental image of Blossom being so curious about the middle of nowhere she flew all the way over just to see more of it making the human chuckle.

"~Yeah! T-though if you've seen me outside I-I was wearing a gray hat and had my hair t-tied up like this-~"

A couple clumsy moments later, Anne scooped her hair into a messy ponytail, the Dartrix nodding more intently at the recollection-

"Yes, like this, I remember you now! I-I never thought we'd ever see anyone f-from there in here, teehee-"

Blossom giggled to herself at the idea, glancing out the window in the direction of the human village- and freezing at what she saw, the sight unexpected and worrying-

"W-what's all that smoke?"

The cue had both Anne and Autumn either leaning over and climbing onto the bed to see for themselves, but it was hard to deny- a massive plume of black smoke rising up from what was most likely the direction of the village, its sheer size worrying.

"~Looks like something's b-burning-~"


The aftershocks of a distant explosion were weak enough to not do much more than rattle the cup of juice a bit, but the sheer startle that accompanied it almost made Blossom panic there and then, the owlet briefly taking flight in shock before slowly landing back down-

"W-what was that!?"

"~I-I don't know! I've no idea what's b-burning even-~"

Anne tried to look down over at Autumn for some reassurance at the worrying sight, hoping nobody was getting hurt over there- but she found herself unable to move her gaze. Regardless of how hard she tried to look away, her eyes were frozen in the direction of the plume of smoke, the confusion of it all quickly giving way to terror, making her cry out-

"~M-Mrs. Autumn what's g-going on, I-I can't m-move my head or eyes or-~"

"What do you mean-"

Blossom's question getting abruptly cut off didn't help the matters either, Anne's comfort at her newlyfound surroundings slowly giving way to fear, breathing speeding up before she heard Indeedee speak up again, sounding somber and apologetic-

"^Anne, I'm sorry for all this, b-but this is important. I need you to... think back, back to the closest memory of Ember you have, and focus on it. C-can you do that for me?^"

With how scared Anne was at everything that was going on, thinking back to the comforting recollections of her and Ember was already an idea she wouldn't be opposed to one bit, though all the fear underlying her train of thought meant the mental act was easier said than done. Eventually though, the memories started flowing, their fondest moments together, their hardships, every little moment of comfort they shared together- in no time, it wasn't even her that was even reaching to dredge the memories out, the flashbacks feeling like a thread that was being pulled at with more force than she could've ever done alone, visions completed by another perspective, each and every single moment, from the beginning, to the end-

Much, much too intense for either the weary human or the chubby psychic, Blossom left chirping in panic at suddenly seeing four people faint all at once.


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Chapter 8: Secret


the gay agenda

Chapter 8: Secret

The gunshot suddenly ringing out from inside the the rundown building had the few nearby passersby glance over in confusion, but considering the family that lived there and what had recently happened to them, most of them dismissed it soon after as the father of the household having yet another aggressive episode and using it for intimidation- far from the first time this had happened after all. Especially since Mrs. Graham had left the building looking aghast not long afterwards, obviously not having been shot herself.

The ambulance getting called helped Leo and Luxie cool back down following the display of violent force they'd just witnessed, the Ribombee in particular unsure about whether such a harm was right to inflict on anyone else. The more she thought about what she'd seen of Anne though, the bruises and scars the girl tried her hardest to hide day in and out, the less empathy she had left for the girl's father, eventually hiding back inside Leo's mane at just feeling cold about the whole mess.

Lumi and Aria alike were mostly just surprised that the Gardevoir was even capable of something like that, the bloodthirst so unlike her- though the Luxray in particular wasn't gonna object to an awful human getting put in their place, no matter how cruel or unexpected the delivery of their justice.

"Where are you leading us to now? Is this not everything the girl had?"

The translated barks made the old woman flinch as she was slightly startled out of her own trance at what she'd just witnessed, trying to push it aside with a light shake of her head before answering the question-

"~It is, yes- but I want to add something from myself too. If she's gonna live away from other humans, she'll need... a few things sooner or later, and some books she particularly liked wouldn't hurt either.~"

"Things? Such as?"

"~Personal hygiene. Knowing what's gonna be happening to her body in the next couple years and afterwards.~"

The latter mention got the leonine hound particularly confused, his vocalizations catching the attention of a couple bystanders as they headed further into the town, the buildings surrounding the central round growing denser and taller-

"I thought humans didn't evolve."

"~No, no we don't, this is something else.~"

That aside explained precious nothing, the little spare brainpower Aria had that wasn't devoted to keeping herself hidden growing a bit concerned at hearing that- hopefully whatever that mysterious process is, she'd be able to help the poor girl out through it, assuming Anne would be allowed to stay in the village that long. Alternatively, having Olive relatively on hand in a nearby town like this to help answer any further questions would help greatly as well, but... that wasn't gonna be an option, unfortunately.

Aria found herself putting in more and more effort with every step, the growing number of onlookers straining her psychics as she kept her visual appearance hidden from all of them at the same time, her breathing growing loud enough to where a couple passersby glanced over their shoulder as they walked past in confusion, before shrugging it off right afterwards. Lumi wasn't a fan of the increased human presence either, keeping himself close to the more acclimatized half of the group as they walked on the stone road, the metal monstrosities whizzing past them every once in a while, startling him less and less every time.

The town center was at least slightly less drab, though much of the color it had was in form of visibly flaking paint or weathered storefront decorations, some of the promotional posters eroded down to just cyan and white as they proudly advertised a music festival from seven years ago. The Luxray had no idea what any of it meant- only that it all looked either tacky, or just... wrong. Though, there was one thing that was somewhat recognizable to him that he did notice all over the place, keeping his voice down as he asked-

"Is that the girl's face on those white things flying everywhere?"

Olive sighed and nodded deeply- the missing person posters were sloppily slapped all over the place only the previous day, and many of them were already illegible thanks to the snow or vandalism, the few that remained intact had an out of date school photo, Anne's thousand yard stare visible even then.



Missing from: Mylock, Lillywood County, ML
Date Missing: January 29
Age: 10 years old
Height: 4'6"
Weight: 65 lbs
Hair: Shoulder length, Brown
Eyes: Brown

Anne was last seen wearing a green jacket, a pair of blue jeans, and a gray cap.

Please call the Lillywood County Sheriff at

Callers may remain anonymous​

"~Missing person posters. In theory they're there so that people can look at them and be on the lookout for those who've gone missing, in practice… an excuse to not do any real searching for those with the resources to do so, really.~"

Olive's grumble made it clear she didn't hold them in high regard, them and especially the people that put them up, Lumi simply nodding as they ventured further into the small town, staying on the lookout for any humans that were getting too suspicious or looked at them weird.

"How long until we'll get there? This place gives me the creeps."

"~Hah. It's ugly, yes, but most have a better idea than to bother strangers like that.~"

"It's a bit of a shame sometimes. Makes Mylock feel really... lifeless at times."

The old woman couldn't help but to agree with Luxie's comment, sighing deeply as they turned the corner, the side road much more narrow and with less of the sidewalk actually usable, much of it occupied by parked cars. Outside of the miserly church that she couldn't even force herself to attend anymore, there wasn't really any social space left in the village anymore, the small park long since swallowed by the neighbouring woods, and the nearby plaza by a newly cropped up supermarket, looking like it was struggling to stay afloat just a couple months in.

"~That's because it is. And we're almost there, the library's just up ahead.~"

As much as Olive meant these words, they weren't quite wholly true- sure, the town wasn't doing well, but there were some signs of life left in it, one of them right ahead of the group no less, busily trying to open the library's front door. A few attempts to futilely budge it later, his mom finally spoke up in a tired, exasperated tone, shaking her head as she finished making it across the street.

"~Liam, it's closed, don't you see?~"

"~But it's Thursday! It should be open!~"

"~But it's just not, Mrs. Graham isn't in, let's head back home-~"

"~I'm here, I'm here-~"

The elderly voice picked up the attention of both the tyke and his mom, the former immediately scrambling over in the direction of their group, jacket-clad arms waving excitedly in the air with every step-

"~Hello Mrs. Graham! Hello Leo, hello Luxie!~"

The Arcanine sped up as Liam approached, the hound and the boy at the same approximate eye level, letting the latter hug the former with ease, the pleasantly soft and warm mane returning sensation to the tyke's nose as both his cheeks were nuzzled, Luxie eagerly taking the other one much to the child's happy giggles.

"~Good afternoon Liam! I apologize, I was busy earlier, but I can stop by for a moment and let you grab something.~"

"~Thank you!~"

Without wasting another instant, the little tyke turned back around and got to running back to the library's entrance, Leo taking off into a slow jog next to the child, starting an impromptu race that he then tried his best not to win... at least not too hard.

With fewer minds around, it became easier for Aria to relax enough to be able to do more than just hide, the boy's excitement growing more than a bit contagious at being near him, the Gardevoir mom admitting quietly-

"^Aww, he feels like one of my own kids...^"

"~He's sweet, isn't he? Guess expecting a sibling in not too long really gets one excited to be able to read to them, hah.~"

Olive kept her voice down enough to not be noticed by the boy's mom as the rest of the group got closer, Leo predictably winning the race against a four year old, though the consolation prize of more puppy hugs and kisses made the bitter defeat more than palatable for Liam. As everyone else approached the front door, the spray painted mural on the front of the building came more and more into view, a bit tarnished due to time, and hardly of highest quality even when it was made, but it was nonetheless an improvement over the bare glass and gray facade. Plus- the picture of a Dragonite casually enjoying a book while surrounded by piles upon piles of other books was just cute.

"~M-Mrs. Graham, there's really no need-~"

"~Oh it's no problem Julie, I need to grab something from there myself anyway.~"

With the librarian having made her way over to the door, the excited tyke stepped away to give her space, giddy to rush right in before spotting someone he hasn't seen before, the Luxray's expression not particularly friendly on its own, though Liam wasn't about to let that stop him.

"~Who's that?~"

The sight of a ferocious and proud Luxray backing off a couple steps at the child suddenly deciding to run up to him was an amusing one for the two town mons, though the boy's mother wasn't quite as giddy, the mon's fearsome appearance and lack of any collar she could see a bit unnerving.

"~Liam, give the Luxray some space, they're not used to you.~"

"~Mhm! His name is Lumi and... I'm looking over him while his owners are on vacation. He doesn't really like being touched, so listen to what your mom said Liam.~"

"~Awwwh, okay...~"

Even if more hugs were off the table, the boy wasn't gonna waste the chance to at least greet the hound, waving excitedly at them much to Lumi's confusion-

"W-what is he doing...?"

The growls made Julie gulp, the worried mom walking over to take her son's hand and drag him a bit further away, leading him into the library proper as Olive unlocked the front door, Luxie giggling at the scene all the while in her twinkly voice-

"He just wants to say hi!"

Lumi might've been a bit taken aback at the situation and not exactly feeling like greeting particularly many humans during their excursion, preferring to keep that number at zero, but even he couldn't deny that of all the possible answers, this was probably one of the nicest.

The mons made their way in shortly after the humans, the two wildlings hesitating before following them in as well, Aria immediately scurrying to some more hidden spot inside the building to catch her breath as Lumi took in the view, probably the most confusing one in this whole bizarre human town yet. Almost every wall was filled with an assortment of colorful rectangles, only a few shelves not filled in all the way through, letting the Luxray actually see how it was all laid out. The rectangles he could see turned out to just be the narrow sides of larger slabs that filled up all the shelves, both those up against the wall as well as a few freestanding ones strewn around in the middle of the library, the end result overwhelming at a glance despite the room itself being no larger than a usual classroom.

What space wasn't being taken up by shelves of colorful blocks was instead filled with a couple tables, one in the corner, and a few chairs, the dark green and blue paint mostly flaked off by now, one of them getting immediately taken by the boy's mother. The only other element of note was an unpainted counter that Olive immediately walked behind of, the clicky noises that followed making the big black metallic box on top of the counter spin back to life, ancient fan begging for mercy as it whined and rattled, the massive off-white weirdly shaped object that stood on top of the box seeming to shine light but only in Olive's direction.

"~I want to return these!~"

Liam's cheerful call was followed to him running up to his mom and reaching into the bag next to her chair, a handful of smaller books with more pictures per page than the words on them had syllables getting taken out and deposited onto the counter top moments later, the boy's arms barely reaching.

"~Sure thing Liam- I'll take care of them, you go and look for more in the meantime.~"


That BITCH was gonna PAY.

Tom's intermittent grunts and whines of pain were one of a whole host of noises that rang through the decrepit kitchen, though as opposed to the hum of overhead lights, the hissing of pipes, and the drops of leaking water, the man in question could actually hear them, without the deafening sound of his blood moving through his veins and his racing heart to obscure them. As much as the pain of having half his limbs crushed filled him though, it was still eclipsed by the fury burning in him at what had happened, a bestial snarl of anger getting cut off by another pained gasp.

He'd have her head on a stick and her fucking dog turned into a pelt- and that demon, ooohhh he was gonna burn down the entire bloody forest if it meant getting his hands on that thing. It was going to pay, and after their men would catch it, he'd have a field day with a hammer going over its every limb and joint- AGHHH!

As the sound of approaching sirens began to pierce the veil of agony he was under, an evil, vengeful glee began dripping into Tom's train of thought, providing enough of a fleeting relief for him to sate his urges as he waited for the help to arrive. He would make that bitch regret everything, especially being weak enough to call in help for him, the thrilling thoughts of torture racing through his mind as whatever he had left of his working hand reached into the pocket on his vest and pulled out a cigarette, followed by a lighter, grim murmurs only stopping after the latter was in his mouth.

She would pay, that fucking thing would pay, they were ALL GOING TO PAY-


Aria took her time getting her bearings as she took her disguise off, the nook between the bookshelves she hid in hopefully providing enough of a hiding spot, at least for a moment. Olive's explanation of why they were here made sense enough, though she didn't envision it being so, so intensely draining to go just make her way through the human settlement- if she was ever going to repeat this, she was going to need some better way of hiding, a more sustainable one-


The Gardevoir's eyes flew open as the sound, the sight of a young human boy in a funny looking outfit looking up at her freezing them both- and most of the rest of the library while at it, only the boy's mother ending up more confused as opposed to shocked at hearing the telltale sound. In the couple moments of tense silence that followed, Aria began bringing her finger to her lips to try and shush the boy- before she could even get halfway there though, Liam erupted with questions and excitement, running away-

"~Mom mom mom there's a big mon and white and green in there, mom!~"

Much to the group's relief, Julie's reaction to these words was an exasperated, tired sigh as she forced her eyes open to watch her son run back over towards her, trying desperately to catch her attention while waving all the while.


"~Liam, what are you talking about...~"

"~Mom there was a big mon there!~"

Realizing there was likely gonna be no way to get out of having to be dragged along, the woman slowly stood up and began following his son, Olive hoping that Aria had this in control despite letting herself be seen like that in the first place.

"~Where did they go?~"

"~I truly wonder.~"

Liam wasn't familiar enough with sarcasm to detect it in his mom's dead tired voice, looking all around that part of the library as Aria slowly inched away, making no sound at all as she hovered over to Olive's side, the old woman jumping a bit at feeling a hand on her shoulder all of a sudden.

"^Sorry for that, I was catching my breath and let my guard down.^"

Olive shook the concern off with a light nod- the boy's mother didn't see any of it, there was no reason to panic, her whispered words hoping to calm the psychic down.

"~Don't worry, she just thinks he made it up.~"

"^I know, I know, thank goodness.^"

"~But it was right there!~"

"~Big and white and green pokemon, right in that corner?~" - Julie's voice sounded even more done than before, the woman passing by the counter on her way back to her seat letting Aria see, and sense, something extremely off about her, beyond just the unusually large belly size, the Gardevoir freezing at the realization as the mom conversed with her son-

"~Yeah! I told you!~"

"~Sweetie, a Snorlax wouldn't even fit there.~"

"~Not a Snorlax, they're not green!~"

"~They kinda are.~"

"~No! And it wasn't fat, it was just big like you!~"

The librarian and her companions had to keep their amusement to themselves at listening to the exchange, Olive managing on that front much better than Luxie, the bee's twinkly, squeaky laughter making her human break the facade of calmness as she finished checking in the books. Julie didn't mind one bit, mostly glad at least someone was enjoying the silly stuff her son was saying, but Liam was determined, running over to the librarian with questions on his mouth-

"~Mrs. Graham, are there any big and white and green mons out there?~"

Aside from the one standing almost shoulder to shoulder with her?

The thought made Olive chuckle softly as she smiled down at the boy, grabbing the thin books and heading over into the library to return them to their proper spots.

"~I don't know Liam, I really don't know pokemon all too well.~"

It was a convenient enough lie if nothing else- and while his mom saw through it on account of the elderly librarian being her own biology teacher back in the day, Liam wasn't privy to any such knowledge, the boy deflating a bit as he thought on what to do next, the mystery still burning bright in his head, frustrating him. If not for the answer to that particular riddle being likely to give their little covert action away, Aria would've been unable to resist giving him a hand, all too familiar with Bell getting stumped on questions like that.

Unfortunately for their secrecy, the little one eventually reminded himself of one way that he could figure out what mon it was- the very hard and slow way, changing his trajectory over towards the larger shelf filled with several large tomes, each as thick as his fist and bound in fake leather.

"~Mrs. Graham, can I go through the dexes?~"

"~Sweetie, we don't have time...~"

"~But mooooom!~"

"~How about I let you borrow one and then you can go through it at home Liam?~"

The suggestion perked Julie's head up- not because of the prospect of listening to her son's excitement every time he flipped a page on something that vaguely looked tall and white, but more so at the librarian even letting anyone take the large, expensive looking tomes out... though at the same time, there were the digital versions now, even as applications on smartphones, the big books were nowhere near as valuable anymore. Still, it made her feel a bit bad to have the librarian cave like that to her son's silly demands, the mom speaking up apologetically-

"~You really don't have to Mrs. Graham-~"

"~Don't worry sweetie, it's not an issue. So, how's that sound Liam?~"

"~Yes please!~"

"~Alright- I'll get it checked out for you while you look for other books to take home, okay?~"


Julie just shook her head with a sigh as she leaned back on the chair, the big tummy not exactly leaving her with many comfortable spots, and this one was the least bad she supposed. Leo's nearby presence helped a lot too, the Arcanine's warmth taking some strain off as she closed her eyes and reached both hands into his mane, the hound's cheek very carefully nuzzling the baby bump. The sight brought Lumi's attention over to that oddly oversized body part, no other human he's seen sharing that trait.

Wonder what was up with-


Oh heavens.

"Aria, are you seeing this?"

The Luxray's harsh noises made the drowsy woman perk up, eying up the Electric type with more than a bit of uncertainty, maybe even a little fear, Lumi laying down to look less intimidating as he heard Aria's voice respond in his mind-

"^Yes, yes I am. O-Olive, what is- what is going on with her?^"


As the librarian went through what books to grab for the girl she was actually here for, a brief glance around the nearest shelf let her determine that nothing about the expectant mother has changed since the last time she'd seen her approximately thirty seconds ago, the old woman whispering her response, hoping Aria would still hear it-

"~I've no idea what you're referring to.~"

"^Her... stomach.^"

Olive blinked in the direction she heard Aria's voice come from a few times before the question finally clicked in full, the librarian flicking her head back as she realized what was the source of the confusion, an amused smile filling her face as she whispered on, slowly building a pile of books on the counter all the while-

"~Forgot that all mons lay eggs for a moment, hah. Well- humans don't, instead we... how do I put it, you could say that instead of inside an egg, the baby grows inside us. And then later instead of the baby hatching out of the egg, we... kinda lay the baby, already formed and breathing.~"

Both Lumi and Aria were dumbfounded at the revelation, though to very different extents. As weird as an idea of offspring growing inside one's body was, it was the part at the end that shocked him the most- that baby was massive, how in the world was that human going to "lay" it like that, there's no way it would fit! Though... on the second thought, it's not like their normal, proper eggs weren't similarly sized either, and they got laid all the time, which... how in the world does that work either, what-

The sound of amused laughter at his expense filling his mind was enough to chill Lumi's racing train of thought at that revelation, Aria internally snickering at the fact that a father to a lil' cub had no idea how that whole process worked beyond the immediately pleasurable part. That's not to say she wasn't confused at Olive's words either, but at least the whole idea made enough of a sense that the Gardevoir could at least visualize it, even if it sounded very unpleasant, much more so than what she had to go through with Bell and Cadence.

"^I see... that sounds so, so unpleasant compared to just laying an egg though.^"

"~Oh I've no doubt it is- thirty nine weeks as opposed to... what, three?~"

"^More or less, yeah.^"

"~Hah, I would've gladly taken the egg option after my oldest, believe me. Alas, we have to go through that whole process the hard way.~"

And a hard way it clearly was, the wear and exhaustion on Julie's body clear to sense for the Gardevoir- there was only so much she could do to help without inadvertently getting herself spotted again, but a touch of relaxing warmth applied to her joints and muscles while she rested wouldn't hurt. As much as the expecting mom's body appreciated the gesture though, her mind was taken aback by it, making her look around the library in confusion, only seeing the Luxray where he was previously, Leo still snuggling her, and both Mrs. Graham and her son assembling a pile of books on the counter each, the latter constantly accompanied by occasionally squeaking Luxie.

"~Something wrong Julie?~"

"~No, no, Mrs. Graham, just...~"


"~That too, yeah, heh...~"

Julie's quiet chuckle helped her get through most of the weird surprise as she tried stretching a bit, her past teacher's caring nature appreciated even now, long after her graduation.

"~Managing to get some sleep in?~"

"~Barely, though today was especially hard with all the news of Anne.~"

Olive acknowledged the words with a quiet sigh, the topic made Aria keep particularly close attention on the conversation being had, just in case- though fortunately, there ended up being nothing to be suspicious about.

"~Terrible situation, isn't it.~"

"~It is, poor girl. Hope she ends up somewhere safe.~"

As much as everyone gathered agreed with that sentiment, some of them were contributing to that more directly than Julie could've ever known. The worry she felt for Anne felt reassuring for Aria, a gentle and well needed reminder that not all humans are bad or malicious, even if they're weird and something to hide from- worry made that much more real by the virtue of her having known Anne at some level.

"~I'm sure she will.~" - Olive's words were confident, though not as much as to come off as suspicious, the mom appreciating some feel good reassurance even if she didn't believe it deep down herself.

"~I don't know. Did you hear about what the police said?~"


"~Yesterday I heard that she was spotted in Lillywood, but apparently that wasn't true, nobody has any idea where she is. She took that path through the forest, has to be in Lillywood or nearby, but if there wasn't anyone who spotted her there... I-I don't know. I-it's all just nightmarish, I-I can't w-wait to get out of here.~"

Julie's voice grew noticeably wobblier near the end, Olive pausing her book hunt to walk over towards her former student and try to reassure her with a pat on the shoulder, the expectant mother wiping off tears before they could finish forming.

"~How's Ethan's job hunt going?~"

"~It's going well, thank the gods. Has a couple interviews in Mistralton scheduled up this week, house is mostly packed up and ready to move whenever. That whole mess kinda gave us a kick in the butt to get that done before the due date. Once we get a go ahead I'll have to start looking around for any school vacancies there, hopefully there are still some spots somewhere.~"

"~I'll miss you all, hah, not many bright spots left in this town.~"

The mom nodded somberly, wishing she could disagree with that assessment, but, even after teaching here for a couple years, it was very hard for her to do so.

"~Y-yeah. It's just an hour by car away, wonder if Liam will be up and asking us to take him to visit you all again, hah.~"

"~I'll try to keep the library well stocked for him just in case.~"

The mention of the boy got him to peek behind the corner towards his mom and the friendly old lady, his glance interrupted by the Ribombee diving in to strike his exposed neck with some more tickles, chirped out giggles lighting up the atmosphere some more.

"~How's the book search going Liam?~"

"~It's going good Mrs. Graham! Just one more! Can I take out one more mom?~"

"~Yes, yes sweetie, go ahead- remember that you're the one carrying them.~"


As the adult women in the room chuckled, the distant sound that was creeping closer and closer by the moment caught their attention, though not all of them knew exactly what it meant. It sure got all three of them looking through the front windows as it grew even louder though, Aria wincing at the sudden intensity before being taken aback by something very large and very red moving past their building, the handful of people in yellow outfits all over it not making the sight any clearer.

"~Oh shoot, hope it's nothing here.~"

"~Oh no, did I miss it?~" - Liam's question sounded disappointed as he dropped off the final book, the boy visibly deflating with a quiet awwwh, sighing to himself.

"~Yeah, it was a fire truck sweetie. I thought your preschool took you to see them from up close recently?~"

"~We did, yeah! It was so so cool and the Blastoise wore a big cool yellow glowy suit! I wanna see more!~"

"~Hopefully we won't have to see it from up close...~"

As the mom and son chatted on, Olive took the opportunity to check all the books out and pack them into a couple small bags, each rather heavy for Liam's size, but she had no doubt the boy's excitement would let him carry it all.

"~Alright, all checked out!~"

"~Thank you Mrs. Graham!~"

The two bags were taken and moved closer to the front door to the library, followed by the boy scrambling back over to the librarian and hugging as much of her as he could, and then by him doing the same to Leo and Luxie, the latter with as much care as he could manage, and then, mistakenly, to Lumi too.

"~Hehe, tickles!~"

The Luxray was as startled as the boy's mom, both of them too taken aback to react in any way, though for vastly different reasons- thankfully, Liam's hug was short lived, his hair all frizzled out as he stepped away from the mostly black canine, his mom whimpering afterwards-

"~L-Liam, Mrs. Graham told you he doesn't like being touched...~"

"~Oh! Sorry!~"

While the apology might not have been understood by its intended recipient, Aria passed it on, herself trying not to giggle at the sight of her coworker so startled by a literal harmless child.

"~let's get going sweetie.~"

"~Mhm! Bye bye Mrs. Graham, bye bye Leo, bye bye Luxie, bye bye Lumi! Oh, Mrs. Graham, if you see any big white and green mons can you tell me when we come next?~"

"~Teehee, yes, yes I will sweetie, pinky promise.~"

The boy was thankfully convinced, following his mom out with bags in hand, looking so excited he was almost running circles around her as they walked out of sight, Olive chuckling softly to herself before turning over towards Aria, the Gardevoir taking a breather after dropping her disguise-

"~Found them.~"

Luxie broke into chirp-like laughter at the remark, the amusement quickly spreading through the rest of the group as some of the tension was released, the librarian getting to checking out Anne's fill of the books, their covers much less eyecatching than those on Liam's pile.

"How did he even see you Aria?" - Lumi's pointed question had the Gardevoir sigh and roll her eyes, answering tiredly-

"^I had to catch my breath without the disguise. Believe it or not, keeping oneself hidden is much harder than just looking grumpy at everyone that passes near.^"

"~And besides, nothing came of it now, did it.~"

"But what if it did?"

"~I really, really doubt anything would, even if Julie caught a glimpse of Aria too. She'd maybe freak out a bit, but eventually she'd probably just think she were seeing things because she was exhausted and that would be it.~

"Do humans lie like that to themselves all the time?"

"~From what I know, confirmation bias is hardly a trait that's exclusive to humans- as demonstrated very well by you, Lumi.~"

Luxie and Leo giggled at the Luxray's expense, the latter grumbling to the backdrop of repetitive beeps as each book was checked out and put into a decently hefty bag, the sight catching Aria's attention, figuring this was a good of a time to ask about what these things even were to begin with-

"^These books. What are they?^"

The phrasing gave Olive a pause, the librarian eventually deciding to just go through the titles one by one as she went through the bag-

"~This one's about puberty and how it impacts one's body, this one's a fantasy novel she liked a lot for a good while, this one's about confronting trauma-~"

"^No, I mean... what are they as items? How does she get these abstract concepts from them?^"

Without skipping a beat, Olive laid down the book she was holding down on the counter, opening it to a random page, Aria's eyes going that bit wider at the block just splitting in half like that, and even more so at the ocean of tiny, black symbols filling the off-white interior, their sheer number making her eyes glaze over.

"~Simply put, they're stacks of pages with words written on them. You read the words in order to get what the author was saying.~"

As weird as it was to explain books on such an abstract level to any person she could talk with, it was not wholly unexpected here- as much as the adjective "illiterate" and the graceful, almost ethereal appearance of Anne's guardian spirit were contrasted in tone, it's not like it was an inaccurate description.

"^And all these... symbols are the human writing?^"

"~Unovan more specifically, but yes.~"

"^And if I don't know that writing, then I'm not getting anything out of these books?^"

"~I'm sure Anne would be glad to teach you.~"

Aria was caught off guard by that assertion, blinking as she watched the librarian finish packing the books up into a more sturdy bag, Olive gesturing at Leo afterwards to help carry it.

"^Are you sure? I don't know if I could even learn it-^"

"~I'm much older than you and I'm learning a new language right now, I think you'll manage well enough.~"

"^I mean- I'm not human-^"


The blunt question gave the psychic a pause, Aria left uncertain how to properly word her worry before Olive beat her to the punch while putting her jacket on-

"~It's just a language and a bunch of symbols. There's nothing inherently human to it, we have to learn it too when we're very little. You'll manage honey.~"

As much as Aria's thoughts about Anne's situation had her worrying how would she get acclimatized to the village properly and learn everything about it, she didn't consider the possibility of some of the knowledge exchange happening the other way around, which, the more she thought about it, the more potentially useful it sounded.

"^And these books, the other ones in here, what... 'words' do they have in them?^"

"~Hundreds of stories, large and small in scope, a bunch of religious texts, and a hoard of knowledge about our world, both the natural and manmade parts, and its history. How do we breathe and eat, what are the migratory patterns of birds in southern Galar, what's the chemical composition of the Moon, who were the peoples that lived here before the Unovan expansion massacred them, how are these very books made- if you're curious about something, anything, it's likely that someone has already written down their knowledge about it.~"

"^And all you need to get that information is to just know how to read the human writing?^"

"~Pretty much, yes. Hope that was a good pitch for getting you into reading, hah. Alright, ready to get a move on again?~"

Aria nodded as she chewed on that knowledge- she might have overheard Lumi's thought process shrugging it all aside as just silly human nonsense that wasn't ever going to matter for them, but she knew better from the rumors and stories she'd heard from those that used to live alongside humans before ending up at their village. Even something as basic as knowing how to write down their own knowledge and having a better ability to pass it down over generations would help a lot, and that didn't come close to half the wonders human inventions were supposedly capable of.


"^A-ah yes, yes, let's move on.^"

As much as she disagreed with his dismissive stance on the subject as a whole though, she couldn't help to admit the fact that some of his objections held water- such as the question of how much would Olive be able to help them with in the end. The question and its implications refused to wash from her mind as she chewed through them, the librarian leading the pack once more after they left the library building, quietly following her.

As they turned the corner back onto the main road of the village, an odd sensation struck Aria- the humans' attention wasn't anywhere near as hard to redirect anymore, almost all their focus squarely honed in on something behind the group-



The call made the old woman look over her shoulder, followed by the rest of the pack, the sight down the road as eyecatching as it was alarming. A pillar of black, thick smoke rose up from the burning house up to the clouds, the firefighters' attempt to quench it proving ineffective, even as the second fire truck arrived from the other direction, the second stream of water finally seeming to be making an actual dent in the blaze-


The larger fireball that suddenly engulfed the building made Olive gasp in fear of the fire crew, the team of an already present ambulance jumping into action shortly afterwards as the cloud of smoke rose further into the sky- revealing the building to have been completely levelled by the blast, the remaining charred ruin getting extinguished soon after.

"~Mein Gott...~"

"I-is that- is that Anne's house?"

The librarian nodded slowly in response to Luxie's question, the bee huddling up closer to her afterwards, nobody sure how to exactly process the sight in front of them. Or rather, almost nobody, Lumi just smirking to himself at the followup to Aria's justice from earlier.

"Well, that's that for that rotten place."

"^Now she really has nowhere to go back to...^"

As true as the sentiment already was prior to now, having the whole building disintegrate in front of them so suddenly only drove another nail into the coffin of Anne ever coming back to this place, a coffin that at this point was about ready to break the floor underneath it from the sheer weight of all the nails that had been hammered into it. The sight was deeply sobering, though more so for Aria than Lumi, the hound's steadfast opposition to any prolonged human presence in their village growing just that bit weaker.

"~I don't think we'll be doing ourselves any favors by staring into it. What's done is done, I just hope not too many were hurt.~"

"B-but- what if we caused it?"

"~Nothing was burning when we left Luxie.~"

"What if we just did-didn't see it-"

"~I-I don't know. I...~"

There was a conflict in Olive's voice, sound getting caught in her throat at the possibility of being indirectly responsible for all that, the worry getting compartmentalized away in her head shortly afterwards with a sigh.

"~I doubt we did it. Even if we indirectly caused it somehow, Tom only has himself to blame for this. Let's move on.~"

Luxie wasn't wholly, utterly convinced, but she supposed the justification made sense, the bee shaking with a nod as the group resumed their march again, if more slowly this time. Aside from the two most worried women, the rest of the band were nowhere near as worried about the moral implications of their actions, be it from not having any direct impact on what had happened, or by having an ironclad moral justification- still, hopefully nobody got seriously hurt in that big blast.

The silence hung rather heavy over the group as Olive led them into one of the several multi story buildings, the inside weirdly barren, especially when compared to the library. The floors were mostly undecorated stone, walls full of different looking if similarly plain wooden doors, with only the plainest of white paints covering up the rest of the surface, as well as the railings to the sides of a serpentine staircase winding upwards in the building's center.

"What is this place?"

"~Oh? My apartment building, I live here.~"

"You mean in this entire building?"

"~No, no, obviously not- I mean in one of the apartments here.~"

The word wasn't one Lumi consciously recognized, simply getting a lookout as the group ascended up a couple flights of stairs, eventually stopping in front of one of the less barren doors, the mat that laid in front of it providing some much needed color, even if much of it has been long since worn out and muddied.

"~Here we go, make yourselves at home.~"

Even if the apartment wasn't anywhere near as massive as this whole building, it was still larger than Aria's burrow, and decorated much more densely while at that. The individual chambers were all perfectly rectangular, most of them painted in bright, if somewhat muted colors, the extent of the furniture eyecatching in particular. All the little shelves and drawers added up into an overwhelming, colorful mess, with even all the items of clothing and other trinkets they could see in plain sight making the apartment so much more cluttered than any of their dwellings.


Aria wasn't a stranger to the drink, and even if in any other circumstance she would've loved to be able to sit down and get a sip or two... it wasn't gonna be possible here.

"^We'll pass, thank you.^"

"~Suit yourselves. Come and take a seat in the living room while I grab everything.~"

The Gardevoir took her time as she walked further in, taking in every single detail of this home she found herself in, the Luxray just glad to see something soft looking he could lay down on as he mumbled in a mix of genuine confusion and scoffing-

"This place is still massive..."

"~For just poor old us? Yeah, not disagreeing, though back when this was a family of six even all this space felt cramped much of the time.~"

On cue with Olive's words, Aria caught a glance of the large family portrait next to the entrance to the living room, looking similarly magical to the smaller photo she had found in Anne's plushie, but much larger and depicting a much more populated scene. A younger Olive, another adult human, and three human children to the best of Aria's ability to make out, together with a rather lightly colored Eevee, all bundled underneath a large blanket, mostly just heads peeking out, watching something out of frame.

"^Was this how your family used to look like?^"

The librarian peeked out of the kitchen to nod firmly at the sight Aria was referencing, bringing over her own cup of tea to the living room table shortly after, not resting for a moment before immediately beelining for the bathroom, continuing to talk in the meantime-

"~Yep! This was... twenty five years ago I think. Husband's gone, boys have all moved out, and now it's just us three, a more makeshift bunch.~"

"^What about that Eevee?^"

"~Oh, Lovelace- she and my oldest were inseparable, she evolved into an Umbreon and they headed off together, live in Hoenn now and both have started families. Speaking of-~"

Olive chuckled to herself as she packed a couple lighter colored packs of something into the same bag that had the books, before grabbing another book that laid open on top of the living room table, its front cover two colorful rectangles.

"~Been trying to pick up some Hoennian so that I can go and visit them someday without making a circus of myself, hah. It's slow going, but if I can learn a third language at seventy then so can you at... however old you are, really. Let's see, how did the greeting go... a-ri-ga-to... let's check the glossary... saa-na-i-to.~"

Seeing a human have difficulties grasping one of what was quickly turning out to be many, many human languages out there was quite reassuring for Aria- yeah, she could definitely do it if she tried hard enough and gave it enough time, though it'd remain to be seen how necessary that would turn out to be.

"Now I wonder how the mons ended up being included as a part of this family." - Lumi managed to keep his tone juuust down enough to not come off as accusatory, though the intent was rather clear by now, Aria lightly facepalming as Olive answered, continuing to fill the bag with everything Anne could possibly need out there, including a couple of her own clothes-

"~Lovelace was adopted, way way back, though most of the details are blurry by now. Leo... my youngest worked as a firefighter for a while before changing careers, got wind of some... sigh... some Growlithe runts looking for a place to stay since they would be unfit for working with the cops, and one day showed up on my doorstep with a puppy in his arms. By then I was living alone and having nobody else around was really starting to wear me down, but I was too hesitant to adopt again because of my age... so he did it for me, and I've been grateful ever since.~"

The fiery hound responded with a big yawn from his resting spot beside the main armchair before picking himself up and eagerly nuzzling his human some more, the loving pets bringing a smile to everyone's faces. Before Olive could continue, Luxie spoke up first, cutting her off-

"Oh oh oh, can I tell this one?"

"~Teehee, of course Luxie- who's better to tell it than someone who it's all about?~"

"Okay okay! I was much much younger, just a Cutiefly far far far from where I hatched, and it was so cold and I couldn't find many flowers anywhere anymore. I was so hungry and so cold, and it was starting to rain, and then I finally sensed some pretty flowers nearby, I beelined straight for them, just really wanted to get to them- and then I hit a weird barrier that I couldn't see and was so frustrated and angry and kinda despairing a-and then Olive opened the window and let me in! And she gave me something warm to dry myself with, and some sweet water to drink, and I could sip the nectar of all the flowers and she was so nice! And then few days later when the weather got better she let me back out again, but I came back because I liked it here, it was nice and warm and I had food... and then I stayed!"

As the bee finished recounting her experience, the last of the free space inside the bags was being filled in with whatever last pieces of useful clothing Olive could squeeze in, eventually admitting defeat and smiling up at the littlest member of her household, Luxie wasting no time in flying over and hugging as much of her human's face as she could afterwards.

"Thank you for making my life better..."

"~Thank you for being a part of mine.~"

With a couple last pats on the Ribombee's back, the human could grab the two sizable bags and move them off the table, straining the little strength she had left in bringing them over to the couple wildlings.

"~Alright, I think that's everything I can squeeze in. Clothes, paper, pens, books, a couple snacks, hygiene, thank goodness I kept some extras of these for other girls from rougher families. I hope all these will be of help.~"

Aria eyed down the spoils with a mix of trepidation and relief, a brief weight test resulting in them being suspended in her pale glow for a couple moments before dropping back down- bulky as they were, they were nothing compared to what her mind could bench press on a good day.

"^I can't thank you enough for all this Olive. I'll be forever in your debt.^"

"~Then repay it by making Anne's life as good as you can, Aria.~"

The Gardevoir nodded deeply, the Luxray's rest getting cut short after he leapt off of the couch, grumbling quietly while readying for their departure.

"^I will. I promise.^"

"~Godspeed, Aria. She counts on you.~"

Aria closed her eyes, acknowledging Olive's words as she mulled through her own internal conundrum, one that a whole lot more light was about to be shone on-

"C'mon, get it over with and let's get out of here."

"~Get what-~"

Before Olive could complete her sentence, she saw and felt herself and her companions be surrounded with the same bluish sheen as the bags from moments prior, the grip binding them all in place, any attempts to move beyond breathing or muttering proving unsuccessful as the air held them in place.

"~W-what are-~"

"^I'm sorry. I can't express how much I appreciate everything you've all done for us, but... I, we, can't risk you knowing where Anne is either, or about our involvement. The stakes are too great. I wish I didn't have to do this.^"

"Wh-what are you gonna do-" - Luxie's terrified squeak cut deep into Aria, her expression stone faced aside from the fiercely growing eyes, bringing back all the terrifying mental imagery of ghost brides back into Olive's mind, the Gardevoir's composure fading at overhearing the family's mental reactions to being betrayed like that.

"^You will forget everything that has happened today. You'll only know that Anne is safe, but nothing more.^"

After a longer, painful pause, the psychic's eyes lit up brighter still, the whole group wincing in various ratios of fear and anger, Luxie obsessively going through the events of the day in her little head, trying to hold onto the memories as well as she could, even if it all would only ever amount to an equivalent of trying to keep back a tidal wave with one's bare hands.

"^I'm sorry.^"

The mental grip grew tighter to an almost painful degree as the family either stared back at her or braced themselves for the inevitable at this point, waiting for the evil deed to happen... only for it not to, moment after moment. After a few long, drawn out seconds, before the group's expressions could change to confusion, they heard Aria's voice again, much quieter this time, little more than a hushed whisper.

"^Keep your faces like this. Don't speak, think aloud.^"

The instructions made little sense, though the trio was much too shaken to even think about not following them, keeping their faces as they were as an expectant silence filled the brain space of Olive's living room.

"^I... don't want to do this. But I must know, with an absolute certainty, that no word of this will ever reach anyone else. Your aid and knowledge has been invaluable, and will continue to be so if Anne stays with us, and it would be cruel of me to reward it like this. But I cannot risk our safety, ours, Anne's, safety of hundreds of other beings that would be in peril if the human world at large knew.^"

A heavy pause followed, mental grip relaxing ever so slightly as Aria took a deep breath.

"^Can you all, especially you Olive, promise me that? Promise that no word of what had happened beyond the pretense you've already set up will ever reach anyone else, not even your loved ones?^"

As much as the Gardevoir's actions made sense with how much was at the stake, the group in front of her still felt a bit betrayed at a threat like that even being held over their heads, Leo in particular wanting to just bark something back, literally and mentally like, before ultimately keeping himself down, Luxie's thoughts reaching the others first-

"^I... I promise. I, I want to keep you all and Anne safe, I don't want to forget you, forget knowing she's gonna be alright.^"

"^Hmph, fine. Promise.^"


The old woman kept quiet the longest, the turmoil of fright at the situation, sting of betrayal, deeper fears of losing her memory, and deep affection towards the girl all this was happening for swirling under her skullcap, hand clenching briefly as she eventually got a grip of herself with a breath of her own.

"^Just as you promised me her safety, I promise you your secrecy, Aria. If she ever needs anything, I want to be able to help.^"

There was a tinge of hurt in Olive's words, a bit of resentment towards the Gardevoir for even considering just using them all like that- a resentment that wasn't at all unearned, as sad as Aria was to admit that. Alas, that was the only way Marco and Lumi would ever agree to confide in a human like that, and as much as she was growing to hate the forced secrecy of their village, she couldn't deny things being the way they are for a good reason.

"^From the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you all, for everything. When I let go of you, pretend to be dazed and confused.^"

Aria's grip continued for a few more moments before fizzling as suddenly as it had initially appeared, Olive blinking at her surroundings as she took a couple steps back, Luxie buzzing straight into Leo's mane as the hound laid back down on the floor and onto his side, looking up at the ceiling.

"^Quick, before they come back to.^"

Lumi didn't have to be told twice, bolting out of the apartment as Aria hovered the bags over towards herself, passing the group a final, brief smile, before following the Luxray back out, into the vast expanse of the human world.

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other fic, Another Way!

Also also check out my series of shorts, The Alarm Goes Off at Six!
Chapter 9: Return


the gay agenda

Chapter 9: Return

Marco had no idea why his sister was so insistent on getting help from that random human and her band, but thankfully he at least managed to make her agree to thoroughly wiping their memories after they were done. On one hand, he could understand some of it- sure, the human in their village might have been an injured child and he knew almost as well as she did how much that fact did tug at their heartstrings, but on the other hand, they were still a human whose days in the village were heavily limited by the rate at which their body recovered, the village didn't need yet another pile of human stuff to take care of in the meantime. Sure, be nice to them until they get better, but afterwards they're out without any memory of said kindness, and there were extremely few things that could've conceivably changed that outcome.

Though, he had to admit that said number wasn't zero, even despite the fact that the human in their midst had something to do with Ember.

And it was that involvement in particular that confused the knight the most as he sprinted his way back into their village, how wildly disjointed the fox's version of the events and the one offered by both the elderly human, and apparently the child themselves if Aria was to be believed, was. They couldn't both be true, and if not for him physically being there and psychically reaching into that woman's memories together with his sister, he wouldn't have given the human version of the events even a single moment of consideration... but he was, and he did see it all, raw, genuine and untampered.

Something wasn't adding up and even if Aria's attempt to reconcile the two versions of the events failed, he would give it a stab of his own. The real question was how was he going to bring the subject up- the last thing he wanted to do was to give the fox a panic attack, and her mother would certainly not take kindly to the choice of topic either. He'd have to be more diplomatic about it, but how to go about that was the big question here-

"Outta the way!"

The shrill, rough shout coming from nearby made the Gallade reflexively dash back a couple paces, just in time to evade a large, reddish blur that then tried to come to a stop, attempting to accomplish that task through the means of Ori's leg stabbing the snowy ground to act as impromptu brakes, the contraption coming to a stop the hard way not too long afterwards. Namely, by breaking, the corroded metal parts holding the front wheel giving up and snapping, the whole metal assembly braking even faster as the front part of the frame plowed into the ground, the passenger on the Scizor's shoulder getting launched forward head first into a tree, the whole plant shaking as the Mawile bounced off and dove into snow.

Once all present were done processing the events that had just transpired and Ori had disembarked the now broken metal contraption, head spinning lightly, Marco finally had enough clarity of mind to speak up, a mix of concern and annoyance in his voice-

"Mikiri, are you alright?"

"Ya, ya, ya, I've been through worse, this is nothing. Wonder what broke there, ugh."

The Mawile proceeded to demonstrate her perseverance by wading through the snow that was almost as tall as she herself was, stepping out of the worst of it seemingly fine- though the small gash on her forehead did serve as evidence to the contrary, a couple drops of rust-colored blood flowing down her face.

"Ah, it was this bit. Annoying, I think I have enough scrap to make a replacement... oh, Ori, you alright?"

"Affirmative. You should probably try to test the integrity of it more next time before asking me to help."

"This was the integrity test."

"Didn't Aria ask you to not touch any of the girl's items?"

Marco's tone was now firmly on the side of annoyance, in equal part at the two's antics, at the Mawile seemingly going against what had been asked of her, and at his coworker slacking off while acting as a test dummy.

"I'm not! This one's not hers- hers just let me figure out how it all fits and I made this one out of all the broken parts I scavenged!"

The Gallade could only sigh deeply as he buried his face into his palm, shaking his head as the tinkerer in front of him got right back to trying to analyze the failure mode she'd just been on the receiving end of, couple fingers feeling along the freshly snapped rusted piece while Ori pointed out the obvious-

"Mikiri, you're bleeding."


A light pat of Mawile's own forehead had her wince a bit and groan at seeing the rusty blood, less so because of the pain and mostly because it was just another distraction from her actual object of interest in the moment.

"I'll be fine, I'll be fine. Now now, could I reinforce it some more somehow... welding a thicker piece here could work, though I'd have to balance it somehow or the steering would get worse-"


"Ughhhh... fine, fine, I'll go get it checked. Can you move all this back to my workshop in the meantime?"

"Someone has to."

"Alright, alright, see you once I'm patched up Ori, I'll need your input with some changes I have in mind- fine fine I'm going I'm going!"

Thankfully, Ori didn't even have to speak up again for the Mawile to finally get a move on in the direction of the clinic, the layer of snow growing thinner and thinner as she marched on.

"What are you doing here anyway? Shouldn't you be scouting?"

"I can ask you the exact same question Marco."

"I'm trying to figure out what's going on with that human kid and Ember."

"Are you? Because presently you seem to just be idly watching."

Marco rolled his eyes as he was called out- not undeservedly so, grumbling quietly as he turned to continue his trek further into the village while the Scizor picked up the pieces, starting to withdraw back into his own thoughts once more before overhearing Mikiri grumble again-

"Yes yes, I know, I'm going to the clinic."

A glance up revealed her words to have stopped the Wigglytuff in his tracks before he could speak up about the somewhat unnerving sight, his attention wandering over towards Marco instead, the fairy's wave getting quickly returned as he walked and bounced over.

"Hello Marco~. How's your day?"

"It's... going, Jovan."

"Something on your mind?"

"A lot, and I like none of it."

The Gallade tried to mull through what he was going to say as the Wigglytuff accompanied him, the latter growing a bit concerned at the unenthusiastic response, looking up at the scout with his green eyes-

"Something to do with the human I assume~?"


"I see, I see. All that mess does sound like a big ol' pickle. Even the kiddos are starting to ask about them, hah. Holly has had some run-ins with humans in the past so I tried to recount them and try to get some morals in, but truthfully I'm mostly just stringing words along, any more specific questions and I have to change the subject, heh. Bell asked me what color are humans and just couldn't figure out what to tell him- was thinking you could help me answer some of the questions about them if you don't mind."

"You'd have to ask Aria, she's spent a lot more time with them."

"But surely you have to know something yourself~?"

"Picked up a couple things but that's about it, it's nothing big."

"Well, even if it's little I'd love to discuss it over a cup of something nice and warm, someplace comfy- how's that sound, maybe later today~?"

Jovan's point flew right over its recipient's pointed crest, the Gallade briefly considering the idea before shaking it off- he likely wouldn't have the time for a detour as big as that, especially if he wouldn't be able to provide much in the way of actually helpful knowledge.

"I'm afraid not. Again, Aria's the one to ask about them, I don't know much and truthfully I hope that won't change."

The brief blip of unamusement and dissatisfaction inside the Wigglytuff's mind was acknowledged and simply ascribed to him not being able to get the information he wanted, the Gallade proceeding to march on without giving the subject more thought.

"I see. Well, why not~? They are just a child from what I've heard."

"A human child. And... sigh, there's some unknowns surrounding them that I'll be trying to figure out, some of them definitely on the unsavory side."

"Oh dear. Unsavory...?"

"Very much so."

Jovan didn't need any further explanation to get Marco's rough gist- or at least to figure something out that did feel like it'd fit inside this messy puzzle- obviously nobody would want to talk a lot about a human like that if they had actually just been a young ""trainer"", treating them all as objects. It made sense, and it made the fairy feel that bit worse for even asking in the first place, quiet nods affirming Marco's words.

"I see. Well... I'll be off grabbing a drink at Viv's if you have a change of heart. Hopefully your search proves successful~."

"I hope so too, would be nice to be able to finally figure something concrete out."

"See you around Marco~."

"See you."

Even as the lavender Wigglytuff changed course, the green and white knight marched on, getting close to the foxes' den, still unsure how he was gonna bring the subject up beyond the vague outline. Between all the possible options, it'd probably be the best idea to have the chat with Ember one on one, but he was doubtful of how much the lil' fox was going to trust him on this- she was fond of his sister yes, but any interactions between them two directly in the past have been sparse at best.

Being able to sense emotions as well as his sister would've been very welcome here as well...

Marco shook that thought off as he mentally reset at the sound of flames from around the corner and two presences that accompanied it, one dignified and steadfast, and the other wobbly and uncertain. The sights that accompanied their practice largely matched up along these lines- Cinder's fireballs struck true every time, with enough force to leave the stone glowing dimly lit where they struck, where as Ember's had a tendency to miss and fizzle out in the snow thanks to the younger fox's shaky grip- and even when they did hit, the only looked about big enough to burn someone's eyebrows off and not much more.

Much the same was true of the Psybeams that followed, the multicolored light that filled Cinder's eyes before it blasted from the tip of her stick wand was bright and vivid, with enough power to it to leave a visible burn mark on a nearby tree. Ember had a hard time executing the move at all, mind too gripped by nerves and anxiety to attain the focus necessary for it, with the umpteenth attempt to calm herself down by concentrating on the flickering flame at the tip of her own wand accomplishing little, the brief moment of calmness breaking apart moments later as her thoughts inevitably steered back to the human in their midst.

Even Cinder had to eventually admit this was going nowhere, trying to quell her own disappointment in both herself and the rest of the village before walking over to her daughter, the lil' fox shaking in her shawl and pulling her mom into a hug the moment she could.

"I-I'm sorry, I-I-"

"Shhhh, it's alright sweetie, it's okay. They'll be gone soon, don't worry-"

Before the Delphox could continue her reassurances, her gaze narrowed at seeing the Gallade approach, any warmth evaporating from her tone as she spoke up towards him-

"What is it, Marco? Shouldn't you be out and helping to resolve this... whole human situation? Because if you scouts want to, I can help solve it quickly and very effectively."

The threat in the vixen's words had Marco narrow his eyes in return as the Braixen clung to her mom even closer, feeling cold even with her typing and the off-white shawl she wore covering most of her body. As much as he wanted to snap back with something to the effect of "what do you think I'm doing", Marco knew all too well that if anything it'd have the vulpine mother blow up at him for implying there was some connection between her little one and the intruder in the medical tent, possibly not even just figuratively at that.

"I only want to ask Ember about a couple things."

"Such as?"

The lil’ fox that was being discussed about perked up at the Gallade's words, ears lying flat for the most part- she wanted to help as much as she could, in general, but had no idea what would someone as important as a scout want to ask her about, internally asking Marco the same thing as her mom, though without Cinder’s hostile tone. Marco in return could only sigh deeply and chew through the words one last time, keeping his cards close to herself and trying to tease out the truth one detail at a time.

"Well, I've been told there's an old friend that had recently turned up here in our village, and they've been looking for you."

Cinder thankfully didn't get the implication right away, some of the hostility in her expression waning as her daughter tried to think through that idea- most of the friends she'd made at that bright place were still here in the village, and others had just ran off for good when they all broke out... m-maybe one of them ended up wandering over here anyway? T-that'd be nice, though not really realistic, it'd been over a year since then... Someone else? Was there even anyone else? They'd have to be from before then, and...

The Delphox grew much more consternated as she took a look at her daughter's thought process once the very unpleasant territory it had reached started to reflect on Braixen’s emotional state, holding her that much closer and trying to lightly distract her from the horrors of her past with gentle pets on her sides and head, Ember appreciating the gesture even if the misdirection it attempted to perform was unsuccessful. Everything prior to the bright place was hell, but... but... but... there was-

"Shhhh, it's okay sweetie. As you can see Marco, it doesn't ring any bells for her. Mind leaving us alone now?"

Marco was almost of a mind to do that even, only pausing by the hesitation in the fox's thoughts he could sense, ignoring her mother's response and providing another hint in its stead-

"An old friend named Anne."

Even if the clarification didn't help the Braixen any in the moment, the little vixen's attempts to probe her memories for that name not having the desired results, it resulted in an immediate change in the atmosphere on Cinder's end, the air surrounding the taller vixen going from frosty to a step above uncomfortably warm in an instant. With that impromptu Heat Wave came painful, sharp prickling in Marco's mind, the kind that could only come from a very, very angry psychic, his own psychics unsuccessful at fully nullifying the subconscious assault.

"How dare you bring that thing up like that, how DARE you claim any of those monsters as anyone's friends, especially one of her friends like that!? It being let live is already injustice enough, but you DARE bring it to our doorstep, bring her more suffering!?"

Before Marco could respond, he was telekinetically shoved backwards, the unrelenting warmth painfully burning him even as he tried to Safeguard himself against it, the Gallade only barely remaining standing.

"Don't you, or any other scout dare speak of this again. If you, your pitiable sister, or anyone else are too maddened to see what must be done with that vile thing, I will eagerly demonstrate. Begone."

Marco only caught a brief glimpse of Ember's expression as she was ushered back to her dwelling, the young vixen somewhere between mortified at what her mother was doing and deeply confused about something, wanting to speak up before being cut off with another light push, Cinder not letting her get in a word edgewise as she was forcibly guided back to her den, the door getting psychically slammed shut behind them.

The Gallade needed a good few moments to come to after that sudden outburst, the end result ending up being worse than the worst case scenario he had envisioned, somehow. As covert as he wanted to be about it, Cinder still somehow figured out what it was that he was actually here for, and Ember herself sure seemed to have no idea what was up with the whole human mess... he had one task and he somehow fumbled it completely, the disappointing reality managing to be even more painful than the light burns on his front.

Guess... a drink wouldn't hurt right about now.

Much as he tried to maintain his usual poise, the moderate if constant pain barraging his front didn't make that any easier, an attempt to Meditate the burning aching away for the most part only resulting in him losing his balance, the winter cold unfortunately not offsetting the burns either. Guess he did only have himself to blame in the end- probably should've either waited for a better moment, or just given up on this whole undertaking, toss the shared human delusion aside and just let Ember rest while they work on moving the human trouble back to their own rotten world.

There was no point in dwelling much about what he'd seen, he knew that all too well... but at the same time, a failure like that still stung a fair bit, especially when compared with Aria's apparent success at calming the human in question down and getting some knowledge out of them, and even at getting some use out of the other one that came looking. If there was any silver lining he could think of, it was that even if Aria was the one talking to the foxes, it all would've ended just as badly- hell, possibly even more so.

Not much of a reprieve really...

The remainder of his slow march over to the makeshift cafe was spent either mulling over the few facts he had about the whole case, lack of any substantial input from the foxes not making that task any easier, or by trying to stave off the feelings of his own inadequacy, the latter task somehow ending up even less successfully than the former. The rich, herbal aroma that flowed from the large, makeshift looking structure was thankfully effective at dulling the unpleasant thoughts, Jovan perking up from his own thoughts the moment the Gallade did step in, his obviously sorry state making the Wigglytuff a bit alarmed-

"M-Marco? What happened, a-are these burns?"

The high pitched, alarmed words made the dragon behind the counter look over in concern as well, enough for them to step out of the warmth of their makeshift stove, the winter frost particularly bitter this year, even in a near full body, fluffy looking outfit, looking almost human in how much of the Goodra's body it covered.

"Oh my, Marco?"

"I'm- I'll be fine. Yeah, j-just light burns I think, I'm gonna be alright."

"You don't just get this many light burns, not all over your front like that! Marco hun, what happened!?"

As the Wigglytuff attempted to get some answers, the Goodra took it upon themselves to help comfort the scout a bit, a raised purple hand wordlessly asking for permission before reaching over and beginning to touch up on the reddened spots along the Gallade's arms, their natural slime bringing aloe vera-like relief, even if it felt ickier to the touch.

"Just... I had a good hunch that Ember could possibly have an idea about what's going on, maybe recognize the human, and Cinder... didn't take it well."

The answer startled both of them as they listened for a bit before the dragon got back to helping, their slimy touch bringing relief.

"That does sound like Cinder. I doubt that asking Ember about all this was a particularly good idea to begin with..."

"It's more complicated than that Vivian, but yeah, in the end it was just a bad idea I think."

The bespoke Goodra nodded uncertainly as they wrapped up the first aid, scrambling back behind the counter to pour their guest a couple cups of a sweet, herbal tea- and a few more for themselves, the pot of water getting immediately refilled and set back over the fire- in cold as bitter as this, there was never any downtime when it came to the need for something warm to drink and warm oneself with.

"More complicated~?"

The Gallade just sighed, clearly unenthused about the idea of dredging all the worthless "details" he and his sister have gleaned so far, Jovan ending up just relenting at that with a disappointed nod, looking down at the ground as Vivian passed a cup of tea over to the scout.

"Would you fancy something warmer to sit on than these chairs? Got a spare pillow in here and you look and sound like you could use it."

"I-... I suppose."

"It's really no problem Marco."

"I-I know, I know, just... sigh, thanks Viv."


Goodra's light smile wasn't returned, much to their chagrin, the defeated knight collapsing down on the large pillow behind the counter as he sipped on his cup, passing Jovan a thankful nod at deciding to join him, though only interpreting that as the Wigglytuff's near universal friendliness. The mellowness of the cafe came back in full swing not long afterwards once Marco was done with his cup, trying to more firmly shake everything else that had happened so far off, clear his head with a bit of meditation, and get back into his usual duties- this place wouldn't protect itself after all.

As he gradually cleared his thoughts, the soft purplish fairy next to him having dozed off and starting to lean on him in the meantime, the Goodra a couple feet away from her, busy alternating between warming themselves up with more tea and knitting another layer for themselves to brave the cold with, saw someone peek into the cafe, their identity taking them aback-

"Ember? Are you okay sweetie?"

The Braixen was very evidently not okay, her expression somewhere between uncertain and terrified, her whole body shaking- and yet, nonetheless, she was here, a cup of tea the draconic brewer hadn't gone around to drinking yet getting offered towards her right away.

"I-I- did Marco c-come here earlier?"

Before Vivian could clarify the situation and explain that the Gallade was still here, the unpleasant situation the knight had experienced not too long ago gave the Goodra a pause, making them respond with their own question instead, not wanting to expose their friend to possibly even more of Cinder's wrath-

"What makes you look for him sweetie?"

Ember shook some more at the direct question, the stick in her tail looking about ready to fall out as she huddled up, making Vivian nudge the cup of tea again, the gift getting thankfully accepted this time, even if the scaredy fox did spill some of its contents in her shaking.

"He c-came over to us earlier, a-and asked about something, and my m-mom got really angry at him and I don't know why and-... and I've been th-thinking, and there's something weird g-going on, it's hard to explain. I wanna help him, m-maybe he can help me with that weird thing, I-I don't want my mom t-to know..."

That was all the reassurance the dragon needed, walking over to the other end of the counter and leaning down, one arm reaching over to shake the Gallade out of his trance- not without startling him a bit, but the aura he sensed afterwards helped in pulling his focus away from that-


The Braixen was briefly confused before he stood up, emerging from behind the counter that had been obscuring him, the foxie growing equal parts reassured that he was alright, and apologetic about what had happened earlier, trying to stammer an apology out-

"I-I'm really sorry Mr. M-Marco, I don't know why m-my mom-"

"It's okay Ember, it's okay."

As much as Marco passively envied his sister's form at all times, he would've really appreciated having as good of a grasp on others emotions as she did right now, his own emotional intelligence enough to tell the foxie was clearly sad and panicky, but not enough to have a good idea of what should he do to help. Suppose that there was always the option of imitation, Marco pushing on as he tried to mirror what his sister did when Cadence got really sad, kneeling down in front of the Braixen and opening his arms wide for a hug.

His offer was thankfully accepted, the shaky warmth aggravating his burns a little bit through the shawl but the comfort it brought to both mons involved more than made up for it. Both ends tried to get a better grasp on their emotions for a while afterwards, the Gallade relieved to feel his gesture working and Ember's anxiety waning, even if only partially. Guess even if he didn't have the body he wanted after their parents forced him into this one to act as the family's "protector", he could still help out like his sister, the reassurance of that patently obvious fact bringing him well needed reassurance.

"Did you want to talk to me about something Ember?"


"Take your time, we're not rushing."

The Braixen nodded quietly as she mulled through her thoughts, taking small sips of her tea here and there, Vivian watching over them both all the while, keeping a steady supply of the soothing drink coming.

"Mhm. It's... when you m-mentioned a friend with that name, I-I tried to think back and see i-if I remembered, and I-I didn't, but... it's like, it's- it's like- like there's something w-weird, something I-I can't remember in a we-weird way for some reason."

Ember's words didn't immediately clarify anything, or even provide much of a hint towards their ongoing mystery, but they caught Marco's attention regardless- even if he failed at his original task, he could still try to help here, nodding intently as he responded-

"Do you think it could have something to do with that friend I had mentioned?"

The fox was less certain on that front- though if thinking about a friend like that had led her towards figuring out there was something wrong with her memory to begin with, there could have very well been a connection there.

"M-maybe, yeah..."

Marco took a deep sigh at that- as much as he genuinely wanted to help, there was an obvious limit to how much he would likely be able to considering the actual identity of that "friend", the Gallade unsure how to break the news over to the fox, trying once more to gather some nice words to soften the blow- and ultimately arriving nowhere.

"There's... something you have to know first though."

"Oh, what is it M-Mr. Marco?"

"That friend I mentioned, the one named Anne... that's the human in the clinic."

Predictably, Ember's immediate reaction at the news was a frightful freeze, Marco torn between not wanting to make her potentially feel entrapped by holding her closer and wishing he could comfort her some more, a slight frown breaking through his usual mask-like expression letting the fox know that they were both on the same team when it came to their reactions at the unpleasant fact. Just as he began to think that he would only end up failing everyone again and Ember would run off in fear at the very mention of their "guest" though, the Braixen slowly began to compose herself some more, her thoughts rapid, uncertain and still really afraid- but not as panicky anymore, holding strong as she gave the fact, and her own memories, some more thought.

"I-I see..."

She had no memories of "an old human friend named Anne", and nothing could ever possibly fill it- in hindsight, it wasn't even like her mom was all that wrong in reacting to it like she did, even joking about something like that was a bit messed up. However, besides the memories of the horrible humans that hurt her, the two big ones and the several smaller ones, all with their fists and kicks and screaming, so much screaming, there was something else. Something else had been harrowing her thought process as she ran over here, ever since Marco had initially brought it up, making her feel like a light had been acutely shone on a wound in her mind that had been there all along.

Less like a memory, but more so like an absence of one, like so much of her older memories had an imprint left on them by someone that didn't exist, someone she didn't recall, someone, to the best of her ability to piece together, that wasn't evil towards her, someone she seemed to have memories of enjoying interacting with, even if any details about just who exactly she had fun with were completely blank. Even that nice not-person wasn't perfectly nice, distant half memories making her shiver as she recounted the bits of them she could piece together- being confined to small, dark, sometimes shaking places for long amounts of time, being moved from a warm and nice place to the hell where her abuse on the hands of the humans had taken place, being- being abandoned...

Marco's concern only grew as he tried to listen in to the fox's thought process, his relief at her not freaking out even harder being offset right afterwards at the weird, disturbing half memories she dredged up from the depths of their mind, the knight having no idea what might've caused them. Before he could offer advice or ask some more about them, he heard Ember speak up again, shaky voice unusually determined for her, even if still dripping with fear-

"I-I... can I s-see that human?"

There was no chance that this was it, that nice not-person couldn't have been a human, but if a mere mention of the girl that was currently at the clinic had made her so much more aware of this gash in her recollection, then maybe seeing her in person would help clear it up even further- who knows, maybe she just was one of the nasty small humans that tormented her and the nice person. Maybe even remembering the abuse the Braixen had experienced on her hands in better detail would help reveal more about that missing piece of her memory. Ember had no idea- all she knew was that she had to try, she couldn't just live with this awareness of her own mind feeling so broken, she had to do something, even if it meant possibly seeing that human.

Ideally, without getting seen herself.

"A-and make sure sh-she won't see me?"

The Gallade and Goodra alike were too dumbfounded at hearing the Braixen's initial request to respond before she ended up clarifying, Marco nodding eagerly in response- he would do whatever he could to help, especially now that the vixen had somehow managed to push through her crippling fear like this, letting him actually answer the mystery he tried to solve in the first place.

"Absolutely. You don't have to do this Ember-"

"I-I want to! I want to help, I want to know w-what- what's wrong w-with my head..."

Marco nodded with a tighter hug before getting up, Vivian only able to stare in shock at them both before offering them some more tea, muttering in disbelief afterwards-

"That's not something I ever expected to hear from you Ember, that is for certain..."

Despite the stress that underlined the situation, and the terrifying reality of having to come so close to that human to have her questions be answered, Ember still managed to chuckle that tiny bit, the bit of levity helping a bit even if the fear it represented followed it shortly after.

"I-I know, it's just-"

"You don't have to explain yourself to me sweetie, it's okay."

The scaredy fox appreciated that sentiment greatly, nodding intently before taking a brief detour to give the Goodra a hug of their own, carefully evading the snoozing Wigglytuff in their way, her warmth, figurative and literal alike, appreciated greatly by Vivian.

"T-thank you..."

With a hug done, Ember could face the scout once more, her resolve holding as she walked from behind the counter and grabbed the Gallade's hand- no matter how it would all end, she was ready to get to the bottom of all this.

"L-let's go..."

Every step closer to the clinic had the vixen shake harder and harder, the creeping reality of what she was about to do steadily thrashing against knowing that she had to do this, there was no other way of resolving the underlying mess in her head-

But gods, did that fact not make any of this any less scary.

Ember clung closer to Marco as they stepped into the large tent, the sight of this particular vixen here in these particular circumstances giving most onlookers a pause, their confusion thankfully not lasting too long each time, but certainly making the Braixen even more self conscious about what she would have to do.

"^She's in the final room over there.^"

Gathering enough focus to even respond to the telepathic comment in kind was hard, Ember only persevering after a few long, drawn out breaths, silent to any outlookers and especially to the object of her fearful interest as they walked over closer to the entrance to the human's room-

"^I-is that Holly's voice?^"

Marco might have been initially too focused on everything else to notice that right away, but once the Braixen had brought attention to that fact it was unavoidable, the Gallade's eyebrow twitching at their cook so blatantly deciding to ignore their attempts to keep as much knowledge about this place away from the human as they could. The last thing Aria needed was for wiping the girl's memories to be even more difficult once the time would come for that.

"^Ugh, it is. She shouldn't be there, why is she-^"

Before the knight could continue the strand of thought, he saw the Azumarill begin turning around towards the entrance of the human's room- and them right behind it, her overzealous greeting getting shushed right afterwards, Marco's haphazard Safeguard trying to keep any more of Holly's sounds hidden from the human.


"^Holly, what are you doing here!?^"

"Bringing the girl something to eat, that's what!"

"^She's not supposed to know any of us are here?^"

All the Azumarill could react to that with was lifting her hand and making a speaking gesture with her paw, mouth matching it with a string of incoherent squeaks, the closest thing the aqua rabbit could manage to 'blah blah blah'.

"You're all so silly paranoid over her, she's just a child! What's she gonna- Ember!? What are you doing here sweetie?"

The Braixen was at a loss of words, the whole situation too much of a mess to even attempt to summarize in any clear way at this point, Marco eventually excusing her-

"^It's complicated Holly.^"

"I've gathered that much!"

"^Just- leave us alone for this, we don't have time to explain this.^"

"Fine, fine, fine! Goodness you scouts are all the same scaredy, paranoid bunch it feels like at times."

As much as Marco didn't appreciate Holly's Parting Shot, his own focus was focused much more squarely on the fox beside him, more and more fear creeping into her thoughts, making him once more kneel down and give the Braixen as big of a hug as he could manage.

"^I'm here Ember, I'm here.^"


"^Take your time.^"

While Ember gathered courage for these few final steps, the Gallade kept a close watch over everything that was going on in the other room, grumbling internally at sensing Blossom there, and not having one iota of an idea as to why Autumn was there either- but those explanations could all wait, he could sense the whole group having turned over and focused on something away from the door, this was opportunity they needed.

"^They're looking at the window, this is our chance.^"

Before Marco could come up with some motivation to help the fox push through in the end, she ended up taking the first, terrified, determined step, walking out of his embrace and through the makeshift door frame, the scout right behind her as they both leaned into the room.


The Gallade didn't spare more than an instant of his attention at what the trio in the room were staring at- the column of black smoke in the distance might have been a worrisome sight in its own right, but his heart and mind were much more focused on the fox beside him, her whole thought process seeming to have come to a screeching halt at the sight of the human sitting up on the bed. It wasn't fear, it wasn't just fear, the memories that were stirred by the sight of the human in front of her being the same half erased ones she was so scared about earlier.

The stimuli, the physical sensation of seeing that human, she remembered it, she remembered so many tiny individual threads that seemed to have something to do with that human but which lead nowhere, all the broken memories that the sight of the girl on the bed brought to the forefront of Ember's mind combining to make the hole in her memories much more well defined. The more she looked, the sharper it became, its outline shaped exactly like the human in the room, its edges becoming so sharp to the mental touch at that clarification that it felt like that human had been cut out of them with a scalpel.

As grimly revealing as that act was, it didn't provide answers in its own right, the memory hole at the core of Ember's being clear to see, but still present all the same, leaving the Braixen herself paralyzed even as the whole room was shook by a distant rumble, making Blossom chirp out in panic. Marco couldn't risk the human herself interfering, not when they were so close to seemingly finally cracking the mystery, his mental reach freezing Anne's focus in place, the action unfortunately noticed shortly afterwards as the girl attempted to look over at Autumn, only to find herself not able to.

The Indeedee could sense what had happened, gasping as she looked over at her son and family friend, having no idea why Marco was doing something like that, taken aback before hearing his voice-

"^I'll explain later Autumn, I'm sorry, this is really important- it seems like Ember used to remember Anne but something happened to her memories, I'm not sure what to do-^"

"~M-Mrs. Autumn what's g-going on, I-I can't m-move my head or eyes or-~"

"What do you mean-"

Blossom's confused exclamation was interrupted by Marco forcibly severing the mental link between the owl and the Indeedee, the scene quickly growing too intense to manage for everyone involved, the fear that seeped from Ember and Anne alike saturating Autumn's senses. The elderly psychic attempted to push through regardless, trying to make heads or tails of the scene, coming up with an off the cuff idea moments later-

"^Maybe a strong memory from Anne will help fix it, I-I don't know-^"

"^We have to try mom.^"

Autumn got enough of a grasp on herself to shakily nod in response and speak towards the human girl again, her voice somber and apologetic-

"^Anne, I'm sorry for all this, b-but this is important. I need you to... think back, back to the closest memory of Ember you have, and focus on it. C-can you do that for me?^"

She wasted no time actively reaching into the girl's mind immediately afterwards as her son in law did the same with the Braixen to his side, vivid memories getting coaxed from the human's recollection and passed over from one mental hand to the other, one after the other, both of the adults anxious to see how would Ember react to them. An instant later, they had their answer, the vixen's mind getting a glimpse of something it had been missing for what felt like ages, and it wanted more, it demanded more, it needed more- and more was provided to it. Voluntarily at first, but it wasn't long before the sheer burning need that emanated from Ember's very being ended up overwhelming the strained psyches of Anne, Marco and Autumn like, the resulting torrential flood of moments, images, sounds, experiences, scenes and thoughts too much for anyone to handle, vixen's own mind replaying it all to herself, everything, every single recollection Anne had of them together, the Braixen's own versions of the events being forcibly excavated from underneath the mental spell that bound them hidden.

Everything, from the beginning...​

"~Annie, Annie, come here!~"

The loud whisper yanked the attention of the almost six year old away from the scribbles she was working on, the yellow crayon getting dropped onto the wood panel floor as she quickly pulled herself up before running out into the main corridor of the house, only to see her granny holding a small, towel-wrapped bundle in her arms, looking unusually alert.

"~Could you grab a cup of water from the kitchen and bring it here darling?~"

Just as quickly as the tyke had ran over, she was gone again, helping herself reach up to the sink with a stool, only a small bit of the glass cup's contents getting spilled as she urgently brought it over to her grandma, the sight that awaited her in the living room making her pause.

A tiny red and yellow shape was curled up on top of the towel now laid out on her grandma's lap, their fur disheveled and stained with soot, whole body wriggling slightly as the old woman held them closer, gesturing over to her granddaughter to pass the cup over to her free hand. She tried to concentrate as much as possible to keep the limb's shaking down as she brought the cup over to the little one's snout, her other hand very gently lifting their head up a bit to help them drink.

"~Drink baby, drink, you've been through so much already, goodness...~"

In the meantime, Annie slowly sat down next to her gran, intently observing the furry bundle in silence, watching them slowly calm down as they drank a bit, the little fox relaxing some more before their delirious exhaustion gave way to rest.

"~Is-is that a Fennekin?~"

Anne's words were no more than tiny whispers as she spoke, her grandma nodding lightly as a tired smile bloomed on her equally tired face, cup getting placed on the table as she resumed rocking the now asleep fox.

"~Sure is. Poor, poor thing... the whole building caught fire, awful, awful fire...~"

The old woman shook her head a bit, trying to get rid of the mental image of the situation the firefighters had described to her before continuing to comfort the lil' one, the roughed up Fennekin's breathing steadily growing calmer and calmer.

"~We're gonna be looking after her for a while until she grows up some. Hoping you'll help me out with her a bit Annie, heh.~"

Anne nodded rapidly in return without even looking back up at her grandmother, the tiny fox taking up the entirety of her attention in the moment. The old woman laughed quietly at the sight before carefully lifting the whole bundle up and offering it to her granddaughter, Anne's eyes going wider before finally looking up for approval, granted with a slight nod right after.

The girl was afraid to even breathe too hard lest she'd stir the little Fennekin awake, pulling her legs up onto the couch to nestle the bundle between her knees and front, her whole body slightly rocking to the sides as her hand cautiously reached in, a couple fingers beginning to ever so gently stroke the soft fur behind the fox's large ears.

"~What's her name?~"

"~Well... we don't know, sadly. Probably will have to give her one soon.~"

Anne was utterly transfixed by the fox in her arms as she continued to gently rock her, her grandma sighing in relief at her little one getting into the swing of things before getting up, patting Annie a couple more times and getting to work on a mental list of her own. They'd have to take a trip to the town and grab some food for the little one, hopefully she was old enough for berry pulp in the meantime, they'd have to get her some bedding, bowls for her to eat out of, a bunch of other things, and of course get her checked up at the vet, ask that same vet about so many things...

Time flew by as one child comforted the other, the girl eventually sinking into a peaceful rhythm, nervous hand carefully petting the tiny Fennekin every once in a while, their breaths eventually synchronizing as the fox continued her rest- rest that would end in not too long afterwards.

The little one's body ached a bit as she slowly came to, the softness and caring warmth that surrounded her making her feel safe even if her last memories were full of fearful chaos, screams and crashes and-

"~Oh? Are you waking up?~"

The Fennekin's expression scrunched a bit as she listened to a voice she didn't recognize at all, soft, hushed, and from very close by, its closeness making the achy fox try to slowly turn towards its source and pry her eyes open just a bit. The odd voice let out a quiet gasp in response before she felt herself held just that bit firmer, the one eye she could see out of focusing on the human holding her close, especially their wide, hazel eyes hidden behind two thick, glass circles.

"~Hiiiii. I'm Anne.~"

She saw the human smile wider before feeling a pleasant, scritching touch on the back of her head, murring quietly at the sensation as her head wriggled a bit.

"W-who are you..."

"~No no, everything is alright now, don't worry lil' Fennekin, you're safe here.~"

As the two talked past each other for a bit, the tiny fox saw the human's expression turn to worry, resulting in her being held even closer.

"~Oh no, w-what's wrong with your eye?~"

Was something wrong?

A few steps could be heard coming over, the little fox nestling in closer in response before noticing a second, bigger human in her peripheral vision, the resulting incomprehensible humanspeech putting her on a bit of an edge.

"~Oh, she woke up already?~"

"~Yeah. Her eye l-looks really bad though...~"

Before she could get any more worried at the other human's presence, the comforting touch on the back of her head continued, releasing some of her tension, the sensation combining with feeling a heartbeat from close up to put her at more of an ease as her eye was examined.

"~Oh dear, I see. Hopefully it's not some infection, we'll have to make sure at the vet tomorrow.~"

Some more pets on her head, the gentle, loving touch calming in this unknown place, making the fox murr some more as she pressed her head into the human girl's petting hand, Anne smiling softly in response.

"~Poor dearie. It almost looks like a little ember, hopefully it's not painful for her...~"

The little human pulled her in closer, her rocking resuming shortly afterwards, the exhausted little fox giving into the comfort as she closed her eyes again.

"~Ember... i-is that a nice name grandma?~"

"~Hahah. It is Annie, though hopefully she won't mind its origin.~"

"~C-can she stay with us for good?~"

There was a longer pause, the grandma's expression thoughtful as she chewed through the question, the fox continuing to relax under her granddaughter's touch, under her calm heartbeat, under the warm aura of the room, her surroundings, unknown as they were, feeling deeply safe.

"~I'll... I'll think about it sweetie. I don't know if a village like this is gonna be the best place for a fire-type like her though... deep sigh ...but we'll see. It's a very big commitment Anne, looking after someone like that. Taking care of their needs, protecting them if need be...~"

"~I-I can do that, I promise! I-I won't let anything happen to her!~"

"~Shhhh, I think she's trying to sleep some more. I don't doubt you will do your best sweetie, but... sigh. Heh. She'll be lucky to have someone like you.~"

"~I won't let a-anything happen to you Ember, I promise...~"

I promise...

...through their greatest loss...​

"~P-please pick up...~"

The sound of Anne's distressed voice made Ember shudder, ears twitching as her nap was cut short, the Fennekin stretching a bit before scrambling out of her cot and walking over towards her best friend- only for the scene that awaited her to send a chill running down her tiny body. The girl's grandma was sprawled out on the floor face down, not moving, Anne shaking on the spot as she held the large, C-shaped end of the ringing contraption, tears flowing down her cheeks as she looked down at her guardian.

She gasped shortly afterwards, focusing more intently on the speaky object in her hand, the bits of muffled human speech Ember could overhear much too quiet to make anything out of.

"~M-my grandma fell d-down and I'm n-not sure if she's breathing, p-please help...~"

As the girl listened in and nodded long, Ember slowly made her way over closer, wanting to help their grandma after the obvious accident she had, the realization of her being unconscious finally hitting her not long afterwards.

"~M-main Street twelve, w-we live in Hilltop, near Mistralton, p-please come soon... no, I d-don't know the postcode... It's just her a-and me and our F-Fennekin, Ember...~"

Soon afterwards, the person on the other end of the speaky talky device finally advised the girl what to do, the curly cord getting stretched a fair bit as the eight year old knelt down next to her unconscious grandma, shaky hands reaching over to try and flip her over onto her back. Thankfully, Ember got the intent right away, helping in that goal as much as she could, snout trying to lift their grandma's side, trying to make it all just that bit easier for her best friend.

With a loud, strained whine, they managed to accomplish their task, the girl trying to give her furry friend a reassuring smile before her focus was yanked away by the instructions continuing, the end of the device attempting to be held between her cheek and shoulder to free her hands, the simple procedure made that much more harrowing by the horror of the situation.

"~In the center of the chest, b-both hands together... shoulders a-above, okay, I-I think I have it.~"

The series of repetitive, fast paced presses on her grandma's front that followed didn't look like they were accomplishing much, their pace growing steadily irregular as first the exhaustion, and then despair began to sink in, tears continuing to flow down her cheeks as she tried her hardest to do something, anything, only for it all to have no effect. Ember herself could only curl up next to her human, try to comfort her at least that way at the increasingly dire situation, the sheer impact of it all not having the time to sink for her yet.

Eventually, Anne was snapped out of the futile trance by the person on the other end saying something, making the girl scramble back onto her feet and almost trip over Ember as she dropped the phone and dashed out of the kitchen, the heavy lock on the front of their home clicking before the front door was opened- just in time for distant sirens to get closer and closer, both girls just getting out of the way and huddling in a corner as they listened in.

Listened in to the paramedics disembarking the ambulance, the two humans and an Indeedee, all wearing dark green outfits with yellow, shiny decals, carrying a stretcher as they briskly stepped into their home. Listened in to their alarmed words as they examined her grandma, their audible exertion as they lifted her up onto the stretcher before moving in to carry her out. Listened in to another set of sirens starting to approach from a distance, combining into an overwhelming cacophony, leaving Anne only capable of shaking in place as she stared at the floor in front of herself, even as more adults began to show up.

Ember tried to help as much as she could, climbing up in between Anne's legs and front as they've done so many times in the past, nuzzling her front and cheeks in an attempt to comfort her, trying to do something, anything to help her friend, most of it for naught. Eventually, shock gave way into grief, Anne's stunned expression breaking down into pained, terrified sobs, arms holding Ember as close as she could manage at the realization that her grandma was gone.

"I'm here Anne, I'm here, I don't know w-what happened but I w-want to make it b-better..."

As much closer as her human held her in response to her woofs though, her tears only kept flowing, flowing until she had no more left to shed, the fear of what would happen to them now filling her mind to the brim.

No matter what though, Ember would be there for her, the fact providing the light of hope Anne had left in this world...

...through their darkest hours...​

"~You ate it didn't you!? We fucking told you not to!~"

"~I-I was hungry, I-~"

"~Shut up! Just fucking wait until your father hears of this-~"

"~No no p-please not I-~"

The pained shriek of her human as she was struck coming from the ground floor made Ember let out a quiet whine, curling up even closer to the girl's bed, the lil' fox shaking in a mix of fear, grief, and her own pain, one side hurting with every breath after having been kicked earlier that evening.

"~If you're gonna eat whatever the fuck's in the kitchen like a fucking dog then go and fucking join it!~"

"~I-I'm sorry I d-didn't mean to!~"

"~SHUT UP!~"

With a loud bang, the back door of their house was flung open before Anne was forcibly shoved through it in nothing more than her pajamas, tripping on the rough concrete stairs resulting in her falling down onto the cold, autumn mud, her resulting whine of pain barely audible above the sounds of the door getting slammed closed again.

"~Where the FUCK is that thing...~"

The voice of the girl's father made Ember panic, the desire to try and comfort her best and only friend mixing in with the fear of further punishment from her family making her leap up onto Anne's bed and then the window sill, body hurting at even that slight exertion. Thankfully, she'd managed to scramble out of the room and start making her way down the house's exterior the moment before the door to Anne's room was forcibly flung open, a couple angry grunts leaving Anne's father before he slammed the door shut again afterwards, the voices of their tormentors mixing in from inside the house as Ember tried to make her over to where her friend ended up at.


"~I don't fucking know!~"

"~I FUCKING told you not to use that TONE with me you BITCH!~"

Ember didn't listen to any more shouts and screams that followed, her small body eventually making its way down onto the patchy grass and then the backyard, just barely catching a glimpse of Anne making her way inside the crooked shed up against the fence, visibly limping and wincing at every motion. A colder gust of wind only hastened the fox on as she broke into a sprint, desperately wanting her human to feel better, to bring her some reprieve from this constant hell they've spent the last year in.

Anne's audible squeal of pain as Ember inched the shed's door open with her paw and snout felt like it stabbed the fox's heart- though it was made up for moments later as she scrambled in further, underneath the plastic tarp that Anne was using as a blanket, getting to nuzzle the girl's front as soon as possible.

"~E-Ember, no, you d-don't have to-~"

An unfortunate motion as she tried to get more comfortable only aggravated one of the freshly formed bruises on the girl's arm, Anne's drawn out whine only giving her best friend more fuel for her fire, Ember determined to help however she could as she'd done so many other times in the past, even if all she could really do was provide comfort. Comfort that was nonetheless appreciated more greatly than the foxie had any way of knowing, Anne's resolve to keep going burning brighter as her less painful arm wrapped around the Fennekin, body curling up around Ember as she shed bitter tears, feebly trying to maintain some semblance of composure.

"~D-did they hurt you a-any more?~"

Even as she was being comforted herself, Anne's hand reached in and started to carefully stroke Ember's back, scritchy motions loving as always even if much shakier and slower from all the pain, both girls' suffering growing that bit dimmer as they tried to be each other's reprieve from all the pain.

"Shhhhh, shhhhh... I-I'm here, I'm here, I love you A-Anne..."

Ember's murrs and quiet whines may not have been understood, but the comforting intent behind them was acknowledged all the same, Anne holding her friend that much closer in response as she tried to deepen her breathing, one aching inhale at a time.

"~You d-don't deserve to have to s-suffer like this E-Ember, I'm sorry...~"


The shared pain and grief inside the shed slowly gave way to exhaustion and strained rest as the two girls held each other closer, Anne's worries about how she was going to hide all this in time for tomorrow's P.E. class and from Mrs. Graham clouding her mind for a few minutes longer before they too relented under the steady outpouring of warm love from the lil' Fennekin.

Today was hell, tomorrow was also likely going to be hell, but here, now... they had each other, and that was all that mattered.

...to the very end.​



The sounds of heavy strained breathing mixing with arrhythmic scraping of limping legs against the gravel that surrounded the asphalt road were only occasionally interrupted by a loud rumble of a passing car, their headlights blinding in the darkness that shrouded the country road. Each time they did, Ember only bundled up closer in Anne's arms, the anxiety of the unsettling surroundings only adding to the physical pain from earlier that day, making her whimper quietly.

Even looking up at the girl's ordinarily reassuring face did no good now, even when she could make her out in the dark. A couple big bruises on the side of her head, left eye almost swollen shut behind the glasses, mostly dried bloody streaks between her nostrils and mouth, various cuts and scrapes all over- but it wasn't these that made the lil' Fennekin shiver in fear that much more, she was sadly much too used to seeing these by now. It was Anne's expression- not scared, Ember had seen her scared many, many times, and been there to try to comfort her best she could every time, it was something else, something much more unnerving, the detached expression looking utterly hopeless.

"You've been walking for so long now... A-Anne, what's going on? Why aren't y-you going back to your room?"

The quiet ruffs and barks got Anne to look down at her friend and give her a couple more pets as she pushed on, one limping leg playing catchup with the other as the girl whispered out-

"~I'm sorry.~"

Ember had no idea about the actual meaning of those words- but she'd heard the sound that underlaid them enough times to be able to associate it with Anne being apologetic, making the fox only try harder to reach her friend.

"Are we going somewhere safe now? A-Anne, I'm scared, p-please... it's so dark and cold and you're looking so unlike yourself, please just go back to your house Anne..."

Anne paused for a moment, vacant expression staring forward for a few more moments before she shook painfully, whole posture curling up a bit more as she held her friend just that bit closer, a couple stinging tears forming in the corners of her eyes, the taller of the two girls sniffling before pushing on.

"~W-we're almost there now... Just a bit more, and then y-you're finally gonna be safe Ember...~"

"A-Anne, you're hurting bad, I'm hurting, why are we out here like that..."

There was no response to that, Anne just pushing ahead through the side of the barely lit road, her destination finally coming into view in the distance as she cleared the final corner. The building looked spartan and unwelcoming, white walls having grown dirty over time, the couple bright, cold lights that lit up its front facade giving it an even more intimidating appearance than it already would've had.


"~I'm sorry...~"

Anne finally coming down to a stop next to that scary building didn't calm down Ember any, the kit bundling in closer as the human child looked around, stumbling towards a trash container in an unlit corner and scanning through what she could make out of it, eventually grabbing a slightly damp cardboard box off the top of it, holding her best friend close with one hurting arm.

"W-what's that for? What are you doing Anne?"

Ember's woofy speech made Anne recoil as she set the box down, the taller girl wincing and giving the fox one final hug before carefully laying her down inside the box, the Fennekin looking at her human in alarm as Anne reached into her school backpack, the leaky pen's ink staining her hand as she wrote "EMBER" on the side of the box.

"Anne, I'm scared, what is this for, I-I wanna get out-"

The kit tried scrambling out of the slightly too tall box, back into the safety of Anne's arms, but the human could only stare back at her, painful regret slowly beginning to fill up the previously blank expression.

"~I-I know it's scary Ember, but... it has to be done. Nobody will hurt you here. Y-you- you'll finally be safe.~"

Anne lingered for a couple more moments before painfully standing back up and taking a step back away from the box, away from the light of the shelter's lamps, Ember's unrest blooming into a full-blown panic attack.

"Nonononono, I-I'm sorry Anne, I'm sorry, p-please don't leave me here, I-I'll hide better next time, please, PLEASE!"

The human girl could only wince at the clear fear in Fennekin's squeaks, her own tears continuing to flow as she tried to persevere through what had to be done.

"~I-I don't want this either Ember, b-but you saw what happened earlier. I-I did everything I could a-and...~"

She stared down at Ember, the fox's injuries on the hands of the derelicts that cornered them on the schoolyard earlier today less noticeable at a glance, but just as if not worse than hers to a more experienced eye, each wince in the little one's motions making the human girl's heart bleed.

"~I-I couldn't protect you. I... I never could. It's- it's all my fault. You deserve better Ember, you d-deserve to be safe.~"

The kit just continued to panic, reaching up and trying to bite her way through the sodden cardboard, making her friend crouch again and reach in, trying to calm her companion down one last time, Ember looking back up at her with pleading, terrified eyes.

"P-please, don't leave m-me here, I-I'll do better, i-it's so scary here, please!""

"~Please don't look at me like that. I-I don't want to do this Ember... b-but if there's a chance that you'll finally be safe, and have a family t-that loves you, a-and have someone who can actually p-protect you...~"

Anne was all but weeping by now, softly stroking Ember's head, at this point to calm both of them, trying to hold her plan together at the very end.

"~I-I love you Ember. I'm sorry. F-for everything.~"

"I-it's scary here Anne, p-please pick me back up..."

Anne didn't immediately respond, just continuing to lightly pet her light of hope in this world, hand shaking as she attempted to compose herself one last time.

"~I... o-one day. One day things will be better, a-and I'll find you again Ember, and... and then we'll be safe. I-I promise. I promise I'll find you again one day, I-I'll never forget you-~"

The sudden creak of the shelter's front door opening startled them both, Anne freezing for a moment before leaping up to her feet and dashing away, limping legs almost making her trip as she ran away into the darkness, leaving Ember behind, the kit screeching in despair at seeing her run away and leaving her alone, the paralyzing fear that gripped her at the sight persisting long after she was picked out of the box and laid down in her cot, safe at last...

And then... Ember remembered everything, fainting at the overstimulation of it all together with most others in the room, Blossom left chirping in panic at suddenly seeing four people faint all at once.


Ember hurt so much- her body ached at the sudden collapse, her mind was screaming in pain at experiencing a lifetime of experiences in a span of moments- but her soul fought against that pain, now that she knew just who exactly the human in the room was, helping her push faster back towards consciousness, even if it was accompanied by a reverberating migraine.

"Ember sweetie, what are you doing here, come-"

Esther's comment was ignored as the Braixen pushed herself to her feet, body shaking as it slowly attempted to lift itself from the cold floor of the clinic, the unconscious Gallade in the corner of her vision not even registering to her exhausted mind. There was exactly one being she cared about in the moment, one that she'd been missing, knowingly or not, for the past year and change, one that had been her constant, enduring hope all her life-

And now, Anne was here, with them, safe...

The medics could only stare in shock as Ember slowly shambled over towards the bed, almost losing balance a couple times, each step making her whimper in pain as she sobbed at it all, at what her and Anne had been through, at her having somehow forgotten her human, at her human being so hurt, at her almost missing her only chance in life to be together with her again-

But in the moment, none of that mattered, none of that could matter, could even come close to the importance of the human on the clinic bed. With slow, painful motions, Ember climbed on top of the bed, swiping any items that laid to Anne's side off of it before laying down on the only right place in the world for her to be, beside Anne, beside her human, beside someone she loved so wholly and utterly, her shaking arms wrapping around Anne's front as she nuzzled in, sobbed woofs repeating one more time-

"I-I'm here Anne, I'm here, I-I love you..."

And then, holding her human that much tighter at the realization that followed, Ember's expression twisting in equal parts longing, relief, joy, and past pain-

"Y-you're safe... we're finally safe..."

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Also check out my other fic, Another Way!

Also also check out my series of shorts, The Alarm Goes Off at Six!
Chapter 10: Rest


the gay agenda

Chapter 10: Rest

The long range Teleport that followed their departure had the Gardevoir stop in her tracks and spend the next half a minute or so just catching her breath, Lumi only needing a moment to gather his bearings after suddenly finding himself back on the snowy path before immediately standing guard for his coworker- though thankfully, the sight not too far away from them was keeping a firm hold on the attention of any nearby humans. Once Aria recovered enough to be able to push herself into walking again, she found herself unable to resist that curiosity either, mind complaining as it disguised her once more, this time fortunately only for long enough to take a look at what had happened to Anne's former house from up close.

The previously imposing, multi story structure was reduced to little more than a heap of charred rubble, everything but bricks reduced to ash and an occasional irregular mass of once molten metal, the buildings beside it visibly damaged along the walls that faced the now destroyed household. Aria had no way of knowing whether it was true, whether her actions did indirectly lead to all this destruction in the end, but once she'd gleamed the information about only a couple surface level injuries among the humans that had tried to extinguish the fire, she found herself unable to care all that much about the answer in the end.

With the final sendoff consisting of a few more malicious thoughts aimed at the former homeowner and prayers for all the innocents that got hurt while tending to the inferno done, they could get going for real, the Gardevoir catching up with the Luxray shortly afterwards at the end of the human side road, double checking whether nobody else was around before returning to her normal appearance.

"^It's all rubble now. Sounds like nobody got seriously hurt in that explosion, thankfully.^"

"Good riddance, eh?"

"^...yeah. Good riddance.^"

Right as Aria was about to pick the bags back up and start making her way home, she felt a small, hard to spot mental presence behind her, quickly looking over her shoulder to see whether she'd have to daze one more human today, for real this time, but fortunately only finding a small Magnemite hanging down from one of the cables supported on pillars that seemed to span the whole settlement, presently staring at them curiously.

"^Let's go.^"

Even if each individual bag didn't weigh all that much, any relief was appreciated with how much strain the whole day had put on her, Lumi gladly taking one of the bags in his maw before racing on to drop it off in the girl's room- even if he did ask for a payment of explaining to him what in the world did he walk in on earlier. As unenthused as Aria was at the idea of explaining these events to the hound himself, keeping everyone on the same page was a much more alluring offer, and hopefully they'd be able to find some other scouts on their way over to spread the news- the possibility sounding more than likely with the rapidly setting sun overhead.

Drop the bag at the clinic, make sure everyone is up to date about the girl's situation, discuss a meeting tomorrow to discuss what they were gonna do next, race riiiiiiight back home, and probably spend the next week just catching up on her rest after the bedlam of today. Or at least that's what she wished they could all do- even if they were sure that Anne posed no threat and that nobody else was gonna come looking for her any time soon, there was still the matter of starting to think through a possible way for her to return to humanity in the long term, something that Olive would hopefully end up helping them with-

Before Aria could continue planning in the abstract any more, the stray, passing thoughts she'd begun overhearing after stepping back into the village snapped her right out of her train of thought- worries about the human were expected by now, thinking about them and Ember together in one breath was the kind of information she thought only Autumn and some of the scouts to have access to. There was always an all too likely possibility of someone spilling to Holly, but something inside her told her that this was not quite it, hastening the Gardevoir's steps as she made her way towards the clinic, dreading what she was going to find.

Gods there so much noise and attention and-


Aria couldn't wait an instant longer at sensing her brother's palpably worn out and injured aura, blinking the remaining distance over and spontaneously appearing beside his bed, startling the nearby medics as she found herself feeling all the more woozy afterwards- but that didn't matter, Marco was hurt- and so was Autumn, the two taking adjacent beds she had suddenly found herself in between.

"^Marco, what hap-^"

She couldn't even finish forming her question before the very stark answer reached her mental senses, Anne's and Ember's auras meshing together on the other side of the tent's wall feeling warm and loving, even if neither girl was conscious in the moment.

"Uuughhhh... yeah."

Her brother's voice was tired and audibly pained, the Gardevoir attempting to banish some of the pain with Calm Mind out of reflex only to see the Gallade firmly shaking his head at the attempt, scrunching his expression further at the motion only aggravating the aching-

"D-don't, I've never felt this sore in the brain, there was just so much all at once..."

Before Aria could ask for an elaboration, she found herself being lightly shoved by one of the medics to get a better access to Marco, backing a couple paces and taking a seat on the unused part of Autumn's bed, the Indeedee taking the initiative to explain as her son in law drank some medicine-

"It seems that our Ember is indeed Anne's Ember, and they did indeed love each other as much as her words had us think... but also that Ember had any memory of Anne erased out of her mind at some point, and helping her remember was so intense that it wiped all of us, hah."

"I'm still seeing some of their moments when I close my eyes... gods it's such a weird sensation." - Marco added after finishing the bitter, medicinal drink with a large gulp, pushing through his burned aching to take a seat up on his own bed, involuntarily leaning forward a bit.

The explanation only raised more and more questions, all of them the kind that Aria didn't like one bit, but one of them pushed ahead of the pack by far, the Gardevoir's eyes narrowing a bit-


Both Marco and Autumn firmly nodded in response, the inevitable question about the most likely suspect sliding onto their minds shortly afterwards, the Gallade simply admitting what had happened-

"Yep. I don't know who did it, but with how Cinder reacted to me even bringing the girl up when talking to Ember, I certainly wouldn't be surprised if there was some meddling involved on her end."

A closer look at Marco's front let his sister pick up on what he meant by 'reacted', feeling her anger spike at her brother having been treated that way, leading Autumn to slowly scramble over to her side and reach up to pat her shoulder, the touch helping dissolve her emotions before they got any more intense. Her own fury or not, they'd have to figure this out and have Cinder answer for what she had done, the Gardevoir of half a mind to just walk over and interrogate the vixen there and then, at least before the sore muscles chiming in swiftly took that idea out of consideration.

"Don't know if I would trust her at all right now, the way she talked about all this you'd think she was just about ready to come in and incinerate Anne with her own paws."

Before Aria could get closer to successfully convincing herself to push through her exhaustion and start forcibly interrogating one of the more proficient fighters of their village on a subject they were both extremely emotional on, a familiar presence entering the main chamber of the medical tent perked her up, the Decidueye no less baffled at the bustle than she herself was minutes earlier.


The owl wasted no time walking over to their beds as she tried to piece the situation together herself, ultimately arriving to nothing more than vague concern, the emotion only stronger after taking a good look at the family she'd been long time friends with.

"Aria, Marco, what's all this, what happened to the girl?"

"^She and Ember, well...^"

As she tried to twist the facts around in her mind to complete her mental image, the Decidueye instead opted at taking a look at the facts of the matter herself, briskly walking over to the entrance of Anne's room and peering in, her gasp at what she saw finally convincing the Gardevoir to leave her family's side and do so herself.

Ember's head was resting on Anne's chest, her body language curled up and small as it tried to keep the bulk of her weight off of her friend's torso, furry arms wrapped around the human as Anne's one good arm wrapped around the vixen in return, both girls feeling similarly mentally strained to Marco, but at least without the pesky consciousness that would keep badgering them with pain.

"A-are they friends?"

"Yeeeeep, they grew up together and from what I picked out from the flood, were really protective of one another."

As deeply heartwarming as the sight was, especially with Marco's clarification, it only brought forth with itself more questions, now that the human's reputation was cleared of any presumed guilt when it came to her and Ember's combined past. Or at least it did for Aria, Sprout seeming to have them all eagerly answered-

"Oh goodness... well, time to start looking around for a home for her to stay in here, hah." - Sprout's cooed exclamation had both psychic siblings start to think through the idea some more, some of them for the first time- Aria couldn't deny that the prospect of Anne staying here for a longer amount of time was nowhere near as outlandish as it was earlier in the day with what they knew now, but at the same time, longer time wasn't the same thing as forever, and something told her that Ember in particular would be heavily opposed to anything less.

"Won't this room suffice until she can get a move on?" - Lumi's not-as-gruff-as-usual voice caught both women's attention as he stepped out of the side chamber, Aria spotting the bag he'd been given safely put away in the small space, his neutral expression perking up a bit at the sight of the psychic finally being here-

"Ah, here you are, figured that you wouldn't know what happened here either."

Sprout had to keep herself as composed as possible to avoid blowing up at the Luxray at the idea of rushing the girl out of here, the task made easier once the Gardevoir brought up the unpleasant subject that underlined this new revelation-

"^No, Marco figured it out while we were gone. Though considering that the only reason we didn't know about this earlier was because someone erased memories of Anne from Ember's memory, we still have much to discuss.^"

The Decidueye in particular narrowed in focus upon hearing that, the implication not exactly difficult to see, Aria's hand on the owl's shoulder ending up as the only thing that kept her from flying out right now and threatening to turn the fox into a pin cushion if she didn't explain herself.

"Wait- you mean Cinder?"

"^We can't know for certain Lumi, but it sounds like it, yes.^"

"Oh just let me and I'll figure all this for very certain in no time-"

"^Sprout, please, I don't want you to get hurt over this, especially since even just a question had her blow up at Marco earlier today.^"

The realization thankfully chilled her enthusiasm significantly, not even her zeal at the little ones getting mistreated was enough to push Sprout towards risking her own life on this, though it did make her much angrier, the owl stepping out of the human's room to express her anger in a louder, more avian way without waking them up.

"I can only imagine what she'd do if she saw this then. Perhaps we ought to keep an eye on her for now regardless?"

As absolutely correct as the concern was, Aria had to do a visible double take at it coming from the Luxray of all people, blinking at him in utmost confusion for a few moments as he flatly stared back at her, growing increasingly baffled at the Gardevoir's apparent astonishment-


"^No, nothing, just... yeah, that's a good call. Sprout-^"

"On it."

Without waiting for any further elaboration, the Decidueye was gone from the medical tent, her friends left more so worried for her over anything else, the resulting tension thankfully broken through not long afterwards once Autumn spoke up again, taking advantage of the opening in the clearly very important scout talks to vocalize her own curiosity-

"So~ what's all this stuff that you brought with yourself Aria?"

Both the Indeedee and the Gallade were eyeing the clearly human bag, the material it was made out of as colorful and shiny as its contents were hidden, all seeming to be covered by a large layer of darker, fur like clothing, leaving all the world to the imagination, including how their sister and daughter got her hands on any of it in the first place.

"^These are things for Anne- the human that was looking for her turned out to be someone who knew and cared for her a lot even if she couldn't give her a home herself. She helped us with knowing what things to take for her, especially weirder human ones for human needs, though these turned out to just be clothes, something they call "books" with a ton of writing, some art supplies, and something she called "hygiene products", though didn't elaborate as to what those were.^"

Autumn wasn't sure which aspect of that answer she wanted to ask about first, the human that had apparently helped them out or the nature of some of the apparently very many items that hid inside this funky bag, Marco cutting her off before the obvious concern could get raised.

"Aria wiped all this from her memory, don't worry mom."


The tiny bit of hesitation in Aria's affirmation wasn't lost on either Marco or Lumi, but before either of them could prod the subject any more, Autumn followed up with her actual question-

"That's not what I'm curious about- what do you mean that human couldn't give Anne a home? Did she not have the space or~?"

"Oh space she had plenty."

"^It's not about space mom, it's... it's their laws from what I understood, preventing her from that since Anne still had family, even if a terrible one.^"

"Oh you don't know the half of it, the things we've seen... b-but- what do you mean, Anne was being borderline tortured in there! They can't be saying that even a literal living hell on earth like that would be preferable to her living with a friend!"

"^I think that's exactly what they're saying mom.^"

Autumn didn't respond, too preoccupied by switching gears to calm herself and her mind down at the harrowing knowledge, the human world growing all that more disgusting at the revelation, and her resolve to help the little one out in all the ways she could growing all the more unbreakable, no matter how unthinkable the things she'd need to do to accomplish it were to the rest of the village.

"If that's the case, then I'm not letting her step a foot back in that terrible world ever again."

Lumi just rolled his eyes at Autumn's steadfastness, not expecting it to last for anyone here once the reality of what keeping a pet human in their hideaway spot would actually imply were to hit them- but before he could put a snarky voice to that attitude, a chirped out call from the clinic's entrance caught their combined attention instead-

"Cinder's not in the village."

Sprout previous boldness had mellowed out to a nervous uncertainty, even if it was accompanied by the same, cross expression as the owl walked back to the beds.

"^What do you mean?^"

"She seems to have ran out of her den into the woods earlier. I didn't follow her, but can circle back and-"

"^No, I don't think that's necessary.^"

As angry as Aria was at the vixen earlier, hearing about Cinder having turned tail and ran did elicit the slightest flicker of sympathy in her in response, even if it was immediately dwarfed by the anger at the knowledge of what she'd almost certainly done to Ember. She wasn't gonna feel sorry for her in either case, but at the same time there really was no telling what the vixen would do now that her jig was up, the minds of everyone gathered venturing in vastly different directions, from an attempt to take out her wrath on the innocent human, to trying to... permanently escape any accountability for what she'd done.

"Someone's gotta keep watch on either her or Anne to keep her away if needed though."

Marco's point wasn't disagreeable in the slightest, but it was truly the details that made a choice like that more difficult, Aria articulating her concerns shortly afterwards-

"^She's strong enough to be able to pick up on someone following her, she'll likely feel cornered and lash out at them.^"

"Even a dark type?"

"^No Lumi, but you know as well as I do that Rose and stealth don't mix whatsoever, and I wouldn't feel safe for Ruby in case she slipped up and let herself be spotted.^"

"I could keep watch over Anne then."

"Are you sure Sprout?"

"Why not? You think I wouldn't hold my own against Cinder if she showed up?"

"If it got to throwing moves I've no doubt you'd win, but if it ever were to get to that point then that's already too late, isn't it?"

Autumn's concern made everyone pause, even the proud owl eventually unable to help but to agree with it, sighing as she grumbled quietly into her own down. Fighting was one thing, and while she might have evolved into being a ghost, her natural talents for confusion and misdirection were severely lacking in comparison to the rest of that type.

"Alright, you're right. Hmm... guess that leaves Cypress, doesn't it?"

"^Mhm. Sprout, if you could-^"

"On it."

The Decidueye made her way around the medics before stepping out into the steadily growing night, the dim orange light of sunset's dying breath briefly lighting up the entrance to the room Anne rested in her wake. As much as the medics helped the situation shortly afterwards by lighting up a couple candles, everyone's bedtime was coming, and it was coming fast.

"I suppose any further discussions on what to do next can wait until the morning now that we have someone to look after them?"

Aria thought briefly before agreeing with a nod, Marco confirming it not long afterwards, a quiet wince leaving him at having to move his head like this.

"^Yeah. See you in the morning Lumi, I'm gonna wait for Cy to get here and relay what we know so far to them.^"

"Sounds good. See you all in the morning then."

With another scout's departure, the tent began growing increasingly quiet, most of the patients starting to settle in for bedtime- a group that notably didn't include Marco, the Gallade attempting to slowly stand up from his bedding- only for Maple to come right over and swat any such ideas out of his mind.

"Where do you think you're going?"

"Home? Got my duties tom-"

"Oh no no no I do not think so. You're not going anywhere like this Marco, you can barely stand up and we need to swap the dressings on your burns anyway."

"Come on Maple-"

"No, you come on Marco, you're in no state for anything but resting right now, and for a couple days at that. Besides, you helped Ember out from what I've heard, you've earned some rest."

"^She's right you know.^"

His sister's gentle chiding had the Gallade grumble a bit louder, sitting back down even if he was still opposed to the idea of taking a break to recuperate, Aria's little comment seeming to make him even more annoyed much to her chagrin. She might not have known why that was, but she wanted to do something about it all the same, walking over to the side of the bed he sat at before sitting down beside him, passing him a smile she wasn't sure whether he could see, but which he could certainly sense all the same.

"^What's wrong Marco?^"

The discreet words might have helped on her end, but they didn't have much in the way of immediate impact, the feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment peeking out of the cracks in his usually well composed mental facade, the pain and strain weakening it to the point of being permeable. Even if she wasn't gonna be getting an immediate answer, she knew what she had to do all the same, one arm carefully wrapping around her brother's shoulders while avoiding the burned spots before pulling him in closer, the Gallade not resisting, a small hint of a grimace briefly creeping up onto his expression.

"I-I should be out and helping a-and not licking my wounds..."

His mumbling was only barely audible, but thankfully still sufficient for his sister to make out his words, her embrace growing closer afterwards.

"^But you've already helped out a ton today! I can only imagine how grateful both Ember and Anne will be towards you once they wake up.^"

There was a longer silence after that point was made, Marco leaning forward that bit more, staring down at the floor before finally getting to the crux of the issue-

"You've been helping out e-even more and you don't have t-to rest..."

The words took Aria aback, the Gardevoir unsure how to interpret them for a moment before feeling another pang of inadequacy resonate through her brother, her subsequent embrace growing that much firmer, her head pressing into his-

"^I wasn't on the receiving end of a fire type's outburst and didn't have to sift through enough memories to leave me incapacitated. It's not a competition Marco, my contributions don't diminish yours- and besides, I think that between the two of us Ember in particular will be much, much more thankful towards you than me, hah.^"

As much sense as his sister's words made, they still deep down felt like excuses in his favour, the unpleasant sensation hard to shake off, the Gallade curling up more as his sister continued to patiently hold him-

"^I mean it Marco.^"

"I-I know, it's just..."

Thankfully, she could for the most part sense just what exactly 'it' was here, their breathing eventually synchronizing as she continued to hold him, the mental words that eventually followed beaming with reassurance-

"^You've very likely changed several people's lives for the better today Marco, you deserve all the rest in the world after something like that. We'll keep this place safe while you recover, you just gather your bearings and accept your positive impact on the world.^"

The affirmation was enough to start chipping away at the Gallade's composure, but the admission afterwards helped fully break it down, the knight reaching up to embrace his sister in return at hearing her words-

"^I'm so proud of you Marco.^"

Even if Autumn didn't have the spare mindpower to follow along with the siblings' words, she could easily see that Marco wasn't doing too well in the moment, wincing a bit as she scrambled over onto his bed next to him, comforting him from his other side, his tears starting to flow down his cheeks as he was being held.

"I'm p-proud of you too..."

Aria let go of the embrace with one hand to reach up to start lightly petting her brother next to his crest, the expression of affection growing increasingly less common as they both grew up and evolved, but he couldn't deny it being any less effective than when he was still just a lil' Ralts being comforted by his big sister, his hug growing that much tighter. Steadily, each individual pet began to calm the Gallade back down, his own worth and today's accomplishment finding an increasingly fertile ground on which they could settle on and take root, the offer of rest becoming more justified by the moment.

"^Love you.^"

"L-love you too. Sorry for-"

"^Anytime Marco. This is what big sisters are for after all, isn't it~?^"

"Heheh, y-yeah..."

"^Gonna be calling it a day?^"

"I-I think so, yeah. Thank you."

"^You're welcome bro. Sleep well.^"

With a couple more pats on the back, the siblings could start to detach themselves from each other, Autumn likewise scrambling off of the bed to let the Gallade actually lay down, Aria's mental grasp pulling the covers over him before he could even start reaching over. As much as he might've grumbled at that, and at the couple pets that followed afterwards, boy did he appreciate them more than his sister could ever know.

As the tent's main chamber fell into increasing slumber with the exception of medics busy at their crafts, Aria saw it fit to spend the rest of the downtime in Anne's temporary room, taking in the bag of human stuff with her and Autumn following shortly afterwards, the chamber almost completely dark with the exception of whatever sparse moonlight that crept in through the lone window. It was only barely enough to make out the two sleeping girls, but it was all Aria needed, slowly walking over to the bed and gently ruffling both their heads in their sleep, a bit of applied Calm Mind hopefully helping at working away the aching they were likely gonna wake up with.

"What do you think is gonna happen to her, Aria?"

Her mom's hushed words put the Gardevoir in a pensive mood, the question one she wished she had anywhere near a complete answer for.

"^I was already thinking we bring up everything we know up to the elders tomorrow, together with what Cinder did, and... decide on what's exactly gonna happen to her.^"

"By one of your fancy votes, eh?"

"^Mhm. I... I imagine most scouts would be supportive of her staying here for as long as she needs to once we explain everything in detail, what I'm more concerned about is how many of the elders we'll sway.^"

"Can't you just outvote them?"

"^Yes, we can, but with just thirteen votes, having three of them vote against Anne no matter what we say doesn't leave a lot of room for error. Hell, you can add in Lumi and make that four for all intents and purposes.^"

That indeed was a much scarier thing to consider, the elderly Indeedee walking over to her daughter as she chewed through the dilemma, eventually ending up just bumping into Aria's leg in the dark.

"Ana has always felt reasonable enough in that regard. Winnie... yeah, unlikely. Celia..."

Autumn trailed off as she considered the final elder, this one in particular being a crapshoot. The Primarina was by far the most exotic and the most outwardly kind member of the trio, but at the same time, she was also the most experienced with some of the worst of what humanity had to offer, the missing fins, fingers and the many scars that adorned her body after being forced to perform to humans' amusement enough of a testament to that fact. The possibility of maybe swaying one vote was not particularly reassuring, but it definitely beat having that one vote aimed in the opposite direction, Aria's thoughts narrowing afterwards in the direction of trying to come up with something to help convince the Torkoal, only getting interrupted by her mom speaking up again.

"And all that would accomplish would be letting her stay here, kept at arm's length from the rest of the village, wouldn't it?"

Aria slowly nodded with a sigh- with how uncertain even getting them to agree to just grant the girl refuge felt, anything more than that might as well have been a pipe dream- but it was one that Autumn was willing to fight for.

"That's- no, I'm not settling on that, I don't agree to making her out to be some sort of nuisance we'll benevolently put up with, not a child!"


Autumn's raised voice had the girls shudder a bit in their shared rest, the Indeedee feeling a pang of guilt at the sight before they eventually calmed back down, making her breathe out a sigh of relief.

"I'm sorry, it's just-"

"^Shhh, it's alright mom.^"

Autumn gave her daughter a look before breaking down into a quiet chuckle at her own weapon being used against her, relenting with soft nods.

"I don't want her to be tolerated, I want her to be accepted- and I doubt that Ember will appreciate her friend being treated like an ongoing issue and being expected to eventually leave her either."

The very idea had the Indeedee have to hold back a few tears, the emotional gash of witnessing Anne and Ember part ways from both perspectives simultaneously still very raw, the mere thought of forcing them to relive it making her want to throw hands, physical and psychic alike.

"^I- I want that too, but I've no idea how we'd go about that. People are gonna have questions, where would she even stay for one-^"

"With us!"

This time, Autumn managed to keep her raised voice still firmly in the whisper range, though it had stunned Aria as much as her earlier, louder comment.


"At our burrow. With us. In our house. However you want to say it- we've got plenty space even in the kids' room, things are sized right for her, we can talk with her even while she's still learning the language."

On a logistical level, Autumn's suggestion made all the sense in the world, there most likely wasn't another dwelling in the whole village that was as suited for a human to live in right out of the gate as theirs was, but that still left so many other issues-

"^What if the kids object to that, or Garret, or Elric and Riddick, what if it won't be right for her in the end-^"

"That's what asking is for~. And, besides, knowing that it's either this or her going back to the human world will help sway them as well."

"^That just feels like manipulation-^"

"But it's true, isn't it?"

"^What about everyone else being opposed to her staying-^"

"I'm sure opposed to Cinder ever setting another paw in here again and you won't catch me protesting her right to safety here... not out loud at least."

As much as the addendum made Aria chuckle weakly, she remained unconvinced for the most part, the Indeedee briefly stroking her chin as she attempted to come up with something more persuasive- and it was the concept of persuasion that gave her her next idea, the chuckle in the dark making Aria briefly worry just what did her mom come up with this time. Right as she was about to speak up, both her and Aria felt a bit of an odd chill in the air, instinctively looking over towards the door to the side room, Autumn asking in the silence-


Right as they were both about to look back over towards the two sleeping girls and the window, they both felt a cold tentacle being placed on their shoulder, the sensation making Aria jump much more than Autumn as the bespoke ghost spoke up-


The Mismagius' drawn out, whispering voice may not have brought any curses with it, but it was still startling in the dark, the purple ghost floating over to in front of the two psychics as they chuckled before continuing-

"Apologies, I could hardly resist...~"

"^Hah, I'm aware. Thank you for being here Cy.^"

"Oh it's no problem. With how incensed Sprout was I gathered it was something important~. And... I think I'm feeling more "Mister Cypress" today, if that's alright..."

"^Of course Cypress. And yeah, it is important, we'd want to ask you to watch over them tonight.^"

With how quirky the Mismagius was, it was rare to ever see him be genuinely surprised- or even just to see him at all, his duty of stirring up attention and chaos on the other end of the forest to further distract human attention away from where their village laid was an important one, but one which also resulted in him oftentimes spending whole days at a time away from home. If anything, that made the dumbfounded look on his face all the more precious as he took in just who the two souls holding each other on the bed were, the sheer extent of his bafflement making Autumn have to hold in a chuckle.

"Oh... I am hardly certain which of these two I ought to be more surprised at..."

"^Right, you've been away for the past few days. The human's name is Anne, she ended up gravely injured on the outskirts of the village and we helped patch her up. And, as we later realized, it turns out that her and Ember have been long time friends, but Ember couldn't remember because someone erased the memories of Anne.^"

The ghost didn't react to the crash course in any overt way, simply taking his time leaning in closer to the sleeping duo, the wispy extensions on the front of his body gliding over their shoulders with a gentle, slightly cold touch, verifying the truth of Aria's words as he sensed the couple's intertwined fates.

"Remarkable... I assume that someone is Cinder then...?"

"^That's what we're suspecting, yes. She ran away from the village earlier today, and in case she tries to come and hurt Anne overnight, we want you to keep watch out for her, and to incapacitate her if she does show up.^"

Cypress finally acknowledged her words with a slow nod and a quiet mumble, yellow eyes closing as he began whispering out protective incantations, the air in the room seeming to palpably shift, but not in a way either psychic could exactly narrow down.

"It'd be my pleasure..."

"Thank you Cypress. I still hope there's some grave misunderstanding underlying Ember's memories being erased like that, but Cinder turning tail makes it harder and harder to believe that anymore..."

"You're welcome dear Autumn. I... do feel compelled to ask about what shall happen to our dear Anne here...~"

"^It's... up in the air, we'll see tomorrow. Though... you do tend to mess with human kids around her age sometimes, right?^"

"I merely appear where I'm being looked for~ but yes, I've ran into many kids her age, tricky for striking the right balance between not being scary at all and being too terrifying...~"

"^In the event she'd end up staying here for good... do you think she could pose any risk to anyone?^"

Aria was ninety nine percent sure of the answer to the question she just asked, but with how much of a case they would have to make for Anne, any further bit of reassurance would be invaluable.

"She's no trainer, so no... frankly, I'd be more so worried the other way around...~"

The phrasing had both women look up at the ghost with concern, Cypress elaborating shortly afterwards-

"You could say that the drawback to teaching everyone that humans are scary monsters we're hiding from because of their monstrosity, is that some may start to believe that, especially the little ones..."

The mental imagery of one of the kids attempting to "protect" themselves from Anne out of fear sent a freezing shiver down Aria's spine and fin alike, making her walk over closer to the bed and gently stroke the human's hair out of a protective impulse.

"Not something we can't fight against, thankfully."

Even despite the terrible lighting, the worried expression on the Gardevoir's face was clear to see for her mom as she glanced over, only emboldening the Indeedee further as she heard her words-

"^How so?^"

"We can start already sowing the seeds of the idea of her getting to stay and work away at the doubts, I can bring it up with the kids tomorrow and try to work through any issues they might have. Frankly we'd just need more voices to contribute..."

"Pragmatic. I like it...~"

Out of all the voices that could feasibly contribute to something like that, there was one voice in particular that seemed to have both the volume and the reach to be of particular help here, both psychics getting the realization at around the same time-


"I'll speak to her in the morning, I hope she'll be receptive-"

"^Oh you have no idea mom. Who else...^"

"Jovan feels like the type to love a nice story to share like that...~"

"^Like sister, like brother, heh. Yeah, him too.^"

"I'll bring it up when leaving Bell under his care. Anyone else?"

This time, no more candidates immediately came to mind for anyone involved- which, considering the hour of the day, was perfectly understandable, Aria's only resulting contribution being a feebly held-in yawn.

"That sounds like a plan enough for the time being... and you seem like you need rest, dear Aria...~"

"^Y-yeah, it's just...^"

As much as their plan was slowly coming together, it was hard for the Gardevoir to shake off the worry at nothing potentially working out and Anne ending up literally thrown out onto the snow to die- and at that point, even the cruel act of wiping Ember's memories of her once more even if just to spare her the resulting pain suddenly felt like an option potentially worth considering, just to lessen the pain. It was still disgusting to even think about, now that she knew in how cruel of a way it'd been used already, Aria feeling ill at having threatened someone with it mere hours earlier.

"Have you spoken with the girl already...?"

"^Yes, thankfully yes, we talked earlier, I tried to fool her into thinking this place was a human hospital but it didn't work out for too long, and eventually just had to tell her the truth, and thankfully she trusted me even despite that.^"

"Then extend that grace to yourself~."

That much she could do, a couple deeper breaths slowly working away at any anxiety that had begun building up inside her in the meantime as she acknowledged the Mismagius' words, giving him a light bow.

"^I will, thank you Cypress. Have a good night.^"

"Anytime... oh, it would appear that your husband is approaching...~"

The remark was enough to break through both Aria's and Autumn's somber moods, confusion at what Garret was doing here replacing it instead, the two only glancing over at the two sleeping girls before finally leaving the medical tent, just in time to see the Grimmsnarl turn the corner, the limited lighting making him almost invisible at night.


"Yes, yes sweetie, we're here!"

With how excruciatingly long the day had been, Aria longed for little more than an opportunity to finally fully relax- and while this might not have been it, unless she was willing to indirectly sentence her husband to carrying her back home, just pulling him in a hug was enough to work though much of the pent up tension inside her, the hairy fairy's own anxiety quickly evaporating.

"We've all been so confused about what was going on with you all, started to get a bit worried... where's Marco?"

"He's... in the medical tent, got roughed up a fair bit today and they're keeping him overnight just in case."

The Grimmsnarl's fanged grimace shifted just enough in response for his wife and mom to clearly notice the concern it now conveyed, an unspoken question getting answered as they all turned to head back home.

"We've... learned a lot about Anne today. Cinder wasn't happy about Marco asking Ember for a possible connection, and then it turned out she'd most likely erased Ember's memories of Anne."

"I-is he gonna be alright?"

"Thankfully yes, it's just some surface burns and the medics took good care of him."

That much was relieving at least, the demon's arm holding his wife closer as they walked on, the worry about everything that had been going on lately filling his mind.

"Thank goodness. A-and what did you say about Ember and the human?"

"They used to be close friends sweetie, basically grew up together. Their... human family was absolutely wretched, to the point where Anne parted ways with Ember to keep her safe, and then ended up running away for her life, which is what lead to her crash and us finding her."

"That's... oh the deities."

The idea of a family vile enough that a child was so terrified of their parents that they'd consider running for their life made him feel deeply ill, a family like the one he ended up hatching in before being rescued and eventually raised by Autumn, the thought making him reach over and pull his mom off the ground and into his other arm with a quiet squeak on her part- though one that gave way to more affection shortly afterwards.

"The rest of the human world doesn't seem to be any better for her on that front either... her staying here would be for the best most likely."

"And I had the idea that our burrow would work well for that~"

Autumn's addition in particular had Garret pause mid step, the idea evoking so many mixed feelings inside him that it felt incredibly difficult to even start untangling them all- helping someone like that, passing the torch on like that was a concept that was basically euphoric to think about for him... but at the same time-

"Are you sure mom? I- I don't want her to live somewhere where she'd b-be scared again..."

Without their respective psychic assistances, the individual hugs that Aria and Autumn were able to provide were far from the most impressive in size, but they more than made up for that with how heartfelt they were, both women glad to reassure the most important man in their lives.

"You look mean at a glance sweetie, but brush aside the top coat and you're all honey. Her parents... looked reprehensible, and acted so, so much worse, I've seen some of her memories a-and it all still makes me ill to think about..."

The reassurance was effective in getting the group moving again, Garret nodding through his mom's words as he held her tight, trying to stabilize his breathing, doubts and worries continuing to swell inside his skull- fortunately, his wife was there for him.

"That's not something we're deciding on here and now, just... once it comes to that, once I have to stand up and plead Anne's case in front the elders, I want to know that I'd be able to bring our burrow up as a place where she could stay and be safe in- and that I do not doubt one bit."

The explanation made sense, though even just saying that felt like implicitly agreeing to such a massive commitment, the Grimmsnarl continuing to air his worries as they got closer to their home-

"Do you think we're ready for another soul to be taking care of?"

"Ready in a way of being prepared enough to start knowingly trying for another kid? Probably not~. Ready in a way of being able to provide a lost, traumatized soul with safety she'd been lacking for so long, even if it includes some growing pains? Absolutely."

It was an important distinction to make, one that sent a wave of fluster through Garret's body, his hug only barely managing to avoid lifting his wife off the ground with itself.

"Well, you've interacted with her much more than I have so far, you probably know better sweetie, hah."

"I hope that in time you'll feel as confident in your ability to be the best dad she could ever wish for as I am~"

As flustering as the previous remark was, this one was incomparably more effective, Aria getting firmly swept off of her feet and held tight, returning her embrace as the group walked within the view of the entrance to their burrow, stray bits of warm light escaping through the holes in the door or the frame it sat in betraying its homeliness. Alas, both psychics had to be lowered down onto the ground so that they'd fit through the front door, and as much as the Grimmsnarl wanted to sweep them both right back up immediately afterwards, them getting to fill their mouths with something warm and yummy came first.

The scene that awaited inside was an amusing one at least, the little ones having gone a bit hyper at the prospect of getting to keep playing even once it was so dark outside, the whole trio seeming to be in the middle of some play tussling and surrounded by their toys, their emotional state sufficiently clean of any anger to keep their guardians calm as they stepped down the stairs.

"Mom, where have you been!? A-and where's Uncle Marco?"

While the return of adults marked an end to that particular show, it sure didn't mean that the kids would get any less lively, some of the worrying they were masking by playing like that in the first place creeping right back onto the surface as they noted the absence of their uncle and friend, relieving some of it by immediately running up to their trusted adults for hugs.

"We had a long, busy day sweetie, I'm sorry for being gone for so long. Marco got injured during his duties and is at the medical tent."

As she crouched down to hug her little ones, Aria could see their expressions changing in real time, the visible concern on both Bell and Cadence's faces making her hold them that much closer as Autumn comforted the flying scorpion just off to the side.

"Uncle Marco is hurt?"

"Yes Bell, he is- it's nothing big thankfully, but he needs a couple days to rest it all off.

"Can we come and make him feel better?"

After all, a smooch was a perfect panacea to any ouchie as far as the lil' Ralts was concerned, surely it would work perfectly here too.

"I don't see why not, I'm sure he'd really appreciate it sweeties~."

The affirmation was reassuring, Bell in particular happy to hear it, squirming a bit more in his mom's arms as Cadence felt a wave of cheekiness come over her- she knew she'd get shot down, but maaaaaybe her mom was just about tired enough to agree to it-

"Oh oh oh- and could we see Anne if we're already gonna be at the clinic~?"

Aria had to stop herself from reflexively disagreeing at the suggestion, glancing over at Autumn as their brainwaves happened to reach a very similar answer as far as this particular inquiry was concerned, a playful smirk sliding up onto the Gardevoir's face as she held her daughter that bit closer-

"...you know what~? Deal."

The sudden gasp that had left Cadence and Elric in response to that was almost loud enough to stir the Gligar's dad from his hibernation, Aria breaking into giggling herself at the palpable excitement that filled the group, Bell sharing in that particular emotion shortly afterwards as well, even if he still had no idea what the whole big human deal was.


"Yep! She may end up staying in our village for a bit longer, and it'd be good for her to make some friends, doncha think?"

As surprised as the Kirlia was at the seemingly completely random one-eighty turn of her mom's opinion on this, she couldn't deny liking her current logic much, much more than the scaredy and boring scout reasoning she'd heard yesterday, squeeing happily in response.

"Thank you thank you thank you!"

"Will we be able to play with her?" - As much as Elric was similarly brimming with excitement, his question was much more reserved, pink body making his way over to hug his current guardian, unusually warm to the touch in the shared glee.

"To an extent- she's still injured, but I think you'll all be able to figure something out~."

While the two older kids were satisfied for now and were much more eager at the idea of answering any further curiosity first hand, Bell's mind instead wandered to the question he had earlier today, whole small body wriggling with joy at getting to make a friend, even if he still had no idea what that friend looked like.

"What color are humans?"

An oddly tricky question to answer for how simple it was on the surface, making Aria pause for a moment as her husband poured her and Autumn their dinner portions in the other end of the living room.

"Many colors really- they're like us with furless skin and hair on top of their head, but I've seen their skin be anything from dark brown to whitish pink, and their hair similarly from black to yellow. Even saw one with blue hair a few months ago, but nobody else like that since, hah."

"Maybe they were just a really important human?"

"I doubt it Cadence, they didn't feel any different to anyone else. How's that for an answer Bell~?"

The toddler had to think hard and for a fair moment, the incomprehensible baby train of through eventually arriving at the Happy Feelings plaza, making him squeak out in shared excitement as he held his mom closer.

"Okay! I wanna meet Anne!"

"And you will~. Tomorrow. And now, all three of you are up way past your bedtimes~"

The shared groan that left the tykes in response to the comment was music to Aria's ears, the Gardevoir thankfully only having to assist herself a little to pick the entire bunch up in her arms and carry them over to their room. The little ones got tucked in on their shared bedding one after the other, their excitement quickly giving way to sleepiness, and eventually, rest.

For once, Aria wouldn't be too far behind in that regard either- as much as the sheer scale of what awaited tomorrow felt overwhelming to think about, she knew that Anne believed in her, and she was happy to be able to earnestly join her in that as she chewed through the slightly cold dinner. They'd figure something out, and even if the elders were about as likely to accept Anne with open arms as a fire type was to embrace a tidal wave, not even they could resist a good sob story- and all it'd take was possibly one vote to seal the girl's safety. Half an hour later, when she was in the middle of dozing off, one thought in particular continued to keep Aria warm and calm as she played the role of the big spoon, her mind steadily growing quieter and quieter much like the village at large, the mantra bringing her and Anne peace alike-

Aria would deliver on her promise to Anne, no matter what.

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other fic, Another Way!

Also also check out my series of shorts, The Alarm Goes Off at Six!
Chapter 12: Monster


the gay agenda

Chapter 12: Monster

"Eeeeee, do you think she'll draw me too grandma?"

The shorter half of the family may have taken their time getting ready for the big event today, but once they were finally awake, sated and ready, there was no extinguishing their combined enthusiasm. Cadence was busy demonstrating that fact the clearest, having to keep herself from running literal circles around her grandma and brother. Hops, twirls and leaps, the sheer extent of the Kirlia's excitement enough to overcome the biting cold of the winter morning. Or at least, enough in conjunction with Safeguard and a long scarf wrapped around most of her torso.

"You'll have to ask her nicely sweetie~."

"I will! It just sounds so cool, I wish I could draw..."

"I'm quite sure you already can draw Cadence!"

Elric's comment had the fairy stop in her dashing just to stick her tongue out at him, with the Gligar responding in kind and much more effectively at that. Any other time of the year and he'd be down on the ground, not wasting the opportunity for a bit of roughhousing... but no, not in winter. Not when they were on their way towards the mysterious human either.

"You know what I mean!"

The bat's resulting cackle, accompanied by a deft leap from the wall of one building to another, had the littlest member of the group join in on the giggles from his grandma's arms. Bell's very slow pace may have made his sister annoyed when he took forever to catch up, but it also meant that any longer marches would be spent being held by a loved one, teeny Ralts body squirming for the umpteenth time that morning at how nice it all felt. Grandma holding him, a warm blanket around him, they would be meeting a new friend! What's not to like?

"Maybe Anne will show Cadence how to draw?"

Bell liked that idea. It made him happy to think about. Friends being nice to each other- and of course they'd be friends with the human! Grandma told them she was nice, and nice people meant friends.

"Nooooo, she doesn't need to! I can't draw, it'd just be a waste of time."

"But would you want her to teach you?"

"She won't be interested, Elric!"

"You don't know that~."

Autumn's comment had her granddaughter's self-deprecating train of thought finally stop and fizzle with a grumble. True, she didn't know that, but c'mon, Anne wouldn't wanna waste her time on someone who couldn't draw at all, she'd have so many more interesting things to talk about! Humans could do so many weird, cool things, of course Anne would want to talk about those!

Before either Elric or Autumn could egg their friend or family member on, the entrance to the medical tent finally came into view. Cadence wasted no time before bolting straight ahead without a care in the world, the Indeedee's call for her to slow down getting stuck in her own throat and discarded shortly afterwards. Incorrigible, that one.

Her loved ones would not have it any other way.

The Gligar was only slightly behind his friend, the two getting all of thirty-odd seconds of head start in confusedly looking around the tent before Autumn and Bell inevitably caught up. No Aria, no Marco, the bed that the latter had slept in emptied and cleaned up. Hmm. The medics would probably know something.

"Esther? Do you know where Marco went?"

Autumn's call had the Blissey spare them all a brief look, a serious expression melting at the sight of the excited kiddos against her will.

"He and Aria left for some scout business I'm quite sure, haven't gotten back yet."

That much was clear, the quick 'thanks' letting the chief medic return to her duties. Figures Marco would've gone with Aria even if just to provide another vote in favor of letting Anne stay, fingers crossed it all ended up working out. No way of knowing at the moment though, but no matter what, Autumn's own duty took precedence. Gotta mentally prepare everyone else here for the existence of a wild human in their midst. Which meant...

"Alright. Cadence. Elric, can you both promise me you'll wait in this room until Marco is back and don't go rushing in on your own? Anne's been through a lot, the least we could do is spare her further anxiety, don't you say?"

The concerned question came just in time to stop the Kirlia from going in and taking a peek into the human's room for herself. Autumn took a sigh of relief at her emotional appeal working out, both the older kids growing that much more self conscious about how their sudden appearance would come off to a complete stranger like that. A bunch of gentle pats for both of them helped in melting through that blip of sadness though, especially when combined with Bell not hesitating to join in on the affection. Anything to make his family feel better, even if he didn't understand why exactly they were sad right now. He loved his family.

"Okay, grandma..."

"Relax, stay out of the medics' way, and wait for Marco, he should be here any moment now, okay?"

"Yes, grandma!" / "Yes, ma'am!"

Smiles, relief, hugs, a few more pats- finally, Autumn could get out of the medic tent and on her way again. Her task was too important to waste any more time, though she wished she knew exactly how to go about all this. The one idea she came up with during breakfast would be a bit of a logistical mess and she doubted other teachers would be too approving of it, but... well, their problem, because she was going through with it anyway. First stop, her eventual destination.

The village nursery was far from the liveliest of places this early in the day, many of the assorted tykes either still asleep or really wishing they were still asleep. All the warmth wasn't helping either. The well-protected fire pit made for a comfortable atmosphere even in the absence of their warmest elder, as evidenced clearly by well over a dozen little ones huddling up close to each other and their caretakers. It'd be a while before everyone would be here. And if the Indeedee had anything to say, today's "everyone" would be on the much larger end than usual.

"Morning Jovan, Pearl!"

Autumn's voice reached the two caretakers with mixed results. The Wigglytuff blinked away his momentary daze while the Grumpig looked like she'd been freshly woken up, limbs and curly tail awake stretching to the sound of a held-in yawn. Before either of the two could respond to Autumn's greeting though, another voice filled the sleepy gathering first, one much livelier and much more confused-

"Hiiiii Autumn! Where's Bell?"

Lil' Riolu underlined her confusion with a few more glances around the clearing, neither eyes nor aura having any success in sensing her favorite playmate, head tilting in confusion. Tilts gave way to very excited tail wagging once the Indeedee responded to her question in the most immediately comforting way, all the pets leaving her squirmish.

"Hey, Reya! Bell won't be around today sadly, he's gonna be visiting Anne!"

"Awwwhhh... oh oh oh, who's Anne?"

"The human at the clinic!"

Regardless of how drowsy the two caretakers had been up until that point, Autumn's clarification had managed to wake them up in record time. As uncertain as the Grumpig's expression might have been, it was the Wigglytuff that spoke up first, yesterday's mess still clear on his mind-

"Umm, Autumn, I hope he won't be alone in there..."

"Not at all Jovan, Marco will be watching over him!"

"Oh good~ wait, Marco!? How is he? Why's he watching over a human?"

As soft as the purple Wigglytuff's voice was, the alarm in it was clear to sense. Autumn took a moment to gather her thoughts before responding, dispensing affection to the lil' Riolu all the while-

"He's still a bit injured after his encounter yesterday, but doing well overall!"

"Oh thank goodness..."

Reya wouldn't be the only one receiving affection either, the fairy balloon flinching just a bit at feeling his own share of pets before eventually giving in.

"Yep! As to the human question..."

Part of Autumn wanted to bring up every single thing she'd seen. Every single horrific event the human girl at the clinic had been subjected to, every tragedy, every strike on the hands of people who were supposed to be her guardians. Every time she'd been treated like garbage at home or like a monster by the village. She really wanted to- but there simply just was no time, nowhere near. Instead, she took a deep sigh and gathered her thoughts, eventually resuming-

"It'd take a while for me to explain everything, but the gist is- the human is innocent. She used to be Ember's friend, she doesn't have a family to go back to, it's very likely that she'll end up staying here for a while."

"Ember's friend?" - The Grumpig had a particularly hard time visualizing that one, especially with all the fright the lil' foxie had experienced because of the alien in their midst still fresh on her mind. On the other hand, it's not like she could sense the Indeedee saying anything but the truth there... good gods, what was going on?

"I'm sure she'll be more than glad to tell you herself once she's up again."

"Even in the best-case scenario, I'm unsure how well anyone here would think of a human, even an innocent one..." - Pearl continued, her knowledge about the case limited enough to compartmentalize the unnerving facts for the time being.

"That's exactly what I wanted to talk with you two about!"

Most of the assorted little ones were too young to get anything out of the discussion going on right around them, much to the adults' relief. That didn't mean they weren't listening though, dozens of curious eyes bouncing back and forth between their caretakers and the family member of one of their friends, especially at the repeated mention of humans and their mysteries. Both Pearl and Autumn were well aware of that, and the latter didn't shy from using that knowledge-

"All the kids are curious about Anne, and she might end up staying with us for a while. It's the talk of the village... I've spent a fair bit of time with her and I'm rather confident about most things now. How does me taking up a few hours to do a seminar about humans sound?"

Neither Jovan nor Pearl could deny the utility of an approach like that, but that didn't mean they didn't have their objections-

"What about your own class...?"

"Are you sure they'll understand everything?"

"Well Jovan, that's why I wanted to bring my class over here as well, reach all the kiddos at once. And Pearl... the little ones probably won't even with translation but it's fine, the big point will be teaching them that not all humans are scary and evil and they don't need all the details for that."

"I-I like the idea if what you're saying is right Autumn, but I doubt how effective it'll be if their parents keep talking about how bad humans are..."

That was the one objection the Indeedee couldn't disagree with. She took a deep breath before admitting defeat on that point, shoulders noticeably slumping.

"I know Pearl. This won't be enough in case Anne ends up staying, I know. But it's a start and it's better than nothing, and I want to do anything I can to help. The girl's been through a lot, as much as Ember, we owe her to at least try our best."

The emotional appeal was successful at breaking through most of the remaining hesitancy amongst the caretakers, Pearl acknowledging the idea with a firm nod before moving her attention to all the curious and confused young'uns. Jovan was almost convinced as well, but there was the one obvious remaining hitch, Marco's recollection yesterday making him shudder at the thought-

"I... can't imagine Cinder will be all too happy at the idea..."

"Cinder won't be an issue today Jovan."

Not the kind of direct reassurance the Wigglytuff was expecting, but an effective one at bulldozing through his concerns all the same, even with 'how' remaining unclear.

"Sure... I believe we can do that then, as long as you can manage your share of the kiddos~."

"Don't you worry about it one bit. I'll be going to drag them over now unless you two have any more objections-"

"Autuuuuumn... can I go visit Bell?"

Few more pets for the Riolu, a handful of scritches- but unfortunately, no agreement.

"I'm sorry Reya, but you should stay here with Mr. Jovan and Mrs. Pearl."

"But whyyyyy?"

"Marco will already be looking over four people, it wouldn't be nice to add a fifth one now, would it?"

Numbers weren't Riolu's strong suit, but empathy most definitely was. As little as she was, she could see the Indeedee's point, tail wagging deflating in intensity as she grumbled quietly.

"How about you come visit later today? He'd love to play with you at our place too!"

Offer of more play, immediate excitement, tail wags redoubled.

"Yes please!"

"You got it Reya! I'll talk with you later!"

"Bye bye, Autuuuumn!"

"Is it true that humans can spit fire?"

Thankfully, retrieving the older kids from their usual location turned out to be a much easier task. Just the mention of talking about the mysterious stranger in their midst had most of them perk their heads up in curiosity regardless of their prior knowledge. And with it absolutely beating another session of practicing Protect or Safeguard or whatever, they didn't need any convincing whatsoever either.

The other teachers were a bigger obstacle... at least in theory. Cinder's absence eliminated the one voice that would've absolutely vetoed any such idea. With her out of the picture, there was only one other teacher that could've potentially disagreed with her. Autumn knew him well enough to capitalize on his own boundless curiosity and latest interest in human feats with a couple pointed questions. Even better, he'd agreed to go and grab someone who has had a lot of experience with humans, and apparently, it wasn't even the bad sort of experience either.

Things were falling into place, and now it was just a matter of staving off the flood of questions until they actually arrived back at the clearing.

…guess she could get the sillier ones out of the way already.

"Nope, they don't- they can't use any moves, remember?"

That particular fact never got any less weird no matter how many times it had been repeated to them, sounding just so... wrong. Deeply, utterly wrong, and yet correct all the same. How could humans just not use moves? What was wrong with them? Just how in the world were they so fearsome with such a dire handicap? Some of these questions could be answered, some couldn't, and some… very few people really wanted to ever delve too deep on.

"But that's so weird!"

"I know sweeties, I know. Humans are definitely a bit weird, but deep down they're not that different from us, I promise. Alright, we're here, please seat yourselves down everyone and keep mindful of the little ones!"

The resulting horde of children of various species and ages took a while to finish settling in place, most of the littlest ones continuing to stick to their softer caretakers as they were surrounded by older kids. Of the latter, a few faces ended up naturally coalescing towards the front of the group for one reason or another, Blossom in particular gulping a bit after Autumn gave her a knowing smile. Not all of them had the Dartrix's enthusiasm- if anything, most of them didn't- but that was Autumn's job to change, and she felt confident in her own ability.

Just need a little bit of empathy.

"^Alright everybody, thank you all so much for gathering so quickly! It's a special occasion today after all! You're all gonna have a lot of questions so I'd ask you all to raise your limbs if you want to ask a question so that we can go through them one at a time!^"

It wasn't easy linking up with so many minds all at once, especially not at her age, but Autumn wasn't gonna show it in her expression. Age, schmage, she could do this. Anything to make this as clear as possible for the listeners, anything to give Anne more of a chance.

"^As you all probably know now, there is currently a human in our village, inside the medics' tent. She was rescued by our scouts a couple days ago- yes, Hawthorne?^"

"Why was it rescued?"

The Espurr's question was accusatory and annoyed, the Indeedee having to hide an inward wince at hearing it. She could empathize with it to a point. Hawthorne's parents had been on the receiving end of more human cruelty than most after all... but not the Espurr herself, that fact always making Autumn's grimace a bit more at hearing Hawthorne's vocal dislike of all humans everywhere.

"^She was rescued because she got very hurt in the woods, and would've died if not for our help.^"

Autumn wasn't sure whether the bluntness was the best approach with so many toddlers around, but at the very least it resulted in all the older kids getting the message loud and clear. Hawthorne wasn't satisfied with that one bit judging by her remaining grumpiness. At least she let her teacher continue for the time being.

"^There's a good chance she ends up staying with us for good- yes, Hawthorne?^"


Sigh, focus- she's just a kid, just a kid.

"^She's been through a lot, Hawthorne. Anne had experienced a lot of abuse, and it's not safe for her to return to her human family. In addition, she used to be friends with Ember-^"

Half a dozen hands immediately, the same question reverberating through all the attached heads.

"^I know Ember hasn't said anything about her previously, it's because she didn't remember either. There are...^"

She'd need a cleanse afterwards after having to whitewash Cinder of all people, but bringing her up would just derail the whole class.

"^There are reasons as to why she didn't remember. It was all a very scary, very traumatic time for her. Our minds sometimes try to erase terrible memories like that because of just how much they hurt to remember, and that's likely what happened here. All this has already scared Ember a lot, and I'd want to kindly ask you all to not go and barrage her with your own questions about all this, okay? She'll tell you all if she's comfortable doing so.^"

The barrage of limbs finally began dying down, each individual kid withdrawing theirs after giving some thought to the concerns already answered. Each, except for one particular Stunky paw, still reaching as high up as the kit himself was capable of.

"^Yes, Zephyr?^"

"How- how do we know she won't be aggressive towards anyone?"

The small voice crack at the beginning aside, the question was asked with as much confidence as the Stunky was capable of projecting. Confidence and eagerness, the lil' one holding his steadfast position as he awaited an answer. There was an accusation in his question, yes- but it wasn't the point, not the main point. Much less interest in the human's underlying dangers, and much more in potentially being helpful in mitigating them.

"^Several reasons! You all might have heard a thing or two about humans being powerless without their tools and yes, that is true. Humans can't use moves, not even the simple ones, if it's just their own they're almost completely defenseless. The only thing Anne has with her that could possibly qualify as a weapon is a knife, no more dangerous than a single sharp claw. And that's something I really want you all to remember- she can't really hurt any of you, but you all can hurt her a whole lot. You will have to be much more careful with her than with most other kids, especially when it comes to any physical play. And... Blossom!^"

Blossom jumped at being directly pointed out, enough so to end up airborne for a couple moments before slowly gliding back down to the ground. She wasn't holding her wing up, everybody was staring at her, please Mrs. Autumn don't do what she thought-

"Y-yes Mrs. A-Autumn?"


Oh no, it was.

The selection sent chatters through most of the other kids as the Dartrix hopped forward until she was standing next to her teacher. She wanted to bury herself underground or fly right off into the distance, either or, anything but being stared at like this. As much as part of her nomination was Autumn wanting the owlet to feel a little bit put on the spot because of being so flagrant towards their request to not venture into the human lands, her reaction did make the Indeedee feel a bit bad. A gentle hug and a couple pets didn't immediately solve all the anxiety, but they were very appreciated all the same, helping Blossom in easing back out.

"^So, Blossom~. You've spent some time around Anne, how would you describe her as? Age and personality-wise?^"

The resulting murmurs brought back some of her anxiety, the Dartrix of half a mind to just take off there and then. On the other hand... depending on what she said the other kids would end up liking Anne more right out of the gate! She wanted that, she wanted that a lot, especially now that she had a better idea of just what was yesterday all about, Anne deserved to be given a fair chance by others here. That realization didn't magically cut through all the worries in themselves, but it was still effective all the same, enough for Blossom to push ahead right as Indeedee was starting to second guess this whole idea-

"Ummmm... A-Anne is about m-my age. She's really shy too, I-I think even more so than I am! She got really scared for a moment when- when she spotted me in the clinic's window, h-heh..."

Autumn's sigh of relief was thankfully small enough to avoid being noticed by too many onlookers, the answer netting the owlet a couple more pets as it elicited more chatter in the crowd.

"^Yep! Anne is just a girl, close in age to most of the older kids here, and a really timid one at that. Besides- I'd hope that nobody here would decide to just be aggressive towards others without a reason, so I don't see why Anne would either. Sigh , yes, Hawthorne?^"

"But it's a human-"

"And what about that?"

The gruffness of the voice was enough to catch the attention of most gathered, heads turning towards the final two missing faces, neither of them the sort that anyone here wanted to upset. Few kids ever had a chance to chat with the source of the curt answer. The lumbering Electivire was known much more for having spent many years in human activity before becoming a scout rather than for being particularly talkative. Fewer still had a chance to ever see him don this particular headgear, a white human-made cap with several blue markings on it, nestling in comfortably between his horns.

As he arrived at his destination though, the gathered kiddos got a better look at something rather peculiar attached to his arm. Armbands weren't all that rare as articles of clothing around the village, but arm-Magnemite most definitely were. This one was on the smaller side and apparently asleep if the closed eye was anything to go by, the electric type they were leeching from not seeming to be minding their presence in the slightest.

Flanking them was the other remaining teacher, the Serperior's body not appreciating having to trudge through the snow one bit. He was no less respected than the former scout if for wholly separate reasons- but resilience to cold was not one of them and the kids knew it. He slithered his way in between the audience and towards the firepit the moment it came into sight, the amusing display immediately overtaken in importance by the gruff voice continuing-

"What about her being a human, Hawthorne?"

"N-n-nothing, M-Mr. Geiger."

"I certainly hope so. Well, hello everyone, I've been told you wanted ol' me to ramble on about humans for a while, ah?"

"^Thank you so much for coming, Geiger, and yes! Your point of view is a unique one in the village, and with the possibility of Anne staying with us for good, it's for the best that we all learn as much about humans as we can from the ones with the most experience with them. Yes, Zephyr?^"

"Ooh, will you ask my mom to speak too, Mrs. Autumn?"

A more innocent question, voice much more relaxed than the earlier posturing, more genuinely excited. Unfortunately, the Indeedee had no idea how to respond to the Stunky- yes, his mom similarly had a lot more human knowledge, and it was still used on behalf of her still being an active scout... but. But. Autumn wanted to be honest, and deliberately hiding someone's input on the matter just because it was very likely to not be what she'd wanted to hear was the peak of intellectual dishonesty...


"^If she has a free moment during the day, then I can ask Rose to chime in as well. From what I know she's busy today, so let's focus on the here and now. Geiger, could you describe how much time you've spent with humans and in what capacity?^"

The Electivire straightened out with a proud chuckle, putting on as much of an image of respectability as he could physically manage. Granted, some of that was heavily cut into by the old man cough that went through him afterwards, but he was imposing enough that kids especially really didn't care.

"I have spent the first thirty-one years of my life under human watch."

Gasps all around, some of them at anyone surviving for that long amongst humans, the rest at any creature being this old.

"I used to live... uh... you, over there?"

"^Grace, what's your question?^"

The Zangoose onto whom the attention ended up getting redirected took a moment to finish gathering her words, eventually proceeding with the straightforward-

"Who is that on your arm?"

Geiger gave the Normal-type a hearty laugh at the choice of her question, one tail curling to gently lightly pat the sleeping magnet.

"Ha, I wish I knew in all honesty. From what I know, they followed Lumi yesterday and ended up clinging to him by the time he woke up. He tried to get them off but couldn't figure out how, so he approached me and... now they're attached to me. In all truth I'm not sure why they're here in the first place or why are they so clingy, but even their hunger is nothing for my charge so I don't mind. Can always ask one of our skilled psychics to help translate later. Anyhow- any other questions, uh, Grace?"

"What's that thing on your head?"

"Ha! I was about to get to that. I used to live in a large human facility where humans used to make electricity. I- okay. I hope this question is less prejudiced than the previous one, Hawthorne."

The teacher in Autumn was opposed to shade being thrown onto one of her students like that. However, the grandma that wanted to look out for all the little ones, no matter how weirdly they looked most definitely wasn't, a chuckle getting held in through the sheer power of will.

"It's not-"

"Then what is it?"

"Did humans keep you enslaved there to make electricity for them?"

"No. Anyway, my duty there, after I'd evolved into an Electabuzz, was much more benign. To the best of my knowledge, my responsibility was to intervene in case of severe emergencies and help to either stabilize the electricity output, or shut the whole system down depending on the severity. You, the Gloom."


"...aren't humans Normal types? ....and if so, how do they make electricity?" - The Gloom's voice was as engaged as it was possible for a voice this sluggish to be, the living flower leaning in forward as much as he could.

"I think they are, yes. As to how, I wish I grasped more than a sliver of it. Human creations are incredibly complex, even most humans only know about one or two in any detail- for much the same reason I doubt the one inside the village with us will be of much help answering that question either. But, from what I understood of it, it involved a very dangerous process that glowed blue and which we were instructed to stay well away from. That process heated up a lot of water to devilish temperatures, and that hot water was then used by a separate machine to make electricity."

"...if they just need hot water for electricity, why not heat it directly?"

"I am not entirely certain, Mint. I'd advise not to come up with any half-baked ideas to explain that conundrum, though. Humans are many things, but as a collective, they're not stupid. I'd even say they're devilishly smart as a whole, which is good for their ingenuity, and bad for us when it comes to hiding from them."

"Which is why we have to try our best to keep hidden from them!" - Zephyr butted in, his voice once more having that bit of courageous pretense to it, even if it was accompanied by a handful of nervous taps on the snowy ground. Before Autumn could chide him for speaking up out of order, Geiger responded-

"Correct Zephyr! It's all too easy to underestimate any singular human whenever our intimidation or misdirection succeeds, but the mere fact of us having to try as hard as we do is enough proof of their intelligence as a whole."

"But if they're this devious, th-then how can we trust any of them, even that injured one?" - Zephyr's voice maintained his fearlessness, at least aside from the one, noticeable crack, its appearance making the Stunky squirm in place. Thankfully for him though, it went unacknowledged.

"They're no hive mind, they can just communicate very effectively with each other. On a few occasions, I was asked to help with a part of their electricity infrastructure having sustained significant damage and ending up unsafe to be near. It was well over a day's march away, and they knew instantly when it got damaged, and were able to cooperate on the repair effort with others even further than that in moments. More than anything else, it was that communication that made the biggest impression on me. Yes, Mint?"

"...isn't that Psychic?"

"Similar in use, completely different in how it functions from what I know. Suppose no Psychic has that high of a range, Autumn?"

"^Nope, even from one end of the village to another would be impressive, what you're describing just isn't possible.^"

"Not for an actual Psychic, no. Sigh... Hawthorne?"

"Even with all that "communication" we wouldn't need to hide from them if they weren't all evil!"

"Define 'evil'."

The sudden task was unexpected, the Espurr sufficiently surprised to just shut up there and then. On top of having absolutely no idea where that question even came from, she simply didn't know how to answer that with how philosophical it was, only managing to mewl out 'ummm's and 'ehhh's.

"'Evil' is too banal of a label to be useful for this context. Imagine... hell, imagine if all the labor in our village was being done by humans, had to be done by humans. Nothing about us as individuals needs to change, merely that we need human labor to survive. None of us would be any more inherently eager to go out and hurt them any more than we'd want to hurt anyone else. We'd simply be aware of the "fact" that we need to have some humans enslaved, that we need to control them, that we need to kidnap them from their houses if needed, and act accordingly. We wouldn't hate them, but... if kidnapping one or two was what it took to let our entire village continue existing like it does, then we'd begrudgingly tolerate it. Not as a good thing, but as a necessary thing. Zephyr, go on."

"We wouldn't, we'd know better than that!" - Once more courage, once more a veneer of it.

"How can you be sure? There's no inner fairness within us that would stop us from doing so. Just think of all the bloodshed being done by feral mons, how needless it ultimately is, if only they knew how else to survive... actually. Ha, I got it! Hahaha!"

The Electivire's laughter was bellowing, managing to knock a couple of snoozing tots out of any rest they might have slowly been falling into, including the Magnemite attached to his arm. Soon after, all the gathered eyes refocused on him once more to the furthest extent possible, the electric type sparing the lil' magnet a lil' chuckle before continuing-

"You can simply think of most humans as 'feral', in that way. That's the only way to live that they've ever known, there's no hatred behind it, no targeted malice, merely cruelty taken as a necessary evil. And just like the only difference between us and our feral cousins is our upbringing, much the same holds true for humans. I've no doubt that the girl in our clinic will turn out perfectly alright and no more malicious than any of us- less so if anything, just to overcompensate. Just like we protect ourselves from feral mons that would have us for dinner, so we have to be on the lookout for "feral" humans."

"Except that feral pokemon can join the village if they express willingness to."

The low, heavy voice captured everyone's attention away from the Electivire, most of the present adults giving a quick bow towards the Torkoal. Most but not all, Geiger limiting himself to just a modest tip of his hat and an unamused look. Autumn's expression of respect was similarly scuffed, though in her case it was caused by much more concern than disrespect. What did they end up deciding for Anne? She wasn't shutting this entire conversation down so they couldn't have said no- or at least that's what Autumn was sincerely hoping for.

"Indeed Elder Ana, that comparison isn't quite perfect. Even then, the only difference is that feral mons won't cooperate with each other on a large enough scale to ever pose a serious threat to us. If they could communicate well enough, there would absolutely end up being a group of mons that bands together and tries to overwhelm us in one fell swoop to feast on those of us who cannot defend ourselves. It's simply a matter of organization."

"As opposed to that theoretical, human intervention is a serious and constant threat."

"It is, yes, but it's only because of the ability to communicate with each other. If the girl in the clinic can't talk to other humans, there's no risk of the knowledge of us ever spreading through her, and at that point, she's no more dangerous than any one of us. Zephyr?"

"So we just need to not let her leave the village to communicate with other humans!?"

"Hold your enthusiasm lil' one. Doubt your mom or any other scout would appreciate having to babysit the girl just to keep her from escaping. More of a cage than a home at that point, isn't it?"

"I- I could do that! I could watch and keep her in here!"

"I like your spark Zephyr, but these matters need much more careful thought. Besides, I was wrong in my assessment there now that I think about it again. Even without being forcibly kept here, she's no more dangerous than us, everyone gathered here could potentially result in humanity becoming aware of our village. Mistakenly showing ourselves where humans don't expect to see our kin, accidentally stumbling into someone the scouts haven't caught, deliberate treachery. All those are possible for all of us. We're doing ourselves a disservice if we keep thinking of humans as the sole outlet by which we may expose ourselves to the world."

Much to Blossom's despair, there wasn't any covert way for her to bury herself underground while remaining unnoticed at that remark. Thankfully, Ana's response caught everyone's attention before the Dartrix could focus any more on feeling bad for what she'd done-

"I can't imagine anyone here resorting to treachery against their home."

"Neither can I- which is why I imagine the girl won't do such an act either if this place does become her home and not merely a cage for her to be contained in."

The Electivire and the Torkoal stared each other in the eyes for a few long, tense moments, age sharpening their wills enough to make neither want to relent. Silence grew uncomfortable, especially to those more in the know about what was going on. A handful of small shocks jumped between the prongs on Geiger's head and back, and even through the freely hanging magnet of the little one on his arm, the steel-type feeling the tension very acutely. Autumn used the opportunity to finally answer the distressing question for herself, hoping the elder would be too distracted to notice her thoughts being briefly investigated-

Vote deferred. Neither damnation nor redemption, just more of this interminable limbo.

"Uuuuuh, Mr. Geiger?"

The keening voice snapped the Indeedee and the Electivire out of their own thoughts and back to the crowd, nodding towards the Zangoose that had tried to grab their attention-

"^Yes, Grace?^"


"You still haven't told us what that thing is in your head."

The reminder and the burst of laughter it elicited were very useful when it came to diffusing some of the built-up tension. Guess he really forgot to mention that particular detail, ha. Alright, at that point the kiddos had earned a closer look. With a single, swift motion, the cap was yanked off of his head and tossed towards the Zangoose, catching her off guard. And so did all the static that had accumulated in it, the Normal-type's fur ending up frizzling out to a near-comical degree, Grace herself too surprised to even immediately react.

"That's just a cap with the symbol of the facility I lived in. Everyone that had responsibilities there had it, human and mon alike, they just modified this one to fit better on my head. Everyone feel free to take a look, just be careful with it."

Even besides the weird blue markings on the front of the headgear, the white fabric it was made out of looked unnaturally well-weaved. It was perfect in a way nothing really tended to be, confusing most of the older kiddos as it changed hands. The blue parts were mostly incomprehensible geometric shapes that most adults knew of as the fabled human writing, with one much simpler symbol off to the side- a circle with three radial, widening arms coming off of it.

As much as Geiger appreciated the assorted kiddos' reactions to his hat being passed around, there was one sight he could only shudder at, shudder before begrudgingly taking the bait anyway-

"...yes, Hawthorne?"

"Weren't you trapped there Mr. Geiger?"

The question quieted most of the chit-chat, neither Autumn nor Geiger appreciating the swerve of direction towards that unpleasant topic. Still, it merited an answer even if just to be appropriately thorough, as messed up as it was.

"In a way, I was, yes. I could only walk around in so much of the facility and I couldn't leave unattended, or for good. I wasn't really free, and I can only imagine the horrible circumstances behind just where my egg originally came from. All those are true."

"How can you say that humans aren't evil then!?"

"In which relevant ways does my situation back at that facility differ from the human girl's current situation?"

The Espurr was taken aback at such a question, at its downright absurd gall. It was obviously different in so many ways, way too many to speak of, but there was one biggest one-

"If she just left then we'd all be in danger!"

"From the perspective of humans overlooking me, exactly the same was true of me. I was incomparably stronger than them, I absolutely had the capacity to not just doom them in the abstract but to singlehandedly end their lives in the most direct, immediate way without them being able to do anything about it. I had to be contained, I had to be controlled. They couldn't give me all the freedom I wanted, or even all the freedom they wanted, but on an individual level, they treated me as well as any were all capable of. They trusted me, and I returned the favor. I don't know if they ended up thinking of me as a full-on equal, but that's how it felt much of the time- up to and including me in their entertainment or discussions even with me unable to speak their language, only listen."

Geiger paused for a while more, following up shortly after-

"The only reason I'm even here is because they broke their rules. The facility eventually shut down, I was meant to be simply moved somewhere else, away from them all, and they covertly let me free. It's oh so easy to assume humans are uniquely evil and that none of us could ever stoop to their level. All that does is a disservice to them, and a disservice to us."

Once more, heavy silence, younger kids left confused as the older ones pondered. The Electivire's description was evocative for a good chunk of the audience- but there remained one key detail that got kinda overlooked in all the deep chat up until then-

"Hmm? Grace, right?"

"Yeah- how do humans look like? They've got to be small if so many of them couldn't stop you."

"Did- did I end up never going over that?"

"^Spirited discussion makes us overlook simple things like that, ha.^"

"That it does Autumn, that it does. Now, as for humans as living beings..."

As Geiger got to going over the things Autumn was much more familiar with, she spared one long look over at their audience, noting all the expressions and underlying emotions. A good chunk of the little ones were confused or just sleepy, both of which were very understandable- but again, not all. Many of them, especially the older ones, were paying close attention. Their emotions were a somewhat even mix of concern, curiosity, distraught, empathy towards all sorts of parties, and good wishes towards the one human because of which they were here in the first place. She couldn't quite spot Reya anywhere, but maybe her dad just ended up picking her up after he got done with his scouting duties.

Wonder how Anne and the kids are doing.

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other fic, Another Way!

Also also check out my series of shorts, The Alarm Goes Off at Six!
Chapter 13: Strangers


the gay agenda

Chapter 13: Strangers

Where did all these items come from?

Anne stared at the couple bags in the corner for a hot minute, colorful plastic and the assorted goods inside it refusing to make themselves any clearer for her aching mind. She recognized the coat that laid on top of one of the bags as belonging to Mrs. Graham, and the title of the book Cypress had been reading tingled something deep inside her brain, but... Did that mean what she thought it could mean? Did Mrs. Graham give her some of her stuff and books? That much Anne wasn't even all that surprised by, the old librarian has always been great to her, but rather the logistics of it all. How did these end up here? Did Mrs. Graham know about this forest wonderland she ended up in? Did- did someone just steal these from Mrs. Graham?

So many questions, and exactly nothing for answers.

It was all immensely confusing, but maybe taking a closer look at the exact selection of items would clarify anything about the situation? Anne doubted, but at the same time, it's not like she had much else to do while she waited for Aria's family. That whole idea still made her a bit uncertain. She wanted to trust Aria and everyone else that she'd be alright and her kids would end up liking her, but her experiences with others in her age group haven't been particularly... positive. Add to that the unavoidable personality clash between herself and anyone more outgoing than her, which was... basically everyone, and to the best of her worried mind's ability to make out, it would only end up being a disaster.

And by disaster she meant just very awkward and unpleasant.


Let's take a closer look at everything in her room in the meantime.

Anne still didn't feel particularly strong, and the increasingly returning aching didn't help one bit, but it was a night and day difference compared to the utter exhaustion of yesterday. Enough so to at least let her scramble over to the edge of the bed and let her legs dangle off it. Not before giving the Braixen a bit more affection though, to help her power though the terrible vastness of a few minutes without her human beside her. Alright, ready, let's-

The sheer confusion filling her thoughts had managed to push the Mismagius' presence in the room out of her immediate attention up until now, his sudden reappearance in front of her making her jump a bit. She remembered something about them feeding on some sort of emotions, and the faint flicker of a glow inside the red gem on Cypress' front appeared to confirm that. Anne's attention was focused more so on his confused expression, however, especially as it was accompanied with a few more non-magical whispers.

Could he understand her? Anne had no idea, but there was no hurt in giving it a stab-

"~I-I just wanna t-take a look at the- at the bags.~"

She had no idea whether the words themselves ended up accomplishing anything, but the pointing gesture that accompanied them did the trick in either case. Cypress continued his ghostly mumbles as he glanced back and forth between the girl and her possessions, eventually settling on granting that particular request and floating off to the side.

"~Th-thank you, Mr. Cypress.~"

A deeper nod of his brimmed head, warm reassurance inside her. Let's try-

Ow, ow, ow.

Her legs weren't quite as weak as she had expected them to be, but they weren't much better either. Even just standing still had them shake a bit underneath her, the slight change in elevation enough to make the pain coming from her arm spark right back to life, both those sensations accompanied by a louder wince. Right before Anne clenched her eyes, she caught a brief glimpse of the Mismagius floating in front of her again, fully expecting herself to be shoved back a bit and ushered right into the protective cocoon of her bedding-

And not for the ghost to give her a hand.

She leaned her weight on him before she could even force out a thanks, the bringer of curses seemingly comfortable enough with any load she was putting on him. There was a bit of pleading in the utterances that followed- or at least that's how they felt to Anne. In either case they wouldn't be fulfilled, not with her curiosity shining even brighter than any aching. For better or worse, she was used to pain, enough so to not let it discourage her from making the most of her daily life.

Cypress, however, wanted to help on that front as well.

The ghost’s eyes closed as the tendril she wasn’t holding onto reached up to rest against his side, the chant that accompanied the gesture putting her on edge. Before she could ask what he was doing, she felt a jolt on the side of her body, akin to a large pinprick. It didn’t hurt at all though- more than that, it did the opposite of hurting. The imaginary wound outright felt like it sucked up the aching from the surrounding area, strength returning to the girl’s body with every breath.

As relieved as she might have been, a glance up at Cypress made it clear that the pain didn’t just disappear into the aether. There was a gleaming gash on the side of his body where he’d touched it, his crooked expression wincing before finally easing out and refocusing on her once more. Before she could start worrying about whether he was alright, the gash began to fade away, his head nodding in the direction of the bags once more.

With Cypress' constant support, Anne could finally get moving, one hard earned step at a time towards the bags. Each one came easier. Each one hurt less, especially with the ghost’s aid. Progress felt good, good enough to eclipse everything else, hunger included.

Just like she was used to.

An attempt to investigate into the coat-covered bag was immediately aborted on the basis of her not having had a spare hand to reach in with, not with the left one being unusable and the right one leaning on the Mismagius. The items Anne could see in the other bag were promising, though. Paper, notebooks, an entire pile of pens, even her pencil case! These were all the drawing supplies she had, everything she'd managed to ever scrounge up. Just here, safely bagged. Relief wasn't a substitute for answers, but it was still appreciated all the same. Though, a better look still wouldn’t hurt either. Maybe she could...

Good hand waved to catch the Mismagius' attention, wiggling in his grasp. Her fingers curled to first point at him, and then at her busted shoulder. Then, they made a grabbing gesture and pointed at the bags.

Hopefully not too difficult to grasp, and not too painful for her in execution. She hurt, yes, but she could manage to carry a couple bags over, she was stronger than just some aching. Ignore the cast on her left arm, ignore the unfamiliar territory.

Cypress gave that whole idea approximately two seconds of consideration before firmly disagreeing. His entire body turned from side to side to signal his rejection of Anne's idea, together with some more murmurs. Though, that didn't mean he had no idea of his own, and it was one he wouldn't waste time explaining, instead immediately proceeding with it. His purple body half guiding, half dragging her in the direction of the entry of the room took her off guard. The same was true of her good hand being moved up towards one of the flaps that the entrance consisted of- and then, being let go.

Before she knew it, she was left to hold onto the thick canvas flap while the Mismagius went on his merry way, her shaking further intensifying. To his credit, a quick glance behind herself answered any confusion she might have had up until now. His spectral body visibly strained and stretched as he moved the bags towards her bed by himself, one at a time.

Probably a better idea, yeah... She wished she could say it made her feel any better, but it didn't.

Yet another person being forced to do stuff for her and help her out...

Trying to distract herself from that unpleasant topic, Anne turned her attention over towards the entrance she was now holding onto for dear life. Her own chattering teeth were the loudest thing she could hear, any life on the other side of the flaps almost completely muffled out. Maybe she really was just somewhere on her own, but in either case, a small peek wouldn't hurt...

Oh nope, there were way more beings in here than just her or Cypress.

Most of her attention fell upon the small group chatting amongst themselves on the bed just a bit off to the left. One of the Ralts-Kirlia pair must've been Cadence and the other Bell, but Anne had absolutely no idea which was which. No idea, and not a whole ton of spare brainpower to ponder on that. The Gligar that completed the group took up too much of her attention for that. School classes spared no time warning against the dangers of feral mons in the wilderness. As far as their climate went, Gligar were way up there in terms of threat they posed to hikers. Anne may have known way better than to just give in to more scaremongering like that, especially after all her interactions with Aria, but the subconscious fear was there and not helping one bit in making her shake any less-



The high pitched sound coming from just off to her side managed to utterly startle the human. Her heart rate spiked as her eyes glanced down at the source at the sound, expecting all sorts of dangers. All they found was one, teeny Ralts, now on her side of the room's entrance. Utterly non threatening as they might have been, that didn't lessen the resulting surprise. It sure didn’t help with the intensifying shaking that followed either, the flap Anne was holding onto wavering as she desperately tried to maintain her balance. Said balance would only last for as long as it took for the thread attaching the piece of thick canvas to the doorframe to finally tear, to the tune of Anne’s cut-off gasp. Within moments, the human patient was falling backwards with an impromptu blanket in her hand, head right on the collision course with the floor-

And then, suddenly, she stopped.

Anne's body was frozen in mid air, the makeshift door she was still holding onto obscuring her view of the situation. The comfortable tingling that surrounded her body gave her a good idea as to what had just happened, even if her panicky mind would end up taking its time to actually piece it all together. Panic at her sudden fall. Embarrassment at making a scene. Worry at having damaged her current shelter. None of them helped her any as she was moved through the air, mind still racing a mile a minute. The thought of letting go of the brown flap in her hand didn’t cross her paralyzed mind even after she ended up safe and sound on her bed again.

Let's just lay down and forget about this, just be sorry for making all that scene and hope she could eventually apologize to someone for-

"^Anne, are you alright!?^"

Suddenly, a tween girl's voice, no less clear than Aria's earlier, Anne only wanting to shrivel up more in response.

"~I-I am, I'm- I'm sorry...~"

It was basically the only thing Anne's mind was capable of even vocalizing, be it to itself or externally. The sheer muck at everything she'd just done completely eclipsed everything else going on inside her head. All the pain, all the aching, all the discomfort, all paling in comparison. She messed up bad and she should feel awful about it, just like about everything else about her-

A small, warm, tingly hug, right on her covered torso.

Anne froze at that sensation, not knowing how to exactly process it in the heat of the moment. Maybe they were just reaching to grab the door she'd accidentally torn off and this pose was an accident. Maybe they just slipped. After all, she had no idea who it was or why would they even-

"^Anne, Anne, it's okay, I promise!^"

The voice had gone from concerned to alarmed. Alarmed, and even pleading a bit. The hug that accompanied it only intensified afterwards. Anne had no idea whether what they were saying was right, or had any clue about what she should do now. All she managed to do was force herself to unclench her hand around the cover and let it be taken away, the rest of her body remaining frozen.

She heard something that sounded like that girl’s voice speak up with her physical ears. It made her recoil further into her bedding and hope that it wouldn't be followed with any well-deserved scolding. And indeed, it wouldn't, the opposite if anything. Something even smaller and equally tingly moved in to hug her right arm while a larger, colder presence wrapped its arms around her left side. The touch of cold, firm chitin on her bare skin made her jump a bit. Only a bit though, especially as her mind began to unwrap itself from the suffocating panic that was threatening to smother it whole. Bit by bit, her thoughts finally made headway in processing her immediate surroundings-

"^It's okay Anne, it's okay, you didn't do anything wrong!^"

It was as direct of a reassurance as she could ever get, and yet it still felt like not enough. Like the speaker was just taking pity on her. Each thought in the direction of that muck had the two huggers on her front and right side only hold her closer. Their small, warm bodies grew more comfortable by the moment, continuing to feel undeserved all the while.

"~I-I shouldn't-~"

"^It's just a door, you didn't do anything bad Anne! Please, nobody is angry at you, Anne...^"

Hearing that tween voice go from pleading to being distraught made Anne feel even worse, even as her brain tried its hardest to mull through what she was actually hearing. Was it alright, was it really alright? Of course someone would be angry at her after that, she damaged the place. Probably startled someone too, she should've just stayed where she was-

"^Nooooo, nobody is angry at you, I mean it Anne! Nurse Maple wants to check up on you and take a look at your arm, a-and Mr. Cypress is just worried about you. I-I mean it Anne, please believe me...^"

Anne's brain took its time churning through that, right hand shaking in the air after letting go of her impromptu blanket. In no time, it was grabbed by the same warm, tingly presence that was hugging her front. The magical touch immediately stimulated more blood flow and started to return some of the sensation. D-did that voice mean it? Were things really alright?

"^Yeah, everything's okay Anne, I mean it! We- we're sorry for startling you like that-^"

"~B-but you d-d-didn't do anything wrong-~"

"^And neither did you!^"

In tandem with that response, Anne felt her hand being held tighter. The tingly warmth finally made her act and return that hold. Her fingers wrapped around a soft torso, the underlying heartbeat rapid and calming, especially as the other side's hug tightened.


The final addition managed to break her mental dam. Her arm reached up to properly hold the being that had been hugging her all along, gently pressing them to her front. She heard them gasp quietly, but that observation didn't last long in her attention, immediately being replaced by all the hugs around her intensifying in closeness. It felt nice. It felt so much nicer than Anne felt like she deserved after a mess up like that... And yet, it was still there all the same, eager to comfort her.

"^A-are you feeling better Anne?^"

"~I-I think so, yeah...~"

"^Yay! Do you want me to help take this flap away? Nurse Maple told me she'll stitch it back together and that it's no big deal.^"

"~O-okay. S-still, I'm sorry for damaging it...~"

"^But you really shouldn't be! Hold on, lemme...^"

Anne felt the comforting presence she'd been hugging wriggle out of her embrace and slide off of her body. Her skin tingled warmly wherever they touched. Moments later, the entire impromptu blanket occluding her vision began to shimmer. It was lifted upwards an inch or so before getting whisked off to the side and falling onto the floor in a heap. Her eyes needed a moment to adjust to the return of the light. Their panicked gaze immediately got to jumping between everyone around her the moment it could focus again.

Cypress right above her, his expression visibly relieved. A Gligar to her left, one pincer laying flat on her left shoulder, their expression brightening quickly. To her right, right beside Ember, a Ralts and a Kirlia next to each other. The latter immediately got to waving excitedly at her the moment they came into view.

"^Hi! I'm Cadence, and this is Bell and Elric! Are you feeling better Anne?^"

It was hard not to feel better with three kids all trying to hug her at the same time, no matter their species. Doubly so when it was done for the purpose of soothing her overeager self-loathing. Not to say there wasn't any mental loathing left afterwards, though. All the thoughts about how she shouldn't have panicked like that to begin with were still alive and well. In the moment though, the presence of everyone around her took priority even in her mind, especially with the eagerness of Cadence's voice-

"~I'm- I'm better now, I think. Th-thank you so much Cadence, sorry for p-panicking like that...~"

Before she could finish that thought, another hug around her. With it, a verbal command making much the same follow from the other two. She would be smothered in affection today no matter what her stinky brain thought of that, and she best get used to it quickly.

"^I mean it Anne, it's really all good! Do you need help sitting up? Nurse Maple still needs to take a look at your arm.^"

"~Oh no no, I th-think I can do it myself, lemme...~"

It was all the cue everyone around her needed to temporarily let go with their affection, clearing up enough space for the ouchy girl to sit back up. The sight in front of her bed let her connect the name she heard Cadence throw around with an actual face, one of a relieved Leavanny. Maple sighed in relief at seeing her sit up by herself before pointing over at her injured arm.

"~O-okay, is this enough?~"

Anne's words were accompanied with her twisting her body to the right and sticking her left arm out as forward as she could manage. Before Cadence could even finish forwarding the question on, the Leavanny went ahead with her treatment. She honed in on a patch of exposed skin and reeled her arm back, the poisonous purple glow that enveloped its tip bringing immediate worry to Anne's mind. By the time she could act on it though, it was already too late, the Poison Jab striking true. The light sting in her shoulder immediately undid all the aching that had started to build up, its paralytic warmth bringing relief to the rest of her body shortly afterwards.

"~Oohhhh, th-thank you Nurse!~"

The message was received with a curt bow, followed by a moment of hesitation. Before Anne could inquire what had caused it, it was resolved through the means of one leafy arm reaching up to pat her head, sending her squirming to the amusement of all the kids around her. It felt... really, really nice. The same couldn't quite be said about the Leavanny nurse proceeding to turn towards Cypress and do something that could have only been chewing him out, the ghost flinching every so often as he was scolded. By then, though, Anne's attention was already dragged away elsewhere-

"^Are you feeling better now, Anne?^"

She was, she really, really was. The desire to express the sheer relief Cadence's persistent affection had brought made her arm twitch as if trying to wrap itself around the Kirlia. It stopped shortly after, the uncertainty at the possible reception of such an act giving her a pause. Should probably ask first, but shouldn't be a bother-


The worry in the fairy's voice had Anne look back over towards her, her eyes locking with Cadence's. She didn't know what she expected the Kirlia to do, but receiving another hug was the obvious choice in hindsight. Bell followed in tow beside her, doubling up on the expression of affection moments later.

"^I don't want you to be worried, I'll tell you if you do something I don't like! And I love hugs, hehe. And so does Bell, right Bell?^"


Bell's voice couldn't have sounded any older than three years old or so, the precious sound immediately making Anne's good arm return the hug around the two little psychics and look over at Ember to see if she was still snoozing. Still fast asleep, and not showing a single sign of waking up. She really must’ve been exhausted after what happened yesterday…

Elric followed in tow after everyone else to her left moments later, the chitin still making her feel a bit squirmish as she was hugged. The affection that sensation conveyed was appreciated more than words could convey, making up for it all and then some.

"~Okay, I'm just... not used to this. Thank you Cadence, a-and Bell, and Elric...~"

"^You're welcome Anne! I'm- I'm really glad to finally meet you! Oh oh- what's Ember doing beside you?^"

The resolute reassurance in the Kirlia's voice gave way to something Anne was expecting much less of. Namely, Cadence’s own uncertainty and giddiness, at least before it took another left turn into curiosity once more. Aria had told her that her kids were excited to meet her, but she wasn't expecting that to be so... literally true. The hype was clear to sense in Cadence's voice, taking her aback. There was the question of how much she should be telling the kiddos when it came to her and Ember, but the basics wouldn't hurt-

"~I- I’m glad to meet you three t-too! Aria had mentioned you were gonna visit. A-and Ember is my old friend actually! I-I haven't seen her in so long, and A-Aria told me that she was excited to finally be able to see me again!"

Gasps from Cadence and Elric, followed by Bell's a few moments later. The former two were giddy to hear about something their friend hadn't mentioned up until now-

"^Really!? That's so cool!^"

"~I-it is, it really is, I just hope my first impression after all this time won't be too bad. A-and that it wasn't too bad with you th-three...~"

Who was she kidding, it really was, good gods. Before Cadence could respond with anything, it was Elric that ended up speaking first, the Kirlia intervening to establish translation between her friend and the human-

"-y did you freeze like that, Anne? With the door and all. You tore it by accident, right?"

"~I- y-yeah, I did, it's just...~"

How does she even explain any of this? Details would help, but at the same time, they would be probably very inappropriate for a trio of kids like that, none of them sounding a day beyond ten years old. Not like she was any better on that front, her eleventh birthday was still a week or so away. She felt more mature than that at least, regardless of whether it was for any good reasons or not. Probably couldn't tell them everything, or even most things...

"~I'm- I'm not used to my mess-ups going unpunished.~"

"^But you didn't mess anything up Anne!^"

"Who would punish you for that?"

Cadence's reassurance was welcome, but Elric's question made her wince. The answer was as straightforward as it was monstrous, deep down. She didn't want to traumatize these kids, but… didn't want to lie, either.

"~M-m-my parents...~"

Elric and Cadence were too stunned to immediately respond. Their little bodies shook to the tune of Anne's conscience screaming at her for revealing all that to them. What the fuck was she thinking? They wouldn't understand, and even if they would they'd get messed up. Aria would be furious, and-

"But that's mean!"

Bell's interjection was equally innocent and inarguable. Anne only nodded flatly in acknowledgement, eyes drilling into the floor in front of the bed.

"~Y-yeah, my parents are mean...~"

Two tight hugs from each side, Bell's trailing close behind. And then, another piece of his toddler wisdom following it-

"My mom and dad aren't mean. Maybe they could be your mom and dad too?"

"^Bell, that's not how that works...^"

Cadence might have chided her younger brother for the silly idea, but Anne... Anne couldn't help but think deeply in response to that. The offer was absurd, yes, of course it was, but also... gods. She might not have spent all that much time with Aria in the big picture, but she'd be lying if she said the Gardevoir didn't make her feel safe. Safer than anyone and anything ever since her grandma had passed, confident about everything ending up alright...

It was just yet another impossibility, an absurd idea brought up by what sounded like a toddler, but... but. Anyway.

The somber atmosphere in response to that idea was noticed by everyone gathered, not just the psychic siblings. Nobody knew how to deal with it either. Elric did eventually get an idea though, a chittered giggle leaving him before he leaned in towards Cadence. One pincered arm held Anne closer as his head nuzzled her front-

"Oh, Cadence, didn't you mean to ask Anne about something~?"

The human herself was completely taken aback at that message, and especially at the stammered response that left the Kirlia afterwards-

"^Elric! C-C'mon, that's n-not the time!^"

"~Not the time for what?~"

For once, it was Cadence that completely combusted in embarrassment. Red blush immediately took over her cheeks as she looked away, much to Anne's surprise. Did- did she do something wrong? No, no, she didn't, but if not, then what was happening? What was Cadence so shy about?

"^N-nothing! Forget about it, it's fine-^"

"C'mon Cadence, you were so excited!"

"^Elric! She doesn't need me being a baby right now!^"

"~What were you excited about Cadence?~"

Critical hit, the Kirlia immediately withdrew with even more fluster. Part of Anne worried whether she'd done something wrong again. The rest wanted to immediately comfort the smaller, if not necessarily younger girl. Her hug once more pressed Bell and Cadence alike to her front, the former squirming happily as the latter threatened to catch on fire in her fluster.

"Teehee, she wants you to-"

Before the Gligar could finish, his translation was yanked out from underneath him. The remainder of his message was delivered in hisses and clicks, the abrupt change making Anne jump a bit. That felt abrupt, but also a bit rude, especially since she still didn't have any idea as to just what was going on in here or why Cadence was so skittish about any of this. Guess it was time for her to try to figure the other girl out, ha-

"~Cadence? I didn't hear what Elric said there, did you want me to... do something?~"

"^N-no, no, it's just- it's just something childish, don't worry about it...^"

"~You helped me out of that bout of panic, I'd love to do something in return for you! E-even if I don't have much a-and can't do almost anything in comparison...~"

"^But that's not true, you can draw very nice- eep!^"

Anne saw Cadence's physical hands snap over to cover her mouth at the accidental slip up. Elric immediately broke into amused, chittery laughter in response. If the Kirlia wasn't utterly focused on being embarrassed she would've given him a stink eye. It seemed that there wouldn't be many opportunities for that left in their immediate future, though~

"~Oh? Do you want me to draw you Cadence?~"

If Cadence’s freeze was anything to go by, Anne had just nailed it. She couldn't help but immediately break out into soft laughter afterwards. The sight of a reassuring and affectionate Kirlia getting reduced to a blushy, squirmy mess was adorable, not to mention funny in context.

"~Oh Cadence, I-I'd love to draw you! It'd be my pleasure!~"

A quiet gasp in surprised relief. The rest of the Kirlia's body immediately turned back towards her, looking up at her with borderline puppy eyes from her vantage point on top of her thigh. They weren't needed to get what she wanted, but they helped in warming Anne's heart up even further in any case-


"~Yeah, of course! I just need some pens and paper... actually, I could use colored pens for this! Just need to grab my pencil case and a clean page, I think they're in that bag over there-~"

Before Anne could even finish pointing out which bag she specifically meant, it was already being dragged over to her. The bright glow of the Kirlia's Psychic kept popping on various objects around the bag, as if wanting to hover them all out but unsure which to focus on in specific. It was... Frankly, it was adorable. Enough so for Anne to give Cadence another tight hug, much to the latter's embarrassed squeak.

"~Thank you! I think I can reach in and take what I need myself now. And you could get in the pose you want me to draw you in maybe?~"


Anne winced at Cadence suddenly going to max volume right inside her brain. Her excitement was so cute to behold that she couldn't really linger on that bit of discomfort for long. The Kirlia was immediately gone from her lap, bouncing off further along the bed and starting to figure out a pose while she dug through the pile of items. Anne made mental notes of everything she could see in there. Stationery, paper, a lot of whatever scraps of clothing she left behind at home. Underwear and socks and... period products. Guess... guess she would need those eventually, but still- ew.

Thinking about her own biology might have brought a moment of ickiness upon her, but thankfully it wouldn't end up lasting for too long. Certainly not with the small stack of pages getting excavated from the assorted items and dropped off on top of the bedding. It was flanked moments later by her pencil case, its sight catching the attention of Bell in particular. Now just to find the right scrap of paper to scribble on, ha.

"^Oh oh oh oh what are those Anne!?^"

Right, figures nobody here would know the specifics, teehee.

"~This is paper! It's like... I think it's made out of wood but just really, really really thin and can nicely bend and be drawn on. I have a whole lot of loose pages here, hehe-~"

The topmost piece of paper was passed over to the Kirlia, Elric helping himself out to one right afterwards as well. The two tweens both toyed around with the new and exciting material as Anne pilfered through the stack in search for the right piece of canvas. Her little search only got interrupted by Cadence's worried voice-

"^O-oh A-Anne, what- what are these...^"

Oh shoot, gave her one of the spooky ones, didn't she?

"~I'm- I'm so sorry Cadence, here, try this one, this one is just... some practice I was doing...~"

"^B-but why are they bleeding?^"

The page of sketches got replaced with another one, Anne now properly able to take a look at the scribbles that had unsettled the older fairy. There wasn't anything too disturbing in there, definitely not by a human metric. Still, it was a bit unnerving. A few practice sketches of how blood would flow down a finger from a small pinprick. Rough trace of her inspiration for these drawings. Half complete sketch of a crown of thorns, discarded once it had grown too messy.

"~I was- I was just trying to draw how flowing blood would look like. There's like- there's one artwork I can show in a bit that really inspired me with these, e-even if they're all really creepy. I-I don't like actual blood either, don't worry, I just think y-you can do cool stuff with it in art. A-and it made me experiment a lot...~"

With every word the creeping feeling that she was just trying to justify drawing messed up stuff intensified more and more. Her eyes eventually fixated on a recently dredged up empty page, self conscious filling her rattled body. Cadence was still in the process of shaking off the unnerving sight even if she really wanted to comfort Anne as well. Elric didn't know what was wrong with the sight of a little blood, left confused by the whole situation. All that left Bell to intervene-

And intervene he did, with a gentle, splatted hug right on Anne's front.

"Don't be sad Anne, nothing bad happened!"

The Ralts might not have had the exact vocabulary to be able to reassure people as well as his mom and sister, but the will was most definitely there. His teeny head craned all the way up to look at her once he'd finished delivering his comforts, trying to see if it would work with all his senses. And work it did, though partially through the means of sheer cuteness. No matter the exact mechanism of function, the gesture was immensely appreciated all the same. The tyke got briefly lifted into a one armed hug, much to his squeaked-out delight.

"~Thank you Bell, I-I needed to hear that.~"

"Okay! Gasp! I didn't ask! Can we be friends?"

This time the entire room erupted into giggles of various intensity, everyone but the Ralts incredibly amused at his wonderfully innocent question. Bell himself just looked around in confusion, a squeaked out 'what?' only fueling the fire of the surrounding laughter.

"~Yes, yes we can Bell, teehee. W-we can all be friends!~"

"Yaaaaaay! Thank you Anne!"

Another splatted hug, feeling just as nice and warm this time. Right as Anne was about to finally get to her handiwork, the affection made her decide to delay it just that bit more. She put the pencil down, taking Bell aback before using that opening to counter attack the lil’ Ralts. Her gentle scritches on the side of his head affected him super effectively, his whole teeny body wriggling happily under that magical influence. His handsies latched onto her own and held it close for a nice long while afterwards as they both calmed down, giggles taking their time to subside.


"~Hehe, it's okay, it's okay, don't worry Cadence! Your brother hasn't done anything wrong either, hehe.~"

Anne heard Elric cackle from beside her as Bell finally let go of her hand, though he wasn't even briefly considering actually leaving her lap afterwards. And... she couldn't blame him, not like she wanted him to leave either anyway. Just gotta grab the pencil and she could get to sketching-


Her eyes scanned the part of the bedding immediately in front of her, trying to hone in on the soft pencil she loved sketching with. It… seemed to have disappeared somewhere. Oh well, just gotta pull another one out of her pencil case-


The louder giggling off to her side finally clued the human onto what was going on immediately beside her. Elric was holding both her chosen pencil and the rest of the pencil case in his pincer and his tail respectively, just barely within reach. Anne was left unsure how to react, not wanting to ascribe malice to the act, but at the same time being just a bit too spooked to act with his stinger and all-

"Elric, give those back!"

Before Bell could even finish, he was already attempting to retrieve them himself. His bluish aura enveloped the singular pencil before the item was yanked out of it. The Ralts's armsies repeatedly reached over in the direction he was trying to grab with his aura, each time for naught. The Gligar looked very amused, and it was clearly for play, so... might as well-

Her attempt to reach over to grab the pencil case had the whole stingered tail slide away so fast it was little more than a blur. The sudden motion was enough to startle her even if she knew she had nothing to fear on a rational level. By the time Elric had stopped, he was already latched onto one of the supports at the edge of their room, sticking his tongue out to taunt the rest of the group. It was funny, yes- but Cadence could tell that it had missed the mark with Anne in particular-


"Elric, give back!"

Once more the pencil was yanked out of the little psychic's mental grasp, once more the bat immediately followed it by scampering up the room. Soon enough, he ended up suspended under the ceiling. Neither of the boys showed any signs of stopping, but Anne was still a bit rattled, Cadence wanting to intervene again-

"^Elric, please stop-^"

"But we're just playing!"

Cypress breaking his previous silence in response to the Gligar's words caught the immediate attention of most of the room, for various reasons. While the human herself was busy taking a look at the ghost, Cadence quickly fixed a link between them she only now realized was missing. A glance over at the source of his whispered voice had determined him to be in the middle of perusing the books present in the other bag, the brief glimpse of one of their covers in particular making Anne sigh in excitement.

Did Mrs. Graham end up packing in the book about that fantasy mon civilization after all? That would've been so cool. Anne loved that one, and read so much of it that its back had started to give out. She always worried that Mrs. Graham would be mad at her for damaging it.

"Give it back!"

Bell tried his luck once more, even more forcefully than before. His little call interrupted everyone else out of any pondering they might have been in, Elric included. The bat only barely managed to keep a hold of the precious piece of treasure he was attempting to keep away-

And then, not anymore. The loud crack resonated through the room as the pencil snapped in half at the sudden force, both pieces immediately getting dropped down onto the carpet.


If the Gligar hadn't already been distraught at the sight, Cadence's call would've pushed him over the edge. But he was, now even more so. His body language immediately shrunk as he let go of the pencil case, some of its contents splatting out onto the floor upon impact.

"I-I'm sorry, I-I-I j-just got carried away with it, I-"

"^You broke it!^"

"I'm sorry, I'm-"

"~Hey, hey, it's okay.~"

Anne's voice snapped the two playmates out of their bickering before they could get any more incensed. She was still a bit unnerved at it all, and felt a tiny bit bad at one of her best pencils having some lifespan taken out of it, but ultimately nothing bad really happened. Definitely not bad enough to justify anyone being mad at anyone else- other than her at least.

"~D-don't worry Elric, I can fix it easily and even use it broken like that, it's not a big deal. J-just... c-could you not yank these away in the future?~"

The human's comforting side thankfully ended up on top among the mental slurry that came about as a result of her thinking about how to react to Elric's shenanigans. She wasn't a fan, and that was hopefully appropriately conveyed, even if the last thing she wanted to do was to make the bat himself feel bad for any of it.

"O-okay. I'm sorry, I-I just did it because it's f-fun with Bell-"

"It isn't! It's mean!"

Elric most definitely didn't need that double whammy at the moment. The whimper that followed right after was so close to ultrasound that most gathered only barely heard it. As much as Cadence thought that her playmate needed a dose of reality like that, he was still her close friend, and he was hurting. It all made the Kirlia decide to intervene directly. As directly as possible even, her eyes and body becoming surrounded in a glowy sheen before hovering up in the air. Psychically enabled flight took her right over to her friend underneath the ceiling, right into her arms' reach.

"Not fair, I wanna hug Elric too!"

Despite his offense just moments prior, the lil' Ralts couldn't ever resist donating his affection to someone. The call made his sister giggle in particular, even if the tyke himself was left as confused as ever. With a bit of wordless communication, a plan was settled upon. Cadence's glow expanded to cover the bat as well before both of them were levitated down onto the edge of the bed, right in front of the human. Bell acted immediately in the only way he could. Namely, by scrambling straight ahead and squirming right in between his sister and friend, his teeny body not coming close to fully embracing either of them.

Anne, of course, followed in tow, all the tingles making her squirm as the rest of the bunch immediately switched tracks to hug her too.

This felt nice. It was so, so nice to be able to do anything, anything at all about people being mean to her, intentionally or otherwise. Back in Mylock, all that anyone speaking up like that accomplished would be to make the offender double down, triple down, anything but to acknowledge they did anything wrong. Anne wished she could say it was just boys either, or just kids either, but no, it wasn't. It never was just any particular group. Maybe there was something wrong with humans deep down. She didn't want to consider that idea, but... sheesh.

"I'm sorry Anne..."

Apologies were mostly unheard of either, Anne almost having to do a double take when hearing one.

"~I forgive you Elric, don't worry. Though~ if you could pick up all the stuff that you dropped that'd be nice, hehe.~"

"Of course!"

The hug was immediately disentangled, the Gligar going to work immediately afterwards, much to the others' amusement. It was nice for people to be on the same page again and for Elric to hopefully knock that particular type of "play" off for good. Cadence appreciated the former, and Bell the latter- and both really, really liked that their human hopefully-friend was feeling better now. The Kirlia wasted no time bouncing over back to her previous spot and resuming her previous pose, a touch of Psychic letting her maintain impressive levels of balance on just one leg. Her head and hand alike reached for the skies, beckoning as if asking the sun for the day to be just a bit longer, or the moon for just a bit more of its soothing light.

Or at least, that's what Anne ended up reading into the pose once she got to sketching, the half a pencil gliding fast over the page. Each stroke further solidified one particular part of her anatomy, Anne's thoughts swirling around them as she put them to the page. The weird, almost three segmented legs, the short flaps of her skin dress, the two fingered hands. The piercing red eyes, imposing despite the visible excitement and joy of the Kirlia's expression, parted by her kin's signature hairdo. And of course, the two red horns their kin was so known for, the same color as her eyes. The very same horns that were helping the lil' fairy narrow down just what the human was focusing on in the moment.

Cadence couldn't deny that it felt weird being eyed in that kind of detached, almost objectifying way. At the same time, she supposed it made sense with the focus on drawing and wanting to really capture how she looked like. There were plenty of parts of her best friends that started to look weird the moment she really concentrated on them. She really shouldn't have been surprised for the same being true of her as well. Heck, it was true of Anne as well. Her hands were so weird and stretched, her whole body was so boney, especially around the neck and shoulder area, it was almost creepy to look at! Okay, okay, let's shift focus to something else maybe. She didn't want to think of Anne as weird, just like Anne didn't really think of her as weird either. Or... well, not exactly weird.

Her focus let her know there was something in there that was quite off, a fair bit of fear deep inside that was being covered up in the moment. Fear of her entire kin, the details too inexact for her to make out. The idea made her feel bad to even consider. She already felt self conscious about the few other kids that were spooked by her from time to time. And all she ever wanted to do in situations like that was to figure out how to help them not be scared.

Mom told her a lot that trying to Calm Mind or otherwise manipulate someone at all like that was mean, even if it was just to make them not scared of you. Cadence tried her best to take that advice to heart. Even with Anne, she really, really wanted to help her more directly when she was feeling really bad about herself, but didn't. Because that would be mean.

Cadence didn't want to be mean, she wanted people to like her. She wanted everybody to like her.

"~Alright, I think that's linework done. You can come here Cadence, I'll- I'll be coloring in now!~"

Anne's call took the Kirlia out of her pondering. The fairy followed up with a long leap, managing to make it through the entire distance between herself and Anne in one jump. She had to resort to a bit of telekinesis to soften her landing, sure, but even with that caveat bouncing from her pose and right onto Anne's lap was impressive, right? Right?

Even if it was, it paled in comparison to what Anne had made there. Cadence let out a quiet 'wow' as she scanned the linework, squirming in giddiness at seeing herself captured so accurately like this. All the little details, even the ruffling on her hair or how her flaps laid against her thighs. It made anything she'd ever made look like the simplest and ugliest of baby drawings in comparison. The kinds that Bell's playmates would make in the sand. No way anything she ever made would ever be half as pretty-


"^Oh- sorry, I just got lost in thought. This is so pretty Anne! How do you draw like this?^"

"~You mean with a p-pencil?~"

"^Nooo, I mean this nice! It's so pretty...^"

The Kirlia acutely felt the embarrassed chuckle coming from the human as she began to fill in the outline with shades of green and red. And once she did, there was no coming back-

"^I mean it Anne, it's so cool!^"

"~Noooo, it's really not, I'm still learning a lot-~"

"^But that doesn't make it any less cool!^"

"~But I'm not cool!~"

"^Of course you are! I wish I could draw anywhere like that, o-or do anything else this cool...^"

"~B-but you do, you're plenty cool Cadence, all the telekinesis and-~"

The gruff voice coming from the entrance to the room successfully ended the little flustered exchange on the spot. Everyone's attention was immediately pulled over in the direction of the makeshift door, letting them see the several loops of white thread that now held the previously torn piece of canvas in place. Though, most gathered were instead focused on the Gallade that was peeking out into the room, oddly enough. Right, Aria had mentioned that her brother would be watching over them, and they went right ahead with it before he got here. Oops, hopefully he wouldn't be mad...

Similar thoughts were cruising through the minds of everyone else gathered, the sudden coolness immediately taking the newcomer aback. He shouldn't have been this forward, let's give it all another shot...

"^It's fine, it's fine, don't worry, I just thought Autumn told you all to wait until I got there.^"

"^She did uncle, but Anne tripped and fell and I helped her and she got scared and-^"

"^Hey, hey, I meant it Cadence, it's really fine.^"

Aria would know what to say here to really comfort all the gathered little ones, all he could do was blindly stumble and hope he could accomplish a fraction of that. Still, he had to try, especially with Anne being clearly as unnerved by him as she was. It made him feel self conscious to all hell, but it wasn't the time for that. In the moment, it was the time to keep his composure and be the uncle and the guardian all the kiddos needed.

Deep breath, let's go.

Marco's imposing size relative to everyone else in the room made Anne shrink just a bit more as he walked over to the bedding. He tried to immediately undo that effect by kneeling down beside the edge of the bed, only enough of his body peeking up to be closer to everyone’s eye level. Before he would do anything more though, it was time to introduce himself to the one girl he was here for, in as affable a way as he could manage.

"^Hey Anne, my name's Marco. My sister asked me to look after you all, though from what I can see you've all been behaving well enough.^"

Well enough is certainly the appropriate descriptor here…

Cypress's aside made the Gallade chuckle and the two older kids grumble a bit, not explaining any of it for the human girl. She wanted to trust the freshly introduced Marco, but the stone expression on his face and the somewhat ambiguous tone had left her uncertain, her nod at his introduction haphazard and rather scaredy. The realization quickly began to work away at his confidence about how well suited he was to any of this. Self-consciousness about never being able to stack up to his sister soared once more, almost making him give up there and then-

No, hell no, Anne needed him, he could do this, just take a deep breath and... be honest.

"^I'm... not as good at being warm as Aria is, and I'm sorry for that. Still, I want you to feel as welcome here as can be Anne, especially at everything you've been through. Would you... would you want a hug?^"

Anne didn't expect someone so stern looking to say something like that, any preexisting worries quickly becoming transmuted into much warmer, much kinder feelings. Figures that even among their kin not everyone would be equally good at this. Some of her earlier fear even turned into compassion, the imposing knight that had startled her moments earlier feeling more and more like Aria's next of kin by the moment.

"~I-I'd love a hug, thank you Mr. Marco.~"

"Yay, hugs!"

Yay hugs indeed Bell, yay hugs indeed. The giggle and the scramble to get everyone in on the embrace were a bit awkward, but no less heartfelt as a result. All the affection around Anne was starting to really get to her, worries’ grip growing weaker by the moment. Ember was safe and still snoozing right next to her, Aria and her family were being really nice to her and already felt like friends, they were both safe in here. Her appreciation of this village in the middle of the woods only grew by the moment, as did the deep relief in her body at being able to stay here for good.

Even if he wasn't anywhere near as good at this as his sister, the sheer proximity made Marco overhear Anne’s relief, the knight using up his entire composure not to wince in response. He knew the rest of his family were doing everything in their power to ensure that would come to pass, but... the lack of certainty still hurt, and it hurt deeply. The things he'd seen inflicted on her, by fate, by her own damnable parents, even by the elders through their words. Aria was protective when it came down to it and the more Marco thought about it all, the more he realized he wasn't far behind. No matter what these old coots thought was appropriate for Anne to happen, he wouldn't let her be hurt by fate ever again-

"^Uncle Marco?^"

"^Oh, sorry Cadence, I was just thinking about something, it's all good.^"

It wasn't, but thankfully he knew how to keep his thoughts secure from Cadence and Bell, even if the same didn't extend to the stronger psychics. His niece wasn't immediately convinced. Even if his thoughts were private, his feelings weren't, his worry palpable to the lil’ fairy. She was about to ask what was wrong before Marco redirected the discussion somewhere else, catching an interesting piece of art in the corner of his eye-

"^Heh, convinced Anne to draw you, eh Cadence?^"

"~N-naw, I-I didn't need c-convincing. Cadence r-really helped me out earlier and I wanted to pay it back, a-and I love drawing people.~"

"^That's really sweet of you both.^"

"~Thanks Mr. Marco...~"

"^It's nothing uncleeeee-^"

"^I'd say it's more than nothing if Anne decided to repay you like that, hah.^"

Both of the girls got flustered in response, mission accomplished with an amused chuckle. He even did them one better, letting go of the hug to reach up and ruffle both their heads. Cadence's excited squirming and Anne's light flinch may have been very different immediate reactions, but the human soon eased out as well, especially as he played up more of the psychic tingling, wanting it to really feel like Aria would do it. As he did, though, something rather unusual caught his eye in the corner-

"^That's... a rather worrying drawing. Is everything okay Anne?^"

The human girl only needed a brief glimpse to determine that the Gallade was referring to the same page of sketches that had initially unnerved Cadence, a low grumble leaving her in response. Might as well explain how all that happened finally, and how it really wasn't anything all that bad-

"~No, no, I promise, it's just art. H-here, lemme show you wh-where I got these ideas from, I know they're creepy but they're also cool-~"

Letting go of everyone around, Anne reached over across Ember's sleeping body to the book she'd brought with herself. Not without sneaking in a couple pets for the sleeping vixen either, it was only appropriate after all. She wasn't interested at all in the book itself, merely the odd card she used as a bookmark. Anne had very little idea what was its original purpose. All that mattered was that it ended up fueling her experimentation towards more morbid art, and the improvements in anatomy that followed.

"~Here, th-this drawing in the middle inspired me.~"

Aside from bits of black squiggles on white background that had to have been the fabled human text, most of the rectangular card was taken over by a central artwork. Its vibes were very similar to Anne's sketches, similarly unnerving. It was almost all black, with the exception of a single pale bald human head in the middle. His hands were covering most of his face except for one quivering eye, staring directly at the viewer, a short scratch mark trailing from the tip of its every finger. There wasn't much blood, but it was enough to stain his fingers and some of his hands, and it was clear that this was only the beginning. At the top of his head rested a single wavey, purplish tendril, two reddish pinpricks piercing the darkness immediately behind him.

The artwork was impactful enough, but then it somehow got even better once Anne started rotating the card slightly up and down. The reflective, colorful layer on top of the black background came together to show an outline of a Mismagius right behind the central figure. Followed by several more in the background darkness, all with their mouths open as if laughing.

Or chanting.

"How does it do that!?"

"~I don't know Elric, b-b-but it's cool, right?~"

"^It's really morbid, that's for sure. I think you'll like this, Cypress.^"

The ghost wasted no time floating over to the rest of the group. His attention at the small card in the human's hand overcame his creeping exhaustion, at least in the moment. For a moment, Anne worried that the Mismagius would end up taking it the wrong way, but thankfully, that wasn’t the case-

"Oh, morbid, fearful, grisly. I love it. Wonder what all these… scribbles around it are supposed to mean- some sort of description, perhaps…?"

"~Oh, those, I'm... not sure in all honesty. I think it's for a game, but I don't know what any of it means. I only have this card because Mrs. Graham found it in her library after some older kids made a mess in it and played with it one day. I can- I can read the text out if you want?~"

"I would like that, yes…"

"~Alright, at the top it says 'Duress', then 'Sorcery' there, then 'Target opponent reveals their hand. You choose a noncreature, nonland card from it. That player discards that card.'. And in italics, 'Each syllable unravels a bit more of your mind.'~"

Absolutely nobody in the room was any less confused after Anne's lecture than before it, and that extended to the human herself. Hopefully none of what she'd just read would be interpreted badly-

"^What is 'italics'?^"


The sound coming over from the entrance to the room successfully derailed all the gathered trains of thought. The Riolu that awaited them might not have been anywhere near as weird as the human-made card, but her presence here was almost as confusing.

"Hi Reya!"

At least Bell was happy.

"^Reya? What are you doing here?^"

*woof, woof!*

"^Reya, you were supposed to stay with Jovan and Pearl, they'll be worried about you...^"

*woof, woof woof?*

"^Sigh... yes, you can stay and play with Bell.^"

Marco knew better than to try to steer the living torrent of enthusiasm and wagging that was the lil' Riolu away towards where she ought to be. All it'd do was buy them a bit more time before she would circle back around and come back here again. She really liked her best friend, and there was no living force that would stop her from playing with him. Not even adults and their rules. Especially not adults and their rules.

He and Aria should take a page out of that steadfastness, ha.

Speaking of, wonder how she's doing out there.

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other fic, Another Way!

Also also check out my series of shorts, The Alarm Goes Off at Six!
Chapter 14: Humanity


the gay agenda

Chapter 14: Humanity

Thirteen votes.

Just thirteen votes to decide between redemption and damnation of an innocent child, already spurned by life.

The topic refused to wash itself from Aria's mind as she ventured further away from the village, diverging heavily from her usual route. She had to see to something important before starting on her duties, someone important in fact. With just thirteen votes, seven would seal the deal in either direction- numbers weren't her strong suit, but she could figure that much out at least. Her, Marco, Sprout, and Cypress were shoe-ins for letting the girl stay, which just left three more. Just had to sway three more souls towards her side, and there wouldn't be anything to worry about anymore. Anne would be safe for certain, and they would both be able to rest easy.

At the same time, the three elders and Lumi were all but certain to vote the other way. They, too, needed just three more voices, and to Aria's despair, it felt like their task of finding said voices would end up being much easier than hers.

Lucere was almost certainly going to agree with them. She hadn't spoken much with the Altaria. Their scouting routes only very rarely intersected, but from the little she had, the deep distrust of humans as a whole was clear to sense. On the one hand, hard to blame her for perceiving humanity as a virulent plague when her day job was playing the proverbial medic and doing anything in her power to stave it off. On the other, they weren't dealing with the abstract, shapeless mass of humans and their constructs.

They were dealing with a lone, lost child.

Ruby gave Aria the impression of being generally on board with letting Anne stay, but she wished she could be as sure of that as she wanted to be. Shutting Lumi down and raising objections towards what the elders got up to back at their meeting was one thing; genuinely having no objections was another, and Aria was much less certain of the latter. Whichever points of contention she might have had, though, Aria was confident enough in the Weavile's level-headedness to be reasonably sure that they would get argued through.

Ori was... opaque, to put it bluntly. Even someone as deliberately logical as him was still driven by emotions, and it always peeved Aria a lot to have the Scizor almost never acknowledge his. It could be that he simply didn't know how to do it. It was a possibility that fundamentally confused the Gardevoir, but a possibility all the same. From what she sensed at their meeting, Ori was uncomfortable about the whole human mess, even if these emotions never breached the surface of his expression or words. Regardless of how well he could drape them with logical-sounding rhetoric, the underlying feelings were there all the same. Maybe bringing these up with him would help him sort through them and figure out how he really felt, deep down.

That left the other two scouts absent from the meeting. The idea of ever lowering their guard all the way down and withdrawing all patrols just to debate how cruel they'd be didn't sit right with Aria the more she thought about it. Still, if that's the procedure, then that's the procedure. She disagreed, but her energy was best spent elsewhere- such as on what she was heading towards.

Lariat... would be tricky to persuade, she feared. The Lucario wasn't dim, but he tended to be single-minded at times, and protecting his in-group was the sole transcendent motivation behind his becoming a scout. An in-group that a human was unlikely to ever be accepted into on an emotional level. Still, Aria could try to use Ember's predicament to appeal to his soul. She wanted to think that not even someone as stern as him would argue to repeat the misery the Braixen had been through, but it remained to be seen.

And he was the scout she was less worried about of the two.

How do you convince someone who had spent over a decade and a half of her life as a "trainer" pet to ever feel empathetic for a human? Aria had no idea how to answer that question, and thoughts in that direction threatened to start roasting her mind. The Skuntank might have been easygoing, but it's not like they ever had to deal with stakes this big before. She knew full well from experience how easy it was for smiles to be replaced with a cold focus on a whim if the situation called for it, and replacing smiles with seething anger fueled by one's own past was likely even easier.

Rose had a heart; Aria knew that full well, but... sigh... It remained to be seen if she could manage to pry it open even the slightest bit once she'd finally found her. Sensing other minds wouldn't help with that with Rose's Dark typing, but she still had her eyeballs and nose, and Rose was more than noticeable with that first sense. And exponentially more so with the second if anything was to go down, which, fortunately for the often downwind village, it rarely ever did.

Alright, here she is, unaware of the miserable discussion they were about to have.


The Skuntank stopped mid-step before slowly turning her bulky body around in the direction of the verbal call, a grumpy resting expression replaced with a grin and a wave of her stout foreleg. She wasted no time before speaking up either, her voice its usual cheerful-

"Heya Aria, how're you doin' darlin'? Quite far from your route, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. I wanted to talk to you about something, actually."

As the Gardevoir regained her bearings following her Agility-fueled jog, she watched Rose be taken aback just a bit before responding, head and tail nudging her in the direction of her patrol all the while-

"Oh, really? Somethin' popped up with Zephie, orrr~."

"No, no, don't worry, nothing of the sort; your son is as eager to help as ever."

"Damn right, he is."

"I... I wanted to talk about the human, actually."

"Ah, makes sense! Heard a buncha rumors about weird things happening with her last night. I really hope she's doing alright all in all."

Rose's unflinching compassion towards Anne stunned the Gardevoir, her steps pausing as she tried to process the information. It took the Skuntank more than a few moments to notice that hangup, body shape leaving her prone to accidental tunnel vision-

"Aria? What's wrong, darlin'?"

"Oh- nothing, nothing at all, I..."

Might as well speak Rose's language and be as honest as can be here.

"...I just didn't expect you'd have much goodwill for them."

The rapidly changing expressions on the Skuntank's end, once Aria had finished her response, conveyed a story in themselves. Eyes narrowing in offense, then relaxing in realization, and finally doing an impressive roll in exasperation accompanied by a drawn-out groan. Skuntank anatomy didn't lend itself towards facepalms particularly well, but that sure didn't mean that Rose didn't try.

"Oh, come the hell on, darlin'. I spent fifteen years with a human as my best friend; why the hell wouldn't I feel for them? And this kiddo ain't even a trainer, just a poor lil' scamp that ended up here against their will."

Human as her... best friend?

"I... figured your experiences as a trainer mon were traumatic enough to put you off humanity for good."

"Oh, I know, everybody in the village does! It's bloody annoying, frankly, but I gave up tryin' offering my version of the events since nobody listened. They all just heard what they wanted to hear, and I can only stand so much of bein' ignored like that."

Rose was annoyed, and it was the kind of annoyance that had been brewing for a while, aimless and with Aria only being its incidental recipient. The Gardevoir was unsure what to do with that information, expecting many possible responses but nothing like that.

"I apologize, Rose. I assumed, and I shouldn't have in hindsight."

"S'pose I can hardly blame ya. Talkin' with most folks in the village about humans is like discussing the night sky with peeps so scared of the dark they jump at their own shadow. Some of it ain't unearned, sure, but at least just as much is bein' silly and paranoid."

On second thought, there was one course of action that would simultaneously help endear Rose further to anything Aria would have to say, while filling in one of many knowledge gaps she had about the mysterious, terrifying humanity.

And that was simply listening.

"If you wouldn't mind... what was it like, then? Being... owned, and battling like that?"

The words felt incredibly stilted in the Gardevoir's mouth, sentences stopping and restarting at several points. It was downright dumbfounding to be asking about experiences as horrid as that with a straight face, without any underlying anger or comfort. The Skuntank didn't need either, not with her seeming cheerfulness about the whole thing, the emotion feeling impossible on a rational level.

Rose eyed her for a couple moments at that inquiry, eyebrows rising as she mulled it through. Suppose she very well could, especially now that it seemed that her coworker was open to actually listening to what she had to say there...

"Aight, I can recount how it all went down then. It started far, far away from here, in what humans call ~Sinnoh~."


"Yep~. It's an island, far, far away from here. Both my friend and I hail from there, and that's where our big ol' adventure started."

"What was their name?"

"Well... ~Adam~. I've no clue what it means, really, and I think I butchered the pronunciation a fair chunk, but that's what his name is. We'd... known each other since we were both little."

The shorter scout's voice grew noticeably quieter as she began to concentrate, an involuntary smile creeping onto her features as she replayed the images and visions in her head.

"Me and ma used to live rather deep in a human town, ya see. For the most part, they didn't treat us all too nicely, and I s'pose it makes sense from their end. We always made a hell of a mess when digging through the stuff they threw out- though it's only their fault for tossing out so much good food, ha!"

"Humans... throw out food?"

"Fair bit of it, even. Some of it moldy, which I get; not everyone got an immune stomach after all, but definitely not all. Anywho. Most humans gave Ma and me a wide berth, which is only smart of them, ha. Not all, though, and my friend was one of those fools that didn't. Though since I was a kid, and he was a kid, and Ma wasn't around at the moment, and he brought snacks... I let it slide and let go of the posturing Ma taught me I was s'posed to be doing. It's hard to be particularly hostile towards what feels like the only being that isn't scared of me to bits, especially if he also brought food."

Rose was well into walking on autopilot by now, with Aria picking up the slack and giving the immediate area a scan to thankfully find it empty of any dangers. Seems the Skuntank would be able to reminisce all she wanted~.

"And that was hardly a one-off thing either; eventually, he began to show up near our den daily with a berry, something sugary, or even one of his own sandwiches. Felt really sweet to see him taking the human treats his parents made for him and just sharin' those with me directly. He got me wrapped around his finger, and me being the ever-hungry kit loved it, ha. Got food, got pets, got affection, got... a friend. Why wouldn't I love it?"

"What about your mom?"

"She was understandably skittish at first, but eventually, she saw the error of her ways, especially once he'd brought her a snack or two, ha. Though still kept tryin' to drill into me to let myself be caught by none of them damnable balls since then I'd be gone for good. But honestly? Even then, I didn't really mind getting, eh, 'caught' by that friend of mine. Ma aside, he felt like the only bright light for me in that place, and it was hard to imagine having a future on my own. Had no idea whether it'd come down to that, but decided that if it did, I was going with him."

"And then it did come down to that?"

"Ha! Hold on, lemme do a bit of finessin'..."

Rose's response took Aria aback, especially as it was followed by the Skuntank stopping in place and beginning to move her tail around the top of her body. In truth, the Gardevoir had no idea the limb had anywhere near as much flexibility as Rose promptly demonstrated, its range of motion more like a furry tentacle than something affixed to the Dark-type's back. She didn't have the time to ponder on that too much, though, not once Rose was done grabbing the item she wanted to show off in the first place.

She'd heard these balls described plenty of times and never thought that an actual one would end up looking this... mundane. Less like a death trap or an unbreakable cage, and more like a mere object. A very, very human object, of course, its artificiality made determining its materials nigh impossible. The red and white hemispheres were smooth and mostly glossy, at least at a glance. However, the shining sun illuminated the many tiny scratches covering the surface. Other decorations didn't need assistance to be clear to see, even if their composition wasn't any easier to explain for the psychic. Mostly smooth, though occasionally creased artworks covered a few spots on the red half, worn at the edges and visibly bleached in places.

There was a flower, a simplified scribble of a Skuntank, and a red geometric shape Aria didn't know the significance of, a sharp point at the bottom stretching to two adjacent semicircles at the top. Probably plenty more too, but they were covered by the plume of Rose's tail holding the ball up in the air. The Skuntank spared her coworker no chuckles at her dumbfounded expression as the horrible abomination of a ball was slipped back into its previous spot, completely invisible to the outside eye when it was pinned between Rose's tail and back.

"Hahaha, darlin', you look like you got Licked by a ghost or somethin'!"

"How- why- when-"

"I'm gettin' to it, I'm gettin' to it~. So, one day, once the time came, it was the time for my friend's big ol' trainer adventure. I didn't know a whole lot of his language, but I could still figure the gist out, and boy, was he giddy. At the start, I was a bit sad, worried about him leaving for good... but then he showed me that ball and asked if I wanted to go with him. Most kids his age are given one of the mons they breed for this to start the whole trainer business with, but he wanted to go with me instead. And yes- he asked, he didn't just throw it at my face apropos of nothin', ha."

"What did your mom think?"

"She was... sigh, I think she was mostly just worried. Worried about what'd happen to me, whether I'd be treated well and all. I trusted my friend at that point, and so did she, but there was always that bit of doubt about how it'd all end up going in practice. But, eventually, she agreed, and we were both sooooooo happy. I remember scrambling forward onto a small patch of grass in their park, turning towards him, and him just smiling so wide it almost split his head open as he held that thing. Held, aimed, and threw, and in I went!"

Aria had to keep her confusion and revulsion in check throughout Rose's recollection. The evilness of these devices contrasted greatly with the borderline whimsical nature of Rose's tale, feeling impossible to resolve. And yet, the Skuntank continued to be doing just that, waddling on with a content smile as her memories reached that delightful moment. Though, this was one conundrum she had to ask about-

"That 'ball'. How did it feel? They make you disappear, right?"

"I think? Was never clear to me. As to how it felt... warm. Really, really warm. It was like, I'm already giddy to go out on this adventure with him, to be by his side, and then I see him throw that thing, it hits, and it's this wave of warmth all over me, and then the next thing I know he let me out again there and then. As much as I liked him before, it felt like I liked him ten times more afterward, somehow. It's mighty peculiar in hindsight, but it was pure bliss at the moment. It..."

A bitter chuckle left the Skuntank at one particular thought, the Gardevoir beside her left in the deeply unusual situation of having to actually wait for the source of her amusement to be verbally conveyed to her.

"It felt like I was meant for this. It felt right."

Rose lingered on that moment for a while longer, pensiveness eventually getting her to stop and look down at the snowy ground before her. She took a deep breath, and then another, before finally shaking it off and continuing with her patrol and recollection alike-

"And so, the big ol' journey began. Just me and him at the start, but that didn't last all that long. After all, he had to get his hands on the rest of the team, and I had to start my training. It was... gods, it was hard to get into it, in hindsight. The battles, the training, the practice. They were strenuous, especially starting out. Back where I grew up, all I really needed was a Scratch or two for any scrap to be decided; nobody was gonna die for a bit of human trash with how plentiful it was. But in these battles, with wildlings and especially with other trainers, it was combat for as long as I could keep standing. It's, uh, it's surprising how much pain we can tolerate before keeling over, especially with a bit of practice."

"How does practicing something that excruciating work?"

"The hard way, really. Pushing my body to its breaking point and back, trying moves so many times it felt like I was gonna throw up, fighting and fighting and fighting with teammates, up to the point of fainting and back. And again, and again, and again, day in and out. It's... it never really hurts less, is the thing. Taking a full-strength Body Slam now is just as excruciating as it was; the only difference is nowadays, I feel like I can take a lot more of that pain on. It feels like it should be enough to make me tumble over and break, but it's just not, not if I force myself to keep standing. Maybe it's even possible to get used to that pain with enough practice, but even after all my training, I didn't end up getting all the way there."

"That sounds nightmarish."


Part of Rose wanted to reflexively start saying that, no, it wasn't that bad; she managed it all well, after all. At the same time, she knew all too well that her experience wasn't the only one out there.

"With the right support, it's manageable. Constant torment, yes, but having my friend on hand made all the difference as far as motivation went. It felt like all that suffering was for a reason, like it wasn't just misery for misery's sake. I was doing it for him, and he was there for me throughout. And, like... after some time, when the differences first start showing themselves, it feels incredible for a while. Going from a single Starly Tackle almost knocking me out there and then to shrugging them off and sending them tumbling to the ground with one well-aimed Bite or Scratch. You don't really feel stronger at any point, but the results speak for themselves sooner or later, and the results sang."

"These Starly... did he order you to chase them into battle?"

"Sometimes, yep. Most of the time, they were territorial enough to try intimidating us off their turf, and that was as good an excuse for a scrap as it got. Eventually, they spread the word amongst themselves, and in time just stepping in was enough to send them scrambling, ha!"

"And did the human use that opportunity to 'catch' them?"

There was an accusatory undertone in Aria's words, one that could hardly be called undeserved either. It wasn't like she didn't have a point. Rose was forced to sigh and slowly nod, some of the enthusiasm in her voice deflating.

"Yeah. In fairness, it wasn't like he didn't try 'recruiting' more team members the same way he recruited me. I remember us settin' camp one day, myself exhausted after a day of training and glued to his lap, him fixin' us both some roasted snacks. It was so serene, so innocent. He made some extras, laid them on the opposite side of the campfire, and waited to see whether anything would bite and come warm itself. And sure enough~ a Shinx had made their way over, kept eying us down between bites, ha. Eventually, they downed the whole thing aaaaand scampered right off afterward. If my boy was anythin', he was persistent, so he tried again and again. That Shinx even made their way back at some point to grab another treat before running off again. Eventually, though, a single lil' Starly ended up staying even after finishin' their portion and waddled closer, over to the fire. And another snack later, closer still. And so it kept going for a while, the birdie eventually lowering their guard enough to rest by our side and snooze."

Aria found herself following Rose's recollection, imagination taking her for a pleasant ride. She couldn't help but smile at the adorable mental image of a lil' human offering a small mountain of snacks over to the local wildlife until something bit for good, and began trusting him. Such a lovely scene, a weary wild Starly dozing off beside them-

"And it was only then that he went for the ball and nabbed them."


"I can't imagine that Starly felt anything but hatred after realizing what had happened to them..."

"You'd think, but there's somethin' weird to these balls, I tell ya. They came out of it even more affectionate, not mindin' coming along with us one bit. And so, the team expanded to the two of us, and we could start better practicin' against each other. He tried that again a couple nights later, but no catch this time."

"That sounds like a lot of food inadvertently going to the wildings..."

"Eeyup! Plenty of stores around the area and places to rest at though, there was always someplace to resupply around each corner."

"Didn't you say you were on these Starlys' territory?"

"Yeah, it's... I'm really unsure in hindsight. Like, it was wilderness; it was supposed to be wilderness, I'm quite sure. But there were a lot of human facilities along the big main path we were following. Stores like the ones inside their towns, spots for my friend to use to communicate back with his mom, even to recuperate at. I still don't remember how exactly the latter worked. Felt like we were never more than an hour's walk away from a human-made building."

"That's... odd."

"Won't catch me denying that, ha. Anywho, we kept going like that for a while. Training hurt, but camaraderie helped, having my friend on hand helped, and of course, victories helped. We had our first battle against another trainer a couple weeks in; gods I still remember it. Me and Starly versus their Turtwig and Bidoof, we smoked them. We were at the top of the world. All the pain in the world was worth it for these moments alone."

"Can't imagine they were all that eager to fight you two..."

"You'd be surprised~. At least... at least at the start. A few months later, we had our first big, really important battle, in a fancy stadium inside a cave and all. Still remember the other human wearing this silly red helmet, pfft. Didn't end up getting too good of a look before his Onix slammed right into me. Felt like I almost fainted there and then; it hurt that much. They took hit after hit and just wouldn't go down, and we both just had to keep on dodging their strikes; it was so overwhelming. We got some practice against Rock-types like that earlier, but nothing could've prepared us for all that. I even had to learn how to Dig fast enough to catch it off guard, but it was worth it once they finally fell. We won, we had won our first important match, a Stunky and a Staravia takin' on a team of Rock-types and comin' out on top! Take that, everyone!"

Even just retelling the story was enough to get Rose pumped, her walk gaining more of a spring to it and the tip of her tail waving from side to side.

"It was just the first step, but at that moment, I really, really wanted to see it all through to the end. To keep going and never stop, to keep winning and making my friend proud. Goodness, was he proud. We spent a good couple days afterward just lazing, celebrating, and napping, and it was the best feeling in the world."

"Sounds... idyllic."

"It... it was, at times, especially near the start. I had no idea what Ma had meant with her warnings. Not yet. Even all the pain was tolerable at that time, if barely. Of course… nothing good ever gets to last forever. We took the big trainer down, but we had to get back to training afterward. It was just the first step of so, so many, and all of them turned out to be harder than the previous one. We all got stronger and stronger, but all that meant was that the training hurt more and more. We lost sometimes, but it was worth it since we'd eventually come out on top, even if it took even more practice, even more days of every single fiber of my body screamin' in pain. The victories were worth it. Making him proud was worth it."

Rose's pace slowed down, and one paw began to shake more noticeably with each step. A wince accompanied it each time, one that Rose couldn't keep hiding forever despite her best efforts.

"It never got any easier. Not when we won our second important match, not when I had evolved into a Skuntank, not when our team grew to its full size of six. It hurt and kept hurting, and we kept pushing through that. I started figuring out ways of dealin' with the pain, was able to keep pushing day in and out, but some others weren't so lucky. They couldn't bear it anymore; it was too much. Sometimes he'd set them free, sometimes he'd stop bringing them out for weeks or months. I knew that as long as I was by his side I would be able to manage, but..."

Another painful step, another wince. This time, however, it was accompanied by more than just pain, a couple tears beginning to roll down the Skuntank's cheeks.

"He, too, began to change for the worse. We all started off so excited, but just a few years later, it was as if all the smiles had left him. I'd only ever catch him smiling or relaxing in the evenings; at all other times he'd get so serious. Kept reading strategies, devising plans, directing our practice in a more specific direction, managing diets. S'mores and sandwiches turned to flavorless paste and pills. Even if most of the day-to-day stuff wasn't all too pleasant for me, it was worth it as long as it remained a fun adventure for us. Eventually.. that stopped being the case. None of us were havin' fun anymore. None of our opponents were either. You can tell when someone's into this, y'know. There's that enthusiasm to their expression, that lightness to their moves. I felt like I had it in me for the longest time, like many of my opponents did too, but the further we went, the fewer of us, and the mons we fought against showed that kind of eagerness anymore. Eventually, it was just me, and then... not even me, anymore."

With a deep sigh, Rose finally paused, with Aria following in tow. The Gardevoir wasted no time before crouching beside her friend and coworker and wordlessly offering affection in the wintry cold. Her offer was gladly accepted, the Skuntank's soft fur tingling her legs and hands as the nuzzles were exchanged for light pets.

"I can't even blame him all that much, I don't think. It's either makin' it through the entire grueling circuit or giving up and realizing you've wasted years of your life on something that went nowhere. He was trapped in the system, and we were trapped with him. I think he always wanted the best for us, but all that stress, all that pressure... he didn't see; he couldn't see what was happening to us all. Just how much strain it was putting on us all, how much strain it was putting on him. There was no choice but to keep trainin', keep practicing, keep suffering in the pursuit of light at the end of an infinitely long tunnel."

Aria's affection kept coming; all of it was both needed and appreciated. The Skuntank didn't think that any of it would shake her anywhere near as much anymore, it's been years after all, but it did, all of it. Each tiny detail and tattered recollection of her friend's anxious expression and sunken eyes as he spent hours devising strategy or managing the little money the League provided them through their trip.

"Eventually, I couldn't take the training either. Pain is manageable as long as it's for a purpose, but once that purpose is gone? It just starts melting through you; each strike feels like it shatters your bones. I started to falter, couldn't complete my reps, couldn't put up as much practice as was necessary. Couldn't pull my weight. The team got stronger. We were a chain made out of ever-strengthening links, in which the weakest one had to be replaced from time to time. And, one time, that weakest link became me. I had to be shelved. It was days between each time he'd finally let me out of my ball. I felt physically rested each time, but mentally it was just a flash from one moment to another, none of it making any sense anymore. I had no idea what day it was, where I was, didn't even know most of my teammates anymore. We were in some other country entirely, and I had no idea. And then..."

Rose's expression scrunched up, much of her fur bristling out for a moment from the inner turmoil, the eventual relaxation leaving her even more tired-

"And then, I realized I had reached my limit. I couldn't continue. I had no idea how to tell that to him, how to tell that to the human that used to be my friend. One evening, I approached him as he was strategizing, reached for my ball, and swatted it well off into the distance before staring at him. I hoped he could figure it out, and he did. He just stared at me, showing any emotion that wasn't stressed for the first time in days, and... asked me if I wanted to go. All I could do was nod with all my strength."

"Was he angry?"

"Heartbroken. It was as if, for a brief moment, he finally saw what I felt, what we all felt. Like it all really got to him for the first time in years. He looked me in the eye, and began to weep. Held me tight, kept apologizing over it all. Over how much it hurt. Over failing us in one way or another. Kept blaming himself for our losses, for us having to hurt even more. Kept apologizing to me specifically, for ending up so far from home and with what felt like nowhere to go. Took one brief look at the fancy case with the colorful badges, the seven of them, and just tossed it off to the side, and it all rattled everywhere. I held him back; I held him close. His tears kept flowing, his apologies kept flowing. He said he didn't know what to do, that he wasted the last fifteen years of his life, of my life. He said... he said that he wanted me to be happy."

More tears, more affection, the latter helping only nominally.

"We spent one last evening the way we used to. He made a sandwich for us for the occasion, lightly toasted it, and shared it between us. I spent the night on his lap, crying. He held me tight all night long. Then, the next morning, he gave me my ball, and I was free to go. I didn't want to leave but knew I couldn't stay. I took one last look at him, and... left. And then, a few months later, ended up here, with y'all. Figured might as well put all my strength and practice to some actual use and settle down. I don't regret it one bit, but... I miss him. I miss ma. I hope they're both doing well."

Finally, the tears began to wane, composure returning to their spot instead. Each soggy strand of thought began to get shaken off, one after the other, until Rose was close to her former, cheerful-ish self. A couple more nuzzles on Aria's legs, and she'd had her fill, stepping away with deep breaths.

"I'm so sorry, Rose."

"He did many awful things in hindsight, but... none of it was intentionally cruel. It was only how things had to be, according to their system. There was no other way but misery, and misery is where we ended up despite him trying as hard as he did. He wasn't a bad person. I don't think most humans are. I don't even think most trainers are. Their world binds them just like it wants to bind us, and there's little any single person can do about it."

"Then why don't they change it?"

"I wish I knew. Maybe they just can't, for one reason or another. They have to realize it's bad for everyone, right? That much was obvious to me, but... maybe it's not obvious to them. Oh well. That was... a bit of an outpour on my end, wasn't it."

"It was, but it was very... elucidating. Thank you a lot, Rose."

"Anytime, darlin'. Though I take you didn't haul your whole self over here just to hear me whine and reminisce over the ol' days, good and bad, eh? Think you mentioned that human girl at the village?"

Aria nodded deeply as she picked herself back up to her feet, a quick glance skyward giving her a vague idea of how much time had passed. Her route had gone unwatched for a while now, time to wrap this up-

"Yes. She doesn't have anywhere in the human world to go to, and the Elders have settled on a vote to decide whether to let her stay here."

The Gardevoir wasn't sure what kind of reaction she was expecting from Rose when mentioning that, but the drawn-out groan wasn't it. Neither was another attempt at a facepalm that accompanied it, nor the array of grumbles that followed it up.

"Oh, come right on, really? Why is that even a question? Of course she should stay here if she has nowhere to go! Ughhh... these old farts, I swear. Oh well. I'll be there. I'll bring up just the right things to say to really convince them to let her stay. You can count on me, Aria."

Rose's words made Aria let out a breath she wasn't even aware she was consciously holding. So much of the tension released from her lithe frame all at once that it almost made her jump, the tiny motion making the Skuntank chuckle.

"Thank you so much, Rose, it's so, so appreciated."

"Don't fret it darlin', I've heard you've grown close to her. Just can't help but rush in to protect people, eh?"

"That's a stereotype..."

"A stereotype for a reason! Aight, I've fallen behind on my patrol somethin' mighty, and so have you probably, ha! See ya later, hun~."

"See you later, Rose."

"And don't ya worry about the girl- doubt the Elders will have the gall to say no to a loaded Skuntank inside their tent, ha!"


The ghostly murmur snapped the Phantump out of her idle thought, glowing eyes shrinking as they focused on the sight before her. And then, moments later, at the Banette beside her.

"Y-yes, M-Mr. Yaksha?"

"How are you holding up?"

"I'm okay."

Sage was always okay, even when she wasn't. It annoyed the Banette a great deal, in truth. One thing to look after a poor, lost hauntling, another still to have that lil' ghost never be as forward with him as he would have liked, about anything. It wasn't like Yaksha could blame her for that either, not with a fate like hers. The humans were bastards, one and all, and every single thing the ghost had seen of their actions only cemented that fact further for him.

"You know you don't have to pretend, Sage. We can pause for a moment. We're hardly rushing."

"Mmmm... o-okay."

Yaksha's zipper mouth opened a bit as he let out a heavy sigh. With an affirmative nod, he turned their attention away towards scanning for threats, letting the smaller ghost focus their attention inward once more. Hardly anything ever bothered them when they were making their way around, thankfully, especially not during the day when all the Dark-types were asleep. Humans, as always, were the negative exception. But, even they just needed a scare or two to scatter and leave them alone.

Or at least, when the Banette was there for the lil' one...

The thought involuntarily unraveled more of Yaksha's zipper, the tiniest bit of pink light escaping as he expressed his anger differently. Shadow Claw left no immediately noticeable scars on wood aside from slight discoloration. Give it a couple weeks, though, and the dying, dry bark would fall off along the three parallel cuts, permanently scarring the oak trying its best to endure the bitter cold.

For a while, he thought his grudge about humanity would be enough to keep him going forever. Being driven away from his long-time home, home for him and others like him. It's been decades since then, but he still remembered it so well, being forced to leave his dwelling after human machinery showed up, ending up with nothing and nobody. Not even memories of the good times that he had. As much as it hurt him to say, though, he didn't need them, not anymore. Neither did Sage, but she deserved them, deserved them so much more than her Banette wreck of a guardian.

A quick glance over Yaksha's shoulder revealed that Sage had only floated over a bit, the Phantump's attention affixed to a tiny, frozen puddle. He'd seen this enough times to not even have to look anymore, knowing almost exactly what would happen afterward.

And a part of Sage... knew too, to an extent.

Still, she went through the motions time and again. An inky black tendril reached down to swipe the fresh dusting of snow off the ice, the revealed surface as reflective as it gets this time of the year. She stared at the ghost in the reflection, its wooden face and spectral body mimicking her motions. Sage remembered enough to know that it wasn't her, but... what 'her' even was anymore was becoming harder to tell by the day. The occasional glances at the denizens of the woods provided inspiration but no concrete answers. A bird? A rodent? Maybe even a bug? Something small enough for humans to beat up...

Her eyes clenched shut as she partially withdrew into her wooden shell, the pained whimper catching Yaksha's attention. Each time she tried to think back for any real amount of time, she only ever arrived at the same half-formed memory. The cursed capstone of her existence. Three humans cornered her, tall bodies towering over her. Their faces were erased from recollection, but not the sounds they made. The cruel laughter, the shouts, the screams. She remembered hurting so much. She remembered her head hurting so much.

And that wasn't even the last time they'd go out of their way to torment her-

"Sage, I'm here. You're safe now."

Yaksha's hug and the accompanying whisper shook Sage out of her recollection with a flinch, bringing her back to the reality of her surroundings. Snow-covered woods, just like for the past however long. So uniform that if not for her friend's guidance, she wouldn't have thought they were making any progress through the forest at all. Once the Phantump had gathered her attention, she glanced at the other voice beside her, flinching slightly. The Banette's pink eyes were still as unnerving as when she'd first seen him all these weeks ago, and the knowledge that there was no malice in them at the moment didn't help much.

"Reminiscing won't help you much, kid, trust me. I know the allure all too well."


"It was just what you told me, right?"

"Y-yeah, and-"

"And what?"

There was a focused keenness to Yaksha's voice, its attentiveness making Sage flinch a bit. Why did she have to bring it up, he'd just be even more worried...

"Sage, what happened?"


"Was it this morning when I left for recon, and you stayed at that ruined building?"

"Mmm... y-yes."

Another sigh, Yaksha's patient hug continued. Sage was a rough kid, but he knew the right tricks to make her spill what was truly gnawing at her.

"What happened then, Sage?"

"Th-there were a c-couple humans, and they saw me a-and they threw things at me, l-like pebbles and b-bricks..."

Sage felt Yaksha's grasp on her briefly tighten to painful levels before the other ghost let go. He turned his head towards the woods as if to scream, but no words came out, nothing but full-body writhing. She briefly saw pinkish light shine on whatever shrubbery was in front of the Banette, wilting whatever it touched before disappearing as suddenly as it had appeared.

"Beasts, one and all. Next time I see one of them, I will not resort to just some idle scares..."


"Shush, kid, leave it to me. I promised to keep you safe, and I will, but these things have got to pay-"

caw, caw!

The repeated caws coming from some ways away firmly captured the attention of both ghosts, Yaksha's glare immediately narrowing at the approaching human murmurs that accompanied it. A peek into the small trail they were previously following confirmed the ghost's worst fears. Two humans walking in their direction. A taller, darker-skinned one with a Murkrow on their shoulder, and a shorter, lighter-built one, the pink color of their hair unusual for their species.

Wanted to hurt Sage while she was down, no doubt.

"Bastards, beasts, I'll show them. I'll show them good."


He wasn't listening, mind so overtaken by fury that all he could do was express it to the world in one way or another. In a split second, he was in the two humans' path, the scream that followed overflowing with seething hatred, something deep inside the ghost unraveling by the moment.



His entrance was nothing if not successful, the human duo stuck in place as if ingrained. The Murkrow stared daggers into the ghost, but he didn't see or care- they had to pay, humans had to pay, what would end up happening to him was a very distant concern. His care burned bright,

But his grudge burned brighter.

"Yaksha, th-these weren't-"

The Banette didn't hear. He couldn't hear. His curses and fury reverberated in his mind loud enough to drown out all other sound, all other thought.

This has been a long time coming.

Yaksha's Shadow Ball came out in a split second, aimed at the weaker of the two humans, the one without their little Murkrow slave. A seething sphere of dark energy rocketed through the air, the monster on the collision course only able to stare at their impending death-


And then, with a loud shout, his target was tackled to the ground. Yaksha's Shadow Ball left careening into the distance before inevitably striking and collapsing a distant tree. A tiny, momentary setback, especially now that both of these vermin were down and immobilized. This was his chance to follow up and nail them this time, another projectile beginning to form between his hands-


And then, the next thing he knew was utter pain overflowing his body, tearing it apart. His own spectral hands tore his body up, pink light shining through the gashes all over its gray surface. The cloth body tattered in spots as the dark and pink energy ravaged him. He hurt. If he had any blood, he'd be bleeding to death.

Sage could only stare in horror, stare at their guardian, stare at the Murkrow that had almost banished them in a single strike, utter fear freezing her tiny body. It was only after a long while, once the two humans had started picking themselves back up, that she'd managed to force herself to float over to the knocked-out Banette. Seeing him still moving brought immeasurable relief.

"~Holy shit, Chucky-~"

caw, caw!

"~C'mon Lee, let's dip outta here...~"

"~But we still haven't found-~"


"~Fine, fine!~"

The Phantump whimpered in fear when she looked up at the exchange between the two humans and a Murkrow. One of them had gotten so much closer to them. His lower voice instantly clouded the spectral girl's mind with fear. Sage hyperventilated with nonexistent lungs as she hovered backward and away, the human only sparing her the minimum of attention as he walked over closer to her guardian-


Suddenly, something on the back of the darker-skinned human began to rattle loudly, the piercing sound further freezing everyone gathered. Sage had no idea what that sound implied, but it sure seemed that the humans did, and they were none too happy about it. The pink-haired one that had since tried walking away turned on a whim, dashing over to the other one and reaching over to pull him backward, him and the Murkrow on his shoulders-

An instant later, something appeared in front of them.

Tall, white, and green-haired. The air itself cracked with energy as it hovered a couple inches above the snowy dirt, facing away from the hauntling. For a few moments, there was just silence, thick, choking, and deafening. And then, before Sage knew it, both humans were screaming at the top of their lungs and running away as fast as their legs could carry them. The Dark-type reluctantly followed in tow, chasing after their human's increasingly distant shrieks, its own caws contributing to the fading cacophony.

The white being remained in its pose until the humans were out of earshot. Only then did it slowly descend onto the snowy ground and turn around, its red eyes piercing through Yaksha.

And then, it spoke.

Not the stealthiest of ways of getting rid of a couple humans, Aria had to admit that. Though with how dedicated to finding her that darker-skinned one was, it's not like she had too much of a choice on that front either. The awareness that they'd been aware of her for an unknown amount of time was terrifying, but she could figure out how to adjust her patrol route later. Right now, there was yet another mess for her to take care of. Or rather, two ghostly messes.

"^Are you alright? Why did you attack them!?^"

The Banette tried to pick himself up for a few more moments before giving up and finally accepting his temporary resting spot. A stream of grumbles continued to flow out of his slightly unzipped mouth, eventually coalescing into a more coherent response that Aria could translate-

"They kept harassing Sage..."

"B-but they didn't..."

The Phantump's comment finally caught the other ghost's focus, pink gaze making the little hauntling jump a bit, even with just confusion and no malice behind it. It hurt to see, admittedly, especially with all the time he's been looking out for her, but... oh well.

"What do you mean, Sage? "

"I-it wasn't them... it was th-the other humans earlier..."

"Why didn't you tell me? "

"I-I tried to, b-but you weren't listening!"

Sage's voice was girly and shrill, pleading and, especially right now, also worried. She kept floating closer to her guardian as the fear of seeing these humans began to leave her system, her pinprick eyes looking over the Banette's raggedy body with concern. Off to the side, Aria just sighed at the mess of a situation, though at least nobody got hurt.

"^Do you need help?^"

"And who are you to ask? "

"^Someone who knows a medic or two and hails from a settlement for mons. You two look like you could use a hand.^"

"I'll be fine..."

"M-Mr. Y-Yaksha, I've never seen you this hurt..."

"You've only known me for a couple months, kid."


"^You hear her~.^"

"Fine, fine..."

"Th-thank you..."

Sage's quiet, squeaked response finally managed to tug a spectral heartstring or two, much to the Phantump's relief. Slowly, Yaksha picked himself back up into the air. Aria was left curiously watching the two as they turned towards her.

"So, where is that 'settlement' you mentioned, oh stranger? "

"^It's for the best if I guide you over. My name's Aria, and yours?^"

"M-my name is Sage, Mrs. Aria!"


With a tilt of her head, Aria set a direction for the group. The lil' Grass-type followed her close, floating almost right next to her as they got going, the Banette keeping his distance behind the two.

"^What brings you here?^"

It didn't take too long after she'd asked her question for Aria to realize that she'd made something of a faux pas. Yaksha's glare was unnerving, but it paled when compared to Sage's freezing in place and beginning to shake, unfocused eyes staring into the distance.

"Not the best of questions. I've been around this wider area for longer than I can remember, kept moving from place to place while avoiding humans' spread, the lot of them. Sage... Sage, come here. You're safe now."

As grumpy as he was previously, the Banette's mannerisms changed immediately at seeing the Phantump be as terrified as she was. Even his hug didn't help right away, Sage momentarily withdrawing into her stump before slowly re-emerging. Her fear was crystal clear to sense for the Gardevoir, as was it gradually dimming once they were held, even if slowly.

"I'll say this once, and I best not have to again. Sage was murdered by humans. If she never sees one again, it'll be too soon."

...oh no.

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other fic, Another Way!

Also also check out my series of shorts, The Alarm Goes Off at Six!
Interlude I: Interlopers


the gay agenda

Interlude I: Interlopers

“~Lee, I really think we should turn back...~”

The punk’s voice wavered as she spoke, eyes sweeping from side to side. Her concern was apparent on her pale face, framed by a couple of visible strands of pink-dyed hair. The cold today was milder than the last few days, but the weather was by far the smallest of worries this dumb trip of theirs would have them run headfirst into.

Especially if they ended up running into the actual target of their search.

As much as her boyfriend thought she was overly scaredy in general, he wanted to comfort her in the moment. Searching for that ghost was exciting, but a large part of the excitement was finally cracking this mystery they’d both been speculating about for months now. It was no fun if he was the only one into it.

And that’s on top of the more usual reason of: “I like this chick, and I want her to feel alright, thank you very much.”

“~C’mon Iz, we’re gonna be fine. We’ve got Chucky! Right Chucky?~”


The Murkrow occupying Lee’s shoulder was only very vaguely aware of what was happening. Still, as long as this human kept providing him with treats, he wasn’t complaining one bit. On cue, the human’s dark-skinned hand reached into a pocket of his jacket; a single piece of sugary cereal getting pulled out moments later. The sight immediately caught the bird’s attention, the treat’s alluring glittering only matched by its sweet flavor. And once it was thrown into the air, it was quickly snatched by the large, yellow beak. A couple of content caws left the bird afterward as they huddled closer to their human’s head. It was cold out there, much colder than in their town, but the human was friendly, and treats kept coming, so he might as well stick around.

“~Lee, I think you’re putting too much faith in them. They’re feral, after all...~”

“~Izzyyyy, I know mons spook you a bit, but we’re gonna be alright, promise. Chucky’s got no reason to go against either of us, not with all the treats. He really likes me.~”

“~He really likes the bag of cereal in your pocket.~”

“~Murkrow are smart. He could’ve totally yanked it all out and flew off by now if he wanted to.~”

Izzy didn’t know enough about mons to argue with that, grumbling for a moment before letting the topic rest. She didn’t feel any better about any of this, though, that’s for sure.

“~He stuck with us in that standoff earlier, spooked these chumps right outta our turf.~”

“~There’s a bit of a difference of scale between a couple of human losers and a Ghost Bride, y’know...~”

These woods were haunted, and everyone knew that. It was about as accepted in the Lillywood area as that of the sky being blue-ish most of the time. That awareness was enough to discourage most from venturing in too deep. Feral mons were already scary; feral Ghosts were something else entirely. To their knowledge, the Mismagius that hung out near the school grounds had harmed no one, but that didn’t make them any less creepy.

Or any less a magnet for many a local dumb kid.

Enough for them to become a local attraction, even for trainers. At least, if that chump that sat near them on the bus earlier today was any sign. Gonna catch the famous Lillywood Mismagius. Yeah, sure, pal.


As scary as feral Ghosts were on their own, what they were after was somehow even scarier. The kind of thing that only the most reckless of fools would ever dare to actively search for.

That, or your average hormone-addled teen with no self-preservation impulse.

“~Not a Gardevoir Izzy, again, just a ghost of one.~”

“~That makes it even worse, y’know!?~”

She’d tried to dissuade him from sating his curiosity, but it was about as effective as trying to put out a wildfire with a toy watering can. Not when they’ve seen that particular specter so many times over the past few months.

Lillywood has been in what felt like a perpetual decline, and there was no better self-contained sign of that than the ruins in the distance behind them. It used to be a fancy hotel slash resort ages ago. By now, it was just That One Ruined Building that attracted all the teens in the area. Proving ground for many street artists, too, Izzy among them. Of course, town officials tried to cordon it off or other half-hearted measures that were all much cheaper than properly demolishing the place.

If there’s anything that teens are good at, however, it’s deliberately circumventing arbitrary adult-made nonsense out of pure spite.

They’ve been hanging around it for a few months now, but it was only recently that they really noticed another entity besides themselves in there. Well, not quite in there, but nearby. Izzy only spotted them by accident while going over the landscape photos she took from the highest floor, and it was the kind of sight that many a creepypasta was based on. A Gardevoir in the frame's corner, just barely visible within the treeline, thankfully not looking right at her. She and Lee kept bickering about whether it was some spooky ghost nonsense, and of course, the only way to know for certain was to investigate further.

And sure enough, the next day Izzy aimed her camera right in that direction, there it was again; standing among the trees and staring at the hotel. It lingered for a minute or so before turning around and leaving. Gave the couple all the time and fuel in the world to chat amongst themselves and argue what the hell they’d just seen.

Was that just a wild Gardevoir, or maybe a ghost of one?

Both possibilities were the stuff that Izzy wanted precisely nothing to do with, but the same couldn’t be said for her boyfriend. There was a lot of charm in just how much of a daredevil he was at times, but... c’mon, there was a limit to these things. Taming a feral Murkrow was really cool and all, but anything to do with a Ghost Bride sounded like begging for one’s death in one gruesome way or another.

They didn’t even get to argue for all that long before it showed up again. And then again, and again. Each time it’d walk up to the same spot, stay there for around a minute, start walking straight back, and repeat it all, on average, a hundred and seven minutes later. It didn’t have a set schedule to the best of their ability to tell, just popping up among the trees a few times during the day. It almost felt like a patrol, but of what? Neither teen had any idea how to answer that, which left the other major possibility, one that Lee had first put forward.

It was haunting this place! In some weird, roundabout way.

It’d be far from the only spook to do so, though most others only stuck around for a short time. Thankfully, even Lee had enough grip on reality to know to avoid these Ghosts when they popped up. For the most part, they did a decent job of staying out of sight by themselves.

Outside of that one Misdreavus that almost made them have a heart attack, at least.

Half a can of spray paint to the face hopefully discouraged it from trying any of that ever again.

None of the more common Ghosts were anywhere near as unusual as that recurring specter of a Gardevoir. Maybe their human had died in this hotel many years ago, and that’s why it was closed now? Perhaps they had murdered someone and kept coming back to admire their handiwork? The teens didn’t know.

These were the kinds of mysteries that most didn’t want to know.

Lee was definitely not a part of the “most” category. He immediately wanted to investigate deeper; needing a good couple of months to finally convince his girlfriend to accompany him to take photos. And she was even beginning to warm up to that idea-

At least, until yesterday.

At any rational level, Izzy knew perfectly well that having that Ghost Bride be missing that day and a building in that backwater Mylock village deciding to explode on a whim were two completely unrelated events. But... it was still a disturbing coincidence. One she really, really didn’t want to investigate, and one that only added further kindling to the flames of Lee’s curiosity.

Enough so for him to bike all the way over to Mistralton to ask his uncle for a piece of particularly fancy equipment that would help in their little search.

Izzy didn’t knpw that there were academics who researched psychics specifically. Or, at least, any academics that haven’t been long wrapped up tight in a straitjacket. Somehow, there were, and just like any self-respecting egghead, they had their fancy pieces of kit. The narrowness of their functionality correlated linearly with their price. With how expensive this little gizmo was, the punk had no idea just how the hell did her boyfriend convinced his relative to let him borrow it, even if just for a day.

Maybe being a bit of a daredevil and making poor decisions ran in the family, ha.

As pricey as the device was, it wasn’t doing much at the moment. A large box stashed inside Lee’s backpack with a single long cord extending out of its side, capped off with what almost looked like a dowsing rod. A metal stick the size of a pencil, one end split into three short perpendicular sections around an inch long. All this junk could supposedly sense the aura magic bullshit nonsense that the psychics did their weird spells with and make noises once it did, kinda like a Geiger counter. Only instead, the stuff this specific version would detect was somehow even more dangerous than gamma radiation, against all odds.

And they were walking straight towards it, probably getting closer and closer by the moment...

“~That thing is still not detecting anything, Lee. Maybe it changed its path, and it’s gone?~”

“~Nah, I’m not buying that. Why would a ghost just up and change like that for no reason?~”

“~What if it blew up in that explosion in Mylock?~”

“~I haven’t heard a thing about a Gardevoir or anything that looked like one being involved in that mess.~”

“~Then why would it be gone yesterday?~”

“~I don’t know Iz. Hopefully we’re able to figure it out today, ha! We can crack this case, I’m sure of it, eh Chucky?~”


“What if something else ends up attacking us? Like- I-I don’t know, a wild Luxray? Doubt Chucky will be of much help there...~”

caw, caw!

“~You heard him~. But nah, I really doubt that’s gonna happen. I’d think most mons know better than to just harass people for no reason, not with League being all too eager to come down on them for that.~”

“~Something tells me feral mons aren’t too familiar with human para-governmental organizations...~”

“~Don’t have to be if the message is just ‘don’t eat the lanky things’-~”



The loud cry sent dread deep through both teens, sounding like a mix of screams, whispers, and fabric being torn. Their eyes immediately shot up towards the source of the haunting noise, the being that stood in their way not one either teen was expecting.

The Banette’s pink eyes drilled right into their very souls, the line of the zipper-like grin constantly wavering between a crooked smile and a harsh scowl. It was terrifying and decidedly not the ghost they were looking for. Both the teens kept enough of their brains to start slowly shuffling backward, avoiding sudden moves. Finding a spirit of a Gardevoir was one thing. Silly myths aside, any attacks of humans on their hands were unheard of.

Something that absolutely couldn’t be said of the Banette in front of them-

And it was very, very eager to demonstrate that fact.


The punk’s attention, temporarily distracted by the briefest of glances at the nearby tree and a Phantump peeking out from behind it, was drawn right back by her boyfriend’s scream.

Just in time to see a sphere of dark, crackling energy fly straight at her.

Her brain short-circuited at the sight, and her feet felt rooted to the forest floor. The only movement her body could manage was her face twisting into utter horror before she shut her eyes, bracing for certain death-

Only for Lee to tackle her to the ground, only barely dodging the Shadow Ball.

A couple of skipped heartbeats later, they heard a loud bang in the distance behind them; the shatter of wood followed up shortly by the deafening croak of a collapsing tree.

The Banette wasn’t done, nowhere near. Its hateful eyes kept staring them both down as it began to form another projectile between its raggedy hands-


Only for Chucky to strike first.

The seething mass of pink and black energy hit the ghost without warning, the shriek that left it even louder than the one it had first startled the couple with. Once the smoke had cleared, they finally saw the many tears and cracks covering its writhing body. Pink light leaked out of them as the Banette thrashed on the ground, screaming in pain.

Neither of the two knew enough about battles to have any idea just what had happened.

It sure looked like Chucky had just laid it out in one hit. And judging by his expression, the Murkrow was only looking for an excuse to follow up with a finishing blow.

“~Holy shit, Chucky-~”

caw, caw!

“~C’mon Lee, let’s dip outta here...~”

“~But we still haven’t found-~”


“~Fine, fine!~”

Izzy might not have wasted time getting up, but Lee most definitely did, the curiosity getting the better of him in the end. With Chucky returning to his proper place on his human’s shoulder, he felt confident enough to approach the wounded ghost.

Especially now that it got company.

Thankfully, it was far from a particularly intimidating sort. The tiny Phantump that had floated over to the downed Banette immediately backed off at seeing him, its whimpers shrill and pitiful. He almost felt bad for a moment-


The rattling, cracking noise from the box in Lee’s backpack froze Izzy’s blood. The punk looked over her shoulder, only to see her boyfriend getting closer to the ghost that had just tried to murder them. She wanted to shout for him to come and leave, but her voice stuck in her throat as the device rattled and screamed at them about the looming threat. It was right there! They were gonna fucking die!

They had to get out, get out NOW!

He’d saved her once, and now it was time for her to repay the favor. Izzy remained silent as she dashed over and grabbed her boyfriend by the shoulders, about to yank him straight back and pull him out of there-

Only for their destination to arrive first.

The Ghost Bride appeared in front of them in a blink, hovering a couple of inches off the ground; its eyes shrouded in a brilliant white flare. The single, drawn-out, ear-piercing whine replaced the previous clacking as the soul of a mighty psychic stared them down-

“^ BEGONE! ^”

Can do!

The teens took off in utter terror; the sight of a furious ghost burned into their retina. Their minds were overfilled with fear- Run, run now, your life’s on the line, run, RUN, RUN! Chucky might have been immune to whatever had just befallen his human and his human’s human, but he wouldn’t argue with their screams, following them out with a few more caws, only occasionally glancing over at the ghostly Gardevoir. It remained in its spot, unmoving, merely staring in their direction until the group finally made it back to the ruins. They sure as hell weren’t gonna stop there, not until they were safe and back at their place.

Possibly not even then, depending on just how much excess fear their minds got soaked with.

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other fic, Another Way!

Also also check out my series of shorts, The Alarm Goes Off at Six!
Chapter 15: Nurture


the gay agenda

Chapter 15: Nurture

“^So, any more questions for now?^”

Despite the utter weirdness of the creature being discussed, not even two entire classes of kids could maintain a steady output of questions forever; Autumn left with no responses for the first time in what felt like hours. She definitely wouldn’t disagree with that development, and neither would Geiger after having to do more talking in one extended session than he usually did in a week. Still, it’d be a shame for their class to end on a flat note like that.

No, there were much better ways of reinforcing the knowledge she’d been trying to drill into their heads.

“^Alrighty! Now, how about you discuss what you’ve all just learned with your friends? We and other teachers are here, so if you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask!^”

On cue, the entire clearing exploded into a cacophony of murmurs, growls, and whispers; what felt like a dozen different discussions starting off before she could even finish the sentence. Quite a lot of sudden noise for her ears and horns alike, but the Indeedee would tolerate a bit of over-stimulation if it meant the kids would be more effectively swayed.

And, even more importantly, she could exchange more than a couple of words with the adults now that the little ones were occupied.

“^How are you holding up, Geiger?^”

A drawn out grunt and a staggered stretch weren’t the most inspiring of responses to a question like that, but the words that followed made up for it somewhat.

“I’m managing, I think. Glad to be of help, though, good gods, my throat is taking a beating.”

“^Won’t hurt to grab a drink at Viv’s after we’re done here.^”

“That it won’t, indeed. As an aside… I can’t say I’m not curious about your personal involvement in the girl’s situation, Autumn. The way Oliver described your request made it look... unusually pointed for you.”

“^That’s... an accurate way of describing it, yeah. Hard to be too detached with my daughter having been Anne’s primary point of contact with the village for the past couple days, and having gotten a very good look at what brought her here in the first place.^”

“Hmm, about that. I’ve heard a lot about ‘what’ but very little of ‘why’, and I won’t deny my curiosity about that. Ultimately, I only know so much about humanity, and to hear about a child escaping her home to her doom sets off more alarms to my head than one of the practice emergency drills at the building I worked at.”

Autumn had exactly zero idea about what his comparison meant in terms of words, but everything about what emotions came with it, and those were inarguable.

“^Ultimately, it comes down to an abusive family making her fear for her life.^”

Geiger didn’t respond immediately, his tone instead lowering into a drawn out grumble; the charge in his body spiking enough to produce visible discharge between his horns and tails for a brief moment.

“I see. I am terribly sorry. Suppose it only makes sense to prepare everyone for accepting a new head in our fold, even if it’s an unusual one.”

“^I hope so, yes.^”

The uncertainty in Autumn’s voice caught the Electivire’s attention right away; eyes narrowing with another, brighter flash between his horns.

“And I’d hope something as self-evident as a girl’s need for safety isn’t being called into question by anyone beyond an annoying, xenophobic child...”

“^I wish.^”

Immediately, his right hand clenched into a tight fist, the Thunder Punch’s charge fierce enough to catch the attention of many nearby kids.

“It sounds like I ought to... talk sense into someone.”

“^Geiger, please. I know you mean well, but I can’t imagine intimidation achieving anything but making things worse.^”

The Electivire grumbled again before exhaling with a slump, his bulky body nodding as he eased out. He knew better than this, and even if he was too old for trying to plead with terrible people instead of being forward and harsh with them, his preferences came second with actually important matters like that.

“You aren’t wrong, Autumn, but... who’s holding it up?”

“^From what Aria told me, the scout council decided to hold a vote about what shall happen to the girl, and I sensed from Ana that the vote ended up being deferred until tomorrow.^”

Geiger began going through the faces of increasing familiarity in his head; grumbling in various degrees as he thought through everyone involved in a decision like that and their probable level of disagreement.

“Ah yes, that explains why Lumi was even more wound up than usual last night, even Lyn sensed. I ought to try having that discussion with him again, it won’t hurt in any case. I know Ori less, but picking his brain about all this in return for some technical knowledge sounds doable. Wish I had concrete advice for Marco, though you probably know better already-“

“^Marco won’t be a problem. He’s on Anne’s side after I helped him uncover some of what happened that led her here.^”

“Ha, that’s swell. Knew he could be reasonable sometimes. With anyone else, I imagine that all my presence would do would be to put them on the defensive, and even I’m knowledgeable enough about people to know to avoid that. It looks like you’ve got it under control then~.”

“^I wish. The uncertainty grinds away at us all so much. I do what I can, and I hope it’ll prove enough.^”

“Sounds like all the other great people I know.”

The Indeedee didn’t expect a compliment considering the terseness of the situation, but she couldn’t deny it having helped a hefty deal. Her light chuckle split the Electric-type’s expression with a warm, if tired, smile.

“^Thank you, Geiger~. You know, I might even join you for some tea, if you’d be willing to wait for me~.^”

“It’d be my pleasure, Autumn. Before any of that, though, there’s this little fellow that I’ve been meaning to ask a Psychic about.”

His light pat reminded the Indeedee of the Magnemite still attached to Geiger’s arm; their singular eye now open all the way and constantly scanning around the area. It was hard to pick their emotions out from the crowd, especially with her slipping skill, but what Autumn could make out was… very confused and worried.

Oh dear.

“^Of course, Geiger! Now, you mentioned how they followed Lumi back here over from the human town, right?^”

“That’s what he’d described, yes.”

“^Hope it’s something innocuous, then. Alright, let me try...^”

With the arm-magnet lowered down into the Indeedee’s reach, the Psychic grandma could focus on getting through the steel shell and into the mind contained within; carefully stroking the top of their spherical main body as she spoke up-

“^Hello there, sweetie!^”

Their eye shot wide open immediately. The slight zap along her paw made Autumn flinch, but she persevered, observing the lil’ one’s reactions with as many senses as she could manage.

“^Yep, yep, that’s me talking to you! What’s your name?^”

Not much happened for the next few moments. The Magnemite’s eye remained closed as they thought through that question; their side magnets slumping afterward. The sight and its accompanying sadness brought a frown to the Indeedee’s face, making her redouble her efforts towards communicating with the stray little one. Very little one, it felt like. Much of what went on in their head was only partially formed; not unlike what she’d experienced with Cadence and Bell when they were too young to even walk.

“^If you don’t have or can’t remember your name, that’s okay, too, sweetie. You’re safe here, no matter what. Do you recall following anyone yesterday?^”

A careful nod; much of their tension finally relaxing enough to start gradually detaching themselves from Geiger’s arm. The Electivire wasn’t rushing them along either, free hand contributing his own affection to whatever careful extent it was capable of.

“They... like me. Not like... others.”

“^They were like you? Just how Geiger beside you is also like you?^”

The unnamed Steel-type took their time chewing through Autumn’s words, but once they did, their shaky nod confirmed Autumn’s hypothesis.

“^Seems Lumi was the first Electric-type they’ve ever seen, so they followed them, Geiger.^”

“Either they’re very young, or that human village is an absolute hole in the ground.”

“^I’ve a strong feeling both are true. In any case- do you remember having any parents or friends in there, little one? Someone who would look out for you?^”

This time, their eye swerved from side to side after a moment of thought; the sight deflating Autumn’s expression a decent bit.

“No... only me. Others... mean. Threw things at me and ran away...”

“Hmm. Yeah, that figures.”

“^Oh? What do you mean, Geiger?^”

“Where I worked, Magnemite tended to be considered pests because of eating some of the electricity our facility produced. I had to shoo groups of them away once or twice because otherwise they’d start becoming a problem. I imagine most humans don’t view them too favorably.”

Autumn sighed at that description. It made sense on the face of it, but she didn’t need further reminders about the... less than pleasant nature of humanity when taken as a whole and not as singular, lost children.

“Sounds like this little one hatched on their own, didn’t get the friendliest of greetings from the human village, and spent a while sticking to a transformer, a power cable, or a substation. Uhhh, large boxes with electricity in them or long, metal, electric cables. Does that sound accurate, little one?”

Moment of thought, and eventually a relatively confident nod.

“Yep. Feel free to stick to me for now, then. We’ll figure something out. Alright, I’m way overdue for a drink, and afterwards I’ll ask Viv to help show the little one around. Who knows, maybe we’ll attend Jovan’s classes tomorrow to start working on our language right away, ha! Anyhow. Care to join us for some tea, Autumn-“

“Mr. Geiger, Mr. Geiger!”

Before the Electivire could finish shooting his shot, his and Autumn’s focus was taken up by several kids eagerly trying to catch their attention. From what the Indeedee could piece together, this particular group has had a fair bit of an argument just now; Blossom and Hawthorne both left about as irate as each other as the other three saw it fit to settle their argument by asking the adults more questions.

“Yes, ...”



The Zangoose blinked flatly at the Electric-type needing to be reminded of her name again, before going through with her contribution to the discussion at hand-

“The human, uh... these weird balls of theirs. How dangerous are they?”

“Extremely so.”

“^Which is why it’s good that Anne does not have any, nor is she in a position to ever obtain them.^”

“I told you!” - If there was any more smugness in the Dartrix’s voice, it would’ve been dripping down her beak.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous, Blossom!” - Hawthorne’s immediate reply was irate, the Espurr not taking her idea being shot down particularly well.

“How would she even hurt us, huh!?” - With how tired Blossom’s expression usually was, seeing her with her eyes open just to leer at someone felt special in a grim, amusing way.

“They have their other evil tools! They stole our gifts and are using them for themselves!”

“...is that true?” - The Gloom’s voice was as weary as ever, with a bit of genuine fear creeping in; the idea of their own strengths being used against them was a deeply unnerving one.

Which is why it was very fortunate that it just wasn’t true in the slightest.

“No, of course not. Some of their contraptions mimic certain parts of what we can do, but for every crude imitation there are at least three other feats I’ve never seen them get anywhere near close to reproducing. Psychic feats, control over plant life, Fairy tricks, might of Dragons... to the best of my knowledge, all those are completely unattainable to humanity.”

“A ha!” - Blossom’s exclamation was triumphant, but unfortunately for her, Geiger wasn’t quite done yet.

“Consequently, some of their most dangerous inventions don’t map onto any specific type. The blue glowing energy source in the facility I worked at wasn’t anything Electric in nature despite its glow, and I have exactly zero idea about what else it could be. Human weapons of choice are similarly type-less, stretched handheld devices capable of launching metal slugs at speeds fast enough to be imperceptible, striking targets before they can react-“

“...wouldn’t that be Steel-type?”

The small gathering took a while processing the Gloom’s question, mostly through the form of blinking slowly at once another. At the same time, Hawthorne was almost celebrating in place at the ‘good fortune’ of Geiger bringing up an actual threat with human contraptions, finally; the overheard sensations making Autumn roll her eyes repeatedly.

“I have... no idea. I’ll ask Ori about it later, now that you brought that up. In either case, considering that I’ve only ever seen that kind of weapon be carried by dedicated adult security guards and nobody else, I heavily doubt a child would be capable of getting their hands on one.”

And immediately, the Espurr’s mood deflated again, the Indeedee having to do everything in her power not to giggle mischievously at sensing that.

“^Indeed, she doesn’t have one of these devices. Really, the most dangerous item I’ve seen in her possession was a metal knife; similar in size to Grace’s claws, with nowhere near the raw strength backing it up. And that’s it.^”

As the Zangoose examined her paws, the rest of the group attempted to think through the implications of what they just heard described, minds arriving at wildly different conclusions. Autumn wished she didn’t get to sense Hawthorne’s, but thankfully for once it wouldn’t be the Espurr that spoke up first-

“With how weak she sounds, won’t she need someone to accompany and protect her?” - Zephyr’s voice didn’t have his signature determined bravado for once, the genuine curiosity bringing a smirk to the Indeedee’s expression.

“^Initially she probably will, same as any other recent arrival or little one who can’t get around by themselves yet. That’s just a matter of communication and not defense, though. Nobody is gonna be attacking her.^”

Despite the confidence in Autumn’s words, thinking of that possibility brought up more than a bit of uncomfortable uncertainty; the non-zero risk of something exactly like that happening threatened to fry her mind.

Hopefully nobody around will speak up to question that assumption-

“But what if they do?”

Goddammit, Zephyr.

“^Well... in that case, they’d be judged just as if they’d attacked anyone else unprovoked, if not harsher because of the sheer power disparity.^”

“Why does the human get special treatment!?”

“I imagine for the very same reasons we’d all judge people harsher for striking a defenseless child over a capable adult, Hawthorne.” - As well as Autumn was hiding her growing disappointment with the Psychic kitten, the same absolutely couldn’t be said for the Electivire; his words somehow getting even flatter each time he spoke. It was not unearned in the slightest, even if somewhat rough for a child. Autumn just sighed in relief under her breath at the reply shutting the Espurr up.

“Maybe that just means she’ll need multiple people to protect her!” - Zephyr’s chimed-in conclusion was hard to disagree with, though he and the Indeedee felt vastly different in response to it. What she could make out of his enthusiasm took her off guard, but... actually, hold on.

Hold right on~

“^That wouldn’t be a bad idea, Zephyr. Are you thinking of... anyone in specific~?^”

Autumn’s question was very leading, and she knew it; a small pang of guilt shooting through her at putting the Stunky in such an obviously uncomfortable position. Though, if it meant that Anne would indeed end up with multiple pairs of eyes looking after her, then Autumn wasn’t about to let the means get in the way of the ends.

“I- I- umm... I-I could p-probably do it...” - And as she’d expected, his response was very hesitant. Autumn giggled while internally counting down the time it’d take for him to break through that uncertainty and rocket through straight into more of his confidence and desire to prove himself, no matter what.

Eight seconds.

“...y-yeah, I could do it! I’ll do it! C-can I do it?”

“^Teehee, we’ll see Zephyr, but it’s very nice of you to offer. Many things remain not fully decided about her. But, once they’re dealt with, once we’re looking for people to look after Anne during her day-to-day life for those first few weeks or months... we’ll know who to ask~.^”

The Stunky sighed deeply at the best possible response. Acknowledgment helping him with his occasionally poor confidence, while the deferral made his eagerness non-binding, avoiding the potential regret of getting into way more than he’d bargained for only to then heavily regret it and make himself look like a dummy for inevitably failing to rise to the challenge...

“O-okay. Thank you, Mrs. Autumn...”

“^You’re welcome, sweetie~. Now, did you all-^”

“See, I told you she isn’t dangerous!” - Blossom’s quip was more confident than the Dartrix ever got, the realization making the Autumn chuckle while the Espurr responded to the contrary. And, once the other three rejoined the discussion, it was much too late for their teacher to even think about chiming in directly; her giggles serving as their goodbye as she waved at the departing Electivire.

She’d gotten some sense into the kids, now time to repeat that feat with the adults.

The two daycare minders weren’t too difficult to find amidst the crowd, standing way above almost all the little ones in their care. Just that realization wasn’t extremely helpful on its own, not with both of them having their paws occupied by looking after the extra-sized class, even with the help of the other pair of teachers. Still, it’d really help for her to talk with them directly without interruption, which left...

...getting the little ones out of the picture, somehow.

Before Autumn could attempt just that, one particularly lively tyke caught her attention. After trying and failing to reach the two caretakers that oversaw the littlest ones, the blue and black kitten eventually noticed another adult nearby before attempting to get the Indeedee to talk to him by the means of tapping her leg.

Considering his proximity to Lumi… yeah, Autumn could spare the moment.

“^Hello there, Lyn! Can I help you~?^”

The Shinx mewled before trying to concentrate on some actual words, many of which still came with noticeable difficulty. Still, he persisted, shifting from paw to paw before coming up with a simple question-

“What you talked about?”

Guess Pearl’s concerns about some of the younger kids missing the point even with translation were valid in the end…

“^Well, we talked about Anne, the human girl at the clinic. What your dad has been worrying so much about.^”

The latter addition probably counted as underhanded, but the Indeedee didn’t have it in her to care, especially not with it finally making everything click for Lyn. He reeled back a bit, eyes growing wide, but ultimately gave it however much thought a few-month-old cub was capable of.

“Oooooh. Not mean?”

If there was one singular fact they’ve been trying to drill for the past couple of hours, it was that; Autumn nodding eagerly at the Shinx’s question.

“^Yes, exactly! She’s not mean, your dad is just worrying for no reason.^”

“He worries a lot!”

If only it was just that Lyn, if only it was just that.

“^Yep, but now you know better! Are you gonna be taking a nap soon?^”

“Noooo, not yet!”

Right. From what she remembered when checking up on Bell, naps came when Jovan and Pearl called for them. And since they were technically sharing caretaker duties, maybe they’d all listen to her as well…

Only one way to find out, and hope they wouldn’t all be too annoyed at her afterwards.

“^Hey, everyone! We’ve had a great discussion so far, but it’s time for a nap now, especially for the younger of us! Get yourselves comfortable near Elder Ana, and sweet dreams!^”

Autumn had no idea how having daggers stared into her by three separate pairs of eyes felt like before, and it proved to be an experience she’d rather not have to repeat anytime soon. Unpleasant, sure- but anything for Anne.


“^Autumn, it’s not nap time yet!^” - The Grumpig’s telepathic call was as long as it was possible for a personal, direct communication like that to be, the shouted whisper making the Indeedee wince briefly.

“^I know, but I need to chat with you two and need to get your hands free for a while!^”

Pearl definitely didn’t expect a response like that as she carefully herded the gathered children to get comfy beside the Torkoal Elder; the latter glaring at Autumn for effectively getting immobilized, right as she was in the middle of talking with some young’uns, no less. Highly annoying, but at the same time, she found it hard to get too annoyed, not with this many kids around.

Ana’s weak spot, whether she was willing to admit to it or not.

A couple minutes of herding cats, dogs, reptiles, birds and plants over, the daycare group could finish settling into slumber. Many of them were so used to the Elder’s warmth that they were out the moment their little heads laid down on the warm grass surrounding the Fire-type. With that done, and their minders temporarily switching tracks to look at the now much smaller group of awake kids, Autumn could finally chat them both up-

“^I apologize for the sudden intrusion like that, but this is important, now that you’ve both heard your share about Anne. If she ends up staying, I want you both to have a more or less defined idea of how her stay under the care of you two would go like, just so that I or Aria can bring it up to the Elders when arguing for her.^”

“^And how are you so sure that we both support that in the first place?^” - The Grumpig’s response was uncertain and pretended to raise a contrary point to what the Indeedee was clearly assuming of them two... but all it took was one disbelieving look from Autumn to melt through that excuse; Pearl faltering soon after.

“^I may be old, Pearl, but I’m not stupid. You don’t choose to spend your days helping the little ones out if you hate children, and if there’s anyone that interacts with enough various toddlers to help that fact completely overcome their speciesism, it’s also you two.^”

The two caretakers each had to hold in a wince at being seen through so cleanly, Pearl yielding first before Jovan eventually followed.

“Y-yeah. With what you said, I can’t imagine someone so weak ending up on her own again, with no family to take care of her. Maybe with one of us by their side, watching out for them-“

“Liiiike a trainer mon, nooo~?” - The hissed sounds caught the attention of the small assorted group; the appearance of the final teacher gathered in the immediate vicinity helping Autumn address her pleas to everyone at the same time. However, she wasn’t as sure of the Serperior’s attitude towards Anne as with the other two, not quite certain whether all the drilled reinforcement of her not being a threat would help.

And if so, by how much.

“^That’s... one hell of a comparison, Oliver, but I’d be lying if it’s a wholly inaccurate one. Part of me wonders whether Anne had ever considered an outcome like that, running away with Ember on their own, following in that whole harrowing ‘’trainer’’ footsteps just to get away from her family.^”

“I really, really hope not...”

“^Same, for her own sake...^”

“Can’t imagine Ember would be too happy were that ever the cassssssse~.”

Jovan and Pearl’s responses were predictable enough, but the same couldn’t be said for Oliver’s; the Indeedee speaking up to defend the girl.

“^She really didn’t strike me as someone so naïve as to think that mons would ever join a trainer entirely voluntarily, but even if she did and she considered a journey like that, I don’t think that’s a sign of her being evil. Merely of her having been taught that such dynamic is right and just for everyone involved.^”

“How stupid do you have to be to believe that?”

For a while, Autumn wrecked her head to come up with a retort to Jovan’s words; part of her almost giving up on the bad faith question before a potential answer hit her-

“^Not stupid, just taught that humans and mons are somehow so different as to be utterly incomparable. That we think and live in completely different ways. That one of those groups is normal beings, and the other are monsters whose only goal is to fight... or enslave.^”

Her allusion thankfully hit true, judging by the waves of unease that went through the teachers gathered right around her, and to an extent through the older kids a decent bit away.

“^I’ve felt what she thinks of us when I tended to her yesterday at the clinic. She wasn’t evil, she was just ignorant of the truth of us being more alike than either wants to think, and I’m willing to bet that the same is true with many, many other humans.^”

“But that wouldn’t have jussssstified her actionsssss had she taken Ember for a... ‘‘trainer’’ journey.”

“^No, of course not, Oliver, but that’s not what happened, was it? Now, if we could kindly move on from scary hypotheticals and back to the reality in front of us. Jovan, Pearl, what obstacles do you see between Anne and potentially joining your groups once she starts acclimating and is ready to learn the language?^”

Autumn’s directed question finally stirred the group from its burst of quasi-procrastination; the two caretakers thinking through the risks of a whole human just joining in like that. And the more they thought... the less grave dangers they came up with.

Or at least, for anyone aside from the human herself.

“^In a situation like that, how do we ensure their safety from other kids? You and Geiger stressed out how brittle humans are, and it made me worry a bit about anyone else potentially hurting her by accident, especially when it’s really young children...^”

Pearl’s question made Autumn think- it was one thing to have the confidence that no sane adult would just randomly assault a child, no matter how much they disliked the exact shape of their body; but children were another case entirely. A much messier, more uncertain case, Autumn ‘hmm’ and ‘haw’-ing as she considered the possibilities- or at least, until the answer came from beside her.

“Well, I imagine it’ssss a ssssssliding ssssscale of rissssk, no? Keep the human with older, lesssss rissssky kidssss, and ssssstresssss being ssssafe.”

Autumn didn’t expect the Serperior of all people to be chiming in with advice to help Anne stay, but she wasn’t gonna look the gifted snake in the mouth.

“^Exactly. Young Poison or Fire-types would likely be a bit too risky, especially early on, but Reya or Bell? Those wouldn’t hurt a stray leaf, and I imagine Reya in particular to be more than eager to keep a potential friend safe.^”

“Asssssuming she doessssn’t punch them...”

“That’s unfair characterization; she hasn’t done that in well over a year! She’s grown way past that... huh... uh... d-does anyone see her?”

Jovan’s comment had the assembled teachers look around the entire clearing in search of the Riolu; their worries at her turning out to be absent grew steadily by the moment.

“^I thought Lariat came and picked her up?^”

“^That’d be rather early for him, Autumn, but... I suppose not unheard of either, and he has sometimes snuck away with her instead of telling us she’s taking her. Yeah, that’s probably just it.^” - Pearl’s reassurance wasn’t the most confident thing in the world, but at least there was the fact of the Lucario scout being particularly well suited for searching for his daughter should it ever come to that. Of course, if that would happen, then he’d also be very, very annoyed at them for having lost her in all the commotion in the first place, and an annoyed Lariat is how one ended up having to run away from the punishment that accompanied such a situation.

Namely, him looking at the guilty parties in a really sad, heartbreakingly disappointed way.

With no survivors.

“^Alright. Anyhow, Reya definitely wouldn’t just punch her, especially not if Bell already likes her!^”

“^Than that sounds like her personal daycare posse taken care of, eh Pearl~?^”

The Grumpig might not have liked that framing of it; but even he couldn’t deny that yeah, it was a solution, if not a bulletproof one. Then again, when it came to mon-proofing anything, nothing really could’ve ever been fully ‘bulletproof’.

Just ask all the huts that ever went down by accident.

“^I... I suppose. Especially if there’s anything she can wear that would help with accidentally getting any debris on her. Some of those pebbles are sharp, and Geiger mentioned that human hide isn’t particularly... durable.^”

“^Nope, it really didn’t feel like that from what I’ve interacted with her. She has some clothes with her, but I don’t know if anything is large or durable enough for that purpose. Maybe I’ll have to sit down with the knitting needles again after all, ha-^”

“What’s thaaat I heeear about knittiiing~?” - The voice was old, slow and croaky, fitting the Lilligant’s age-weathered look. Most of her body was wrapped in a thick, hand-knitted shawl, including the large bulb resting on top of the spot her flower bloomed from during spring; its appearance completely occluded. One hell of an outfit to just sneak on all four of them with, but somehow that was exactly what had apparently happened soon prior; at least if her looking up at them from one group of chatting kids was any sign.

“^Oh, it’s...^”

Before Autumn could even finish the autopilot offhanded reaction, she gave it some more thought. There wasn’t anyone around the place more suited for making something specifically for Anne as Lavender, not with her expertise; and crossing the line from just reassurance to actual gifts would help further cement Anne’s place here, both for her and for the rest of the village.

Of course, it remained to be seen whether the Lilligant herself would agree to such an arrangement, and there was only one way to find out-

“^Actually. Lavender, we were discussing some kinds of clothes that Anne could really use if she ends up staying, and a thick, outer shawl would help her a lot, I think. Of course, I understand if you’d rather not do that-^”

“Whyyyyy wooould I nooot?”

Well, that was easy.

“^I more so meant that just in case, but... thank you, Lavender.^”

“Ahahaha, of coooourse I’ll heeeelp a liiittle one ouuuut. And I’ve eveeeeen heard of heeer being friends with Embeeeer! A matching paaaair of shawls would be soooooo sweeeeet. Sol, wake up, we have a new project to tackle!”

The last sentence was accompanied by the elderly Grass-type reaching up and forcefully prodding the large hidden spherical object hidden under her clothes; the being on top of her head squirming in response. A handful of squeaky grumbles made their way out from underneath the fabric, until finally they were accompanied by the Whimsicott’s brown face peeking out of the shawl, the fluffy fairy wasting no time before greeting the group with a drawn out yawn.

“Wassup, mom?”

“A neeeeeew project! A laaaarge one, too!”

“Somethin’ fancy?”

“Hmmmm... I suppose if we weeeeere to take Ember’s outfit for fixeeees we could enhance it a bit to match this new one~.”

“Wait, matchin’ it with Ember’s thing? Who we makin’ it for, Cadence?”

“The humaaan!”


The Lilligant’s calm yet completely insane answer had her son float a few feet in the air out of sheer shock; the freshly messed up shawl combining with a colder gust immediately forcing him back down into warmth, to Lavender’s amusement.

“I meaaaant what I said, Sol! It’s sweeeet when friends have matching ouuuutfits!”

“Since when is i- are they staying?”

Thankfully, the Whimsicott course corrected mid-sentence at seeing Autumn’s features preemptively start narrowing at yet another person depersonifying the innocent human in their care. Despite that, though, his point hit the rest of the group true; their attention turning towards Autumn, one after another.

“Hmm... I suuuuppose you’d be the first to know if that did haaaappen, Sol. Autumn, dear, mind claaaarifying?”

She didn’t mind, but good gods, she hated having to admit to the cruel reality that still awaited the girl.

“^It’s not definitively settled yet. The scout council will hold a vote to decide her outcome, but I’m very confident about her staying with us for good, and so I think it’s a good idea to already start working on making her welcome as warm as can be.^”

Much of Autumn’s confidence was pretense, but thankfully nobody but her knew that. Pearl could vaguely guess based on the changes in her emotional state, but of the two, the Grumpig was the much worse Psychic when it came to sensing emotion, bringing a hidden sigh of relief to the Indeedee’s body.

“Well, thaaaat’s enough for me! Warm clothes for a cooooold child, and Ember’s friend noooo less!”

Lavender’s enthusiasm wasn’t epidemic-level infectious, not with her quiet, creaky delivery, but even her son began to be swayed.

“And what if she’s gone in the end, mom?”

“Then we repuuurpose it! Hardly the fiiirst time.”

“But that’s such a waste, doncha think?”

“What’s waaaaste is not taking an opportuuuuunity to greet the new arrival, Sol.”

The Whimsicott rolled his eyes and grumbled on top of his mom, but he couldn’t deny she had a point. A gift like that would be quite sweet, the humanity of its recipient aside... though, what is it about them and Ember of all people? Some fresh gossip?

“Right, right, right... uh, whatsat about the human and Ember again? Didn’t catch that.”

“^They’re old friends, Sol. I know it’s not something you’ve heard about a lot, and all I can say to that is... trauma changes people. It can meddle with emotions, it can mess with memories, it can change us as people to our very core. Ember’s fear of humans was and is genuine, but Anne here has always been the one exception to that rule.^”

In all likelihood, Autumn could’ve probably afforded to spill the beans about Ember’s memories by now, especially with the kids being distracted and her being able to make that knowledge stay within this small group. It would’ve felt vindicating for sure, but at the same time... it would’ve been yet another distraction from the actual point. Lavender’s help was much more valuable than an opportunity to vent her frustrations, and she didn’t want to distract the elderly Lilligant with drama that didn’t really affect any of this, and which nobody ought to know about but the people directly involved.

Knowing Sol, he’d be willing to... okay, maybe not kill but at least maim for a piece of gossip this juicy, and maybe it’d prove to be a decent bargaining chip in time? Something to consider for the future, and now it was the time to keep steering the discussion where she wanted it to go.

“^Does that make sense?^”

“Uh, nope. Though if that’s the real deal, then that’s the real deal, I guess.”

Not like being nonsense has ever stopped fresh, juicy rumors.

“^Real deal everyone would want a piece of, eh Sol?^”

The Whimsicott needed no further motivation; looking torn between the constant annoying reality of it being the middle of a cold, windy winter and his life’s goal to contend with Holly when it came to spreading hot news around the place. Granted, the Azumarill cook inevitably won each time by the virtue of having much more and much hungrier of an audience to share info with, but it’s not like an unimportant fact like that had ever stopped Sol.

“Waaaait, I’ll need a lot of cotton foooooor this project!”

“I’ll do a sweep, grab a drink at Viv’s and be home before you’d get there yourself, mom.”

“I knooow that! I don’t want you withering because of that cold. Go wrap yourseeeeelf in something aaaand then you can play gossip.”

“Oh c’mon mom-“


“Okay, okay...”

“Thaaaank you.”

“See ya’ll later, then~!”

Right as the Whimsicott was about to take off and push his body through riding the cold gust in the name of the closest thing to journalism in the village, his mom’s words interrupted him one more time-

“Staaaay warm, love you!”

“Love you too, mom, so so much.”

And with a hug to the Lilligant’s head, he was off to the races, his mom sending him off with elderly, creaky laughter; shaking her head at his antics.

“Incorrigiiiible. Wonderful. Anyhow- I’ll neeeeed a couple measurements first!”

“^Well, I remember some things off the top of my head, but they’re more so estimates.^”

“If it’s a shaaaawl, then that’s fiiiine.”

“^Alright, as for height... Oliver!^”

The Serperior flinched at the sudden callout; almost having followed Jovan and Pearl’s lead in redirecting his attention back to the rest of the group of the little ones following Autumn getting swept up in a discussion with Lavender. Alas, the topic of the scary and unnerving human in their midst wasn’t quite done yet~

“Y-yesssss, Autumn?”

“^Mind making yourself taller?^”

Oliver’s blinks paired with a flat expression conveyed his confusion even with no psychic senses, the Indeedee clarifying shortly after.

“^I mean, raise more of your body so your head ends up further up in the air.^”

Further instructions clarified Autumn’s request but not necessarily its intent, though the fellow teacher did as asked. The elements immediately chimed in and reminded him why he kept more of himself closer to the ground than usual during the winter, but he could bear through a bit more cold.

“^A bit more?^”

...the things you do out of a shared profession.

Once more, he followed through, body shaking noticeably by now. Thankfully, no more would be needed, his coworker wasting no time before confirming that-

“^Anne’s about this tall, Lavender, I think. Won’t hurt to err on the taller side anyway, especially since she’s still young and will grow. You can relax now, Oliver, thank you so much.^”

The Lilligant duly noted everything in her head; well used to having to remember visual guesstimates with no well-defined system of measurements. Beside them, the Serperior eased out, shivering at the cold even more than usual, the Indeedee’s gentle embrace helping undo the frost along at least some of his body.

“Nooooted! Oliver, maybe you’d be interested in soooomething for this cold tooooo? Still have some spare Sol cotton, aaaaafter all.”

Oliver wasn’t sure which flustered him more, the hug or the offer, but as much as a part of him was keen on not letting him take either, deep down he wanted both, a lot.

“Y-you’re welcome A-Autumn. And... w-won’t sssssay no, Lavender, though don’t worry about me if there are otherssssss that also need warmth-“

“Moooost others have been wrapped up since at least threeeee winters ago. You should’ve juuuuust asked~.”


A couple of gentle pets helped the serpent work through most of the assorted embarrassment at that realization; his nervous chuckle only resulting in redoubling of affection.

“In eeeeither case, thaaaaank you for the help, Oliver! Won’t huuuurt to get started preparing for all this, staaaaay calm everyoooone and gooood wishes for the girl!”

Lavender took her sweet time leaving, but that was about expected from her; Autumn not wasting her time and immediately switching gears to the next thing she could help Anne with. At least, before a gentle hiss took her out of it, her fellow teacher bringing up his own questions.

“Autumn, if you don’t mind, about the human.”

“^Sure, go right ahead, Oliver.^”

“How do you envisssssion Cinder playing nice? And what will happen once she outgrowsssss the daycare?”

The first question was a can of Bugs of such colossal proportions that the Indeedee honestly didn’t even want to give it any thought. It’d end up depending on so many factors, almost all of them beyond the control of anyone but Cinder; but the underlying outcome was set in stone, no matter what it would take for the vixen to play nice. The second question, though... was more curious.

“^Cinder can be mad, but once Anne becomes a part of the village, being mad is all she’ll be able to do if she doesn’t want to get exiled. Now, what will she do in our classes... Knowledge is universal, though you’re right, she can’t practice any moves. I don’t really consider that a problem; she can just sit on the sidelines. Not like some physical activity won’t hurt even then- maybe she’ll train dodging?^”


“^Not like she can do much more in case of any actual strife, and even outside of combat, it’ll help her remain agile. You haven’t seen her, but I have. Human body looks really arboreal, I can imagine her learning how to climb onto things and help with construction projects and such. Garret will sure be glad about not having to ask birds for help with mounting things on trees constantly, ha. And that’s even without mentioning her art skills and all the fine muscle control.^”

“Huh. Nothing for ssssstrength, but plenty of agility?”

“^I... suppose, though of course I doubt she’s anywhere near as fast as most grown mons, mostly just agile, especially with her hands.^”


“^Hard to imagine if you haven’t seen them. They’re honestly a bit creepy, really stretched out, very boney and visibly multisegmented, and so many fingers! I’ve seen her do miracles with their version of a charcoal stick though, so she’s obviously putting them to good use.^”

“It feelsssss like with every word you or Geiger ssssay I have even lessssss of an idea of what she looksssss like...”

It might have been a demoralizing comment in most contexts, but Autumn wasn’t about to reject a bit of laughter in the tense situation. Even if it was at her own expense.

“^You’ll see in not too long! Until then, anything else you wanted to chat about?^”

The discussion about the mysterious, scary human thankfully didn’t end up lasting much longer after that, be it amongst teachers or students. Some were left uncertain, but many more were left bored. Human spook factor aside, in the end it’d be just another kid joining them eventually, and that was hardly a rare circumstance in itself. Many hoped she’d end up being nice, but some ultimately didn’t care either way- they were comfortable in their own friend circles and weren’t looking for expanding them all that much.

Not the best of mindsets, but it beat the profound discomfort many older villagers felt.

Holly might not have been the unrivaled champion of breaking through any such hesitancy, but she was incredibly adept at shining as much light on it as a non-Electric type is capable of. And when their food source starts putting people on the spot, most inevitably fall on the side of basic decency, be it as pretense or not. Though, even if it is the former, performative agreement is better than no agreement; and if someone has to pretend to be a good person for long enough, then there are decent odds that at least some of that pretense will melt into their brains and permanently change that.

Or at least, that’s the method the Azumarill swore by, even if expressed in much simpler, laughter-heavy terms.

“Good afternoon Holly!”

Autumn saw a single blue paw reach out from the depths of the kitchen in response, as if telling her to hold while the rest of the attached rabbit dug through the pile of kitchenware in search of... something. The Indeedee didn’t mind waiting, chuckling to herself as she saw the items become increasingly strewn on the ground, some of them very obviously human and even more clearly in rough condition.

Hopefully, she wasn’t actually using these rust-covered ones for any cooking...

“There, bloody finally! I’ve the perfect bleedin’ saucepan for preserves and the thing just dove right in that pile and wouldn’t come out, for cryin’ out loud. Enough about dumb fruit though- Autumn! Does our skeleton artist need another snack!?”

The abrupt swerve in topic took the Psychic aback, as did the cook’s wording, but eventually both were parsed.

“Well, I... I suppose it won’t hurt since she’s still recovering- but that’s not what I’m here for don’t go rushing in yet!” - The second part of that sentence was delivered as fast as Autumn could speak, only barely catching the Azumarill from getting to cooking there and then.

“Alright, alright, I’ll grab you somethin’ too~”

“Not that either! I... I had something else to talk with you about.”

“Well, what is it? Don’t have all day-“

“I want to use your tattletale powers for good!”

Excuse me, I’m not a... okay no, I can’t say that with a straight face. Whattcha plannin’?”

Only barely holding in her chuckling, Autumn continued-

“So, I need you to warm everyone’s opinion of our ‘skeleton artist’-“

“What makes ya think I haven’t already been doin’ that~?”

...good point.

“Well... thank you a lot in that case, Holly.”

The Azumarill smirked with a limp flick of her wrist, giving the worried grandma a big wink for her concerns.

“I’ve got it all under control babe, ever since day one~. Though... if you’ve got anythin’ more concrete I could use as ammo, I’d definitely help mooooore~”

Can’t ever resist that next bit of gossip, eh?

“Teehee, sure. I take you’ve heard of Anne and Ember being friends?”

“Sol mentioned it in passing while flying past at mach three and I’ve zero idea in what way did he mean it, yes tell me everything about it!”

Didn’t have to be told twice.

“They met around four to five years ago, when Ember was just a hatchling. Anne and her good human relatives spent the first couple of years raising Ember, and they were the closest friends one could imagine.”

“Lemme guess- and then a terrible tragedy changed everythin’?”

Holly might have said that in jest, but even someone as shameless as her couldn’t help but wince a bit at Autumn’s distraught expression that followed. Seems a bullseye, even if an accidental one, and very... unsettling in its implications, especially with what she knew of Ember’s past.

“Iiiiii think I can piece some of that togetha. Then they separated?”

“M-mhm. It was Anne’s choice to protect Ember...”

As eager as Autumn had been just moments ago, having to confront all the grim tragedy in the girl’s recollections again significantly chilled her enthusiasm; her gaze drifting off into the middle distance as she tried to keep herself grounded. These weren’t her memories; she had very little idea about most of the details of the events that had transpired in them, but she knew she would carry some of them with herself until the end of her li-


It was hard to keep falling down the spiral of a nervous breakdown while being held by an aqua rabbit and raised a foot into the air.

“Say no more Autumn, I get tha picture. You doin’ alright up there? Felt some bad juju creepin’ in and thought I’d intervene.”

“I... yeah. Thank you, Holly.”

“Anytime darlin’~. Ember remembered Anne, then the separation messed her up so much she ended up forgettin’? Frickin’... tragic. I’ll do what I can to help love, doncha worry. Until then, want a bite if I’m already gonna be preparing something for Anne?”

“Yes, I’ll take the usual-“

“Ya got it~!”

Just as suddenly as she was lifted into an emergency hug, the Indeedee was lowered again; the cook dashing back into the warm confines of her kitchen and beginning her culinary magic to the rattle of an uncountable number of dishes. Some of Autumn wanted to come in and help clean the whole mess up out of gratitude, but the rest knew all too well that if there was any moment when the cook was legitimately dangerous, it was when someone came between her and her cooking-


The low, telepathic voice was one the Indeedee wasn’t too familiar with in a vacuum, but circumstantial evidence helped her piece it together. Concerned, if trying its very hardest to cover it, not Psychic in origin, going through the effort of establishing private telepathy...

“^Hello Lariat, can I help?^”

The rest of Lucario was much like the voice she’d heard. Composed and calm on the surface, increasingly unnerved underneath; the pieces of the puzzle clicking together in the Indeedee’s mind with an almost audible ‘uh-oh’.

“^Where is Reya?^”

...damn it. Damn it damn it damn it damn it damn it. No point of lying to a Lucario, let’s just get to the big mess-

“^I... don’t know. I thought you came in earlier and picked her up.^”

She could swear she saw the composure on his snout decay in real time; eyes going from relaxed to wide and shaking in a split second. Before he could start panicking, though, a hunch hit her, one she grumbled at herself for not having realized sooner.

“^Can you check for her aura at the clinic?^”

The implication of an injury didn’t help his calmness any, but the Lucario did as was asked of him. After a few moments of his bangles rising at the intensity of the aura flowing through them, Lariat had his answer; Autumn’s follow-up call was the only thing keeping him from running over and checking up on his offspring with maximum force possible.

“^Wait! She’s alright, promise, she’s not there because she got injured.^”

“^Then why else!?^”

“^Because Bell is there, and I mentioned that to her when she asked why isn’t he with the rest of the group.^”

Finally, the scout began to unwind; enough to the situation coming together to paint the picture of his daughter being a silly pup unable to resist joining in her friend without even cluing anyone else in. Suppose he could take his time in that case. Hopefully, the Ralts himself wasn’t in there because of a health scare-

“^Thank goodness it’s just that. Hope Bell gets better soon.^”

“^Oh he’s not there because he’s sick, he’s visiting Anne- with Marco and Cypress watching!^”

Had she added that latter detail even a split second later, Lariat would’ve already been gone in a flash of Extremespeed by the time she’d finished. Even if she’d kept the scout grounded, though, he was now firmly disgruntled, his eyes slightly narrowing as they stared at her.

“^They’re all being watched, there’s nothing to worry about-^”

“^She’s still in the same room as a human!^”

“^A human that’s about as threatening as a Metapod!^”

As calm and collected as she would’ve preferred to be, the Indeedee didn’t take too well to yet another person implying the danger of an injured orphan that she and her family were fighting for the safety of. Fortunately, her raised voice did help, its unexpected fierceness interrupting the Lucario’s winding anxiety.

Alright, seems Reya was indeed safe, but so many questions remained-

“^Why is Bell visiting the human in the first place?^”

“^Because she’s lonely, needs friends, and will probably stay with us for a while.^”

The last point took the Lucario aback in particular, the steely canine taking a half step back as his eyes widened.

“^That is a very foolish decision.^”

“^Why? She’s a defenseless child.^”

“^She’s a human.^”

“^A defenseless child.^”

“^A human.^”

Autumn was about to bash her head into the nearest brick wall at making exactly zero headway in digging through the Lucario’s thick skull, some of her frustration bubbling up into the forefront of her mind. It definitely didn’t help in endearing the scout to her ideas, the realization annoying the Psychic grandma further.

Deep breaths, unwind, think through what is likely to click with him more. Something based on more than the surface level identity...

“^Well, what do you think we are, Lariat?^”

The Lucario blinked, not understanding where that question came through, half expecting to be tricked in some way.

“^Not humans.^”

“^Not quite~ we’re villagers.^”

“^Hiding away from humanity.^”

“^That’s right! Humanity, not ‘humans’.^”

“^These are the same thing. Every human is a part of humanity. We have to hide from them all.^”

“^Even one whose own society rejected her so much it turned a blind eye to her abuse and forced her to run for her life? Even one that has no remaining family links with the rest of humanity!? Even one that never wants to go back!?^”

Autumn’s questions were delivered with more emotions than she’d initially planned for, but goddammit, she couldn’t help it. This was all stressful, this was all draining; she just wished she could get through everyone’s skulls and see it through that Anne be treated as a person and not a threat.

Alas, she wouldn’t get to see if she was successful with Lariat, the Lucario gone as soon as she’d gathered her bearings.

The frustration made her kick Holly’s stall, much to the immediate pain in her paw. He didn’t even deign her with a response, so unlike him. Did he just care this little about what she had to say?

This was distressing. Feeling like she couldn’t help in this serious of a situation was so distressing.

Distressing, and hopeless, and so many other things. It made her briefly doubt whether anything she did helped in the slightest.

Whether all their effort would even amount to anything.

Whether Anne wasn't already doomed-


Before her thoughts could creep towards despair again, a loud thud coming from the kitchen counter snagged her attention right back; the sights and scents of the sugary, buttery pastry helping in melting through the negative emotions.

“There ya go, darlin’! Now, lemme get to Anne’s portion; with how thin she is, she’s gonna need three of these. Skin and bones, I tell ya!”

“Thank you so much, Holly.”


Each bite of the sugary dough helped stave the worst of her muck off; a distraction as welcome as Autumn knew it was fleeting. Something simple to cheer her up, even if the doubts persisted underneath, just to keep the feeling of not having done enough at bay-

“M-Mrs. Autumn, we had a couple more questions about the human-”


Right as her gaze tried to focus on the small bunch of students that had tracked her through the village in search of more knowledge, a shrill shout from the pantry snagged everyone's attention towards it. Autumn didn't expect to see her granddaughter or son-in-law standing there, but whatever they had told the Azumarill, it had her leaning through the counter with the most aghast and then furious expression she'd ever seen Holly dish out.

And she was hardly inanimate as is.

Unnerving as the implications of that were, the Indeedee knew that Marco could deal with them. She had a different role to play in all this, one more small way to help out the human in their midst.

After all, she was already helping.

Possibly more than she’d ever know.

“What were your questions, sweeties?”

She just had to hope it’d be enough in the end.

If you want to discuss the story, I've set up a Discord server for it! (and my other writings)

Also check out my other fic, Another Way!

Also also check out my series of shorts, The Alarm Goes Off at Six!
Chapter 16: Pretense


the gay agenda

Chapter 16: Pretense

*woof, woof woof?*

“^Sigh... yes, you can stay and play with Bell.^”

Marco’s answer to an incomprehensible question had Anne blink a couple times in confusion as her brain played catchup. The sudden appearance of a Riolu in her temporary room seemed to have startled everyone to one extent or another. The human didn’t quite know what the pup’s words were, but the context let her infer enough to giggle along.

Especially once the lil’ Ralts got to excitedly scrambling towards the edge of the bed.

“Yay, play!”

Yay, play indeed Bell, yay indeed.

Anne shyly observed the antics that followed; the two kids wasting no time before pulling each other in a big hug. The Riolu seemed to be approximately the Ralts’s age, and, of course, just as eager to play as he was. It only took them moments to go from hugging to roughhousing; Bell persevering valiantly despite his acute size disadvantage.

‘Physical play with a Fighting-type’ sounded closer to a messed-up dare as opposed to an everyday fun activity for Anne. But, if everyone else’s reactions were any sign, it was at best unremarkable here. Enough so to where nobody but the pair of adults cared much anymore after just a few moments.

And, once she got over Reya’s sudden appearance and the awkwardness of the group’s previous topic, Anne could join them too.

Not being the immediate subject of a newcomer’s interest for once was very appreciated.

Hearing the loose leaves of paper shuffle a bit in front of her brought the human’s attention back to the here and now. Cadence’s nudge would’ve almost looked accidental to the human girl... if not for it ever so coincidentally revealing the hidden work-in-progress drawing of the Kirlia herself.

Anne’s louder giggle had Cadence blush brightly. Yep, she definitely saw through that little gesture...

“~Okay, okay, I-I can continue on your sketch, Cadence, teehee.~”

Her comment didn’t help either; the fairy looking away in embarrassment after scuttling closer to her new large friend. Once Elric had connected the dots himself, he chittered out loud too.

“What’s wrong Cadenceeee~?”

“^Sh-shush E-Elric...^”

Both the Gligar and the human laughed quietly at the flustered response. The latter put a pencil down and instead embraced her good arm around the Kirlia, holding her close. Anne was of half a mind to chime in herself too, but... nah.

Cadence didn't need any more embarrassment right now~.

As amusing as the situation was for everyone in the room who could spare the attention towards it, eventually some hearts began to melt, and the ones most would expect the least at that.

Elric rolled his eyes and scrambled over to his friend. He made sure not to disturb anything as his chitin body embraced his denmate, classmate, and, most importantly, good friend.

No words were needed.

Only the gentle reassurance that despite all the amusement at her expense, nobody thought the Kirlia any less for the situation. And especially not the guest she looked up to. Much too easy for well spirited fun to end up in unpleasant territory by accident, and even the ability to read stray thoughts doesn’t prevent outcomes like that.

It’s only a small leap from “They’re just saying it to be nice” to “they’re just thinking it around me to be nice”, after all.

Once Cadence relaxed some, Anne let her go with one last hair ruffle; Elric taking it as a signal to get into position for observing the art about to happen. Marco and Cypress alike had to split their attention between the antics of older and younger bunches of kids. And, in the ghost’s case, also between keeping an eye for any unpleasant presences that could be approaching, and his own sheer exhaustion.

Even if the non-deathborn ghosts didn’t have the same habit of sleep as the deathborn ones, they still needed their rest.

That was for him to take care of later, though.

Here and now, he had the second class view of one particular human girl’s artistic efforts; the glide of colored sticks on a white, thin canvas producing very pleasant results. Even if he wouldn’t have normally thought of Cadence as particularly... colorful in appearance, Anne still used plenty of green tones as she colored in the hair and legs of the sketch, occasionally exaggerating for artistic impact.

Cypress might have been curious, but Cadence was enthralled.

The Kirlia kept leaning forward, only barely avoiding obscuring Anne’s view of the underlying drawing. She couldn’t help it, really; this was amazing to watch. The most she’d ever seen herself depicted before was with a very simplistic outline on a couple communal structures, sometimes with a handprint, and once with a simple straw doll when she was still a Ralts. Those were neat, sure, but they paled when compared to being drawn by someone talented, and with so much detail.

It made her feel special.

She leaned her head on Anne’s side as the human worked on the drawing. The backdrop of combined Ralts and Riolu laughter off to the side left the atmosphere equal parts serene and exciting. The little she overheard of Anne’s thoughts was very technical. Thinking of which shade to use and where, how hard to press, whether she should sharpen the colored sticks.

As vague as that latter tangent was, the actual execution of that idea was much more curious.

Cadence had seen plenty of adults sharpen objects from time to time, be it with their fangs, claws, or a well applied Psycho Cut. But never with a small, brightly colored... trinket. Its exact method of work remained a mystery even as Anne used it, inserting the stick’s tip into it and giving it a few spins. A couple of shavings later, Anne pulled the now very sharp stick out of it, catching Cypress’ attention in particular.

Wonder if something like that could be scaled up.

Before anyone could either ask Anne what she’d done or... about anything else, the human got back to work; older kids and adults keeping quiet for the time being.

Nobody wanted to be the one to interrupt an artist, after all.

Anne took her time with the detail as their half of the room was plunged into a quiet, focused mood. The Gligar and Kirlia beside their newly made friend just watched intently, the latter sneaking glimpses at what the human was thinking about. As expected, it was mostly artisanal topics she had no idea about, but... gradually, other thoughts crept in, especially as she moved on from shading her hair to coloring her horns.

They were more amusing than anything else, at least initially.

Cadence was in an excellent position to giggle inwardly at just how little some of her friends really understood what it meant to be a Psychic, and much the same was true in Anne’s case. The over exaggeration of how much Psychics could manipulate people mixed in with underestimation of everything else they could do, even without being particularly naturally gifted in that area.

It was very hard not to feel Anne’s emotions this close to her. Put basically any other Psychic in her position, though, and they’d be able to sense what the human felt almost as acutely.

Of course, just like always, these kinds of thoughts veered into... less pleasant topics, sooner or later.

Anne might not have been as outright scared of their family as she once was, but her thoughts drifting toward being attacked were still unnerving. Even Bell could likely hurt her plenty; Cadence would’ve had no difficulty killing her there and then on a whim. The idea deeply chilled both girls. The latter felt a small pang of discomfort at being thought of like that, at being imagined as a potential murderer...

But she wasn’t the only one.

Right after her mind had stumbled upon that unpleasant topic, Anne immediately shifted to feeling very self conscious about it. About having even theoretically accused the innocent, cuddly fairy beside her of ever doing something as abhorrent as that. The anxiety that followed was much more noticeable than even the unsavory thoughts. Anne’s hand shook as she tried to keep on coloring her drawing, the jitters slowing her down as she second guessed herself.

The previous focused expression had soured into one of concealed distress; all the practice at keeping that emotion hidden making it almost unnoticeable to an outside observer.

Unless one just noticed her eyes going wide.

Or her racing heartbeat.

Or the sludge rolling around inside her head.

The human was at least somewhat aware of the latter, trying to force herself to stop feeling bad and focus on the drawing again. Predictably, it only barely worked. Maybe enough to keep it from being too noticeable to the two toddlers, but definitely not to the Kirlia.

And she wanted to do something about it. What exactly, she didn’t know, and wished she had any ideas she was confident in.

Maybe a friendly chat wouldn’t hurt?


Cadence’s voice startled the human; the trail of the reddish pencil almost escaping the confines of the linework.

Despite that reaction, Anne seemed to ignore her, attempting to cover up her anxiety by focusing harder at the task at hand, almost to the point of obsession. Cadence was no stranger to that state of hyperfocus, but this wasn’t it.

It was only about as effective of a disguise as trying to paint over a missing brick in the wall.

Still, ending up startling the human like that made her feel rather bad, and she had no idea what to do now. Should she just try again? The constant guidance of her mom to never Calm Mind anyone without their consent rang loud and clear in the fairy’s head. But, at the same time, so did the thought about potentially doing that, anyway. It really felt like Anne needed it, and with this instance revolving around what the Kirlia was and could do, she doubted her previous approach would work anywhere near as well the second time around.

All that was left was to try again.

“^Anne? I-is everything okay?^”

Once more, the human paused at hearing that. Her weakly hidden discomfort was threatening to spill all over her face. Didn’t help one bit with feeling self conscious, that’s for sure.

Hopefully Cadence could help keep it all under wraps, if not from her uncle, then from others...

“^Anne, nobody else can hear me right now. Just think about what you want to say, I-I’ll pick it up. A-are you okay?^”

As straightforward as her instructions felt like, Cadence knew from experience they were occasionally tricky for non-psychics to follow. For once, that wouldn’t be the case here; Anne’s coloring pace slowing to a crawl as she tried to gather her thoughts-

“^I-it’s fine, Cadence...^”

“^But it’s not! I can feel that! What’s wrong, Anne?^”

More self-consciousness, a slight grimace creeping onto the girl’s expression.

“^N-nothing, p-promise, everything’s alright...^”

As much as Cadence didn’t want to spell it out, it seemed like this was the only possible way forward.

“^You don’t have to feel bad about thinking of me hurting you, I promise Anne...^”

Just like earlier with the torn door, Anne froze in place, Cadence’s response immediate. A tight, warm hug, only from her this time. She didn’t want to drag anyone else into a topic this unpleasant, but still wanted to help make the big friend feel better.

“^...I-I’m sorry...^”

Anne’s whimper made the Kirlia redouble her efforts, determination burning brightly inside her.

“^But you don’t have to be! You really didn’t do anything wrong, Anne! I-I’m not gonna hold that against you...^”

As the fairy kept a close watch over Anne’s emotions, something else became apparent, souring some of Cadence’s enthusiasm. The fearful imagination that had ignited the runaway wildfire of anxiety was all but gone by now, but the realization of just how much her mind was being read in the moment had slithered in to replace it. It was... a creepy thing to think about, even a bit scary, not helping in this entire mess one bit.

And the worst part was that Cadence wasn’t even sure how to respond to that.

It’s not like she was trying to snoop on Anne’s thoughts... much. Of course she could sense things like that, especially from this close!

But, yet again, what was normal to her, quite a few found disturbing.

What ‘her’ was, quite a few found disturbing.

It was a hard lesson to learn, again and again; anxiety threatening to send her into the same kind of a mental pit as Anne had fallen into. But she couldn’t.

She had a friend to help, and she was gonna help her, gosh darnit!

“^Anne, I... I’m sorry for- for reading your thoughts like that. It’s really... unintentional most of the time, especially when we’re this close.^”

For once, her words wouldn’t have the human lock up even more. The older girl snuck a glance down at her before relaxing at the apology; the pencil resuming its glide on the page as Anne thought up a response.

“^I-it’s a b-bit uncomfortable to th-think about...^”

“^I... I know. It’s uncomfortable for most, I’m... I’m well aware. I wish I knew what to say. It’s like... like hearing a quiet voice nearby. It catches your attention, you can’t not hear it unless you’re deliberately trying to ignore it. I-I can try to do that, if you want...^”

It was a rather depressing idea to consider.

Cadence wanted people to like her, and she especially wanted Anne to like her. If it were to take having to pretend to not be Psychic in her presence... then she was willing to try, as deeply uncomfortable as that idea felt.

Anne was no Psychic, but it wasn’t exactly difficult to pick up on how unpleasant that option was for the Kirlia and why. As weird as it was to think about, this... was normal for her. She trusted Cadence to not be acting with any malice here, that she wasn’t trying to excuse anything more nefarious, but... still. Others hearing her thoughts felt eerie, her imagination providing her with a mental image of a transparent skullcap, everything inside visible.

Every hope, every doubt, every displeasure, about herself or others.

Every fear.

In a place like this, the latter felt especially scary to consider, as both girls were finding out. As far as Anne went, people already had plenty of good reasons to despise her, and realizing that she was afraid of them for no reason was just a Cheri on top. Who in the world would accept, let alone like her, knowing what kinds of prejudiced thoughts could swirl around in her head-

“^I would!^”

Cadence’s voice, suddenly so much louder and eager than before, interrupted Anne’s train of thought before it could sink to another low. The human glanced at the Kirlia in surprise as the latter continued-

“^I mean it Anne, it’s really alright! You’re... you’re not the only person who has these thoughts, f-far from it. They... they don’t feel nice, but I really don’t hold them against people, and especially not against you. I can only imagine how scary this must be, this... powerlessness. A-and that’s after all the pain you’ve been through, a-and mean parents, and...^”

The Kirlia had no more words in the moment, expressing what she wanted to convey in a much more acute way. Her hug was tight, and as big as her tiny body could manage. Anne let go of the pencil to return it, finally dropping all pretense that things were alright. Thankfully for them both, Elric was too confused to speak up right away. Even once he’d found the words, seeing a few tears threatening to roll down the girls’ cheeks discouraged him further.

The two held each other for a while, fears and insecurities yearning for and being soothed by each other’s comfort. As different as they were, as their worries were... maybe they had more in common than either girl could’ve guessed.

And, for once, it’d be Anne that spoke up, one part of Cadence’s words catching her attention in particular.

“^I-I’m sorry p-people are afraid of you, Cadence. They shouldn’t be, you’re r-really nice, a-and cool.^”

“^So are you, Anne! I-I wish I could draw anything like you do; it’s so pretty and awesome and-^”

“^B-but it’s nothing special, p-plenty others c-c-can draw like this a-and even much, much better. Y-you’re special, a-and can do all these cool things, l-like lifting m-me from falling!^”

“^But that isn’t special, e-either. Any Psychic c-could’ve done that...^”

“^Anyone half decent at drawing c-could’ve d-drawn this sketch.^”

“^I- I don’t care, you were the one who drew it!^”

“^A-and you were the one who helped me out earlier.^”

For a few moments, the two remained at an impasse, equally flustered as they held each other tight, sniffling any budding tears away.

“^You’re really cool, C-Cadence.^”

“^And so are you, Anne.^”

The tween girls continued their mutual embrace, veiled discomfort giving way to much more noticeable reassurance and relief, together with a few stray tears. As weird and scary, or as pathetic and off-putting as they might have thought they were, the other’s unconditional awe and interest overcame these feelings, bit by bit.

And this time, everyone noticed, even those with no Psychic gifts.

“...are they alright...?” - Cypress kept his whisper as quiet as he was capable of. Marco answered with a wordless nod, attention split between watching over the little ones as they called a temporary ceasefire,

And being so, so proud of his niece.

“Cadence! Are you okay?”

Bell’s loud squeak had his sister squirm as Anne broke into giggles, holding the little Psychic closer.

“~W-we’re okay now, I-I think. We both felt... rather bad earlier, but it’s alright now.~”

The Ralts accepted Anne’s response, about ready to return to his antics... but Reya had a different reaction. Suddenly, this odd, tall person she’d noticed in her peripheral vision was much more noticeable now, and apparently felt bad. The situation called for her intervention, and it was an intervention she was more than eager to provide every time.


Right as Anne began to let go of the Kirlia, she held her tight out of reflex at her entire body being suddenly lifted. The change in perspective made her freeze with a gasp, the briefest instant of cold anxiety going through her before the rest of her mind chimed in with what it was feeling. Which included a couple of small paws wrapped around her midriff by which she was being currently held.

And then, shortly after, also by telekinesis here and there, Marco’s intervention helped in making Reya’s introduction more pleasant.


It wasn’t exactly difficult to connect the very young, girly voice with the Riolu that had decided to lift her entire body a foot into the air, the sudden motion rolling a hefty bit of her t-shirt up. The voice couldn’t have sounded older than five, putting it in the same approximate age and cuteness bracket as Bell.

Thoughts about how strong the lil’ pup was while her soft, squishy body was being held by her didn’t help, though.

Thankfully, the elevated hug wouldn’t last much longer. The area that Reya had held her by felt a bit sore as the human released a breath she wasn’t even aware she was holding. Cadence wasted no time before intervening to help with soreness with what her grandma had taught her, while Anne finally responded to the greeting-

“~H-hello! You must be R-Reya, right?~”

Excited nods and tail wagging so fast it was little more than a blur behind the Riolu- yep, dead on.

“~I-I’m Anne, i-it’s nice to meet you!~”

The human was of half a mind to reach out to the mighty pup with her good hand for a handshake, but eventually reconsidered. Instead, she opted for something that would hopefully be received just as well.

And indeed, it turned out that Reya did like her pets, her tail somehow wagging even faster in response.

This was fun enough for Anne to not even notice Bell having made his way back onto the bed with his uncle’s help. Predictably, he loved to see his friends becoming friends, expressing his satisfaction with a loud squeak.

At least, before something else caught his attention; the sight rather amusing to the Psychic toddler.

Right as Anne was winding down her pets, she felt an unexpected touch on her front, doubling over out of reflex. Nope, no immediate danger to her vulnerable, soft stomach this time.

Just one toddler who decided to stick his hand into her belly button.

“Hehe, funny!”

Who could’ve known that the funny bone was located in the navel.

Anne giggled at Bell’s amusement over her very unimpressive body. She was grateful that he didn’t continue it for any longer, lest it became uncomfortable. Right as she was about to smooth out her ruffled shirt and cover that particular part of the human body, Elric’s harsher voice caught her attention again-

“What’s that?”


Anne had no idea what the bat was referring to, looking over her arms just in case. Alas, they wouldn’t be where the strangeness was located after all; a half of a pink pincer soon tapping the soft skin near her belly button, the odd texture sending shivers down her body. The human remained none the wiser, squinting at her stomach and trying to find what she imagined to be a stain of some sort, but no such a thing was present.

Nope, the answer was much more banal, and yet veered into much weirder territory.

“^This... hole? I-is that a wound?^”

Cadence’s voice grew concerned, another pointing hand finally making the human realize what all this was about. The ‘wound’ possibility caught everyone else’s attention. Marco’s gaze narrowed as he imagined just what brutal injury could’ve left a scar like that.

Good riddance to her worthless excuse of a human family.

As correct as that thought and general hunch was, it didn’t quite extend to this specific anatomical curiosity. The realization clicked together in Anne’s mind almost audibly, followed by an explanation in a raised voice-

“~OH! N-no no, it’s not a wound, it’s j-just my belly button.~”

The second part of her explanation clarified absolutely nothing, and the human knew that. Her mind searched for the right words before coming up with something hopefully reasonable.

“~I-it’s normal f-for humans. It comes from-~”

It was at this exact moment when Anne realized just how much ground she’d have to cover to make sense of her words; the reminder that mons didn’t give live births batting that whole attempted lecture out of her mind with enough force to end up with a home run. If she wanted to explain something as silly as belly buttons, she’d need to go through both live births, and the little of their queasy anatomy she really understood.

One icky sex-ed class convincing her to never have biological children of her own was enough, thanks. She’d rather not inflict that kind of knowledge on anyone else.

“~U-Umm... i-it’s normal.~”

Cadence and Marco didn’t need to know about the relevant concepts to pick up on how uncomfortable explaining this would’ve been for Anne; both of them were more than satisfied with this explanation if it meant avoiding discomfort.

Elric, however, wasn’t privy to that fact-

“But it looks so weird! Is it like a-“


The Kirlia had caught onto her friend’s idea before he’d even vocalized it; the Gligar left amused by Cadence’s squicked out reaction.

“~I-it’s just an... i-indentation. It doesn’t do anything.~”

Hopefully that would prevent any more infantile wondering...

“Ya sure? It really looks like a- shlmsdlfkjsdfSLSKDFJSDL!”

Anne stared stunned as Cadence Psychic’d Elric’s mouth shut mid-sentence; the incoherent mumbling that followed sending the little ones into a laughing fit. Part of the human really wanted to know just what his idea was and just how bad must it have been for the Kirlia to react like that.

But only a part, and most of her was content with avoiding accursed knowledge.

“^Come on, you two.^”

“^Okay uncle...^” / “Okay, Mr. Marco...”

The Gallade sighed at diffusing the childish situation. Deep down, he was grateful towards Cadence for intervening when she did, but he had to maintain pretend impartiality. A small, vestigial bump in the stomach wasn’t all that there was to be seen, though, Anne’s rolled-up shirt letting him notice something else, something more... concerning.

“^Are those... ribs?^”

Marco’s low voice caught Anne’s attention, making her glance down at her exposed torso. And indeed, a couple of lower ribs were visible, poking through the skin, but thankfully only them.

“~Umm... yeah.~”

Anne had no idea about the confusion in the Gallade’s voice. From what she’d remembered learning about, many mons shared the approximate human skeleton, ribs included, so they shouldn’t have been surprising-

“^Should they be poking out like that?^”


His words had drawn the rest of the room’s attention over to the area in question, though its significance was lost on the kids. At least, aside from Anne, the girl looking away as she got the implication-

“~P-probably not. I’m just... really thin. P-probably too thin...~”

Marco’s worry was affirmed; the knight looking at the human with concern as Elric spoke up again-

“Sounds like you need to visit Holly some more, hehe! Time for a second lunch?”

“~I don’t think I-I’ve had the first one. O-or breakfast...~”

The room immediately went quiet at that, Elric taken aback by that in particular. It was well after noon already!

“Whaaaat!? But it’s already so late in the day! I would’ve been screaming in hunger by then!”

All the while, Cypress kicked himself at not noticing that in time; the very simple truism of “living beings need food” somehow slipping by unnoticed in the mess of Anne’s situation. Though, Elric’s remark brought up a good, if odd point-

“Why didn’t you say anything, dear Anne...?”

The human was put in an awkward spot at the concern surrounding her. The answer to the underlying question was a rather awkward one. Awkward and unpleasant, Anne left torn as she tried to package the truth in... softer language.

“~I-I’m just used to not eating much.~”

“This isn’t just ‘not eating much’, my dear...”

“~...o-or going days without eating.~”

“But why? Aren’t you hungry?”

“~I’m- I’m used to hunger. I-I don’t r-really notice it anymore...~”

It didn’t exactly take a mastermind to piece the details together. Marco felt the same vindictiveness towards her family as before, but now with a dash of wanting to comfort Anne some more, somehow. He might not have been in the right position to act on that, but Cadence was. She only needed to glimpse her uncle’s feelings to realize what was up for herself too, her hug of her human friend redoubling in effort.

Didn’t take a mastermind, but some needed to have the truth spelled out to them.

“But how? Did your human family not feed you or something?”

Before anyone could chide Elric for continuing further in what was clearly an unpleasant topic, Anne replied first-

“~P-pretty much, y-yeah...~”

For once in his life, the Gligar was left speechless, not expecting such an absurdly cruel possibility to ring true. Even if he wasn’t too familiar with the feeling of shame, he sure felt it now, it and affection; scrambling over to Anne’s free side and contributing his own hug.

“Sounds like a meal is in order...”

“^Indeed. Let me go and grab something-^”

“^Oh, can I go too, uncle!?^”

Marco wasn’t sure how to react to his niece’s eagerness, even if he applauded her wanting to help her friend. He could more than likely haul the entirety of Holly’s pantry in here with his bare arms if needed. Help wasn’t really necessary... but why not.

Let’s let her help and feel good about it.

“^Hmmmm~ sure. Come Cadence, let’s grab us all a nice, big meal, especially Anne.^”

“^YAY! We’ll be back soon Anne, hopefully the hunger won’t be too bad until then!^”

The human herself was a bit taken aback at the sudden intervention, but... couldn’t deny that it all felt nice. To be cared for like that and to get to fill her tummy a bit. She still didn’t handle excess attention being placed on her well, but as long as it remained this caring, she wouldn’t mind anywhere near as much as she usually did.

With how much Cadence adored her little drawing, it was probably best to wait until she was back before continuing with it, heh. That wasn’t an issue, plenty of other things to do, and kids to chat with, after all! Who knows, maybe Reya would enjoy a sketch too?

“~Reya, w-want me to draw you?~”

*woof, woof?*


That... was an issue.

Being left without Cadence or Marco for a moment wasn’t the end of the world, but being left without a translation... was a different matter. Anne had already been in this spot before; she knew that nothing bad would happen. Still... there was something unnerving about being left with superpowered children and no way to communicate with them, or to convey asking them to stop if needed.

Guess screams would work for that too, but it could’ve potentially been too late at that point.


Before that vicious train of thought could threaten to swallow Anne further, Reya’s bark caught her attention; the Riolu now on her lap. To the best of the human’s ability to tell, she was concerned, which... aww.

“~I-I’m okay Reya, just... feels a bit scary with nobody understanding me anymore.~”

Even if that was the case, speaking like she normally would proved to be rather soothing in itself. It really helped, even if it was just playing pretend, and so did Reya’s adorable head tilt in response. A smile broke through Anne’s prior nervousness as she reached to pet the pup. And once that happened, the Ralts wanted in on that too, scrambling in on her lap beside his friend, and even Elric wouldn’t say no to some human affection.

Hugpiles, an ever effective antidote to anxiety.

Elric’s chittered comment soon kicked off an entire conversation between himself and the pair of younger kids. It was amusing to hear Bell speak like this, his high-pitched boyish voice becoming little more than squeaks and an occasional baby gargle; the Ralts getting an extra portion of affection each time he spoke. Which only made him squeal each time, teeny body splatting on Anne’s front and hugging her as much as it could.

Wonderful, each and every time.

Yeah, suppose she could just rest like this for a while.

In time, Anne had even gathered enough courage to close her eyes for a moment. She almost took off her glasses too, if not for Reya’s accidental burst of strength being liable to turn the entire trinket into a pile of shattered glass and metal shavings.

Sorry Reya, you’re a wonderful lil’ pup, but the ability to see is more important, hehe.

As Anne chuckled at her unspoken joke, having long since tuned out the incomprehensible conversation, a movement against her side caught her attention. Seems Reya was shuffling weirdly. Yeah, as if she was peeking around her. That’s quite cute. A couple pets towards the puppy had her squirm, but the Riolu’s focus remained where it was previously aimed at; the one glance up at the petting human ended quickly.

Was there something odd behind her? Might as well take a-

Ember was moving.

A switch audibly toggled in Anne’s head as that singular realization took over the entirety of her mind. Her good arm immediately started to gently, yet firmly, push the other kids off her lap and clear some more space on the bed. The Braixen was shaking softly in her shawl, and whether it was in fear, hunger, or pain, Anne could not tell.

Couldn’t tell, but could help.

Within moments, Anne had shifted over to her best friend, laying down beside her and sneaking her good arm underneath the Braixen’s body to hold her close. She heard quiet whines and mumbles, together with an occasional strained breath, the sounds conveying both that her beloved vixen was probably awake, and that she was not feeling good in the slightest.

“~I-I’m here Ember, I’m here...~”

Her voice made the shaking fox first freeze, and then shuffle towards her, her motions slow and staggered as she turned her body around. With every little slide, more of Ember’s snout came into view. And, with it, so did the clearly visible pain, winces and grumbles constantly streaking across her face.

As much as the firefox hurt, it absolutely paled compared to finally seeing her human awake and beside her once more. She yelped, the sound one Anne remembered well despite all the time that had passed.

Anne gasped at being held tight with very warm, very shaky arms. Ember’s intermittent winces turned into quiet growls and woofs, some sort of speech she couldn’t understand but which had reached deep inside her, regardless. Tears ran down their faces as Anne’s brown eyes met Ember’s singular red one, the resulting embrace as tight as both battered girls could manage.

“~I-I love you Ember, I’m here...~”

Some of the fox’s vocalizations were clearly words, but the rest equally clearly conveyed pain. Anne knew just what to do, hand reaching up to stroke the fox between her ears; hoping that despite their suffering, she could help somehow.

Just like she used to do, again and again.

For a few moments, the two just held each other, words simultaneously incomprehensible and conveying everything in the world; the sheer outpouring of love and comfort especially clear to the toddlers. Anne wasn’t considering letting go of Ember for the next preferably forever, but her discomfort was obvious and worrying. The human worried whether there wasn’t something seriously wrong going on with her best friend. She wouldn’t wake up for so long earlier, and now she was in pain, the thought of what it all could mean bringing terror.

She wouldn’t have to wait long for help, thankfully.

Cypress’s whispered, drawn out voice caught both girls off guard. The inseparable pair looked up at the ghost through teary eyes; the Mismagius’s yellow eyes focused firmly on the Braixen. From the little that Anne could make out, he’d just asked her a question of some sort- and if Ember’s shaky nodding was any sign, she’d just agreed.

A familiar, ethereal chant followed as Cypress rested one of his tentacles on Ember’s forehead and the other on his side. For a few moments, nothing happened, the piercing tune continuing until, at last, the Braixen’s Pain was Split.

Both she and the Mismagius jumped at the sensation; the latter immediately reaching towards his head as his entire body shriveled up, yellow eyes wide and mouth left slightly agape. Whether he even needed to breathe Anne didn’t know, but it looked like he was doing just that, and very heavily while at it. He’d only forced out a couple short words before floating away towards the entrance to the room, outside of either girl’s field of view, and then out of it.

Before the two girls knew it, they were left on their own again, with only each other to look at. But now, with Ember in the condition to do more than whine quietly and cry in pain. Anne had no idea what just happened, but deep down she didn’t care, redoubling her hugging efforts and bringing her head to the smaller vixen’s shoulder, her comforting whispers continuing.

“~I-I’m so glad to see you feeling better, Ember... I-I love you, I’m sorry f-for leaving you at that shelter, I-I know it was scary but-~”

The vixen’s quiet growl cut her human off, the Fire-type now finally having the strength to hold her best friend closer; to return all the physical affection she’d been provided over the years, at last. Anne kept sniffling all the while, relief, comfort, and apology all welling up within her. An uncountable number of words she wanted to say, what she’d been wanting to say for as long as they’d known each other-

Ember’s warm paw caught Anne off guard as it snuck its way up the back of her head, the pleasant warmth and the soft fur making the human squirm.

“~H-hehe, t-tickles...~”

Did she want to return the pets after all these years now that she finally could? That’s so sweet of her, goodness-


Anne didn’t expect the blissful touch to suddenly be cut off by a stinging sensation where Ember had touched her; a harsh wince interrupting her train of thought. It wasn’t even a burn or anything. Maybe she’d caught something in here? Hopefully not. Ember’s headache looked so terrible-



The voice she’d heard was a bit gruffer than her own, slightly more husky, but, at the same time, unmistakably girly and her age. Slowly, Anne reeled back, staring wide eyed at the vixen’s face, shock turning into joy at seeing the same happen on Ember’s end.


A slow, firm nod from the vixen.


Anne’s eyes teared up as her heart sang in joy. Her embrace immediately redoubled in strength, getting absolutely everything the battered human still had in her. And, moments later, the effort was returned in kind; Ember’s squeal turning into a quiet but excited ‘awoooo’ at her telepathy working out despite her utter exhaustion.

“~E-Ember, I-I’m so happy to h-hear you, I-~”

There weren’t enough words in Unovan to describe even a fraction of the turmoil Anne had been through without her best friend by her side. It didn’t matter anymore, not now, not ever again. They had each other once more. Ember was back with her. She was back with Ember.

Everything would be okay.

“~I-I love you, Ember...~”

“^I love you too, A-Anne! I-it’s been s-so long, a-and y-you’ve grown so much I-I think!^”

“~I think you grew up a lot m-more, h-heheh.~”

Ember was much too tired to even pretend to not have found the joke funny. Her barked laughter filled the clinic’s room before Anne’s joined it soon after; the duet as sudden for onlookers as it was deeply, profoundly relieving for the participants. Even after it had eventually calmed down a couple minutes later, the girls kept giggling from time to time, the mix of emotional high and physical exhaustion clear to see for all.

And nobody minded, mostly because they had found something else to occupy themselves with.

The girls neither noticed nor cared about that, though. Their hug continued as Anne’s thoughts skewed towards her earlier whispered apology; several tears gathering in the corners of her eyes.

“~I-I’m s-so sorry for l-leaving you a-at that shelter...~”

“^It’s okay Anne, I p-promise! You w-wanted to save me, a-and... you did.^”

The vixen could only faintly remember her own distress in that situation anymore. The fresher, complete perspective of it all had mostly replaced it all in her mind. It was such a weird sensation, to suddenly remember so much more than just what she did or thought. If anything, it only made it obvious just how much her human had loved her. The awareness that she used to not remember her friend was present somewhere in her head, but again, it paled in importance to everything else going on at the moment.

It was probably just stress and despair, anyway.

She couldn’t wait to tell her mom; finally introduce Anne to her.

“~I-I’m glad y-you found a home here, y-you really deserve to be happy-~”

“^A-and so do you, Anne! O-oh, maybe you could s-stay with me a-and my mom a-after you get better?^”

After all, of course Anne would stay for good. The only real question as far as Ember was concerned was ‘where’.

Anne was not opposed to that idea in the slightest; sharing a home with Ember again one of her closest held dreams ever since they had to separate. Though... ‘mom’?

“~I-I’d love to, E-Ember. D-did you find your m-mom here?~”

“^No no, she adopted me, she’s n-not my biological mom. She’s a Delphox, a-and has been helping me w-with learning m-my moves, a-and telepathy and letting me talk to you n-now, a-and so much more, a-and-^”

Ember paused, but she knew full well she could go on for much longer than that. Her mom meant so much to her; she loved her almost as much as she loved Anne. She might not have liked humans much, but there was no way she’d say no to Anne, not after everything they’ve been through.


“^I l-love her a lot, and I love you.^”

Anne’s smile grew as she listened in, one-armed hug tightening at hearing all the good things that her friend had experienced in the meantime. Ember deserved them all, deserved everything in the world.

“~I-I love you too, E-Ember. I missed you s-so much...~”

The Braixen’s embrace tightened for a moment before loosening just enough to let the two lean back and look each other in the eyes. Tears, exhaustion, fluster and smiles all combined into a soggy, blissful mess.

Two soggy messes, meant for each other-


The bark was very similar to Reya’s at a glance, but much, much lower in pitch, making Anne jump. No way it could’ve been Reya making that kind of noise, wonder who was-

A Lucario stood by the entrance to the room, Cypress hovering next to them. Their call might have chiefly caught Reya’s attention, but their own focus was unmistakably on Anne; narrow red eyes staring at her.

Through her.

The human felt an icy dread go down her spine at the sight. Reya clearly noticed the sensation too, glancing over at her before another rough bark made her resume her descent from the bedding, followed by a dash over to what was presumably her parent.

For once, Anne really wished she was a Psychic, just so that she could figure out whether that Lucario only looked angry, or whether they were actually angry at her. And, if it was the latter, what she’d done wrong this time to have caused it.

She must’ve botched something, right?

Something small but offensive, no doubt. M-maybe she wasn’t meant to pet Reya like that and it was really insulting in hindsight? Probably something to do with some sort of etiquette. She should’ve sat up or stood up and bowed when she saw them, and not doing that was unknowingly a great offense. Something like that- no matter what, though, she messed it up; she made them angry at her, she’d caused it, she deserved it, she-

A sudden, tight hug from behind.

Ember’s warmth shook her out of her spiraling anxiety, letting her finally see that the Lucario and Reya had left at some point.

“^Shhhh, shhhh, i-it’s okay Anne, it’s okay, y-you didn’t do anything wrong, I-I promise.^”

Ember’s reassurance had the human curl up a bit, the fright still coursing through her veins. The Braixen kept trying to help with yet another hug, yet more pets, desperate attempts to comfort her best friend.

Just like she herself had been comforted so many times.

“~Wh-w-why d-did he l-look a-at me l-like that...~”

“^Th-that was M-Mr. Lariat, he’s always g-gruff like that. You d-did nothing wrong, I p-promise Anne...^”

Even Ember’s warmth and explanations had a hard time melting through the utterly freezing glare that still lingered in Anne’s mind, but gradually, second by second, they slowly managed that feat. Once Anne no longer felt like she’d been immobilized with a Mean Look, she shakily turned back towards her best friend, letting her administer all the warm affection she was capable of.

A whole heaping lot of it, learned over the many, many years of being held and pet by the very same human she was now trying to comfort.

“^It’s okay Anne, it’s okay. N-nobody will hurt you here.^”

Anne nodded shakily, her breath finally beginning to even out as Ember dispensed her love, soft fluff feeling softer still by the moment.

“^I won’t let a-anything happen to you, Anne, I promise...^”

I promise...

The words finally broke through the last of Anne’s anxiety-induced paralysis; the one good arm holding the Braixen tight enough to knock the breath out of her for a moment.

“~Th-thank you, E-Ember-~”


Anne might have not understood what Bell just shouted about, but Ember sure did. The louder noise was followed by a back and forth between the Ralts and the Gligar. Each bit was just as incoherent to the human as the last one, while Braixen looked like she was only barely succeeding at holding in laughter-

And eventually, failed at that; the soft, barked sound music to her friend’s ears.

She couldn’t remember ever hearing Ember laugh like that, and now she wanted to never forget that sound.

It took the vixen a moment or two to realize that her friend had no idea what was going on. The thought of how dumbfounding all of this must’ve been to an onlooker, sending another wave of amusement through her. Instead of trying to answer that confusion, though, she helped Anne see for herself, slowly sitting up together with her before pointing a shaky paw towards the nearby antics.

Elric was busy exploring his more creative side, picking Bell to inspire his first ever creation. Unfortunately for the bespoke Ralts, said creation involved him having been drawn with a bowl cut large enough to cover almost his entire body, only his feet visible from underneath all the hair.


Moment by moment, Anne joined in on the group’s amusement. Her hiccupy, occasionally kettle-like laughter was much more pleasant to the ear, and just different enough from the rest to catch Bell’s attention. As loudly as he’d squeaked in protest at the caricature of himself, he now realized that there was an actual artist in the room, someone who couldn’t draw him this wrong.

His hair wasn’t this big!

Bell wasted no time scrambling over to the human and squeaking out his request to exactly zero comprehension; teeny arms lightly patting Anne’s thighs for emphasis. The contrast between the apparent seriousness of his words and the adorableness of everything else about him added further fuel to the fire of the girl’s amusement, especially once Ember provided the well needed translation-

“^He’s asking you to draw him, but nice, not l-like Elric, teehee.^”

She had another drawing to finish first, but sure wasn’t opposed to that idea. Right as she was about to ask the Braixen to translate her words back, she realized it wouldn’t be needed.

The room had smelled the pair’s return before they saw them.

The Gallade was carrying several large bowls of roasted, spiced berries and what looked like the most delicious mashed potatoes Anne had seen in her life. Cadence, on the other hand, was hovering a bag with a small mountain of pastries, sweet and savory alike from what the rest of the room could make out.

Anne wasn’t used to either this quantity nor quality of food; her school lunches anemic in size and only technically edible. This smelled like something out of a restaurant, like something a small army of chiefs had spent hours on each.

“~I-is that all f-for us?~”

“^Indeed, Anne. Good afternoon Ember!^”

“^Uncle Marco had to stop Holly from making even more! When he’d told her that your family didn’t feed you well, she started cooking so fast and so much she almost had a fire in her kitchen! Oh oh, hi Ember!^”

“^If only it was just one fire...^”

Most of the room laughed at that clarification as Anne stared dumbstruck at all the food, latent hunger suddenly growing much, much harder to ignore. At the same time, the firefox beside her huddled closer beside her as she waved at the pair of returning psychics, gathering the words to respond to the greetings up before the lil' Ralts went through with it first.

“Anneeeee, can you draw me nice?”

Bell’s repeated question snapped the human out of her daze. Anne was about to respond before the Gallade in the room cut her off-

“^Bell, how about we all eat something and then Anne can go back to drawing you all?^”

The Ralts gave that option ten seconds of the most intense thought in his teeny life before expressing his agreement with a loud, happy squeak; his attention immediately redirected over towards the freshly brought foodstuffs.

Yeah, that sounded nice.

That sounded very nice.

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Chapter 17: Uncertainty


the gay agenda

Chapter 17: Uncertainty

It took Aria a good while to speak up again after her unintentional faux pas.

Inviting wildlings to rest and maybe even stay at their safe haven was one thing, one that not a single sensible soul in the village would ever object to. Doing so with one of them hating and the other fearing humans, with Anne around, was another.

She didn’t want anything to happen to Anne, but at the same time, the pair of ghosts clearly needed help, too. If she just kept the truth hidden and hoped things would work out, they’d probably freak out upon realizing that there was indeed a human around, and perilously close at that. Best case, they’d just leave there and then, and the worst case...

Despite Safeguard’s protection, a dreadful chill went through Aria’s horns at the thought.

Suppose there really was no way out of this conundrum but forward.

“^There is something I need to confess to, regarding the settlement we’re heading towards.^”

Aria kept staring straight on as the group made slow progress through the near-uniform snow-covered woods. Yaksha knew better than to pause just because of something being brought up and marched on. The same couldn’t be said for Sage; the girl left scrambling to catch up after her brief stop.

"And that would be?"

Time for the big revelation, and hope that they wouldn’t take off into nothingness there and then.

“^There is currently a human staying there. One.^”

Out of her view, the Banette’s gaze narrowed as the Phantump let out a small, terrified squeak, immediately leaning into her guardian. Aria might not have seen it, but she most definitely sensed it, a deep-seated part of her wanting to drop everything else and comfort the scared girl, just as it did with Anne. They felt so similar.

And yet, were so crucially different.

"That’s an important detail to hide from us."

Yaksha’s accusatory tone was neither missed nor unearned; the Gardevoir slowly nodded before continuing.

“^I know. I was uncertain how to best bring her up.^”

Aria felt Sage noticeably relax at that mention, but didn’t have the time to delve deeper into that observation. The hauntling’s guardian was still expecting answers, and yet again, the truth was the only answer the Gardevoir had.

“^She’s a young girl, far from an adult. Ended up under our care after running away from an abusive home and getting grievously injured, and may stay there for good, should things work out.^”

Putting it in the most direct way thankfully worked to break through Yaksha’s immediate scepticism. Or, at least, some of it. Noticeably less suspicion in his mind, though still a fair amount of doubt and cold calculation. Unfortunately, even with that caveat, the Banette’s response was what Aria hoped to avoid.

“You’re making a mistake. Sage, let’s head out of-”

“B-but Mr. Yaksha!”


“You’re s-still hurt!”

“Better me than you, kid.”

“I-I’ll be okay, I promise!”

The hauntling’s plea finally made a dent in her guardian, her red eyes narrowing as she stared at him. He was of half a mind to keep up the argument, to try keeping Sage safe from her fear despite her best efforts. One human child without their wretched balls wouldn’t be a threat to even her, let alone them both; he knew that well.

Even beyond that, though, he still wanted to keep going. He had already been slowly falling apart before this accident. His state was the very last thing either of them should care about.

She deserved better than humanity, and he was determined to deliver, even if it killed what remained of him.

But... it felt different this time. There was a steadfastness to her words, her posture. She kept affirming her decision with firm, full body nods even after he’d turned to look at her.

Suppose he could stop by to get patched up, especially if he’d be there beside her to protect her should that human dare show up...

“You don’t have to do this, Sage.”

“But I’ll be okay! I’ll h-have you!”

Whispered chuckle mixed in with metallic clings of unraveling zipper teeth. He found her conviction adorable in the most condescending way, immediately going through all the ways that decision could go so very wrong in his mind. All the ways she could get overwhelmed and panic like she’d done so many times in the past.

All the ways in which she’d be left withdrawn in her stump, too afraid to move, reliving her death again.

Suppose there was only so much he could do to dissuade her in the end. He was her guardian, no matter what. With the expected safety of a place like the settlement in question, even if the worst came to pass and she got terrified and required help, he’d be there to help her once more. They’d be fine, or she’d know better going forward.


He hated thinking of it that way.

She’s been through arguably even more than him. She didn’t need to ‘know better’, she just needed to be safe. And if he couldn’t do that, then what good was he even for? Why else would he keep shambling on with little more than spite in his mind and a gaping hole in his memories-

“M-Mr. Yaksha?”

Despite the Banette’s best efforts, the zipped grimace revealed more than he would’ve ever wanted to.

“I’m fine. Alright. Let’s try a day or two. If anything happens, we leave there and then. How does that sound, Sage?”

The Phantump shook a bit at being asked a direct question like that, her own small mind no less certain than her guardian’s. In her case, though, her thoughts veered in the other direction, of not wanting her fear, however much or little of it there was in the moment, to keep them on the move. She wanted to speak up, to ask why only a day or two, to ask about as something as self-explanatory as staying there until the Banette was healthy again.

But she didn’t know what to say.

And instead, just nodded and hovered over to him, stubby arms trying to pull his side into a hug.

Aria’s smile at the scene mirrored Yaksha’s, the latter strained by exhaustion, injury, and slight annoyance at the ghost once more keeping something from him. Either way, at least they’ve agreed on a plan they were both happy enough with.

A rarer occasion than it should’ve been.

“I suppose that’s settled, then. A couple of days, whichever rest we can get, then we head out. Won’t be staying any more than that.”

It wasn’t the Gardevoir’s place to argue, and she knew that well. Who knows, maybe they’d reconsider once they were there? Maybe they’d stay for longer, anyway? Maybe Pearl or Autumn or someone else could help Sage process some of her fear? It remained to be seen.

For now, though, the resolution was as good as either side could’ve hoped for.

As they got moving again, Aria’s thoughts returned to the hauntling; the little Phantump was seemingly at more ease than before. To meet such a traumatic end at the hands of humanity, and so young at that. She’d glimpsed a few more of those little ghosts many years ago, always in the corner of her vision, always disappearing shortly after. Cypress’ words corroborated what the teachings she’d first heard growing up spoke of once she’d asked him about them.

Almost all the Phantump were deathborn, and all of them lost children who had died alone.

A hatchling Pidove who woke up to an empty nest and was eventually spotted by a predator. An overeager Rattata straying too far from their nest, dismembered at the hands of a human trap. A Venipede too malnourished to hibernate over the winter and evolve, left starving to death in their own burrow, so close to and yet so far from everyone they had ever known.

Her heart broke when first listening to the Mismagius’ recollection; she could hardly bear thinking of them even now. The pain, the loneliness, the fear; the all-encompassing fear they all must’ve felt.

That Sage must’ve felt.

Aria only barely held her tears in, but there was no way in hell she would hold herself back from giving the girl some well-deserved affection.

A gentle application of telekinesis forwarded the sensations of her slowly petting hand over to the hauntling’s wooden shell. The psychic touch gave Sage a pause as she stopped, wide-eyed. It didn’t take long for the Phantump to connect the dots, her expression taken aback. She looked up at the nearby Gardevoir with confusion in her mind, only to have the same confusion be cut through with a single, wordless nod.

Sage responded in the most natural way in the world for her.

The entire group had to briefly pause as the tiny ghost hugged Aria’s leg. Their emotions were split between wanting to comfort, being comforted, and full-body confusion at what had just happened behind his back. The latter knew to stay quiet though, his grumpiness gradually fading as he watched the little one under his care visibly relax; her tiny body no longer shaking as much.

“Th-thank you, M-m-m-mrs. Aria...”

The Phantump smiled shyly at Aria’s beaming expression. She didn’t waste an opportunity to give her another hug once the psychic had crouched, either; the psychically transmitted sensations matched only by the real deal.

“^You’re welcome sweetie. I hope you’ll enjoy your stay at our village.^”

Aria felt Sage’s thoughts bounce around several topics at her words. Excitement at visiting a town, uncertainty at it being full of stranger mons, tinge of muted fear at the stray human, worry about whether Yaksha would be alright in the end. Eventually, that very first emotion came out on top, especially when bolstered by some more of the Gardevoir’s affection.


“You make it sound like you’re leaving us.”

With a couple last pats on Sage’s back, Aria stood up and nodded again; Yaksha’s pink eyes narrowing.

“^I have my scouting duty, alas. If you maintain this direction, you will eventually reach our village, worry not.^”

The Gardevoir pointed to accentuate her words, leaving the Banette to focus on maintaining their heading.

“Fair enough.”

“Th-thank you for letting us stay, Mrs. Aria!”


“^You’re both very welcome. Once you get there, be on a lookout for a large tent with a red symbol above the red entrance. That’s our clinic.^”

“I see.”

“Mhm! W-we’ll ask someone for directions i-if we can’t find it, r-right Mr. Yaksha?”

“We’ll try, yes.”

The language barrier inherent to that approach didn’t cross either of the three’s minds as the pair of ghosts separated from the tall psychic. Aria paused and ensured the other two were heading in the right direction before turning around and mentally resetting herself.

A whole day of scouting ahead, and fingers crossed it won’t feature any more surprises.

Much to the relief of Aria’s increasingly fraying mental state, that hope did indeed hold true. The sky eventually shifted from its muted whites and blues into ever darkening oranges, making for an excellent sign to turn tail and sprint back home.

It was weird to acknowledge how freeing a good run like that could feel.

Aria didn’t consider herself physically strong. Barring any psychic assistance, subconscious or overt, she doubted she’d even be capable of lifting both of her children up into her arms. Or even walking for that matter.

At the very least, it didn’t feel like she needed to help herself when just making her way around during the warmer months. When the winter came, though, levitation still reigned as her preferred mode of transportation. All the practice had brought it into not feeling much more draining than just walking would, so doing it all day wasn’t even that much of a hassle anymore.

Getting somewhere fast was a different matter entirely.

Jovan probably had a nice, smart word for this exact purpose, but teleportation grew immensely draining as its length increased. Zipping from one end of the room to the other took surprisingly little effort, but even just doubling that tiny distance suddenly made the task way more than twice as difficult. And that relation only continued with more distance. Teleporting across the village was possible and enough to leave her gasping for breath; double that and she’d be left borderline catatonic once she arrived.

It made for a terrible method of long-distance locomotion unless done in short bursts. And at that point, considering the downtime between each blink, the end result wasn’t that much faster than just a brisk jog.

And nowhere near as fast as Aria’s current Agility-enhanced sprint.

Using her legs this much felt weird, but... not at all bad.

She’d remembered Marco swearing by the virtues of purely physical exercise and exertion from time to time, and the more she used this way of getting back and forth to her scouting route, the more she agreed with him. Maybe she could show it off to Cadence sometime and have her give it a shot too? Wouldn’t hurt to try.

Bell would probably run around the nearest person or building really fast and just give himself vertigo, teehee.

It was an amusing mental image, one Aria appreciated as she gradually slowed down. These sorts of ponderings were hardly the most productive, but they made for a pleasant and well-needed distraction, especially here.

Especially now.

As the Agility gradually wore out to the tune of an increasing number of familiar auras tingling her brain, Aria’s thoughts shifted back to the most important, and sadly most controversial, subject. She’d need to check up on Anne for sure, but hardly just her. There was Autumn, too. She’d need to see how her mother-in-law had progressed in winning the village’s opinion. She’d also need to catch up on the Cinder situation, whether anyone had seen her. And, if not, ask someone to watch over the girl for another night.

Cypress has to be exhausted by now, assuming he’s even still awake.

The only other real option was Sprout, and there the same worries returned. Suppose if there was anyone who could figure out how to scan for threats while remaining undetected, it was Sprout herself, she’d figure it out somehow. Aria trusted her; she’d been working with her for dozens upon dozens of seasons by now. But there was still that possibility that something would go wrong. That Cinder would outsmart them all.

That she would hurt Anne even more than she’d hurt Ember and Marco.

Aria was no stranger to that kind of fear, for better or worse. Just like on all the past occasions, though, there was only one right answer to it.

Keep going forward. Acknowledge it, measure it, do what you can to mitigate it. But when the time comes to it, keep moving forward, no matter what.

The moment of mental clarity caught Aria right as the very last of her earlier speed boost had worn off, leaving her walking into the quickly building glow of the village as the sun set around her. So many things to do, but there was one good jumping off point for tackling them one at a time, and getting a drink of something pleasant to go with it.

Vivian’s tea shop always got crammed around this time of the day, right as everyone was finishing their duties. And much the same was true today, with virtually every seat and a decent bit of the standing space occupied by someone enjoying themselves. Be it tea, the results of the Goodra’s experiments with fermenting and distilling wine, or just socializing, the little space had something for everyone.

In Aria’s case, it was several people she needed to chat with, and tea.

Let’s get the latter dealt with first.

“Evening, Aria.”

The Gardevoir acknowledged the sweater-clad purple dragon with a firm nod; eyes focused on nothing as she approached the counter.

“^Good evening, Vivian.^”

“A lot on your mind, isn’t there?”

Once more, she nodded absentmindedly, sighing before finally looking up at the Goodra.

“^More than I’d like, but nothing I can’t handle.^”

“I didn’t doubt that for a moment~. Now, just tea or something stronger?”

“^Just tea, I’ll need all the clarity I can get my hands on.^”


As the dragon glanced around their shoulder to double check whether the next kettleful of the sweet drink was brewing, Aria used the downtime to bring up some things right away. Plenty of people pass through their little shop, almost as many as Holly’s.

They know a thing or two.

“^Have you heard anything about Cinder today?^”

The direct question drew the dragon’s focus directly to her, mind changing gears from just nicety to something more... gossipy.

“Plenty, but I imagine you’d be most interested in her location?”

In any other circumstances, Aria would’ve followed that plainly presented bait, asked how come they knew about that.

Not today, though.

“^Yes, yes exactly.^”

“Alas, nothing about that specific topic, I have to say. All I’ve heard is about what she’d done to Marco yesterday. Seems she’s still missing.”

The worst possible response short of her having stormed in earlier and burned the entire village to the ground. Not like Aria could argue with it either; eyes focusing on nothing as she accepted a cup of tea and started absentmindedly blowing on the freshly boiled drink. It was hardly inconspicuous, but that wasn’t a problem with itself, as long as nobody had spilled any more beans.

“She’ll be brought to justice for her assault as soon as she shows up here, no? I can’t imagine her being willing to leave Ember alone instead of going through whatever punishment the Elders devise for her.”

If only it was just that.

“^No, that’s not all of it, it’s... so much worse.^”

“That bad?”

“^I’d rather not elaborate any more.^”

Finally, Aria got to slowly sipping on her cup. She continued to use her breath and the few applicable psychic tricks to cool the tea down. Her mind refocused on everything that could’ve happened to, or including Cinder in the meantime-

“I assume it’s about what she’d done to Ember, no?”

In a split second, the entirety of the Gardevoir was focused on the Goodra; the sudden motion combined with her eyes narrowing taking the barkeeper aback.

“^Who told you that!?^”

Her voice was somehow simultaneously weaker on account of the communication now being truly private and much harsher because of the gravity of that fact getting leaked to everyone. Once they’d finished feeling back from Aria’s sudden shift, Vivian continued with a soft chuckle.

“Nobody, but I appreciate the confirmation~.”

Their clear amusement, combined with their words, had Aria’s mind threatening to freeze. What the hell did they mean? How did they figure it out?

“^How did you-^”

“Cinder mysteriously left yesterday after assaulting Marco. There were all the whispers about Marco collapsing in the human’s room at the clinic next to Ember. Then, today I heard all about how Ember and the human used to be old friends but Ember just somehow forgot about all that until now... the pieces aren’t exactly difficult to put together, if you get what I mean.”

That much Aria could agree with.

Simultaneously, she realized that the final contributing piece of information must’ve been leaked by someone, anxiety only growing inside her at the possibility of everyone putting it all together on their own. ‘Ember and Anne used to be friends but Ember forgot’ sounded like a piece of fake rumors; nobody would believe it unless the Braixen herself confirmed it in person. And if there’s someone Aria wasn’t expecting to go out to the entire village and admit to something this unexpected, it was definitely the vixen.

“^I... alright. Who told you about Ember then?^”

“I heard it from Sol.”

“^Sol... alright. Need to get over there and track down who told him that-^”

“^That would be me~.^”

The well familiar mental voice had Aria’s nervous expression jump over to be met with Autumn’s relaxed one, right as the Indeedee put away her mug on the lower part of the counter to be refilled. The Gardevoir briefly froze at that realization, the accumulated stresses of the day leaving her dumbfounded before she caught her breath and tried to tackle it again.

One step at a time, as with everything.

“^Mom? But- why?^”

“^Well, you had asked me to help make the place more amenable, and I figured that wouldn’t be a bad way to do it.^”

“^But it sounds unbelievable!^”

“^But it’s true, isn’t it?^”

“^Yes, it is, but... nobody’s gonna believe it!^”

“I sure believe it after seeing your reaction to me bringing it up~.”

Vivian’s interjection had Autumn chuckling under her breath as Aria churned through the words. Eventually, she felt forced to admit the internal defeat. Suppose this approach could work, even if she wasn’t sold on it one bit, and even if it could cause problems later.

“Really, if Ember goes out to confirm the rumors herself, then I don’t see why anyone would remain doubtful about it.”

“^They’d probably just think either me or Autumn Hypnotized the poor girl into saying it.^”

“I imagine there are quite a few ways to dispel that kind of Hypnosis and really make sure then?”


“What’s the issue, then?”

“^It still sounds unbelievable. I doubt some will buy into that even with supposed evidence.^”

“Would they ever?”

Aria looked up from her cup at the dragon, one eyebrow raising as her exhausted eyes narrowed.

“^I’m too tired to probe what you’re implying here.^”

“Ha! All I meant is the fundamental fact that you won’t sway everyone, even if the truth is entirely on your side. Even with all the proof, even with the most basic of claims, someone won’t believe them. Spite, prejudice, confirmation bias, name your poison and there will be someone afflicted by it. Can’t convince everyone.”

The Goodra reached over in the fairy’s direction, their mellow expression brightening into a modest, but confident smile.

“But you can convince most, and I’d say you two are doing a decent job at that.”

“^That’s reassuring to hear.^”

Autumn’s older, more croaky mental voice contrasted Aria’s silence as the Gardevoir slowly chewed through Vivian’s words. A decent job was indeed good to hear, but would it be enough? Would anything they did be enough? What if those to whom the decision would ultimately fall were a part of that incorrigible minority?

The fear was strong; the possibility gripped her lithe body with a frigid grasp.

At the same time... it wasn’t all that likely either. She wasn’t good with numbers, she’d have to ask Jovan sometime, but the odds that everyone undecided in the upcoming vote would think the rumor to be fake couldn’t have been too big.

And in either case, they were already doing everything in their power to convince as many heads as they could. Would need to ask Ember to confirm it personally, be it today or tomorrow morning. Early enough so that everyone can hear it in time. That’d help even more, and tremendously so.

Acknowledge it, measure it, mitigate it.

Keep moving forward.

“^Thanks, Vivian.^”


The dragon acknowledged her words with a brief nod before getting pulled to the side by someone else, eager to get their evening brew. A glance to her side revealed Autumn to be gone, too. Thankfully, Aria only needed a quick glance around to find her; the Indeedee’s company was as unusual as it was welcome.

Sure didn’t expect to go from getting taught by the Electivire to having him woo her mom, but if they were both making it work, then why not?

The Magnemite affixed to Geiger’s arm was another matter entirely; the sight was familiar in the most unnerving way. She’d have to ask about it sometime. In the present, though, her attention shifted over to someone else in the room, and someone she was much more eager to chat with.


Aria’s mental shout caught the Decidueye right as she was about to leave the building with a steaming cup in her feathered hand, prompting her to twist her neck to look directly behind herself before the rest of the body joined in. Aria had seen Blossom do that a couple times when playing with Cadence, and probably shouldn’t have been as surprised at the sight as she ended up being.

“Good evening Aria! How was your shift?”

Sprout’s voice clearly hadn’t finished waking up quite yet; the obvious realization further underlined by the owl stretching her elongated body and wings shortly after.

“^Fine enough, had an odd encounter, but that’s not the time for it either way.^”

The phrasing caught the Decidueye’s attention, head immediately thinking through its implications as she took a large sip of the hot drink. Sugary or not, a couple drops of Salac juice did wonders at waking her up; a fact that Sprout was eager to rediscover every single day.

“Are you in a rush, Aria?”

“^Not quite. I meant to ask you for something.^”

“Always interested in helping, do tell, dear.”

“^Well... Cypress watched over Anne last night and possibly over the day too. I imagine he’s exhausted. Would it be alright for you to keep watch for Cinder tonight?^”

“Would it be alright? Ha, Aria dear, I’d love to! Any way I can help the girl and get an excuse to sink a quill or three into Cinder’s back is appreciated!”

Aria was torn between approving of her enthusiasm and being opposed to the jokes of that caliber on behalf of Ember. Ultimately, she kept herself to a small eye roll, ignoring the comment either way.

“^Thank you, Sprout. I hope the security concerns won’t be too bad overnight...^”

“Oh, I highly doubt. Been weeks since I had to do more than sit, fly and stare. Frankly, by looking over Anne, I’ll already be focusing on possibly preventing the most likely threat out there!”

Ignoring might’ve been what Aria settled on the first time, but this time she decided to intervene, just to hopefully establish a soft limit.

“^Sprout, please. I know you’re mad at her, so am I. Regardless of what she’d done, she’s still a part of our village-^”

“Frankly, I hope that won’t remain the case for long.”

“^Please let me finish. She’s a part of the village, and more importantly, she’s Ember’s mother. The poor girl had been through plenty as is. She doesn’t need to go through the heartbreak at realizing that someone she loved is gone again.^”

The clarification was enough to shut Sprout up, at least for a moment. She took her time gathering her words afterwards; downing a large gulp of the sweet drink as her mind churned through a mental equivalent of grumbling under one’s breath.

“That almost sounds like you want to hide what Cinder had done to her from her, Aria.”

“^I- I absolutely don’t. She deserves to know. It’s...^”

This time, it was Aria who would need a moment and a half to compose herself, refining some all too familiar emotions into something more measured.

“^Ember deserves to know, and she’ll be heartbroken. I’m aware of that. But that won’t erase everything else she’d felt about Cinder. She considers her a mother; she loves her. These emotions don’t just go away when she learns of her having done something terrible. Love and hate can coexist and it takes a while for one’s mind to resolve them. It’s...^”

The Gardevoir blinked a couple times to try to abate the moisture in her eyes, to no avail.

“^Sometimes it takes years. Sometimes it never quite ends. No matter what, though, Ember deserves to be allowed to process it all on her own, in her own time, with someone she loves, or used to love around.^”

Aria’s personal experience wasn’t overlooked; the psychic blinking at suddenly feeling herself pulled into a tight, feathery hug. She didn’t fight it, body steadily relaxing into Sprout’s warmth.

“You okay there, dear?”

“^I’m- I’m fine, don’t worry.^”

“Oh, I will worry about any friend of mine; don’t you ever doubt that.”

Aria failed to hold a tired, guttural chuckle at that, only leaning further on the Decidueye afterwards.

“^Thanks, Sprout.^”

“You’re welcome~. And... yeah, I s’pose I see your point. Still won’t make the quills itch any less when she shows up, that’s for sure.”

“^Can’t ask them not to, either. Just... keep Ember in mind, alright?^”

“I will. When do you want me to start my lookout?”

The change of subject plucked Aria out of a more pensive mood and towards a more analytical, planning one. Suppose she’d be heading out soon, then get into the clinic, spend a while or two checking up on everyone, making sure Anne has her needs met, then they’d head out...

“^In an hour, hour and a half? I’ll wait at the clinic for you to show up either way.^”

“Fine by me! That everything you wanted to go over, Aria dear?”

That was everything Aria had initially meant to bring up, but... the more she thought, the more one particular subject begged for more attention.

“^Do you... have much experience with Phantump, by any chance?^”

“Wood orphans, huh? Heartbreaking each time... I assume you’ve run into one, Aria?”

“^With a Banette looking after her, yes.^”


Sprout was clearly taken aback by that addition. She dwelt on it for a moment or two before shaking it aside.

“^Something wrong with that?^”

“No, hardly, just... curious.”

Aria almost pushed through to ask why there and then, before discarding that tangent. She didn’t really care deep down about how Sage and Yaksha ran into each other, only about how she could help them, the former especially.

“^Anyway. They headed over here earlier today. The Banette, Yaksha, had a bad run in with a human’s Murkrow and needed help. I suggested they stay for good, but... it seems the Phantump, Sage, had her life taken away by humans.^”

The dots weren’t hard to connect for Sprout either; a very familiar maternal pulse going through her mind at the elaboration. It was accompanied by the closest thing her beak could do to cringing, the messiness of the situation not difficult to piece together.

“That’s... awful. Does Sage know what she used to be?”

The Gardevoir shook her head, sighing deeply at the deeply unpleasant subject.

“^I was thinking some of our caretakers could help her with figuring it out and processing her fear of humans. But... no, she doesn’t know. She could’ve been anything.^”

“Even a human herself, ha.”

Aria found the idea rather distasteful considering the girl’s fate.

“^I doubt it, not with her being so scared of them. And humans murdered her, too, and I haven’t heard of them ever doing something this heinous to a child.^”

“That’s... yeah, fair. My bad.”

“^It’s alright, just... it’s been a long day.^”

“You’ve earned yourself an entire month of rest once all this is over, Aria dear. You’ve been stretching yourself way too thin over the past couple of days.”

“^And it’s nowhere near over yet. Even beside the actual vote, something tells me the worst is yet to come and... I’m scared for her, Sprout.^”

“Anyone in your position would be too, Aria. I know you’re doing your best to help her out. Give yourself grace from time to time.”

“^I am. It’s a recurring fear. I’ve been acknowledging it, measuring it, mitigating it, everything Geiger taught us all those years back. And... sometimes it just doesn’t feel enough. There’s never that certainty, and I know that especially in this case there won’t be that kind of certainty, but it’s just...^”

Aria’s train of thought ended up stalling out; the words she was looking for stubbornly refusing to manifest. All the tangled stresses and anxieties, and no obvious way forward out of them. Sprout didn’t have that kind of answer, either.

But what she did have was a hug.

And that by itself helped more than either scout could’ve hoped for.

“I believe in ya, and so does Anne. You got this.”

“^I hope I do.^”

“I don’t have to hope, I know it~.”

Aria rolled her eyes before letting go of Sprout’s hug; the Decidueye used the opportunity to empty her cup and leave it beside Vivian.

“^Alright, don’t let me hold you back any longer. Take care out there, and I hope nothing happens overnight.^”

“Thanks, Aria. You take care of yourself too, alright? There’s only one of you, you gotta take care of that one~.”

With one last nod and one last pat on the shoulder in response, the owl finally headed out. The Gardevoir was left churning through it all for a while, gradual exhaustion not helping any. Suppose she could grab something extra nice for herself when they’d be heading back home. Just something small to help her though the mess of the past couple days, and the mess that would await them tomorrow-

*creak, creak*

The quiet, squeaky noise was far from unfamiliar, and it was that familiarity that sent an icy chill through Aria’s horns. She turned around to see Elder Celia slowly departing the scene; the squeaking of wheels of the makeshift cart that carried the aquatic part of her body was a sound that she could recognize anywhere.

And she most definitely didn’t want to recognize it here and now, of all places.

She’d clearly been eavesdropping on them, without Aria even noticing. An embarrassment in its own right, but the Gardevoir was much more concerned about what the Primarina was going to do with that information. She’d already asked for Anne to be present at the vote that would spell her doom; an act so overtly cruel it contrasted incredibly heavily with everything else she knew of the marine Elder.

Suppose this entire situation is truly bringing the worst out of everyone.

Depressing as that realization might’ve been, Aria didn’t stop there; the earlier thought creeping back. Was Celia going to argue that Anne was a threat to their security, and that’s why they couldn’t let her stay? That in asking multiple scouts to look after the girl specifically, Aria was overstepping her bounds and should be demoted?

None of those matched what the Gardevoir knew of the Primarina. It was all second-hand, but she’d only heard her be described as compassionate, if very withdrawn. Her accusations didn’t match that description, but neither did the Elder’s actions.

And it’s not like she could ask either, not if she really wanted to get anything more than an evasive non-answer.

Aria was ready to protect Anne from the rest of the village all at once in case of any overt hostility, but it was this unknown, this uncertainty that ground at her so much more than any act of outright aggression. Mentally probing was an option, but one that, with an Elder, was itself punishment-worthy should she ever get caught.

Can’t risk that.

The Gardevoir tried playing back all the reassurances she’d heard so far. From Autumn, from Sprout, from Marco, from Garret, hell even from Anne, even if the latter were mostly unspoken. They believed in her, she couldn’t fail them.

She wouldn’t fail them, no matter what it took-


This was the one time that a distraction was most definitely appreciated, even if it carried a risk of something exploding nearby at any point.

“^Yes, Mikiri?^”

Mawile’s gaze back at her was rather unfocused; her red eyes shaking as she chugged her second cup of Vivian’s cobbled-together brandy. Despite her being Steel-type, the Fairy deep in there was still vulnerable to booze, even if it took more than usual to really poison her.

Much, much more, to Vivian’s occasional despair.

“Got a question!”

The ice bag affixed to her front head might’ve been gone, but that didn’t extend to the bandage that held it there, the stained fabric hanging loosely across her forehead.

“^What is it? Are you feeling better?^”

“Ya ya ya I’m fine, concussion got NOTHING on me. Anyhooooow. Heard you wanna house the human, keep her safe and content and keep her from escaping and fend off all the humans and all that other shit you taunted me with a couple of days ago.”

“^It’s not-^”

“Not done yet! Anyhow if you’re stashing her here, mind asking her to explain some human junk to me? Can’t crack the function of some parts of that bloody two-wheel and it’s driving me mad.”

Aria’s expression went from unnerved to the absolute flattest it was possible for it to get in record time.

“^No, not now. We’re still not sure if she’ll be staying for good. Even if she will, she’ll need time to acclimatize to the village and the other way around. I’d rather not instantly overwhelm her by putting her beside you.^”

The small, jumpy, presently drunk, and occasionally very hyperactive creature with a massive and very mobile jaw full of razor-sharp metal teeth affixed to the back of her head rolled her eyes at being described as overwhelming.

“Fine, whatever, uuuugh.”

The Gardevoir had no idea whether that final sound was a groan or a sign of nausea. In all honesty, she’d rather not find that one out, ever.

“Almost cracked everything about it anyway, fixed up a replacement, testing it tomorroooooooow. Got it working this time, I’m bloody sure, jus wanted the last few kinks ironed out but can’t because can’t get the hands on the human and just have to test it out tomorrow and grumble grumble grumble.”

Mikiri’s gradual descent from a coherent sentence to a string of guttural noises was impressively smooth and somewhat worrying simultaneously.


Grumble grumble?”

“^Are you okay?^”

Grumble, grumble grumble.”

“^Sounds like you should call it a night here.^”

Grumble grumble...”

This time, all Aria needed was a knowing, smug look to make the smaller fairy cave in; Mikiri being left rolling her eyes so hard she almost lost her balance completely.

“Fine fine whatever grumble grumble.”

“^See you tomorrow~.^”

Thankfully, the Mawile took the clue. She shambled over to the countertop’s lowest level and just barely reached on top of it with the half-emptied cup, almost falling over there and then. With no further ado, she burped and shakily made her way out the nearest exit while occasionally having to consciously lift her maw off the snowy ground.

Her cup had somehow been emptied in the half-minute or so between her leaving her there and Vivian giving it a wash to reuse it.

And there just so happened to be a suitable suspect floating right beside where the Mawile had left the cup. One that, considering the recent circumstances, Aria figured she could at least keep in the loop about any further newcomers showing up.

“^Good evening, Liz.^”

The hovering Vespiquen looked to her side at the Gardevoir; the white pinpricks of her eyes narrowing briefly before relaxing again as she downed another swig of her extra-punch tea.


Her buzzing, clicking voice was even more grumbly than usual. Aria didn’t want to presume the reason. Then again, she was about to add to her annoyance, so she’d find out about the original issue sooner or later.

“^We have a couple temporary newcomers who are gonna be staying at the clinic for the next few days or so.^”

Aria watched Liz‘s expression, the little of it she had, shift in real time as she continued. Note taking and calculating inside her head at the mention of newcomers, drawn out internal and external grunt at hearing the mention of the clinic, a modest sigh of relief at their stay being temporary.

“How hurt are they?”

“^There’s a Banette with modest injuries and a few larger tears, and an unharmed Phantump.^”

Relief about them being ghosts. If nothing else, it removed food and freshwater consumption from the list of resources they’d need, making at least that part easier to handle. The Vespiquen continued to hold her cup with one hand as the other dragged its sharp fingers along the front of her horns, using the thin lines carved into her own chitin for counting.

“Good. Running low on dressings.”

“^Suppose Anne took up a decent bit?^”

The unfamiliar name had the insect quartermaster’s eyes go wide, fully expecting to hear about yet another recent addition to the village she hadn’t been made aware of and which she’d also need to manage their supplies for.


“^Anne, the human at the clinic.^”

Crisis averted, Liz‘s sigh of relief sounding like a drawn out, droning buzz.

“Yes. Human, Marco, Mikiri, other accidents. Running low. Need to ask Lavender and Sol for more tomorrow.”

Another deep swig of the spiked tea, another light shudder going through her weathered yellow and black body.

“^That’s a good idea.^”

The Vespiquen grumbled and chugged again; one hand continuing to count as she responded, downbeat.

“Not enough. Need more backlog, but also more. Can’t have them be the only sources. Need to ask others for help. Look out for local plants we can spin thread out of. Something will happen to Sol, eventually. We need to be ready.”

The ominous nature of Liz‘s comment about the Whimsicott was softened by Aria picking up that she was referring to it in a very long-term way. Something will happen to him one day, even if it’s death of old age in several decades. Gotta be ready by then, and preferably by yesterday.

The chaos following the Orion‘s premature death firmly settled that need for backup plans in everyone’s heads.

“^I hope you and the Elders will figure something out then.^”

“Same. All that while keeping track. Nothing I can’t do.”

“^I imagine it’d be easier if you could write those problems down somewhere, wouldn’t it?^”

The Vespiquen gave her another side look, one unusually uncertain for her.

“Already keep tallies in clay at my nest.”

“^I mean more than that. I’ve heard that humans can write down much more abstract things than just counts, and read them back later from their symbols.^”

Liz‘s gaze remained fixed on the psychic as the quartermaster went through a swig of tea. And then another, and a third; both halves of her mind left busy imagining the uses for such a tool.

“Would help greatly.”

It might’ve still only been a low, buzzing grumble, but Aria could tell there was an unspoken question for follow-up in there. One she would not mind providing in the slightest.

“^If Anne ends up staying, I don’t see why she couldn’t teach their writing to you.^”

The clarification that it would indeed include the stray human passing on their knowledge to her took the Vespiquen aback a bit. She considered herself too calculated to be swayed by something as basic as someone’s kin, especially if they were useful, but...

As she also was acutely aware of, reality loved to disagree with her tallies and calculations, always to her utmost annoyance.

“Count me interested.”

And rather nervous, but Aria wasn’t surprised by the latter one bit.

“^Sure thing, Liz. We should k-know for sure in two days.^”


A cold shock went down Aria’s body at the thought of the approaching decision. She might’ve said two days, but it was closer to one full night and day cycle. A single full day separating the innocent child at the clinic from either salvation or damnation.

Time never stops, and neither can she.

“^I’ll let you know as soon as it’s settled.^”

The Vespiquen acknowledged the words while staring into the wall right ahead. With a large swig, she finished her cup and put it down, the second hand reaching up to do some head-carved arithmetic; any remaining attention placed on the Gardevoir evaporated within moments.

High time for her to head out.

By the time Aria left Vivian’s tea place, the sky had long since turned inky black. A handful of stars winked down at their little outpost in the woods from on high; their dim light largely occluded by the handful of Will-o’-Wisps strewn around the place to provide a dim night-time lighting. She remembered being so mesmerized by them when she first showed up here all those years ago.

There was something to be pondered on and said about experience dulling wonder, but Aria’s mind had little spare room in it to focus on either concept.

To little surprise, the inside of the clinic was almost completely dark, most of its temporary occupants either asleep or in the process of dozing off. Far from all, though, especially if the wisps of reddish light and muffled laughter peeking from underneath the door to what had become Anne’s room were any sign, but most for sure.

That group included only the older half of the ghostly newcomer duo.

Yaksha was huddled up on a small bed in the main chamber’s corner. A couple of bandages peeked from underneath the raggedy blanket he’d covered himself with. Much the same was true for the uncertain expression on his face, one that constantly looked up at the Phantump beside him. Sage wasn’t even trying to fall asleep, her focus affixed to the nearby canvas wall. The piece of fabric was all that separated her from the gruesome and terrible human, and yet... she wasn’t anywhere near as scared as earlier.

The implicit safety of such a place no doubt helped, as did Yaksha’s presence beside her.

C’mere Sage. I’m sorry you have to deal with that, but we’re not gonna be staying here long. Hop under the blanket, it’ll muffle some of the sound.

Sage was about to speak up in response before catching a motion in the corner of her vision. Her red eyes turned to pinpricks as she focused on the figure in the dark, then went wide as she realized just who it was. A small, shaky smile crept onto her wooden face as she waved at the Gardevoir.

“G-good evening M-Mrs. Aria!”



Aria chuckled internally at the exchange in front of her. The hush was all Esther, even if it took Aria a while to notice the Blissey in the back of the chamber. She spotted her just in time to catch her nodding in response to Sage’s apology.

At least Yaksha was more mindful of the attempt at silence. With the annoyance in his mind and his pink eyes narrowing at making Aria out in the dark, though, that wasn’t much of a relief.

Did you intentionally forget to tell us we’d be sharing a wall with that damned human?

The Gardevoir felt a pang of anger at having someone refer to Anne this way, but she reined it in shortly after.

“^No, it slipped my mind. She’s out of sight and will not be interacting with either of you. I don’t see what the issue is.^”

The issue is we can hear it, that’s what. Sage, c’mere.

Despite what the Phantump herself might or might not have been feeling, she followed the Banette’s request, huddling up to him and trying to fall asleep.

Sorry for all this, kid. If I knew how close we’d be to that human I would’ve reconsidered.

Sage shook under the covers, clinging closer to her guardian while Aria rolled her eyes.

Can’t even understand anyone here either, ugh.

“^That’s just expected. We have our own language, and any newcomers have to learn it if they plan to stay.^”

Fortunately, we won’t.

“^You still ended up with a bed and medical attention, didn’t you?^”

The Gardevoir’s comment hit true; Yaksha’s eyes narrowing tighter still.

“^I hope you’ll sleep well, both of you.^”

Won’t be easy.

“G-goodnight, Mrs. Aria...”

Sage’s comment defused some of Aria’s tension as she turned out, heading for Anne’s room. The few seconds offered little time to reset mentally, but Aria tried her hardest all the same, not wanting to incidentally bring the mood down. With how sky high it was, though, she doubted that even her coming in tearful would’ve accomplished it.

The room was being lit by a pair of small Will-o’-Wisps hovering safely away from either walls or any of the room’s occupants; their red and purple coloration combining into an unreal, magical atmosphere.

Magical and happy all around.

The kids, including the now awake Ember, were huddled on the bed around something Aria had to focus on to even make out. A checkered pattern of empty and filled in squares drawn on a large piece of paper, on top of which many tiny paper scraps were being moved around. Some of them were again empty, some of them were colored, and they always only moved diagonally, occasionally taking another piece with themselves. The game’s rules might’ve been beyond Aria’s comprehension, but the giddiness that accompanied them wasn’t.

Especially once Cadence had noticed her.

“^Hi mom!^”

The entire bedful of kids was excitedly waving and squeeing at her within moments; the Gardevoir left thankful at the Safeguard muffling the little gathering. Bell, in particular, was incorrigible, scrambling over towards her for an eagerly granted hug.


“^Yes, Bell?^”

The lil’ Ralts undertook a few seconds of the most intense thought in his entire brief life yet. His white hand tapped against his chin for a couple of moments before he finally settled on the right course of action.

And hugged his mom.

“I love you, mom!”

Giggles, laughter, or soft awwws from all around the room.

“^Love you too, sweetie. How have you all been doing?^”

“I’m happy!”

“It’s been a lotta fun!”

“^Eeeee, Anne drew me and Bell, then she showed us some of the human games and taught us how to draw a bit and Ember woke up!^”

The last fact was the most noticeable change in the room right away. Especially in Anne’s case, the shift from her usual nervous self earlier to her current tranquility was one Aria wasn’t expecting to see for... ever. It was all the more welcome for that reason as the two exhausted girls held each other tight; Ember in particular only barely staying awake anymore as she huddled up on her human friend’s lap.

Aria acknowledged the younger trio’s responses with a smile before sitting down at the edge of the bed and giving Anne and Ember each a gentle pet. The human responded with a tired, quiet giggle that then broke into a yawn, and the Braixen by snuggling in further into said human’s one-armed embrace.

“^How was your day?^”

“~I-it was fun. I-I was a bit nervous and anxious earlier, but w-we figured it out with Cadence’s help.~”

The glowing recommendation made the Gardevoir look at her daughter with a prideful smile; the lil’ Kirlia blushing hard in response.

“^I-it’s no big deal-^”

“^Sure feels like it is to both you and Anne~.^”

The rest of the room giggled at Cadence’s expense. The psychic tween responded to such a gentle chide in the only way someone her age could. Namely, by scrambling over to her mom for a big hug, with her younger brother joining her soon after.

“^How are you feeling, Ember?^”

“I-I’m tired, but... happy.”

And no more needed to be said for those in the know. The vixen’s ears twitched and laid to her sides as first her human, and then the Gardevoir administered more pets.

Everyone was full, enjoying themselves, and tired to a lesser or greater extent. They also knew what Aria finally showing up meant, Elric intervening first.

“Mrs. Ariaaaaa, can we stay for a while longer?”

“^Yes mom, please!^”

The Gardevoir’s laughter wasn’t any less tired than everyone else’s in the room.

Her affirmation immediately rekindled the kids’ energy, even if some were much more quiet about it than others. Silent or not, they all got a pet and a hug if they wanted one before Aria let them be and enjoy the rest of what their bodies could dish out before they finally collapsed for the day.

And in the meantime, she could check in with the adults.

“^How are you holding up, Cypress?^”


Yep, that was not an aura of a ghost who was eager to stay awake for even a second longer.

“^I’ve arranged for Sprout to look out for Cinder tonight and will wait here until she shows up. Rest easy, Cypress.^”

Thank the gods...

“^Apologies for not handling this sooner-^”

It is all alright, dear Aria. I greatly enjoyed my stay in either case...

“^I’m glad to hear. And again, thank you so much for all this, and especially on such a short notice.^”

Anytime. Rest yourself as well, dear Aria. Pass my wishes of fruitful rest to your children, Elric, and Ember too...

The Mismagius didn’t wait for even a moment after his words were acknowledged to phase through the nearest wall and out of sight. His exhaustion might’ve been the most noticeable one around, but was far from the only one.

“^How’s being a nanny working out?^”

Marco rolled his eyes at his sister’s tease. He did find it amusing, though, looking up with a soft smile at all the kids on the bed before shifting his seat on the clinic’s floor over closer to them.

“^I think I did fine. Anne was a bit intimidated at the start, but... I told her I wasn’t too good at this, and a hug helped resolve the tension before it could build up any more. Afterwards it was all watching over just in case it’d get any tense, which it didn’t. Cadence did great.^”

“^I’m so proud of her.^”

“^Me too.^”

Despite their best efforts in keeping it on the down low, the Kirlia in question noticed her mom’s and uncle’s thoughts veering towards her, looking over her shoulder. The pair of beaming smiles made her look right back with her blush rekindled, leaving the adults to chuckle among themselves-



Marco blinked in surprise at seeing his sister’s expression go from soft, tired chuckle to narrowed focus in an instant. It didn’t take long for the dots to connect in his head either, eyes widening to check that Cadence hadn’t noticed the shift. Thankfully, she hadn’t. The Gallade looked up at his sister again before they both nodded at each other, trying to maintain calmness no matter what.

Aria’s expression was little more than a frozen mask as she walked through the medical tent, rolling her shoulders and stretching her joints. Her focus narrowed with every step. Her heartbeat first sped up before being forcibly slowed down. She felt her aura concentrate as she recalled her rusty combat training and counted every tool she had at her disposal.

She knew full well that should it come down to blows; she stood little chance.

With a final step, the Gardevoir emerged from behind the clinic’s front entrance. Her eyes narrowed further as she stared straight ahead, breath growing even more shallow. Every single fiber of her body tensed up in anticipation, preparing for anything, but especially for the worst.


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Chapter 18: Cowardice


the gay agenda

Chapter 18: Cowardice


The vixen stood on the opposite side of the dirt street, red eyes glowing dimly in the dark. Every single part of her body was tensed up, muscles twitching as if about to act. Her left paw gripped her wand, the flame on its tip roaring in intensity once Aria had joined the scene. It gradually melted the surrounding snow as it lit up the fox, and everything that marred her.

Cinder’s fur was charred in a handful of places; the sheer inferno required to do that taking Aria aback as she tried to imagine it. Dried mud covered much of her skirt and arms, adding to her demented appearance. Especially when combined with her narrow, unflinching expression.

The expression of someone preparing to fight, befitting her impenetrable mind.

Aria was no stranger to focusing on one’s psyche to make it unreachable for other psychics. What she felt here couldn’t be further from simply wanting to stop Cadence from eavesdropping on her conversation, though. There was not a single thought she could spot, only sheer tense anxiety and immense focus. No thoughts, no fears. Just Cinder wielding her wand and being poised to unleash it at any point.

With the vixen preparing to fight, the fairy could only do the same.

She couldn’t sense Cinder even trying to probe her mind, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t leave it exposed. Aria’s body grew tenser by the moment, winding herself up. Her mind was torn between recalling defensive techniques to protect the wounded and children inside the medical tent, and getting ready to use the few offensive moves she knew to incapacitate the Fire-type.

That first possibility made the Gardevoir almost lose her composure. Not even Cinder would hurt or kill so many innocents just to take her revenge on Anne; Aria was sure of that. As sure as she used to be that Cinder would never assault her brother out of sheer, misguided wrath.

Nowhere near as sure as she wished she could be.

Aria felt her hand clench subconsciously. The innermost part of her had to be forcibly dragged away from immediately springing to action with a Shadow Ball. Every passing moment of silence ratcheted the tension even further. The atmosphere went from frozen to dangerously flammable, liable to go off with as little as a single spark. A spark that the Gardevoir had to increasingly focus on not letting loose there and then.

Protecting them all came first, but what if, in order to do that, she’d need to be the one to land the first blow? What if Cinder was just waiting for her to falter before going for a swift execution? Aria didn’t know, couldn’t know. A myriad of increasingly horrible possibilities wormed their way into her mind with each passing moment. Their cacophony only ever grew in intensity. The tension demanded an outlet.

Demanded bloodshed.

Instead, came a soft swoosh.

The quiet sound forced Aria to finally look at what was physically happening in front of her. To see Cinder’s wand laying in snow beside her. Extinguished, powerless. The Delphox’s facade was shattered, stone-like expression cracked and revealing one of steadily building despair. Before Aria could even speak up, the vixen followed her wand; the thud of a pair of fur-clad knees collapsing onto the snowy dirt, taking the Gardevoir aback half a step.

And with it came quiet, heartbroken words.

“I’m... I’m sorry.”

Aria didn’t react, didn’t dare do anything in response, mind much too wound up to even immediately recognize the shift in the situation. The somber silence following Cinder’s muttered words gradually cooled them both down to varying extents. As the Delphox’s body language shrunk, expression focusing on the muddied snow before her, the Gardevoir’s remained focused.

Even if this all wouldn’t result in bloodshed, the replacement would not be any less painful.

Before long, Aria felt something else, something that finally unwound her, too. Inch by inch, the impenetrable barrier of Cinder’s mind began to crumble; each moment revealed more of the seething, murky mass inside of it.

The painful, stabbing regret.

The harrowing, freezing fear.

The burning, maternal worry, especially for Ember.

The Gardevoir still wasn’t about to start trusting Cinder, not even slightly. She probed deeper and deeper, not finding even a single obstacle in the other Psychic’s mind as she tried to piece the situation. The shock of yesterday’s revelation once she’d caught wind of it. Her utter terror about what might happen to her afterwards now that her secret was out. Unending anguish, made even more intense with each step away from their village, eventually culminating into that most harrowing, most irreversible of actions.

Fortunately, unsuccessful.

Aria couldn’t muffle her empathy. It was as much an unchangeable part of her as Cinder’s flame was of the vixen. What she could do instead was to look past it, focus on the acts the adoptive mother before her had done, and press her about them.

And that was what she would do.

“^I’m not the one you should be apologizing to.^”

Her telepathic voice was little more than a grim, seething whisper, forced through mental teeth. The Delphox reeled as if struck, her posture shrinking further as she nodded. She dared not move for a few moments afterwards, her eventual response meek.

“^I-I know. I-I-I d-do not want to interrupt th-them-^”

“^What sort of pitiful excuse is that!?^”

Cinder flinched again, shrinking as if she was a stupid child being scolded by her superior. Whether that was the case, Aria didn’t care for one bit, not with the enormity of the vixen’s actual crimes at hand. After her initial reaction, the Gardevoir sensed an actual response steadily building up inside of the Delphox. She opted to remain quiet after putting up a Barrier behind herself, just in case she was about to be caught off guard.

Both Aria and Cinder knew that such protection wouldn’t withstand more than a moment, but a moment was better than instant obliteration at the hands of a grudgeful Delphox.

“^I-I don’t want to hurt her. I don’t want her to be in pain, I-I never did...^”

The Gardevoir felt herself unwind just a notch at the vixen’s words. Her mind or expression didn’t show any of it, though, the former locked down and the latter stone-like.

“^And so, instead, you lied to her. Lied and utterly violated her memories, took away the only source of hope she’d ever have, because you couldn’t deal with her pain and trauma!?^”

Aria felt her anger grow with each word, but that emotion soon became overshadowed by a very different one. Still anger, still disbelief, but one uncaring of the miserable vixen in front of her. One focused on herself, on her own choices. Before it could dig much into her mind, though, she heard Cinder respond, her voice much louder and pointed.

“^What else should I have done!? How could I have ever justified our choice to not rescue the human girl from her family!? How could I have painted our village as anything but utterly cruel for choosing to not save her!?^”

Moments passed with no response from the Gardevoir. Aria hardly cared for quickly intensifying emotions on Cinder’s side, on the confused despair burning into anger by the moment. She was no more prepared for these questions now than Cinder was all those months ago; the unexplainable cruelty hit her hard. Still, she had to come up with something, with a reason.

Even if just to convince herself that she wouldn’t have done the same, deep down.

“^M-many ways. You could’ve brought up safety-^”

Cinder’s mirthless chuckle cut Aria off mid-word; the Gardevoir left unnerved.

“^We both know it’s a lie, and so would Ember. A stray, harmless human, a traumatized child. Devoid of risk on her own, and her family was loathsome enough to freely hypnotize into moving somewhere far instead, leaving them as the only culprits once other humans realized the girl’s absence. We easily could’ve done that if we really wanted. And yet we didn’t.^”

The Gardevoir was ever grateful for her unemotional mask holding, despite how much her own thoughts and emotions raged underneath. A quick glance left her staring directly into the Delphox's gaze. The sheer tension between the two pairs of dimly glowing red eyes was almost enough to start a wildfire on its own.

And with Cinder returning to their usual intensity, Aria worried about that possibility being all too literal.

“^We couldn’t have just reached out and manipulated them-^”

“^Of course we could! Don’t play stupid, Aria. Would hardly be the first time manipulating someone like that, except into letting go of their abused child instead of into forgetting they saw too much. What’s the separating line between these two actions? Why did we permit one but not the other?^”

“^Again, safety. One protected our village, the other would’ve brought even more risk upon it.^”

“^What is the limit then!? What amount of avoidable cruelty we know of are we willing to ignore, to enable, just to keep ourselves safe!?^”

As harsh and snarled as Cinder’s words gradually grew, Aria could tell that anger wasn’t their only emotion. It was merely the most apparent, a mask of dimly burning righteous fury that concealed honest confusion and loss. Shouted as an argument or not, the vixen’s question was ultimately not just appropriate, but asked in the most genuine way possible.

It was also one Aria had no response for.

What response could have there been, even? The mere thought of drawing an arbitrary limit of permissible cruelty was one that stabbed the Gardevoir right in her heart. An utter mockery of everything she stood for, sending her blood boiling again. There wasn't an answer to that question that wasn't monstrous.

Regardless of if Aria liked it, though, the village as a collective entity has answered it many, many times in the past through their actions.

Instead, the Gardevoir veered to a different response. It was weak enough for Aria to not see it as much more than an excuse, and she only hoped that the same wouldn’t be the case with the Delphox.

“^Everyone in our village has to deal with these questions, sooner or later. As Ember’s guardian, as her mother, it was your responsibility to help her navigate through them, and not violate her into pretending they don’t exist.^”

For once, Aria’s words hit true, even if just for a moment. Cinder took her time gathering a response, ferocity quickly draining from her snout as more despair crept in to replace it.

“^No soul can deal with that kind of anguish, you know it Aria! If I hadn’t done that, the knowledge of her human suffering day in and out would’ve tortured Ember forever! What did