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Pokémon From the Vast (Pokémon Manga / Anime)

Chapter 20: Misery New


the gay agenda

Chapter 20: Misery

“Ayyy, morning Aria! How’d the night treat ya?”

Sprout’s voice filled the dimly lit clinic room, its only other occupant immediately perking up at the sound.

“^It went... splendid.^”

“~Good morning Mrs. Aria!~”

The notebook full of scribbles was temporarily discarded as Anne smiled at the Gardevoir, one functional arm waving as well as it could.


The single word sent an icy dread down the girl’s body, sounding completely unlike what she’d known of the Gardevoir. Before Anne could speak up and ask about what was wrong, she saw Aria slowly turn her head towards her.

Her empty eye sockets were enveloped in a fierce crimson glow.

Anne’s breath was choked out of her lungs as a psychic force she couldn’t comprehend, let alone fight pinned her to the bed. She wanted to scream as her joints were being forcefully pushed way outside of their range; each crack and excruciating jolt from inside her body forcefully silenced.

“^I’ve humored you for far too long. Fortunately, I don’t have to do so anymore. Soon enough, you’ll be out of here, and everything will go back to how it was before.^”

The words hurt even more intensely than her body being mangled, every single dagger of a word stabbing deep inside her mind.

“^Did you seriously think you were safe here? That you could ever be safe here? You’re a filthy nuisance Anne, and us granting you as much mercy as we have is a mistake on our part.^”

Sprout watched idly from the corner, a forced smile splitting her head wide open.

“^Nobody here ever cared for you. Not me, not Marco, not any of my children. Cadence hates you and would love to do every single thing you were afraid of her doing, and Elric...^”

Bones snapped with a squelching sound as Aria’s bloody expression was twisted into a mockery of a smile.

“^If he sees you again, he won’t hesitate using that stinger of his to the absolute best effect.^”

The pain was blinding, Anne only conscious by the sheer force of Aria’s will as her mind was being violated and cleaved apart; every single source of happiness surgically removed.

“^Ember never loved you. She will forget about you, and she’ll be so much happier for it.^”

Crimson light flooded the room, filling it up to the Gardevoir’s ankles.

“^But no need to worry, you loathsome thing. After all...^”

Aria’s face cleaved open into thirteen maws of razor-sharp teeth, what remained of her flesh hanging limply underneath them.


A tight embrace snapped Aria out of her screams, the hellish vision dissolving immediately.

Her throat was raw, her body wracked with tremors. She had no idea what had just happened or how; her consciousness full of images of nigh-incomprehensible suffering she just watched herself inflict without being able to stop it. With each passing moment, though, another sensation took up more and more of the space left behind by her nightmare, one so much more familiar.

So much more comforting.

“Aria, honey, what happened!?”

Garret’s voice was more alarmed than she’d ever heard it be. She knew how he sounded when he shook in uncertainty or anxiety, but this wasn’t like either of those. This was terror, the kind still clinging to the wrinkles of her mind despite her attempts to shake them off.

“G-Garret, I-“

Taking in a breath after what felt like ages let Aria realize her entire body was being surrounded in her husband’s fur; the sensation even more needed than usual. She was the village’s protector, but he was her protector. And here, beside him, the Gardevoir finally felt capable of processing what the hell she had just seen.

And she could only weep.

It wasn’t a reassuring sight, not in the slightest. Still, Garret had a decent enough idea of what to do in this worst-case situation. As gently as he could, he sat up while holding his wife close to him the entire time; the individual hairs shifted her around until she was on his lap, leaning into him.

Trembling like she never did.

“I’m here, honey, I’m here. Take your time.”

And her time Aria most definitely took.

The vicious gore she’d seen would’ve likely cost her hours, if not days, of sleep on their own. Being forced to watch her own body inflict all of it made the nightmare incomparably more harrowing. Despite being firmly awake now, she wanted to scream; she wanted to vomit, run, thrash, anything but to not have to be stuck with it any longer.

An attempt to reach in and cauterize the site of the vision in her own mind was doomed to fail, if not worse.

Calm Mind was an option, the right option for being capable of getting up and being productive, but... not yet. Not now. She knew all too well that it wasn’t just a cheap fright, the kinds of which the kids’ minds would often set upon them. This came from somewhere deeper, much deeper, and was ever more potent because of that.

Every single gory detail was infeasible, of course, but the rough strokes?

Her being forced to incapacitate Anne in order to steal her memory of this place and sentence her to a hellish, uncertain life back in the human world with nobody to care for her? Having to separate her and Ember again, to the latter’s indescribable anguish?

All that was real.

Could be real.

And Aria felt powerless to stop it.


Garret’s quiet growl gently nudged Aria out of her quickly panicking train of thought and back into his arm; a shake of her head acknowledged his voice.

“Do you need more time or to talk to me about something?”

The former wouldn’t help, the latter... could. The Gardevoir was still immensely unsure, both about sharing what she’d seen and talking about the underlying concerns. Of the two, though, airing all the roiling uncertainty would do her much more good.

“I-I think I do, yes. It’s... it’s about Anne.”

“O-oh? Did something happen to her-“

“No, no... not yet, at least.”

The Grimmsnarl didn’t respond, the obvious hole where words should’ve been conveying his confusion.

“Remember when I mentioned the council voting on her fate?”

“Yes, yes I do. Dreadful matter all in all, but I believe in you-“

“It’s not even about the outcome, it’s... about me having lied to Anne.”

Aria felt herself shift in Garret’s embrace. Her head was tilted upwards to look him in the eyes. Or at least, the very little that was visible of them.

“Lied about what? I don’t remember anything like that while we were chatting with her yesterday.”

“It’s from earlier, about her being safe here. Safe and sound, with a certainty that she’d be staying here for good.”

The dilemma took a few moments to click together in Garret’s head. In an instant, his expression faltered into one of dread, eyes going as wide as it was anatomically possible for them to.

“While in reality that’s nowhere near decided?”

Aria flinched, huddling up tighter as she held her husband tight, as if she’d been scolded.

“Y-yes. Anne thinks she’s safe for good and forever, and I have no idea what to say. She doesn’t deserve to have to deal with the dreadful possibility of her getting forced out because of something she can’t control; to feel like her and Ember’s safety is down to a bunch of coots and out of touch, paranoid fools...”

“But that’s just the truth, deep down?”

The Gardevoir let her head drop as she nodded weakly, having to put in her utmost focus not to break down again.

“It is.”

Garret could only hold his wife in silence for a few long moments; their minds busy churning through the dilemma in near complete darkness.

“Do you plan to tell her?”

Aria flinched again, the crux of the issue showing itself in its full ugliness.

“I... don’t know. I feel like I should; she deserves to know the truth. But at the same time, I don’t want to terrify her, or for her to lose trust in me...”

“Why would she lose trust in you? It’s a rather white lie in the end, and only so that she remains happy-“

“That is the exact excuse Cinder had used for what she’d done to Ember.”

Regardless of how incomparably different these two incidents felt like to the Grimmsnarl, he knew that trying to argue about that difference was way beside the point.

“I doubt that’s the same situation as here, but... you do have a point, honey, yes. Well, I...”

The more Garret thought, the more he realized he had no idea, either. Both options felt awful for their own reasons, the kind of awful that he’d be content staying away from for as long as he lived. Unfortunately, someone had to make these decisions in the end, and his wife had that burden of responsibility on her, on top of everything else.

He had no answer, but he was still proud of Aria for tackling it all, even when she didn’t truly need to.

“Honey, I wish I had an answer for you.”

Aria’s acknowledgment was delivered through a couple of thoughtless nods. She wasn’t expecting a revelation, because why would there be one? There wasn’t a hidden third option that would make everyone happy; she and Garret had already gone through everything. Still, just the fact that he’d tried to help mattered a lot to the Gardevoir.

He had no answer, but she was still immensely grateful to him for being here and letting her air it all out.

“It’s... it’s okay, Garret. I’ll figure it out-“

“Why not ask for help?”

The interjection left Aria stumped; her expression slowly shifting into confusion was noticed by her husband.

“What do you mean? From who?”

“Other scouts, the elders. Someone who’s caught up on it all and could offer an informed opinion.”

Aria wasn’t exactly eager at the idea.

At least, not with most of her fellow scouts. She knew full well that all the elders would offer her was either a silent treatment or a scoffed dismissal mixed with chiding because of her having revealed the truth about this place to Anne. Most of the other scouts weren’t too much better, but... some were. Finding someone who she could rely on to not be primarily driven by hatred of Anne would be a lot of help, as tricky as it sounded.

Still beat wallowing in silence, she supposed.

“I… can try that.”

“Going out and getting some fresh air sure beats meditating on it in pitch black silence and getting nowhere, eh?”

Aria rolled her eyes and flicked her husband’s nose; the counterattack delivered mercilessly just moments later.



Never failed to get at least a chuckle out of her.

“Yeah, that sounds right. Okay, I just need to grab my bearings and I think I’ll be ready to head out. The morning is just an hour or so away, anyway.”

“Awwwh, and here I wanted to ask whether you’d like to snooze just a bit longer together~”

*knock, knock*

The couple’s combined gaze swooped upon the door to their room; any confusion answered by one tired, confused voice speaking up in the darkness shortly after.

“^Mom, are you okay?^”

Cadence had only barely managed to deliver her line before a muffled sound of yawning filled their burrow. Her parents sure didn’t expect her to show up, but couldn’t say that the Kirlia’s presence didn’t help in relieving the tension further.

“^Yes, yes sweetie, I’m alright now. C’mere-^”

Before the lil’ fairy knew it, she was suspended in Aria’s gentle telepathy as the door was pushed open before her. Within a single, drawn-out yawn, she’d gone from knocking at her parents’ door to sitting drowsy on her mom’s lap, not even blinking as she immediately leaned on her afterwards.

“^Are you sure, mom? You were so scared there for a moment- *yawn*-^”

Aria couldn’t hold her yawn in response, not this time.

“^*Yawn* Yes, yes I was, but... it was just a nightmare, like the ones you have sometimes.^”

The creeping exhaustion didn’t make it any easier for Cadence to follow along with every word. Once her mom had wrapped up her sentence, though, the Kirlia knew exactly what to do at hearing the news. With no hesitation, she repeated the magical move taught to her by the very Gardevoir sitting beside her-

And hugged her as tight as she could while almost asleep.

“^Oh... I hope you feel better soon, mom.^”

Cadence’s embrace might’ve been modest, but that absolutely didn’t extend to the ones her parents had showered upon her afterwards.

“^I think I’m already a bit better with you here.^”

It took the entire reserve of the Kirlia’s awareness to parse through what her mom had meant; the response manifesting as a small smile that plunged the lil’ fairy firmly back into unconsciousness.

A handful of quiet chuckles were exchanged, a bit more affection. In no time, Aria carefully laid Cadence down beside her brother and friend before turning around towards the burrow’s exit, not forgetting to put on her Safeguard this time.

Ready or not, she had a duty to do.

Unfortunately, despite the Gardevoir’s determination, her body didn’t exactly... agree in full.

It certainly wanted to, as it always did, but this recent stretch was really beginning to show Aria her own body limits, exhaustion among them. The Gardevoir wouldn’t have thought that just three days of waking up early in a row would be enough to send her into such a tiresome hole, but here she was.

Really wishing she was asleep.

While also being perfectly aware of how packed and extensive the schedule was for her today. She wouldn’t be getting any rest until well after Anne’s sentencing at the hands of their council.

Assuming it ended in a good way, it would probably be the best night of sleep in her entire life. In the other case-

No, no, there’s no point in thinking about that.

With a forceful shake of her head, Aria was back in the world around her, pushing straight ahead through the near darkness of such an early morning. Dark and Ghost-types aplenty ventured the street, their voices and footsteps quiet enough to not break above the background din.

As much as the Gardevoir wanted to hit up Holly’s stall, she was early enough for Holly to not have even fully opened her pantry, somehow. A remarkable feat, with the Azumarill’s usual daily cycle having what felt like two hours of sleep.

At the high end.

Guess she was just this excited to cook stuff for people, which as much of an excuse as it would feel like for most... would really fit Holly in particular. The same part of her personality that made the fairy cook a joy when it came to preparing food for others, though, also made her a rather terrible match for how rattled Aria’s mind was in the moment.

Need someone less… overbearing.

Plus, as much as Holly’s cooking appealed to Aria’s sweet tooth, Vivian offered more than just sweets. What exactly the dragon’s energy-infusing magic was, Aria didn’t know, but she sure liked how its effects sounded.

Especially on this dark, foggy morning.

The silly tangent helped the Gardevoir in making her way across the less than pleasant early morning. Both in giving her something to distract herself with, and in being funny enough for her occasional chuckles to only bolster her meager wakefulness further. In not too long, she was already at her destination.

Or rather, what would become her destination in just a few drawn out moments.


Vivian’s soft voice shook the Gardevoir from her semi-conscious stupor, forcing her to focus on her immediate surroundings. The sudden snap to awareness had Aria standing in the middle of the street, blankly staring at the Goodra as they went through their usual routine of preparing their little corner for another busy, winter day.

“Is everything alright? Awfully early for you.”

Focus, focus.

“^Yes, yes, that’s... half the reason I’m here, actually. I woke up and won’t be falling asleep again. The rest tonight wasn’t all that great, and I was thinking if you had something that could help with exhaustion on hand.^”

Hardly the answer Vivian expected, but one they had just the thing for all the same.

“Aaahh~. Well... I should have a thing or two, if you don’t mind more than a bit of Salac.”

Cadence and half the other kids’ favorite, heh. All the sweetness, all the energy, all the speed one could ever want, all in a single bite of its juicy, cloying flesh.

...Aria might have liked it, too.

“^I’ll be alright, don’t worry Vivian. Thanks a lot, it’s-^”

“No need to go into it, Aria~. I take its some important Scout stuff, and frankly that’s all I need to hear. Just lemme know how I can help, and I’ll try my best~.”

The Goodra’s enthusiasm took the Gardevoir aback as they finally finished opening their bar again. A small patch of modest fire underneath the teapot didn’t do an amazing job at lighting up an entire room, but it far beat nothing.

Triply so with all the sweet scents that began filling the air afterwards.

“^Still... much appreciated. Past couple days have been rough.^”

“I can only imagine~. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you up this early, especially not this many days in a row. The mess with the human not letting anyone rest?”

A part of Aria wanted to just scoff at the question; scoff and mumble angrily under her mouth. She could only guess how well those who were trying their hardest to oppose Anne’s stay were sleeping, and something told her that their rest was in nowhere near as much jeopardy as hers. It’d help her vent, she was sure of that, but it would be a... doubtful way of gathering sympathy, be it for herself or Anne.

“^I know I can barely sleep, that’s for sure.^”

Her answer was acknowledged with a bouncy nod as the large, rugged tea pot filled the air with its ever familiar whistle. Within moments, Vivian was already pouring the hot water to several nearby cups, be they a part of Aria’s request, for the dragon themself, or some generically sweet tea for anyone that stepped in and needed a pick-me-up.

“Alriiiight~. Salac juice, dried Custap, a bit of sugar, a bit of spice, mix aaaand there we go.”

The contents of the mug placed down before Aria were... syrupy. Something to do with Salac juice and how it acted as a thickener, something more with how sweet the overall concoction was. The details were both beyond the Gardevoir’s knowledge, and beyond her care.

All she needed was one good gulp to feel energy indiscriminately fill her body.

Her nervously tapping feet grew more energetic, and fidgeting hands turned into little more than a blur. Her busy thoughts were pushed into an overdrive, one Aria had no idea whether it was even more helpful than her previous exhaustion. She sure wasn’t gonna be falling asleep like this.

Not in a million years.

“How is it~?”

Aria’s attention snapped up at Vivian in response to their question. And then at the stove beside them, the kettle on top of it, each individual mug next to them, one at a time, and then onto the other tiny items she could barely make out.

“^That’s one hell of a kick. M-makes me feel jumpy.^”

“If I dare hazard a guess, you were already jumpy before and just too tired for that to show much~.”

The Gardevoir tried rolling her eyes at the remark, but her gaze leaped to something else halfway through; unable to keep itself composed through the entirety of such an involved gesture.

“^I guess.^”

“Want me to take a stab at something to help soothe your nerves?”

“^Doubt whether that’ll help much-^”


The keening voice was the most surprised Aria had ever heard it. A glance over at the entrance to Viv’s bar had the accompanying Weavile’s expression be a perfect match for her voice; wide eyes blinking in utter confusion.

“^I-^ Uh, good morning, Ruby.”

“Isn’t it unholy early for you?”

“It... is.”

The Weavile’s eyes narrowed at the response. A part of her was keen to pry at the very confusing situation in front of her more, but she kept it contained for now. Instead, she just took her usual seat as the dragon served her usual request; the room-temperature tea struck the perfect temperature for warm drinks as far as the Ice-type was concerned.

For a few moments, the two drank their respective teas in silence as several other late-night regulars started pouring in from around the village. Early-rising diurnals or by-now-tired nocturnals, everyone wanted in on some of that goodness. Ruby might’ve been a fixture this early in the day, but Aria certainly wasn’t. Most patrons just raised their eyebrows for a moment or two before moving on, thankfully.

Plenty of reasons the Gardevoir could’ve reasonably been there, and it sure wasn’t their business to pry at which of them was the case in particular. That was the approach of most of those who came by.

But not all.

“Aria, darlin’!?”

Rose’s startled voice was reflected in her expression. Eyes as wide as they got in their sunken-ness, slightly frizzled out fur. Not a moment wasted before she was leaning on a seat beside Aria’s and trying to establish eye contact with her, every passing second bringing more and more concern to her features.

“Good morning, Rose.”

“Mornin’? Hon, this ain’t anywhere close to morning! What’s wrong?”



“That’s a pretty hollow lie...”

Aria blinked as her gaze shifted onto the Weavile, currently in the middle of another deep swig as her sharpened claws tapped the countertop.

“What makes you say that, Ruby?”

It was Ruby’s turn to roll her eyes as she set her cup down, her eventual admission delivered in a hesitant, almost annoyed tone.

“I can hear your heartbeat, you know. It’s been hammering like mad, even beside your drink’s effects. Don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but... don’t lie to us, Aria.”

As white and inconsequential as the lie was, Aria reeled as if struck at being called out like that. It was enough to make the two dark types grow further concerned at just what was going on with her.

Suppose ultimately, there was no right way forward but to spill her dilemma to them and ask for their thoughts at the same time. Exactly what Garret had suggested earlier, but... it still felt rough to think about, let alone do.

No way through but forwards, though.

“It’s... about Anne.”

As Aria prepared to lay out what had been eating her up to the other two scouts, she looked over her shoulder, spotting an empty spot in the back of the bar. Not that separating themselves from the others would make much difference with the hearing of almost everyone here being notably better than Aria’s, but... she still wanted that bit of privacy, even if it was an obvious placebo.

A tilt of her head was all that was needed to convey her intent. The trio soon half sat, half huddled together on the cold bench in the corner, either mulling over or bracing themselves for Aria’s words. The resulting telepathy was tricky to establish despite the two Dark-types knowing to lower their guards around their coworker; nerves making the already tricky psychic maneuver even harder.

“^I... lied to her. Yesterday morning, before we had our first hearing, I told her that her staying here was a done deal, and that she’s safe here. I did it to make her happy, to let have at least one day of peaceful happiness here after everything she’s been through. B-but now, I’m... doubting. I don’t know whether I should tell her the truth.^”

Aria was grateful beyond words for neither of the two interjecting immediately and giving her the time to air her struggle in full, silly as it might have come off to one of them.

“Not sure I see the point in that. Comes off as just exposing her to more needless fear.”

“^How so?^” - Aria might not have been fully following Ruby’s train of thought, but was very glad that she had someone to bounce the discussion about all this off of.

“Think of it like this. If the vote goes against her and she has to leave, then there’s no point in letting her know since she’d have to forget it all, anyway. All it’d do is make her panic and be terrified for no reason. If she stays, then it will all blow over with time without her knowing. You’ll just tell her one day once she’s more equipped to deal with it.”

The Gardevoir liked exactly none of what she’d heard.

Even so, that was half of the point. Each idea she took as unsavory was one she’d have to find some reasoning against, eventually. The friendly atmosphere helped a lot, as did further affection from Rose once she’d been quiet for quite a while, mulling through it all.

As Aria thought about it, though, there was one ‘objective’ fact that further went against Ruby’s idea. And as anxiety inducing as it was in the abstract, Aria sure appreciated it here as a rhetorical argument.

“^I doubt that’ll work even on a practical level. Celia asked for Anne to be physically present at the vote after all. Even if she won’t know what’s going on exactly, she’ll still be terrified and unsure about why she’s there in the first place.^”

That... was quite a hitch for her idea, the Weavile had to admit that. Still, just a hitch, and if there was anyone well equipped to handle that exact hitch, it was the Gardevoir beside her.

“Point taken. Even then, I don’t doubt that a psychic as skilled as yourself could come up with some way of fooling her about where she is and what’s going on, if needed.”

Ruby’s remark had Aria think back to the previous time she’d complimented her skill, all the way at the very beginning of Anne’s stay here. It was made all the more disgusting in hindsight, just as the idea of deceiving Anne was sickening in the present. Justified or not, a web of lies was a web of lies.

One that would unravel sooner or later.

“Yeah, naaaah, I really doubt that’s the right way on, Ruby. Aria, hun, how much does Annie already trust ya?”

Aria tried her best at making the resulting exhale be as inconspicuous as possible. Ruby still heard it perfectly fine, rolling her eyes out of sight as the Gardevoir responded.

“^She... I think she completely trusts me by now.^”

The realization felt equal parts soothing and hurtful. To earn that amount of trust from someone so vulnerable, and to toss it aside afterwards in a spur-of-the-moment lie; an ever-growing debt to the truth that had accumulated immense interest over just one day.

“Ain’t that sweet to hear. Why haven’t ya told her already?”

An innocent question, another flinch going through Aria’s body. Why oh why, that’s the question indeed.

“^I... I wanted her to be happy. Happy and safe. It felt like if I had told her, she’d be terrified in her every waking moment with the possibility of her being tossed out looming over the horizon. She doesn’t deserve that kind of hell, nobody does.^”

Just like Ember didn’t deserve the hell of knowing that her best friend was still suffering so close to her home, eh?

Her friends’ questions stung, but her self-conscious comparing her to Cinder in such an overt way felt like a lightning fast gut punch, making the Gardevoir physically double over.

“Aria, what’s wrong?”

Ruby’s matter-of-fact voice was appreciated, as was her scanning for threats immediately after. Alas, nothing even her senses could spot. Nothing outside the confines of Aria’s skull.

“^Nothing, nothing, it’s just... it’s so hard. That’s the exact same reasoning that Cinder used for doing what she did, I-^”

*pat pat*

The sensation of the soft fur and blunted claws patting her shoulder snapped Aria out of any further loathing. Rose immediately followed up her display of affection with a nuzzle to the psychic’s exposed side before speaking up; her voice understanding if low.

“Yeah, I’d be lyin’ if I said there ain’t no similarities. But, but, but- your mistake is one day old, and not with a birthday under its belt. Hell, I’d say it’s more understandable in the end, even if just as wrong.”

“But what does coming clean with all this do except scare Anne further?” - The keenness in Ruby’s voice made it difficult to spot, but there was some genuine curiosity in there, too.

“Th’ way I see it, two things. One, tells her yer honest, and two, lets her know ya can admit to mistakes. Everyone makes them, even ones we love and trust, but how ya handle them is the sticker.”

“I’m unsure how much honesty is good for if it only results in misery.”

“Plenty! ‘Cause things suck from time to time, no matter what ya do. Ya either let the ones you’re protectin’ know about that, letting them brace themselves for it, or ya don’t, and end up prayin’ the entire time they won’t figure it out by themselves.”

“I doubt the latter is an option with the girl not knowing our language-“

Despite her earlier courtesy, Ruby’s words had Rose erupt into an undignified laughter. Chittered noises echoed through the small bar and spilled out onto the surrounding streets to the backdrop of the eastward sky brightening by the moment, inadvertently waking at least a couple of people up. The Weavile was less offended at the response than she was dumbstruck, having genuinely no idea what about what she’d said was so funny.

Thankfully, she wouldn’t have to wait too long for an explanation to be provided.

“Ruby, Ruby hun, can I tell with utter certainty you don’t have any kids, ha!”

Jovial as the reply was, it unintentionally stung a bit, the other Dark-type’s gaze sliding away.

“I know. Me and wife are open to take someone in if need arises, but... haven’t had that happen yet. Not that it’d be a good thing if it happened, don’t want fate to come up with an orphan just so that I can feel like a mother.”

Blunt as Rose was, even she noticed that one.

Aria was blocking physical access to the Weavile, but it didn’t take long for a quick coordinated intervention to correct that. In a single swift motion, Aria slid in her seat while pulling Ruby along her, while Rose climbed up onto the spot the Weavile occupied moments later, pushing through the extra frosty seat to give her some complimentary nuzzles.

“Sorry, hun.”

Ruby was of half a mind to dismiss all this out of hand, but... didn’t. Being comforted felt nice even for a former apex predator, who could’ve known.

“It’s... thanks, you two. Don’t worry Rose, I’m not holding it against you or anything, it just... stung.”

“I get that, Ruby, doncha worry. Hope something works out for ya two. But, back to my point. Kids are bloody smart. All kids, even the tiny tykes, even the ones that can’t talk or walk yet. They can piece stuff together way more than we give them credit for. Hell, I figured out quite a few things about the human world despite only ever being a nuisance for them and not knowing a lick about their language. Even if nobody tells Anne overtly, she’ll figure it out one day.”

Rose paused to catch her breath before turning to Aria directly, voice growing a bit less jovial than before.

“T’way I see it, Anne either learns it on your terms, or on hers.”

It was hard to disagree with that framing, unnerving the Gardevoir even further. She had increasingly less doubt left in her that confessing right away was the best way to go, but...

“^What if it’s already too late? What if me having made that lie in the first place is enough for her to never trust me again?^”

There weren’t any truly correct answers to that question, and that fact alone almost sent Aria spiraling there and then.

“Even if so, what would withholding the truth any longer do?”

The Weavile offering that point as opposed to the Skuntank raised the eyebrows of the other two. Ruby acknowledged the extra attention with an eye roll before elaborating, gesturing with a clawed paw as she spoke.

“Can’t say I fully agree, but I see the reasoning. With it all granted, there’s hardly a reason for you to delay any longer than needed, if it’s going to result in the eventual revelation hurting her trust in you even more.”

There weren’t any holes Aria could see in Ruby’s argument, which her mind appreciated. Her soul, though, didn’t, not one bit. Even the best course of action of immediately confessing to Anne as soon as she was awake still bore the risk of her trust being betrayed forever, and not without a reason. No matter how remote the possibility was, the Gardevoir couldn’t look away, not with how overwhelmingly terrible that outcome felt like.

In the end, it was unavoidable. Merely yet another consequence of her actions, for better or worse. She could either face it there and then, like an adult,

Or she could be Cinder.


The comparison hurt once more, but this time, Aria had braced herself for it and pushed through; the invisible battle inside her only barely noticed by her friends.

“^Right. I was just... worried that it’s too late. That no matter what I do, her trust is lost forever.^”

“Naaaaah. You’ve been doing so much for her, hun, and she definitely sees it. I’ve no doubt in my mind she’ll forgive ya sooner rather than later. I can’t promise promise ya that, but what I can promise is that honesty will work out the best for ya.”

It was all the confidence Aria was ever going to get.

Not much in objective terms, but that’s just what she had to work with, whether she liked it or not.

“^R-right. I can’t thank you two enough for hearing me out about this. It’s been a great help.^”

“Anytime, hun!”

“You’re welcome, Aria.”

Right as the Gardevoir was about to get up and out of the bar, though, one nagging uncertainty at the back of her mind caught her attention, shifting it back towards the Weavile.


The Dark-type wordlessly snapped her gaze over at the fairy, raising her eyebrow.

“^What do you think about Anne on the whole? For the upcoming vote?^”

Aria expected many answers to that question, myriads of comforting and distressing ones alike.

What she didn’t expect was a shrug.

On its own, the sight was firmly towards the negative side of the emotional spectrum, but the elaboration that followed helped right away.

“She’s a kid, right?”

A dumbfounded nod from the Gardevoir.

“We take stray kids in. Prey, predator, insect, quadruped. Mon, human. Kid’s a kid, why wouldn’t we take her in. Hate that this is even something we have to argue about.”

This time, Aria didn’t even try to hide her expression of relief as a shaky smile crept onto her face. It was exactly what she wanted to hear, thanking the two Dark-types one more time before heading out into the slowly dying night.

That makes six certain for, and six certain against. The only remaining wildcard was Ori, and between Geiger’s and Marco’s intervention, Aria had reasons to hope that things would turn out alright.

Maybe, just maybe, she would make right on her promise to Anne, after all.

As helpful as Vivian’s drink was with getting her back on her feet, Aria’s stomach wasted no time complaining about the lack of any actual nutrients beyond the equivalent of seventeen teaspoons of sugar. Holly’s was already long since open, and grabbing something larger to start an arduous day off with was a no brainer.

For once, she even overcame her sweet tooth and went with an actually healthy meal.

She was far from the only one eating in the vicinity, though.

“Aria? A word if you could.”

Using the utmost willpower, Aria resisted cringing at hearing the Torkoal’s low, slow voice break the surrounding quiet. She wouldn’t enjoy this, but she would at least manage to push through.

“^Yes, Elder Ana?^”

As if the situation couldn’t get any worse, the Breloom was there too, soon emerging from behind the nearest corner to join the fiery tortoise. A tiny part of Aria worried that the old coots had just cracked either her plan or how she’d handled the human librarian. Thankfully, that concern too was for naught, with something much more benign following instead.

“What’s the situation with the human?”

Ana wasn’t even attempting to maintain any facade of secrecy anymore, not with all the rumors about the girl in their midst having circumvented their village ten times over before she could even get out of her den.

“^Anne is doing well. Autumn and my kids spent a lot of time with her yesterday, and they enjoyed each other’s presence. Ember had woken up since, and the two are almost inseparable when together.^”

The Torkoal chewed on all the information, her expression maintaining its usual focus. That is, until one addition in particular led her to narrow her gaze even further than usual, the question that followed accusatory.

“Why bring your children along?”

Despite all the effort Aria could muster, namely none, she couldn’t keep a smug smirk off her face.

“^If Anne is to stay at our village for good, in my den, then it’s best she gets to know her denmates as soon as possible, no?^”

“‘Stay at our village’, preposterous.” - Winnie’s comment was delivered in all the disgust the Grass-type could force out, forcing Aria to take deep breaths to maintain her composure. To her surprise, it wasn’t just her who had a reaction to the Breloom’s words; Ana sighed in disappointment as she muttered a response.

“If that’s what today’s vote settles on, then that’s what will happen.”

“I suppose then I’ll finally have my proof that everyone’s gone mad!”

“That is a grievous oversimplification and you should know it, Winnie.”

“Oversimplification!? Hmph. Orion wouldn’t have allowed any of this madness-“

Right as the Gardevoir was bracing herself for another of Winnie’s bigoted rants, a very unfamiliar sound reached her ears. Rhythmic and scraping, crackling of flame mixing with stone grinding on stone. Inanimate and lively alike, as if someone forced a fossil to laugh.

Describing Ana as a ‘fossil’ wasn’t particularly nice, but it was hardly inaccurate, either.

Both Aria and Winnie had to take a moment to process seeing the Torkoal openly laughing. Especially when they realized she was doing so right in the Breloom’s face.

“Orion was the exact person who would’ve been going through with all this madness. With every day, I’m believing more and more that excess spores are eroding at your brain, Winnie.”

As the Gardevoir was putting her utmost effort into not letting her amusement show, the Breloom continued with his offended schtick.

“Even he was so much more grounded than this-“

“No he wasn’t, you fool. We almost had to keep him tied to a tree at all times, else his head would drag the rest of him into the clouds. Did you already forget why he liked you in the first place?”

Winnie was too taken aback by a fellow Elder acting out against him to respond; Ana following up soon after.

“You were his anchor. Night to his day. The polar opposite that kept him grounded and made sure there always was a dissenting perspective on hand.”

“You have to be misremembering, Ana, for there is no way someone so fooling as what you’re describing would ever create a place like this-“

“And that’s exactly what happened. He dreamed this place into existence. All we ever did was occasionally help him out and maintain it after...”

A long, painful pause filled the clearing. Even Winnie took the cue to shut up as everyone reminisced about what they remembered of the Zoroark.

Much to her regret, Aria never got to interact much with him.

She’d arrived with Marco just months before he’d passed away. Even back then, so close to his end, she remembered him being so... busy, engrossed in the village’s everyday life. Far from just an abstract founder and leader, someone who had never met a person he didn’t want to help if there was any way he could.

The most vivid memory she had of him was only a few days after they wound up in this place. Back when she was only steadily growing used to interacting with Dark-types; actively pushed through all the lies about them that her family had instilled in her. She would end up getting lost in search of... somewhere, her memory didn’t quite catch where it was that she couldn’t find her way around to.

Eventually, she ran into him, clearly lost.

There wasn’t even a shred of hesitation in Orion’s gestures as he started doing charades with her; the wordless play made much more effective with illusions of the places she could be heading towards. It all must’ve dragged on for way over half an hour, an unreasonable amount of time to waste on someone when one could just point them towards a nearby non-Dark type.

And yet, he went through it all, neither his smile nor determination faltering at any point.

His presence made the village so much brighter.

“If Orion was still around, we would’ve all needed to drag him away from housing the human in his den there and then, concerns about security be damned.”

The Torkoal’s grumbled words snapped the gathering back to awareness. All the Breloom could do was roll his eyes at the obviously accurate observation, but the Gardevoir... saw an opportunity to press further.

“^Well, how does Anne’s presence raise any security concerns?^”

Winnie’s scoff was expected to an extent, but not the mocking laughter that followed. Despite Aria’s best efforts, she felt her composure be strained at the sound. She didn’t expect to ever think that out loud, but goodness was she glad that Ana spoke up with her usual scaremongering stuff shortly after, silencing her fellow Elder.

“In the obvious way. A missing human means that someone will look for her, bringing further attention upon us.”

“^If that was still the case, we would expect further human presence than just the two half-hearted incidents from a couple of days ago. I’ve talked to one of the few humans Anne trusted about this. Almost nobody cared about her back in their town, and that won’t change just because she’s gone. If anything, that’s a further reason for us to care about her, to undo all the neglect on the hands of humanity over the years.^”

Neither of the two women were expecting the Breloom to say anything insightful. And, predictably, he didn’t.

“Mere pity doesn’t make this entire madness any less unspeakable.”

“Even if it’s the minimum of attention, it still contributes towards us being more likely to be discovered.”

Ana’s point was much harder to dismiss than Winnie’s rambles. It wasn’t a good point, but at least she was making an actual argument.

One, Aria soon realized, that didn’t apply to just humans.

“^You could raise that exact concern about any of us, Elder Ana.^”

The Torkoal’s gaze leaped up all the way to the fairy’s face; pursed eyelids parted for the first time in what had to be months. The immediate impact filled the Gardevoir with confidence, prompting her to double down on her point.

“^Whether we like it or not, we’re very close to their settlements. Each new head here increases the risk that someone will be spotted by a human and thought of as suspicious, without our knowledge. Each new building we raise makes us more visible despite our attempts to hide. More likely to be found by someone or something, potentially a human contraption that we can’t just intimidate or brainwash away. That’s always a risk.^”

As confident as Aria was in her point, she soon realized it was potentially too effective. As she finished her lecture, she sensed the Torkoal go from entirely composed to outright panicking; the outside appearance showing very little of it beyond nervous shaking and shallow breaths. Despite any animosity she might’ve had towards the Elder, the Gardevoir was on the brink of calling for help, unsure what was going on and not wanting to dig into her thoughts.

“I strongly doubt mere humans have anything she can’t easily hide from. They would’ve already found us if that was the case!”

Winnie’s words fell on deaf ears as Aria looked down at Ana in concern. Soon after, her gaze was returned, the sight of the Gardevoir finally forcing the Torkoal to regain some of her composure and try to at least vocalize what was wrong.

“Y-you don’t know that, Winnie. Aria- Aria is right. The risk keeps growing and- and we aren’t doing enough about it.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve fallen for Aria’s hysterical exaggeration, Ana- OW!”

Despite Aria managing to stop herself from doing something she would’ve regretted, for once it was Ana who didn’t have that restraint. The Breloom hopped in place as his extendable arms held his burned leg, bearing a fresh burn in the shape of Ana’s paw print.

Immensely gratifying as the sight was, the Gardevoir couldn’t care much about it at the moment, her attention shifting to the Torkoal’s admission instead.

“^Why not, then? Did you not consider that risk before-^”

“Of course I have, we have. Orion has. I remember his plans. Underground shelters, even an idea to make as much of our village underground as possible, nigh invisible from the air. Plans about digging escape tunnels all the way over to the human ruin you’re scouting towards, just in case. He had his ideas of managing risk, even brought up the possibility of relocating us all to a less risky area now that we know that this location isn’t sustainable, but...”

Ana trembled as her head sank towards the snowy floor; a drawn-out sigh forcing the most pitiful of smoke clouds out of her hump.

“Time spares none.”

Through the supernatural power of having any restraint whatsoever and the scorch marks on his foot, Winnie stopped himself from adding another unwanted comment.

“Maybe... maybe if he had told us about the sickness eating his body earlier, we would’ve been able to settle on a long-term plan before he left us. But he didn’t. And we had to live with that, unable to even come close to his insights.”

“That’s far from true, Ana! You’ve been the best leader any of us could ever hope for-“

“Spare me the flattery, you moldy fusspot. I know my weaknesses well, and especially now, they feel crippling. Orion... had ideas. Dreams. Desires. The way our village was there and then was always only a work in progress for him, just a slice of the unending vision that gave birth to this place. I... don’t have them. Don’t know how to have them. I don’t know what he saw. Even if I did, I doubt I’d be able to push on where needed. He dared to risk in everything he did, made wild changes that left us all for the better, and I-“

A drawn out pause; Ana’s body language shrunk.

“I can’t put myself in that mindset. All I can do is maintain things as they are, managing risk in the most passive way. I’m not suited to be the leader, never was.”

“Of course you are!”


“Despite everything, you maintain objectivity! You don’t just let anyone overly emotional rock the boat with us all in it, your neutrality is admirable-“


Aria hadn’t ever heard the Torkoal raise her voice like this. It’s as if her voice had turned from one burning rock shuffling along the ground, to two burning rocks shuffling along the ground.

“It’s hardly a virtue, just a way of avoiding any commitment. Something to help keep me from going insane from the weight being placed on my back. Dispassionateness breeds stagnation, and I’m the proof of that.”

As much as the Gardevoir appreciated the frankness, it helped little on its own. Much like she and Cinder alike were repeatedly learning, admitting to one’s mistakes is just the very first step. By far the easiest and most meaningless.

Still, so much more than she ever expected in this specific case, though.

“^It sounds like you’ve acknowledged that we can’t continue to exist exactly like this forever.^”

Another deep inhale, another puff of off-white smoke filling the earliest of dawn.

“Rationally, yes. Emotionally... I’m not the right person to oversee change, never was. Neither are Winnie nor Celia.”


“If things were up to you, time would lay entirely still. And Celia... ideas are only any good if communicated with others. Not something I, or anyone else, can force her to do.”

“^Then it sounds like you need a new perspective.^”

Ana remained quiet at the allusion of their current leadership not being cut for the job. She very much agreed with the underlying claim, but... pride was still pride. Difficult to elevate external critique to the same level as internal self-loathing.

She at least tried, though.

“Are you threatening us with a coup!?”

Winnie’s inane question got one drawn out, unamused look from everyone gathered before the two women focused on each other again, Aria continuing.

“^Someone with a vision. Someone who deeply knows humans, and can advise much better on how to avoid them going forward.^”

It wasn’t exactly difficult to piece the leads together. Ana’s mind shifted gears from sadness to pensiveness.


“Oh, don’t mock this position, Ana! What next, choosing that humanling as an Elder!?”

“As far as I’m concerned, she would be a marked improvement over you, especially right now.”

Despite being plenty used to being the butt of most comparisons, this one actually got to Winnie. Petty insults were one thing; to be negatively compared to a human was another, a much more acutely hitting slight.

For a few moments, the Breloom could only shake in anger before storming off with a loud ‘HMPH!’. Neither of the two dwelt on his departure for more than a moment before Aria continued once more.

“^If there’s anything I’ve learned about humanity over the past few days, it’s that we have no chance if we don’t know everything we can about them. What their technology can do, how they behave, how they live and so on. Geiger obviously knows a lot about that. And...^”

This was a much riskier play, but if there was even a chance it would work out, Aria was eager to go all in.

“^...Anne’s perspective could help a lot. About the sorts of everyday human things even Geiger would know little about.^”

For once, Ana remained completely silent; mind sunken into deep thought. A stray beam of sunshine broke Aria’s focus as she waited for a response; a glance upward revealed most of the sky to have shifted from reds and pinks to ever brightening blues. The sun was here, and Anne would likely be awake before long, assuming she already wasn’t.

“^I should be going now.^”

The Torkoal nodded deeply without speaking up right away. It was only after the Gardevoir got moving towards the clinic and walked around the tortoise, did the weak, croaked words leave Ana’s mouth; as somber as they were genuine.

“Thank you. May the winds hasten you, Aria.”

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 IV: Hope New


the gay agenda

Interlude IV: Hope

“Orion, where you go now.”

The buzz of the surrounding drizzle muffled Ana’s tired, heavy words. This weather was much too ugly for her to be left on her own again. Doubly so with her rest last night having been... strenuous. She rationally knew that one day she’d stop getting woken up by single raindrops impacting her shell, but that day sure hadn’t come yet.

Ugly as the mountains from which she hailed from might’ve been, at least they weren’t as permanently soggy as this place has been lately.

The Torkoal wasn’t about to chase the Zoroark into the thick of the rain. Instead, she sighed out a plume of smoke as she inched herself further away from the nasty wetness, waiting for either him or Winnie to return.

“He go somewhere again!?”


At least food had arrived.

Ana looked up just in time to see the small berry be placed in front of her, immediately reaching to bite into it as Winnie sat beside her.

“Orion like, see pretty leaf, and chase chase chase, hmph.”

“At least he happy.”

As eccentric as Orion was, he had a charm to him, one the Breloom lacked so acutely that she wondered what did the Zoroark even see in him. On the other paw, she knew perfectly that her current crankiness wasn’t helping either. Once life saw fit to finally give them all a break, they’d probably warm up to each other a decent bit.

Or, at least, so she hoped.

“He not happy ever!? He always smile, what world wrong he with!?”

The Torkoal was somewhat confident about what the Breloom had just said, but nowhere near as much as she wished she was. It would take time, much more than just the couple of moons they had all known each other for. Orion’s weird, artificial language may have been awkward, but Ana knew that the significance of what it made possible was so much more important than her personal gripes.

Stilted as it was, it had still allowed her to find community and friendship outside the confines of her tribe’s bigotry. Even if they all were to never amount to anything more than what they’ve already been through, she still had the Zoroark to thank for saving her from being forcibly assigned a mate or another.

And for that alone, she was more than willing to put up with any of his quirks.

“If choice always annoyance and always cheer, I know what I choose-”


The howl hit them both like a Brick Break to the face; the brief confusion soon turned into a worried resolve. Neither of them had known him for long enough to truly know whether it was unlike Orion, but what they knew was that it worried them. Then again, disguising and getting away was the easiest thing in the world for him, and that sure didn’t sound like a distress call-

But before Ana could give it all any more thought, she found herself suddenly lifted and carried right into the rain.



“NO, HE N—”


The Torkoal’s world had turned into a blur of browns and greens as hundreds of freezing stings barraged her body. Each of the Breloom’s leaping steps had her wince, the sheer vertigo threatening to either make her erupt, throw up, or both. Right as she was about to lose the last of her composure, though, everything came to a stop, followed by her being clumsily placed on a soaked patch of grass.

If Winnie had the decency to look down at her at that moment, Ana probably could’ve seared him with her glare alone.

“Orion, Orion where you!?”

“Hey, guys!”

The relaxed, giddy words cut the Torkoal off, mouth slowly closing as she and Winnie looked up the nearby hill. It stood out greatly from the clearing before it, and much the same was true of the oak that sprouted from its very top.

And even more so of the Zoroark taking the scenery in from one of its lower branches.

Pretty as the sights were, his friends were more important. Without skipping a beat, he began to leap from branch to branch, digging into the bark when needed, and reaching solid ground just moments later.

Only to immediately slip on the wet, leaf-covered ground, before sliding down the hill on his rear, to the tune of his own laughter.

“Ahahaha! Hey, guys, whattcha do here?”

Orion didn’t even bother getting up, taking a moment to get comfortable on the ground instead and check up on his friends.

“You good, Ana?”


“Orion, what happen!? Someone attack you!?”


The Zoroark stared dumbfounded at the Breloom, uncertain where that idea even came from.

“I look at view!”

“…and howl?”

“Why no, Ana? Here beautiful! Right what I look for!”

Both Ana and Winnie sighed at the remark, though for different reasons. The former was about to speak up about everything they’d need to check before even considering settling down, but ultimately held back, knowing the latter would cut her off, anyway.

“Orion, human village dream again!?”

“Winnie, dear, here all good!”

“Not talk place! Why talk humans, again again!? We make great by us, no humans!”


“^Excuse me?^”

Despite Orion not having heard the voice, spotting the surprise on the faces of his friends got him to stop too, stop and glance over at what had caught their attention. An Indeedee was eying them out, the uncertain expression on her face flip-flopping between concern and curiosity. Some other creature, tiny and pink, was trying to peek out from behind her, shying away the moment any of the three had looked their way.

As hesitant as the other two got, the Zoroark was downright ecstatic. The opportunity to see for himself whether it was actually possible for a psychic type to link up with him didn’t come often, and this one was perfect. Trying to keep himself as small as he could, he turned towards the stranger. The Indeedee’s eyes narrowed slightly as she took a couple steps back, only to then raise an eyebrow as the Dark-type... waved at her.

And just sat there.

“He wants you to link with him.”

As much as Ana appreciated the immense ease of communication that telepathy brought with itself, she wasn’t sure how much her elaboration would help. Especially with the inherent absurdity of a psychic even trying to speak telepathically with a Dark-type. It was one of these obvious things that nobody questioned, for there was no reason to question it, and for Orion to insist that it was indeed possible was...

Entirely like him.

As were his wild ideas turning out to be correct.

Miraculously, the Indeedee didn’t react with utter confusion at the explanation. A bit of focus and three pinches of effort later, Orion felt something jolt in his mind after deliberately lowering his mental guard, adding a heaping pile of fuel to the flame of excitement.


“Greetings, ma’am! It’s wonderful to meet you here, my name is Orion!”

After getting over the sudden voice’s impact, the short psychic finally found it in her to respond.

“^Hello there! Is everything alright? I’m quite sure I heard you howl just now.^”

“More than alright, I’d say! We’ve just stumbled upon this beautiful clearing, perfect for a settlement!”

“^A settlement? How so?^”

It was the exact question Orion was waiting for.

He got onto his feet with a wide smile, gesturing towards the clearing as Winnie grumbled into his hand. A reddish sheen covered his paws and eyes as mirages of dozens of wooden huts and human-like houses alike manifested out of thin air. The Indeedee gasped at the illusory sights, too stunned to do more than stand and gawk.

“Just like humans do! There’s almost nothing in their towns that we can’t replicate in some way!”

“Or we could keep living as ourselves and not descend to the level of humanity!”

“Oh Winnie, Winnie, don’t be like thaaaat~. I’ve lived with them for a good while, they’re far from all terrible, you know thaaat~.”

“^You lived with humans?^”

Orion’s smile didn’t even have the time to finish shifting into a smirk before a human manifested from the thin air where he once stood. Light brown skin, long gray hair, an all black outfit. Nobody gathered knew how good of a disguise it actually was, but it sure looked human to them.

“On and off for a few years! Even though they had no idea who I was and I couldn’t talk, they would still help me out all the time! There were places where I could get food, no questions asked, kitchens for use by everyone, and so much empty housing for the taking! There’s nothing about that that we can’t band together and recreate ourselves!”

“If it was so easy, other mons would’ve already tried it!”

“How do you know they haven’t, dear Winnie~?”

Despite the pointedness of the question, the Breloom had plenty of answers to it, all of them wrong. For once, though, it was the Torkoal that got the word in first-

“As we’ve discussed, Orion, there are many considerations before we can even start planning such an undertaking.”

“Doncha worry, Ana! That’s what we’ve got our friend here for, she’ll know best. Any reasons this wouldn’t be a good place, Ma’am...?”

“^Autumn. Hmm... none I can think of. There is a human town several hours away, but I’ve never seen anyone from there come here. Haven’t had any encounters with any large predators... but. That is a massive undertaking, if I’m understanding it right.^”

“Something for us to spend our lives on, and for our children to relish in the safety of. A place free from either humanity’s cruelty, or the bigotry of insular tribes, a place we can all call home.”

The rousing speech affected some listeners more than others; Autumn’s expression softened into a sad smile as she looked over her shoulder, only for her eyes to go wide.

“If there’s anything we should put our strength and will to, it’s a place like that. And this serendipitous clearing is just about the most beautiful one yet! See, see, even the weather’s clearing up, the Gods are clearly encouraging us to proceed—OH GOODNESS LOOK AT THAT RAINBOW, IT’S GORGEOUS!”

As much as she begrudged Orion getting this emotional sometimes, Ana couldn’t deny that this kind of hope was infectious. There were still so many details they’d need to discuss and agree on, so many risks to be weighed. Those could all be dealt with down the line.

But there and now, having something to strive towards was worth more than anything-


Winnie’s screech snapped Ana out of her pensive mood. A glance upward revealed Winnie to be thrashing in place with something pink clinging to the back of his head, Orion to be laughing his lungs out about it, and the newly met Indeedee to be trying her best to do something about it.

“^Garret, please get down!^”

“I already like this place.”

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 21: Promise New


the gay agenda

Chapter 21: Promise


The quiet, high-pitched sound filled the clinic’s main chamber as a tiny tree stump stretched beside the sleeping ghost. Sage reached out more and more of her spectral body from its wooden shell as she came to, looking around the dim space. Despite how dark it still was, she already felt more awake than not. And, as her cursory sweep of the room showed, she was probably the only one.

Her and Yaksha’s was the last of a row of beds spanning the entire clinic, with a second one mirroring it in front of the opposite wall. Thankfully, only a few of them were occupied, and said occupants all looked firmly asleep. The thought still scared her a bit, but... it probably wouldn’t hurt to take a closer look at them, right?

With as deep of a breath as her lung-less body could manage and Yaksha’s protective presence on her mind, the Phantump slowly hovered towards the nearest occupied bed. It was tricky to make out most of its occupant from underneath the large blanket, but the striped tail with a red bulb at the end was a giveaway on its own. A giveaway Sage didn’t remember enough to identify, making her fly closer to the yellow-black extremity to see if she could—


The tiny discharge of static had the ghost dash behind the nearest bed for protection. It didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as she thought it would; she couldn’t even feel it after just a few moments. Even despite that, if she still had a heart, it would’ve been absolutely hammering in fear at the jolt and the dangers it could’ve implied.

At least they didn’t wake up.

While Sage floated away from the Ampharos, she kept fighting with herself to turn around and go back to Yaksha’s bed, to return to his dry, but earnest protection. She knew nothing bad would come to her there, not the sorts of things that could happen to her if she accidentally annoyed one of the sleeping patients, but...


There was always the chance that she’d find out what she once was. Or, at least, remind herself of something important. Anything but this anxiety-inducing unknown—anything but this tattered recollection that inevitably ended in trauma.

With that tear-inducing reassurance, the Phantump kept going. She steadied her breathing once more while she hovered over to the next bed, its occupant much more visible. Yellow beak, presently wrapped in bandages, a bunch of white feathers covering its front and face, and reddish down elsewhere. She remembered seeing so many of them, always in very happy situations. Yeah. Though her mom kept telling her not to get too close, Sage had no idea why, especially since they brought berries or gifts every time—

The Delibird’s frigid exhale answered the ghost’s dilemma before she could even think through it any further. It felt like her face was burning; the frost covering its bottom rim stung; it all hurt so much. She immediately dashed back to her guardian ghost with a squeak of pain, avoiding holding him as tight as possible through the sheer force of will.

Instead, she tried lying down on the barebones mattress, hoping that whatever heat remained in it would help warm her face up. She froze as she heard shuffling from further in the room, flinching with every step coming her way. Eventually, a concerned-sounding question was delivered in birdsong. It didn’t sound angry—the opposite, if anything—but Sage remained too afraid to look up at them even as the worst of the pain finally subsided.

It didn’t hurt that bad in hindsight, but... it still hurt. And she didn’t want to hurt.

After the most tensely awkward half minute or so of Sage’s afterlife, the Delibird eventually took her lack of response as an answer. Unseen, they slowly backed off into their bed. Once she heard the thud of them lying back down, she kept checking if they were asleep every few moments, only daring to move again once they had been completely still for a while. This was all so... scary—so much more so than she would’ve thought. Especially with how homely this little settlement was otherwise.

Scary or not, Yaksha was there.

With all the frost gone from her wooden face, Sage could finally try huddling up to him closer, to ask for sorely needed reassurance—

Right as she was about to do that, she heard some sounds from the room on the nearby wall’s other side.

One of the voices she remembered hearing yesterday. It could even have been that scary human that Yaksha was so angry about. A part of her was still scared of that idea, but... far, far from all of her. With the Banette asleep and nobody else around being awake anymore to see her do it, the Phantump slowly floated up and closer to the thick sheet of canvas separating the rooms.

Float all the way over, take a deep breath, one, two, three, lean in-

The slightly warmer air tingled Sage’s face and helped melt through what remained of the frost. The pleasant sensations were nowhere near what the rest of the ghost was focused on, the sight of a human almost enough to make her withdraw back there and then.

But only almost.

She still didn’t dare move further forward, content to snoop on the sleeping stranger from her near-ceiling vantage point. Everything she’d heard about them from Yaksha and even many things she had experienced told her she should’ve been terrified at that moment, but... she wasn’t. Apprehensive, a bit intimidated, sure, but only that. In fact, with how that human kept shifting and tossing around, Sage felt rather sorry for them.

Doubly so with the cast on her arm.

Seeing what the Phantump assumed to be a part of the shadows in the room’s corner suddenly move startled her out of any further compassionate thoughts. Nigh-imperceptible darkness coalesced into the shape of a tall owl, further chilling her thoughts. The ghost girl maintained any semblance of composure only at the realization that the Decidueye didn’t see her. Instead, they walked over to the human and laid the tip of their wing on her head before gently stroking her hair.

As comforting as the gesture was, it also had the unavoidable effect of waking said human up, with a light startle, no less. The sight made the owl coo something towards her, something the human clearly didn’t understand any more than Sage herself did.

Instead of answering right away, the human reached over to grab her glasses from the nightstand, blinking through her remaining sleepiness as she put them on.

And immediately noticed Sage.

The Phantump withdrew right back into the clinic’s main chamber with a panicky squeak, mind racing and only capable of thinking about returning to Yaksha’s protective presence. Which wasn’t an option right away, either.

She remembered seeing the Blissey tend to the Banette yesterday, and a part of her was very glad to see her guardian getting more aid. The rest ended up even more skittish instead, especially with them likely noticing the frost burn on her face if they looked up—

They looked up.

The Blissey’s immediate response was a drawn-out exhale, followed up by the loudest whisper Sage had ever heard in her life, aimed further into the clinic. On cue, one of the other medics, the Leavanny, peeked out from another side chamber further into the tent; their expression split equally between relief and exasperation.


Sage didn’t expect the Normal-type to chuckle at her words, taking her aback as the mantis approached, holding a small bowl. To the Phantump, it looked like just some yellowish paste, its purpose entirely unknown.

And then, the blissful relief from the leftover stinging as said paste was smeared around her frost burn.

It felt so tingly, so… nice. She finally floated back onto the mattress right as the Blissey wrapped up her checkup on the still-asleep Yaksha . The combined kindness they were treated to made her feel even warmer.

“Th-thank you so much!”

A smile and a deep nod from the Blissey, moderate confusion from Leavanny, first at Sage and then at their coworker. Before the Normal-type could explain something to their coworker, the shuffle of the front entrance caught everyone’s attention instead.


The Gardevoir responded to the ghost’s waving with some of her own, a small smile briefly replacing her concern. She didn’t stay long though, first stopping before the entrance of the human’s room, then taking a deep breath, and finally walking in with as much confidence as she could muster.

Hopefully, she wasn’t afraid of the human, too.

Anne was much less scared of the Phantump she’d glimpsed than she was surprised by it.

The sight still made her jump, no doubt about that, but it didn’t leave any lingering dread behind itself. If anything, she found them and their skittishness funny in hindsight, especially with them sticking out right beneath the ceiling. The amusement didn’t last, though, not once she remembered where Phantump were supposed to come from.

Dead little baby mons.

The realization made her feel guilty for laughing, instead hoping that whoever they were, they didn’t get badly injured or anything. And that, of course, they felt just as safe here as Anne did.

Despite the gregarious Decidueye in her room.


In part because of said Decidueye in her room, even.

Anne knew little about Sprout beyond her name, but what she’d seen of her only painted her in a positive light. More smiles than the girl thought possible with a beak, frequent physical affection, much of it feeling surprisingly nice, and a constant effort to not appear intimidating. She didn’t know if the two were actually related, but if they were, it made sense where Blossom’s niceness had come from.

Hopefully, the Dartrix would visit her again soon.

*rustle, rustle*

The sound of someone stepping into the room had Anne’s happy thoughts be replaced with even happier ones. A large smile crept to her face as she waved at the Gardevoir.

“~G-good morning, Mrs. Aria!~”

“^Good morning, Anne, Sprout. How are you doing?^”

Aria’s response wasn’t as enthusiastic as Anne thought it’d be, but entirely positive all the same.

“Mighty fine, Aria dear! Anne finally got some decent sleep in, didn’t ya, Anne?”

The human nodded eagerly at the Decidueye’s question, bringing a strained smile to the Gardevoir’s face.

“^I’m very glad to hear. Still feeling awake, Sprout?^”

“Yeah, I got an hour more or so in me. Thinking of leavin’ us alone again?”

“^No, no... the opposite, if anything. I want to talk with Anne about something, and it’s... best kept private.^”

Anne blinked in surprise, entirely lost about what could the Gardevoir be referring to.

“Somethin’ private, eh? No worries. Have a good day you two~! Gonna be a long one!”

Oh, that it most certainly would be.

Aria had to put in her utmost willpower to maintain the smile after Sprout’s parting words. At last, it was just her and the innocent, powerless human she swore to protect, entirely ignorant of what would await her later today—

“~I saw a Phantump peek through the wall earlier. Do they live here?~”

The unrelated question took Aria aback, providing a very needed, if equally fleeting, distraction.

“^No, no. Her name is Sage. I ran into her and her guardian when on my patrol yesterday. I don’t know if they intend to stay here.^”

The answer was sufficient, if not particularly deep. It wasn’t the part Anne was concerned about the most, though. Aria sounded so unlike herself, her usual calm voice so clearly strained. The human had no idea what had caused it and if she even could help, but she would still try all the same.

“~Is something wrong, Mrs. Aria?~”

This time, the smile didn’t quite endure the strain the Gardevoir’s mind put it under. She was worried that the sight alone would be enough to freak Anne out with its possible implications, but thankfully, it wasn’t. Instead, the girl shuffled over to the bed’s edge before sitting down on it and... patted a spot beside herself. It was undoubtedly a sweet gesture, one that would even come in handy with what she wanted to talk about.

Assuming Anne wouldn’t want to run as far away from her as possible once she learned of her lies and the village’s cruelty.

The possibility chilled her to the core; the mental image of Anne being as afraid of her as she was on the very first day here, but for much more justified reasons, was a deeply disconcerting one. At the same time, the girl grew more worried with every passing second of tense silence, pushing her guardian to finally act.

And so, Aria sat down beside Anne, the human almost embracing her there and then. Aria wanted this; Aria didn’t deserve this. It could backfire so badly, but if it also could bring her some comfort in what was to come...

“^G-go right ahead, Anne.^”

Unsurprisingly, the reassurance only did so much to stem the quickly intensifying tension on both sides. Not unearned for either party, but entirely liable to make it all even worse than it already would be.

Aria wasn’t ready at all, but she had to tackle it there and then.

“^Anne... I have to tell you something.^”

The girl’s embrace was tight and shaky, her bony body warm to the touch. Aria saw the plain desire for her one-armed hug to be returned right in Anne’s expression, but... couldn’t bring herself to do it. Not now, not then, not with something so deeply evil still unstated.

“~Wh-wh-what is it, Mrs. Aria?~”

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.

It’s time to come clean.

Inhale, exhale. Inhale—

“^There... there will be a vote about letting you stay later today.^”

The fact took its sweet time worming its way into Anne’s mind; simple words and their consequences made it all the more difficult to process in the morning’s mental fog. Once they did, though, they brought with them a building avalanche of fear, the harrowing implications sparking a dozen more in an instant.

“~D-do you mean that if they vote a-against me, I won’t be able to stay h-here?~”

All Aria could do was confirm Anne’s suspicions with a somber nod, adding more fuel to the quickly growing fire of terror.

“~W-wait, but where—where would I even go? Would I have to go b-back to my house a-and—No no no, please don’t, please don’t make me go back, anything but that, I-I—why are they v-voting against me!?~”

Anne was hyperventilating by now; Aria left paralyzed about what to do to help without inadvertently making it any worse.

“^Some- some have objections to you staying here.^”

Anne’s burning follow-up question was clear to sense, even as her throat was struggling too much with words to vocalize it.

“^Because... you are a human.^”

Anne was panicking far too hard by that point to even speak, her entire body shaking as her mind tortured itself with the implications. Of course, nobody wanted her to stay here. She was just a monster to them, of the very species that made their life hell. Her presence here was clearly making so many uncomfortable and she’s been completely overlooking that for her own selfish sake.

Everyone here must’ve gone through so much pain because of humanity, and here she was, pushing the envelope and begging for them to protect her from her own evil species. Of course she didn’t deserve it. Why would she deserve it; why would she be any different deep down from all the trainers, all the poachers, all the breeders? She wasn’t, she so obviously wasn’t, she deserved to be thrown out.

Anne didn’t want it, but she deserved it.

Aria’s arm hovered just above the girl’s other side, afraid to lower itself lest it would make her panic even harder. All this was the Gardevoir’s fault, be it through her present words or past inaction, and she felt entirely powerless about how to stop it. Anything she did could’ve, likely would’ve, made it all even worse. Especially once Anne realized that Aria had lied to her about that very vote earlier.

It was all Aria’s fault—

Before the combined despair in the room could bring Aria to a panic attack of her own, Anne’s tight embrace snapped her right out of that perilous mental thread. The girl was clinging to her for her life, clinging to her for any and all protection she could get in this nightmarish situation, clinging to her with all the trust in the world, none of it feeling deserved by its recipient.

Deserved or not, it was there all the same, and the least Aria could do was use it for reassurance.

“^I... I don’t want to lie to you and can’t say it with certainty, but... me, Autumn, and others are doing all we can to make sure it won’t happen. I will be a part of the vote, as will Marco. We’ve been talking to others about it, asking those who would vote against to reconsider, and... I think it’s unlikely that you’ll be voted out.^”

Aria’s calculated words didn’t have all the impact the Gardevoir hoped they would have, but that didn’t mean they were pointless either. Anne was still justifiably terrified; her body still shook against the psychic’s side, but... the worst of the fear began to wane. Aria gave the girl all the time she needed to process it all, finally returning her embrace in full. The faint tingling of her psychic skin relaxing through familiarity even without a Calm Mind.

Moment by moment, the terror waned into ‘just’ fear as Anne gathered words to speak again, trying her hardest to not break down once more.

“~W-what will h-happen to me if I have t-to go? Where will I go—oh gods, what- what will happen to Ember? I-I don’t want her to suffer with me, but I don’t want to be alone either, it—it feels like I’ll die and—~”

Despite her best efforts, Anne’s voice frayed once more, turning into a drawn out whine as she pressed her crying, suffering self into Aria’s side. Her life depended on it; she would die if she ended up being kicked out. Between her father, homelessness, and just being alone, she would die, she would die, she would die...

“^I-I don’t know. I’m sorry, Anne. You don’t deserve any of this. I wish I had an answer, I wish I could say anything with certainty, but... I can’t. I already lied to you about this, and I apologize for that. I... understand if you won’t trust me again because of that, no matter what happens afterwards.^”

The Gardevoir slowly raised her embracing arm away from Anne, not wanting her to feel trapped if she tried to hide from her again. Her terror was just like when she first realized just what Aria was, that she was a feral Gardevoir and not a medic human. But now, it was made so much more powerful by the vice of it being utterly justified and caused, in part, by Aria’s own inaction.

Regardless of how pitiful Aria’s words were, they still knocked Anne’s despairing mind out of the worst of her panic. She was suffering, but so was Aria, and her words...

The girl held her guardian even tighter in response, tears streaming down her face and Aria’s side alike. The Gardevoir was too surprised to even register the sensation of the glasses digging into her skin. Slowly, she lowered her hand once more, still avoiding touching the girl, lest it’d startle her. Moment by moment, the worst of her panic subsided again as her airways prepared to mumble something out.

“~Wh-why wouldn’t I, M-Mrs. A-Aria?~”

It was entirely unlike what the Gardevoir expected to hear, doubly so with her having just explained the very reason moments earlier.

“^Because I lied to you. I told you that you’d be staying here for good, that everything would be alright, that—^”

A deep flinch went through Aria as she confronted the lie at the root of it all, the admission going so deeply against her innermost nature despite its piercing accuracy.

“^—that you were safe here. I’m sorry, Anne.^”

The untruths hurt, but so did Aria’s own pain. The latter in particular gave Anne a surge of motivation to gather her composure, to provide at least a bit of reassurance to her guardian, even if she needed it, too. Her panic gave way to sadness as her shaking waned just enough for her to speak.

“~*sniff* My-my grandma also lied to me like that. That I’d be staying with her for good, that everything would be alright, that- that I was safe now, and that I wouldn’t be hurt again. I-I get it. She just wanted me to be happy, j-just like you, and I still love her s-so much. It’s okay, I-I promise...~”

The words burst a dam deep inside Aria’s mind, her pathetic self-pity overpowered by her innermost protective impulse. Anne was psychiced onto her lap in an instant as the Gardevoir embraced her tight, as tight as her weak physical body could muster, her own bitter tears running down her cheeks.

“^I-I’m so sorry Anne. I’m sorry you had to lose that certainty, and I wish so much I could provide it like you deserve, like everyone deserves. I wish I could promise you that the vote will go well, that nothing bad will happen again, that you’re truly safe here, but—I don’t want to lie to you again...^”

The two held each other in a tight, teary mess as they fought with their own and the others’ despair, its sheer volume enough to make Aria feel weak. Despite it, though, despite her own guilt in this, despite her own weaknesses... Aria wanted to be there for Anne. To be someone she could have utter trust in, someone she could rely on to protect her, to shelter her, to—

To love her.

“~I-I don’t blame you for l-lying, Mrs. Aria. I wanna believe that everything is g-going to be alright, but... I’m so scared. I don’t want to die...~”

“^I-I know sweetie, and I wish I could say with certainty that nothing will happen to you. I’ll do absolutely everything in my power to make sure it won’t come to that, that much I can promise.^”

Words alone mattered for so very little, and Aria was well aware of that fact. Despite that, they seemed to be enough for now, enough to at least let the human shake her fear of death off in the immediate moment. Enough for her to gradually calm down, breath by breath, to focus on something else than that absolute worst-case scenario. She was still scared, so scared now that the safety was no longer the guarantee Aria had previously portrayed it was, but... she would manage.

Or at least, so she hoped.

Their mutual embrace gradually loosened up with the absolute worst of their fear being behind them, letting Aria grab her bearings and Anne distract herself with something else in the room. With how sparsely it was decorated, there wasn’t all that much to focus on instead of her ever grim fears, the girl’s attention inadvertently ending up with the bags.

Bags with Mrs. Graham’s coat and her items in it of unknown origin.

“~M-Mrs. Aria?~”

The Gardevoir’s soft, tingly hand moved from stroking the side of Anne’s head to her cheek as she tried and failed to force the weakest of smiles onto her face.

“^Yes, sweetie?^”

“~I-I forgot to ask, wh-where did these bags come from? I think that’s Mrs. Graham’s c-coat...~”

With a quick mental sweep of the nearby area to make sure there wasn’t any other non-Dark type scout in the vicinity, Aria took a deep breath. That one would be a mess to explain, but now more than ever, Anne deserved the entire truth.

“^Do you remember when we first talked, and a Luxray ran into the room?^”

“~Mhm. They were r-really scary...~”

“^Lumi’s a bit of a prick, yeah. He alerted me, because a human looking for you was making their way in our direction and we needed to stop them. That human turned out to be Olive, or I suppose, ‘Mrs. Graham’ as you know her.^”

Anne gasped in surprise at the revelation, not expecting the elderly librarian of all people to undertake such a journey.

“~W-was she alright!? She’s so old and...~”

“^Yes, she was. Leo and Luxie made sure of it. We stopped her and ended up talking with her. She talked about you, about everything that had happened to you, and how she wanted to help. Lumi and I took her up on that offer, and she brought us to your house to take the items you had left behind.^”

“~Th-that’s so kind of her...~”

“^It really is. She helped us tremendously with all the human things we didn’t understand. It was going well, but... eventually someone showed up. Your father.^”

“~W-were you all alright—~”

“^Yes we were, don’t worry, sweetie. He was an evil person and I’m so, so sorry that he had hurt you so much over the years.^”

Anne nodded her way through the reassurance, breathing deeply into Aria’s front before a detail caught her attention, one she was unsure how to interpret.


Here we go.

“^Yes, was. He attacked us, and I incapacitated him. Then, at some point later, when Olive was helping us by grabbing books for you... your house caught on fire. I don’t know how and if it had something to do with us, but... your father was still inside it when it happened. The entire building is gone now.^”

Aria remained quiet afterwards, merely waiting for Anne’s reaction. The immediate shock was obvious and expected, but the Gardevoir could only hope that it wouldn’t become a seed for even further despair—

“~That’s... g-good. E-even if I end up on the streets, it means that I won’t have to go back there.~”

The Gardevoir stared wide-eyed at Anne’s cold calculation of the situation. It was unlike the emotional girl, to an almost unsettling degree. For someone so obviously sensitive to others’ pain, to act so detached when told someone burned to death implied a lot about just how deeply evil said person was.

Anne’s mind was gripped with cold, calculating focus, but Aria couldn’t say the same after the realization hit her. She didn’t comment out loud on it, merely holding the girl that much more tenderly and applying a weak, full-body telekinetic embrace just to make her feel that much safer here. Neither of them said much for a while as the human kept processing it all, eventually returning to her previous headspace with a shudder.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t where the recollection of the excursion into the human village ended.

“^After Olive was done helping us, I... I did something I agreed on previously, when me and others were discussing what to do with Olive. They wanted me to wipe her memories of us, to maintain our secrecy. I pretended to do it, and asked her and her friends to promise us they wouldn’t tell anyone of us, or of you being under our protection.^”

As relieving as the last remark was, the topic the response had brought up immediately threw all the more fuel into the flames of Anne’s fear. She hadn’t even considered her memories might’ve been manipulated, and now that the subject had been breached, it was all she could think about. How could she even know if it had happened to her—

“^Nobody has tampered with your memories Anne, I promise.^”

The Gardevoir wanted to say more, say so much more. To reassure the girl that as long as she stood, she wouldn’t let anything like that ever come to her, that she wouldn’t ever hurt her the way Cinder had hurt Ember, but... could she even make that promise? What if it would truly come down to the worst possibility, what if the vote failed and her nightmare came true, what if she really had to violate her mind and surgically remove the only happiness the girl had known in so long just for their own selfish protection?

Aria didn’t know, and it terrified her.

“^After what had happened to Ember, I doubt anyone else would be eager—^”

The psychic’s sudden pause had startled Anne almost as much as the implication of something terrible having happened to Ember. Despite all the fear still writhing in her head, she had to know what Aria meant there, opening her mouth to speak—

Just in time for the vixen in question to shamble into the room, glistening tears flowing down her cheeks.


The Braixen dashed over to the pair before Anne could even slide off Aria’s lap, holding them both tight as soon as she could. The human wasted no time in shuffling on Aria’s lap so that her best friend could join her there and embrace her as tight as she could, which Ember immediately did. Aria kept watch of what was happening inside the fox’s mind, trying to figure out whether more horrible acts had happened overnight.

And instead, only found the betrayal of yesterday, still hurting so intensely.

In no time, the two girls were holding each other as tight as possible with the Gardevoir embracing them both, deeply wanting to protect them from any further harm. She rationally knew she was, but... would it ever be enough?

“~E-Ember, wh-what happened?~”

Aria might have already known the horrors the fox had experienced, but the human didn’t. Ember didn’t feel capable of answering either; telepathic and physical words alike failing to manifest, not with how tired and worn she was. As harrowing as it was, Anne deserved to know.

“^Would you want me to explain, Ember?^”

The fox whimpered at Aria’s soft-spoken question, the realization of having been left out in something big until now unnerving Anne further. The Gardevoir couldn’t blame her either, just hoping that her explanation would prove sufficient and not inspire further despair.

Even if she knew the latter was almost entirely wishful thinking by now.

After a few more attempts at telepathy that broke down within seconds, Ember finally gave up and leaned on Anne even harder, acknowledging Aria’s question with a single weak nod.

Here goes nothing.

“^Let me go over what happened to Ember during your absence, Anne. In short, Cinder, Ember’s adoptive mother, had erased her memories of you. It was only a couple of days ago that through Marco’s and Autumn’s intervention, did she restore them and remember you again. Yesterday evening, after you had gone to sleep, Cinder finally confessed to Ember about what she’d done.^”

As much as Anne’s focus laid with comforting her friend to the fullest extent possible, the actions described still terrified her. Aria’s description of what had almost happened to Mrs. Graham was already scary, to hear that her best friend, someone she’d spent half her life with and loved more than anyone else on the planet, just didn’t remember her was...

It was too much to imagine, breaking the last of Anne’s restraints into a full-blown weeping as she clung to Ember and Aria alike. She was so sorry for Ember; she wanted to comfort her so much, but deep down, she was terrified. Indescribably terrified of that possibility, of being made to forget her best friend, of having nobody to live for, of being left alone with no memory of this place, of Ember, maybe even of her grandma. She just wanted to live and be safe; why were people so mean, human and mon alike? She had done nothing to earn all that pain, and neither had her friend!

Aria’s arms shook as she inadvertently eavesdropped on Anne’s pain and terror, feeling more powerless than ever. Regardless of how truthful she was, regardless of how hard she’d tried to protect her and ensure that the horrors she was imagining wouldn’t come to pass... there still was a chance they would, after all. That despite all her efforts, two innocent children would still be inflicted with unspeakable pain because of others’ paranoia.

By her hand, no less.

Would she ever be able to live with herself if that came to pass? With the knowledge that she was the executioner of two lives that had already experienced so much suffering? Aria didn’t know, and the more she thought about it, the more uncertain she was about that most harrowing of outcomes.

Another nightmare, one without the blissful escape of waking up.

If that worst-case scenario would come to pass, if she refused to fight for their safety beyond the confines and rules of the council vote, if she yielded to hurt and injustice because to do otherwise would be to invite more trouble for herself,

Would she really be any better than Cinder?​

The thought snapped something deep inside Aria.

Her innermost nature, the drive to protect others, the part of herself that made her a Gardevoir, it had enough. It reached out from the root of her brain and grasped her head, subsuming all other thoughts with a grip of freezing clarity. Incomparably more effective than any Calm Mind, especially as it arrived at the obvious solution to all their terror, and held the two scared girls tighter.

“^I will not let that happen again.^”

Something she could promise, something she had to promise, something Anne and Ember alike deserved from her. A gambit that was likely to backfire in so many ways, but simultaneously her only real option.

“^When we first spoke, Anne, I promised you that this would be your home until you had somewhere to go. And I’m intending to keep that promise for both of you, no matter what the council says.^”

The sudden, unflinching conviction in the Gardevoir’s words took Anne aback, startling her out the worst of her loathing, especially with what they implied. She was used to promises that would eventually falter. They were only normal, but Aria clearly meant hers in a very deep way, her telepathy having gained an imposing, downright commanding tone. Ember was similarly surprised, the girls' focus squarely on the Gardevoir as they chewed through what Aria’s words really meant.

They wanted them to be true, but...

“~W-wouldn’t you get in trouble? I-if everyone w-wants me gone, then they won’t like you keeping me anyway...~”

“^Then they’ll have to take you over my dead body.^”

“~N-no! I-I don’t want you to get hurt l-like that. E-especially not for me, you shouldn’t, I-I’ll toughen it out, I—~”


The calm, yet imposing words stopped the human’s panicking train of thought dead in its tracks, the entirety of her attention drawn up to the Gardevoir.

“^I can do it. You were terrified of my strength when we first properly met, and what’s a better reason to use it than to protect someone?^”

“~I... I just don’t want you getting hurt because of me. I don’t want others having to h-help me again because of my fault—~”

“^But this is not your fault. You have done nothing wrong, Anne.^”


Ember’s quiet affirmation only redoubled Anne’s shaking embrace, worries continuing to bubble inside her head.

“^If the absolute worst comes to pass, if this village and its people would rather sentence you to death and Ember to further suffering, to where they’d rather set out to harm me than let you live, then I’ll know with certainty that this is no longer the village I settled in all those years ago. That it has been deeply rotten since then, that it has overgrown with the same injustice it seemed to escape from. I will be glad to leave it.^”

“~B-but what about y-your family?~”

Now that was a harder question to answer. Harder, but not impossible.

“^They will understand. We’ve all been trying to help you however we can, and none of us will sit by idly while the council tries to leave you out to die. If it takes uprooting ourselves to keep you two safe, then that’ll simply be what it takes.^”

The unflinching conviction in Aria’s words and tone didn’t leave Anne much room to argue. An ironclad shield of cold certainty, contrasting her usual warm shroud of comfort. Something the girls needed so much more in the moment, something still worrisome to consider despite that.

Both of them wanted it to be true. Both of them wanted that utter conviction that things will be alright no matter what, something that life already took from Anne once and from Ember twice; their souls hungered for it, and yet...

“~A-are you sure, M-Mrs. Aria? I-I’m just some stranger human, we haven’t even talked that much...~”

“^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 I do what I can to save you?^”

As opposed to the last time Anne heard these words, her mind didn’t reach towards judging its truthfulness. Everything she’d heard and felt from the Gardevoir made her unable to doubt the utmost certainty in her plan, scary as it was. No, instead, her worries reached inward. Was she even worthy of so many people having to do so much just to protect her miserable, unimportant self—

“^Y-you’re n-not unimportant!^”

Ember’s shaky telepathy melted through Anne’s self-doubt as the vixen held her tighter, held and wept.

“^I-I want you to be happy Anne, a-and so does Mrs. Aria! I know it’s a lot, b-but... could you do it f-for me?^”

It took Anne’s entire composure to not break down there and then again as she looked the vixen in the eye, her tearful, pleading expression hitting her even harder than the mental words. Aria wasn’t any more willing to mess with the girl’s mind now than she was in the past, but... she had an idea that could help.

The Gardevoir let go of the Braixen as she reached an arm around them both, leaving her hand facing up beside them both.

Ready to be grasped.

The intent was obvious, as was the patience in Aria’s expression. Bit by bit, she felt the icy grip from earlier wane. The certainty it brought remained, but not without warmth this time.

Anne kept struggling with her emotions, simultaneously wanting the utter safety Aria promised and finding herself unworthy of its price. She had no idea what to do, feeling paralyzed in a struggle with her own doubt and loathing.

This time, however, she wasn’t alone.

Ember’s warm paw grasping the side of her hand took Anne out of her mute conflict, glasses-clad eyes refocusing on the fox’s expression. Still tearful, still pleading, but now with a much clearer intent and a weak smile, framed by tears.

“^D-do you trust me, Anne?^”

The mental question was barely a whisper and utterly eclipsing everything in the human’s mind simultaneously. Despite how much she struggled with what she should think about herself... what she thought about Ember, and her love for her, was very clear.

“~Y-yes, I do, Ember.~”

The vixen nodded, her shaky smile growing larger. Her paw slowly dragged Anne’s hand towards Aria’s waiting hand. A part of Anne wanted to withdraw it, to reject this insanity, to accept what a part of her felt like she deserved—

But the part of her that knew what she desired held the reins for just long enough for her hand to touch the Gardevoir’s. Silken smooth, almost electric to the touch. Emanating an odd, emotional warmth. Safety. Refuge.


Feeling like it could protect her against the entire world.

“^It’s okay Anne, you’re safe. Take as much time as you need.^”

Even without the Gardevoir’s more explicit aid, Anne felt her body and mind alike gradually calm down with each passing moment. The fear, the panic, the utter despair of her life being on the line, all of those faded away, bit by bit. She didn’t have to fear, she didn’t have to panic, her life wasn’t on the line.

She felt safe again.

By then, Aria had returned to normal, holding both girls’ hands as she chewed through just what she’d promised. The more she thought, the more she worried that the pressure of it all would make her buckle, that she’d shatter under the possibility of it all... the more confident she felt. She searched her mind far and wide for any doubt, for any hesitancy, for any selfish desires that would overpower her wish for Anne’s safety should the worst come to pass, and found none.

Doubly so with how unrealistic that absolute worst-case scenario was.

She’d known the rest of the council for years, and none of them felt like the sort that would put their own life at risk and fight her just for needless bloodshed. Granted, if this entire mess had shown anything, it was that many of said group were willing to dispose of any morals in dealing with humans, but… she still hoped that seeing the living person they would sentence as opposed to an abstract human out there at the clinic would sway them.

Her conviction made sure she wouldn’t have to rely on hope, but having some of it on hand wouldn’t hurt, either.

“^How are you feeling, Anne?^”

The weary girl perked up at Aria’s voice returning to normal, the answer as simple as it was truthful.

“~I’m... I-I think I’m okay. I... th-thank you, Aria.~”

“^You’re very welcome sweetie.^”

Aria’s steadily growing smile was soon matched by a weaker, but just as genuine one on Anne’s face. Even despite all the reassurance and promise, though, the Gardevoir seemed it fit to put the whole situation in its proper context again.

“^And, again, all what I’ve described is the very worst-case scenario. One that I’m rather sure won’t come to pass.^”

The two girls nodded in unison at the affirmation, the calmness letting them absorb that reassurance much more effectively.

“~Wh-when will that vote happen?~”

“^In the evening, after sundown. I... forgot to mention something important about it earlier, I apologize.^”


Anne blinked as she leaned closer on the Gardevoir, more curious than worried.

“^One elder requested that you be present for it. You’d be with me the entire time. I don’t know why she asked for you to be there, and I don’t like it either. Don’t feel forced to agree, I can figure something out if you’d rather—^”

“~I-I can go.~”

There was a bit of uncertainty in Anne’s voice, one she was trying her hardest to fight through. Yes, she was uncertain; yes, she didn’t like it; yes, she’d rather not, but—

She would be there with Aria.

And nothing bad would happen with Aria watching over her.

The Gardevoir only barely held her tears in at sensing that thought, deeply hoping it would be earned this time.

“^Thank you, Anne. No matter what she’s planning, I imagine that your presence there will help in other ways. One would hope it’ll be harder for them to vote for someone’s exile if they have to see that someone.^”

“~Y-yeah, heh...~”

Anne’s chuckle cemented her truly feeling better in Aria’s mind, letting her close her eyes and take a few deep breaths; finish processing through all that just happened—

Only for the girl to let go of her hand and hug her as tight as she could once more, Ember following in tow. This time, with no more fear, no more doubt, only gratitude, confidence, and...


“~Thank you for wanting to protect me, Aria.~”

“^Thank you for giving me another chance, Anne.^”

Aria joined in on the group embrace, gently stroking both girls’ backs as the trio gathered their bearings.

Despite everything, despite all the pain, despite all the fear, for once even Aria could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Should the worst come to pass, being forced to leave their village wouldn’t be a happy outcome, but would be incomparably better than having to be the enforcer of its cruelty. Plenty terrifying in its own way, but...

They would all figure it out, no matter what.

Aria was sure of it.

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 22: Solace New


the gay agenda

Chapter 22: Solace

Autumn had no idea how her daughter-in-law was managing while having to carry so much weight on her shoulders.

The Indeedee sighed under her breath, pondering in silence with only her shawl and a freshly grabbed breakfast to accompany her. Yesterday was intense despite her not having anywhere near as much of a role in all this as Aria, intense enough to lead her to take today off from her usual duties. The little ones would get taught in time; one session of practicing Protects under her watch wouldn’t doom anyone.



The muffled, distant sound jolted Autumn upright, briefly snapping her out of her previous thoughts. She could’ve sworn she heard a familiar grunt accompanying it shortly afterwards, worrying her a fair bit. If nothing else, it was a good idea to check up on just what had happened there before resuming her original plan.

Now, where was she at?

One day without her watch wouldn’t doom the village’s little ones, but the same couldn’t really be said for Anne, especially if Aria really came clean with all her white lies. None of which Autumn could blame her for, none of which she hoped Anne would blame her for in the long run either, but still damaging once they were forcibly revealed.

Or even before then, if what Garret had described of the Gardevoir's sudden awakening and the following discussion was any indication.

No matter how Anne would react to Aria's honesty, she would need someone there with her afterwards more than ever, and Autumn was more than willing to provide all the comfort needed.

And then some.

Ember’s whereabouts were much more of an enigma. By the time the elderly psychic woke up, the lil’ fox was gone despite spending most of the preceding night huddling tight next to her. Hardly easy to sleep beside such an intense, emotional warmth, but Autumn made it work, mostly by tossing the entirety of her usual array of blankets into the far corner.

The Indeedee just hoped the Braixen had run over to Anne once she woke up. Their bond, the little of it Autumn got to sense for herself directly, felt as unbreakable as between herself and Garret. Of course they would be each other’s greatest comfort. It was by far the most logical place for the fox to have ended up at.

But at the same time, with what had happened with Cinder still fresh in her memory... the entire topic sent shivers down her body.

Shivers that she then used to shake the whole unpleasant strand of thought well off. Her fretting like this wouldn’t do anyone any good; if Ember really was already with Anne at the clinic, then she’d be seeing both of them in not too long, anyway. There, a much better subject to focus on instead.

Autumn knew it wouldn’t be easy to find something to relax or at least distract Anne from the upcoming vote with all the stress and fears likely to be going through her body, but there were still options. She could tell stories, be it with young Garret or even from her own childhood; she could curiously ask about the parts of the human world that were unlikely to tie into the girl’s traumatic past; she could just provide a ton of physical comfort. Anything to ease this terrible load—the kind that nobody ever ought to have to struggle with.

And especially not a child.

The Indeedee was in equal parts split between wanting and very much not wanting to run into either of the three elders on her way to the clinic. Calling them out on what they were doing was earned and justified, and she doubted she would’ve been able to stop herself from giving Ana and especially Celia a piece of her mind if they crossed paths, but it sure wouldn’t help with the upcoming vote.

This wasn’t like them, this shouldn’t have been like them. They both used to be so caring of those who couldn’t care for themselves back when Orion was still around, and now...

The bitter realization stung even more than Autumn thought it would, forcing her to stop in her tracks and wrap herself tighter. So much has changed since that shocking news broke out of nowhere, and Autumn wished she could say it was mostly for the better.


No matter what, this was where they were at now. Regardless of how much the people she used to look up to had changed, for bad or worse, her and her family’s goal remained the same. They could do it, Autumn was sure of it.

Just as she was sure she could piece together what had happened on the scene she’d just walked into.

Mikiri’s latest attempt at replicating the human two-wheel laid in front of the wall of Holly’s kitchen, its front wheel somewhere between heavily bent and outright split in half. The ‘T’-shaped part above it also appeared damaged, but Autumn didn’t know the original device well enough to diagnose what exactly had happened to it.

There was an odd-looking, black smudge on the wall, at around the wheel’s height. Above it, a rather sizable crack spanning several bricks.

And in front of it, Ori was busy wrapping a second bandage around Mikiri’s forehead, on top of the now blood soaked first one.

“I don’t get this weird contraption! I tweaked the pedals, moved the handle within reach, reinforced all the parts I could weld more metal onto and it worked for a while!”

“What about braking?”

“Yeah, that’s the thing, Ori! I’ve been fumbling with every part of this thing and there’s just nothing that helps you stop!”

The Mawile expressed her annoyance at the inanimate object with spirited gestures, while her co-tinkerer made sure she wouldn’t bleed out in the middle of a rant. A slightly closer look let Autumn spot a pair of long wooden blocks attached to the parts where human feet would’ve presumably rested at, as well as what largely appeared as random clumps of metal welded onto the frame at what looked like random.

And right as she took one more step, she finally spotted someone else beside the Steel-type duo.

“Whiiiich is why I asked Ori to fetch ya, Geiger. Thanks for swinging along!”

“Howdy, Mikiri, this uh... doesn’t look pretty.”

“I grabbed bandages first.”

“Dunno why, I was fine. Anywho anywho Geiger—do you have any idea how this dumb thing comes to a stop? You used to hang around a lotta humans, right?”

The elderly Electivire stroked his cheek as both he and the Magnemite attached to his arm inspected what could be very generously described as a heavily modified bike. His memories were hardly the most helpful on the spot.

“Yes, I have, and I’ve seen a few of these in my time. Never at the moment to see how they came to a stop, though. Or I suppose even if I had, I must’ve forgotten about it since. Out of everyone working at the facility, only a few guys used these bikes, most stuck to cars—”

“What’s a car?” - The completely unfamiliar term made Mikiri perk up again. Her maw parted slightly in excitement at there being more human-made locomotion machines out there, and the Scizor beside her groaned at some of his freshly applied bandage slipping off the Mawile’s head because of her sudden movements.

“Oh, that’s its own kind of contraption! The size of a small hut, moves around on four or more wheels, all metal and with room inside for at least five humans or so. Though I’ve seen many be even larger than that.”

As if a switch had flicked, Mikiri’s new tinkering wish was changed in an instant from ‘another undamaged two-wheel that she could actually take apart bit by bit’ to ‘the mysterious unidentified “car”’.

“Are they just out there? How many of these ‘cars’ are around? How do they move? Do you also pedal them like these two-wheels or is it the same glowy stuff you’ve described in the past—”



“Focus please, I ought to be going soon.”

“Oh right right, that ‘scouting’ thing you also do sometimes.”

The Scizor rolled his eyes at that framing, lifting his pincers up to bury his face into them at the thought of all the mess that today would entail. Instead, though, he found his arm being yanked off to the side, sticking over to the magnet with a grating ‘clunk’, much to Geiger’s immediate laughter.

“Seems you’ve made a friend, eh, Ori?”

Geiger’s words made the Mawile finally look up from the freshly created mess and structural damage of her own creation, and up at the expert she’d called over shortly prior. Mikiri wasn’t ever the best at remembering specific details about people, but she could’ve sworn that the Electivire didn’t use to have someone else with him there. Which meant...

...that they had to come from somewhere.

“Geiger! Where’s the magnet from?”

Mikiri’s chipper question caught the Electric-type’s attention right as he was finishing prying Ori and the lil’ magnet apart the hard way, leaving Ori reeling backwards once his accidental bond finally came undone.

“This lil’ fella? Nobody’s all too sure, but we think it was likely that nearby human pit of a town—”

Thankfully for said little one’s sanity, Geiger immediately realized just why was the Fairy-type asking that question, shutting her off before she could start badgering them with questions.

“—but they’re too young to talk, anyway. I doubt they’ve seen much of anything that could’ve been of interest to you.”

The Mawile went from opening her mouth to speak to folding her arms with a grumpy expression in a split second, left grumbling to herself afterwards. With no further leads, there really wasn’t much she could do but to drag this pile of junk back to her burrow, fix whatever she could, and keep drilling holes in the recent human’s two-wheel with her intense staring, hoping to crack its mysteries.

Or... there was another thing she could do.

The realization brought a crooked smile to Geiger’s face as the impromptu gathering prepared to all start leaving, his remark catching the entirety of attention of both Steel-types.

“Well, this one doesn’t know, but Anne likely has an idea about how you’re supposed to stop these things.”

Even from her distant vantage point, Autumn felt the resulting shift of emotion extremely clearly. Disappointment turned into excitement, and annoyed relief became a veritable wallop of uncomfortable stress, both at right around the same instant.

“Good call. Ya think I could go and get that dealt with right away? Heard about her being awake now or something, after all.”

“I’d advise against that with the human’s uncertain state.”

“Whaddya mean by ‘uncertain’? Gah fine, whatever, just let me know when she’s done finally being settled so I can go and pick her brain all about this and everything else—do you have any idea how much junk I’ve got piling around that I just have no idea what it does and have passed using it for some good scrap because of it!?”


The two Steel-types stared at each other in total disconnect, their shared confusion intense enough for neither to notice a small drop of rusty blood that snuck out from underneath her bandages and flowed down her nose.

“Yea, settled. Y’know, didn’t Aria say she was gonna be keeping her or something in that burrow of theirs? Figured they’re all busy doing that right now. Maybe I could go and knock on their door to bother them about it. Can’t be hoarding all that secret human knowledge to themselves, ha!”

“...yer bleeding, Mikiri.”

“Still!? Oh gimme that!”

Without waiting for Ori’s response, the Mawile hopped in place just barely high enough to grab the rest of the bandages in his grasp. Her technique wasn’t any more skilled or effective than the Scizor’s patented ‘looks fine enough’ style, but at least it was faster.

“Ya tongue rusted, Ori?”

“The human isn’t in the process of being settled.”

“Why not? Don’t tell me they’re keeping her in that stuffy clinic room forever. Having to spend one night there was already much too long.”

“That hasn’t been decided yet. Today’s scout council meeting will seek to decide on the human’s fate.”

“Oh, fuckin’ come on.”

The mild profanity was accompanied with a couple more grunts and the most undignified bandage bow to have ever existed, tied awkwardly on top of the Mawile’s front head.

“Whatdya mean, ‘not decided’!? Imagine how helpful with all the human tech she could be! We’ve both heard all the rumors about the things their contraptions can do—Geiger there was that thing with having fresh water and electricity everywhere?”

“In almost every single one of their buildings, correct.”

“And all the control over electricity they have, and how they make light from it and use it in their devices! OH and that way to weld metal without Fire Fanging! C’mon, I know you’d LOVE that Oriiii!”

The Scizor was now firmly in the territory of ‘very uncomfortable’, anxiously looking all over the scene except at the very fairy presently grilling him. Some of these would indeed be very helpful, especially the more precise tools they’ve heard rumors about humanity having access to.

However, it’s not like there weren’t any concerns and counterarguments to be raised.

“I find it difficult to imagine a simple child knowing much about most of these.”

“Even just a little guidance helps! Just somewhere to point us to and get us started, and let us figure stuff out afterwards! C’mon, you’d love it!”

“Mikiri has a point, Ori~.”

The Electivire didn’t need to say much to have the discussion work out heavily in his favor all the same, merely teasing the Scizor more as needed. The Mawile knew the metal bug better than anyone else, and the Electric-type thanked whoever was watching for the oftentimes chaotic tinkerer bringing help towards Anne’s cause.

“That is a very nearsighted way of thinking, Mikiri. The security risks because of the human’s presence here cannot be ignored.”

“Oh, give me a break—if it was really this bad they all would’ve already tossed her over to other humans to deal with and all of y’all would be patrolling our perimeter every single walking minute. And you sure as hell wouldn’t be able to just stand there being a wet rag.”

“I-I told you I should be going.”

“If it was that serious you’d be running already and not waiting for this conversation to die down first either~.”

Ori’s drawn-out, metallic sigh was his only answer, the Scizor unable to come up with any convincing response to his co-tinkerer’s words.

“Get real, Ori. You want more help with figuring out all the human tech, don’t you?”


Now we’re talkin’.”

“Make sure your actions later today reflect that, Ori.”

Despite some points of the discussion slipping into one ear and out the other, Autumn found it remarkably uplifting, overall. Especially when considering Aria’s previous tension about the Steel-type scout. If Mikiri and Geiger really just managed to get Ori on board, that meant they had the seven votes needed to ensure Anne’s safety.

Of course, the Indeedee knew all too well that this was only the absolute minimum of reassurance.

That they ought to and would keep on pushing harder, trying to sway people’s opinion, anything to make her safety not just likely, but certain. Still, even this little helped so much, so much less painful pressure in her shoulders making Autumn immediately feel several years younger.

Geiger wasn’t done talking yet, however.

“Now that we’re done with that... I actually had a question for you two.”

The uncertain words had Autumn stop mid step, curious enough to hear him out before continuing her march.

“Do... either of you have any thoughts about romantic relations?”

The Indeedee went from interested to momentarily stunned, listening in as closely as she could with her psychics and ears alike.

“By which I mean, any ideas about how to discern genuine interest from simple infatuation? I used to think none of this sort of stuff was for me, nowhere near, and now I’m... you could say I’m reconsidering. Just wanting a second opinion on a subject I’m unfamiliar with, is all.”

Despite threatening to catch on fire from all the blush on her cheeks, Autumn kept listening on all her senses. The initial response, to the best of her ability to tell, was... a profoundly confused silence, from both Steel-types. Not the sort of confusion that came from not understanding the words being spoken, but a much deeper, more thorough kind.


The words made sense, but didn’t translate into anything either of the two were even remotely familiar with.

“Uh, nevermind. Hope your duties go well today.”

Geiger’s departure made the Indeedee leave for real, fluster mixing with barely held in giggling at the tinkerers’ reaction. Hardly the best crowd to be asking for romantic advice, and she knew the Electivire knew that too, but she sure didn’t expect them to just be completely unable to respond. Could be they’ve never loved anyone romantically; could be they never would. Nothing wrong with that, but it still amused her greatly.

She really needed a chuckle like that.

The elderly psychic finished cooling off after all that just in time for her to run into some more close faces, each bringing a smile to her face. Sure, Marco was too busy in his chatting to respond with anything beyond a simple wave, but it only made sense considering who he was talking to. He’d mentioned last night that he’d be trying to talk to Lumi the next day, and based on Aria’s experiences, Autumn couldn’t imagine that being a pleasant ordeal in the slightest.

Or that it’d leave both of them as nervous as they were.

However much concern that sight might’ve inspired in her, it was swiftly washed off in just a moment after she turned another corner.

“Good morning, Garret!”

She neither had to ask, nor was she opposed in the slightest to her son lifting her up and sitting her on his shoulder for a while as they chatted, the silly antics always making them both laugh.

“Hi mom! The kids were still waking up the last I saw them, and figured that I could leave them safely after blowing the fire out.”

“Mhm~! Did you wait until the stew was done boiling?”

“Yes, yes I did, mom...”

The exasperation had the Indeedee giggle as she leaned over closer to her son, around his pointy ear.

“Good! Any plans for today?”

“I brought up trying to talk to Max yesterday, and I’m still planning to go through with that.”

Undoubtedly a good idea, and Autumn was sure of that. But... a part of her doubted how much good could actually come from doing that. She couldn’t recall seeing the Meowstic around ever since the news of Anne being in their village spread out on a second thought, the realization chilling her deeply. Of course she couldn’t; why would he do that considering his history with humanity?

That still didn’t make throwing Anne away just to keep one person comfortable an ethical idea, of course.

Talking to someone likely the most traumatized by all this would need to happen, eventually. However, the Indeedee doubted whether Garret was the best candidate for that. He was gregarious and friendly, sure, but she worried that any such attempt to chat would only come off as trying to pressure him to support the human whose arrival sparked all this.

Which... yeah, it kinda was.


The things they all had to do to ensure her safety.

“I hope it goes well, Garret, though I am a bit... worried.”

“I get it, mom, but I think I know how to approach it all!”

Just had to trust her son, and that much she could do.

“I hope so, sweetie.”

With one last embrace, followed by being lowered back onto the ground, Autumn was on her way once more. The clinic was just right ahead, forcing the Indeedee to pause and properly clear her head before proceeding further. Worries or not, Anne needed comfort most of all, and not someone who was as concerned as she herself likely was—


Lavender’s old, creaky voice signaled a perfect opportunity to cleanse her mind just like that. She knew much better than to wait for the Grass-type to slowly amble her way over, scooting up to her instead and speaking up right away.

“Good morning, Lavender! Got some good news?”

“Pleeeenty. The huuuuman’s shawl is gooooing well! Ready eeeeeven tomorrow!”

As incredibly fast as that was in a vacuum, a bit of Autumn’s heart stung at the realization that even that pace could end up being too slow in the end.

“That’s wonderful, thank you so much.”

“Aaaaanytime! Soool finally sloooowed down and left some fluff! Once I’m done with the huuuman’s, then I’ll fix Embeeeeer’s! I remember it being wooorn out in places, and I want to chaaaange it to match with huuuuman’s better!”

Autumn only listened to the news with one ear, the rest of her constantly trying to calm herself down ahead of seeing Anne again.

“Sounds like you got a good plan, then.”

“I’ve beeeeen wondering wheeere she is. I knooooocked on her den today, and sheeeee wasn’t home!”

The remark brought another unnerving thought to Autumn’s mind, one arguably much more likely than her earlier fretting.

“D-did anyone answer?”

“Yeeeees! Ciiiinder looked awful and diiiidn’t tell me much, but sheeeee answered! Since when do Fiiiiire-types cryyyy?”

The Indeedee sighed in relief at the confirmation of the fox having not run away again, though what followed left a foul taste in her mouth. As much as the elderly Lilligant slowly chuckled to herself at her own joke, Autumn didn’t really like it, especially at what she saw of Ember the day she and Anne reunited.

“I think they always could cry, really. I have to be going now, unfortunately.”

“Nooooo worries! Soon both girls will be all nicely warm and swaddled, I tell yaaaa!”

With the attempted distraction tactic proving unsuccessful, it forced Autumn to go about it the most manual, hard way as she stepped into the clinic’s main chamber. One deep breath, another, then a third still. Things would be alright eventually, and the most she could do for Anne right now was to be a source of comfort for her after all that she’s been through.

They’d figure out everything else in time, she was sure of it—


The elated squeak coming from her right barely caught Autumn’s attention at first, though that changed the instant she realized it was aimed very specifically at her. Its source was obvious, hovering above the bed next to the far wall, their eyes gleaming with excitement at seeing her poor ol’ self. She knew very little about Phantump in general, and that went triple for this little one in particular.

It was their first time running into each other; she didn’t even know their name, and yet... her presence made them oddly happy. They must’ve just liked Indeedee, she supposed? Weird, but preferences like these were hardly unusual in the grand scheme of things.

For better or worse.

Odd as it was, she waved back, especially since they were clearly a child. Even more excited glee wasn’t what she expected to see or feel in response, but hardly surprising considering their sheer adoration for her. Their waving was... clumsy; arms flailed as if unused to being this small. The Banette sharing a hospital bed with them was just as surprised at all this as Autumn. Their eventual grumble finally made the Phantump float down beside them and ease out into giddy squirming instead.

She sure didn’t expect to see any of this, but couldn’t deny that it made her feel much better.

Just what she needed right now.

With one last breath, Autumn stepped into Anne’s room, the sight considerably better than what she feared. Aria sat on the bed’s edge, with both Anne and Ember on her lap in a warm, tight hug. The Indeedee didn’t want to interrupt the moment by speaking, but her arrival alone was enough to make the cuddly bundle separate after several minutes of silence.

“^Good morning, mom.^”

“^Hello there sweeties. Are you all alright?^”

‘Alright’ was a very tricky term, especially with all three having clearly cried just recently and Anne in particular looking like she was still on the edge of tearing up again.

“~H-hello Mrs. Autumn. I think I’m okay.~” - Anne’s voice was quiet and tired, immediately prompting another embrace from the fox sitting beside her once Aria had finished moving them both off her lap. The warm hug, and the resulting chuckles, did wonders for everyone present, especially as the girl tried her hardest to return the affection afterwards.

And in the meantime... the Gardevoir had a confession to make, in private.

“^Mom, I... I promised her she’d be safe with us, no matter what the vote decides.^”

“^Yeah, of course.^”

Autumn’s nonchalant response had Aria raise her eyebrow way high. Her mother-in-law clearly wasn’t getting the full implications of such a promise.

“^Even if it requires us to uproot ourselves and leave this village to keep her safe.^”

“^Well... I doubt it’ll come to that even in the worst case, but if that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes.^”

Aria didn’t respond for a few moments, busy sorting through thoughts in her mind and trying not to laugh out loud at such a ridiculous, and yet entirely correct, answer.

“^I didn’t expect you to take it so lightly, mom.^”

“^Why wouldn’t I? If that’s the only way to ensure her safety, then that’s that.^”

“^What about Cadence and Bell? What about Marco?^”

“^Me and Garret survived on our own long before this village’s existence. We’ll sure as hell make it in an entire group like that.^”

“^I-I meant—wouldn’t that be cruel to them?^”

“^Sure, but it’s not us inflicting that cruelty on them. If your dumb council’s vote forces us to decide between Anne’s safety and your kids’ friends and stability, then that’s their fault. Besides, I sure doubt that Cadence in particular would take well the realization of her comfort having been prioritized above Anne’s entire life...^”

That last idea sent a freezing chill through Aria’s horns, as well as really making her want to hold her biological daughter close. Alas, no time for that until way later in the day, if not until after all the nightmare had been decided. Nothing the Gardevoir couldn’t deal with, of course, but... goodness could she use some of that right now.

Would help with her arms shaking as much as they already did.

“^I really hope that after all this is over you’ll take some time off for yourself, sweetie.^”

“^If I get a chance—^”

“^Nah, just do it. Your scout bunch can manage on their own without your presence there, I’m sure of it. If all this works out, if Anne ends up safe, promise me you’ll give yourself the time you need to recover, Aria. Both for her, and much more importantly, for yourself. You can’t keep going with so much stress in you forever, sweetie.^”

Aria wasn’t exactly confident about agreeing, but went ahead and limply nodded her head, anyway.

“^I’ll try.^”

“^Good, good. Now, have a good day Aria, and please keep yourself grounded until the vote, alright?^”

“^I-I’ll try mom, promise.^”

“^Love ya, Aria.^”

“^Love you too, mom.^”

With one last telepathic hug, the Gardevoir was finally on her way, leaving Autumn alone in the room with the pair of weary, tired girls. One of which had already lost her fight against her exhaustion, resting on her friend in a gentle, one-armed embrace.

“^Holding up well, Anne?^”

The upbeat question was delivered right as the Indeedee was lifting herself onto the bed with her green psychics, catching Anne’s attention until the chubby psychic was already sitting beside her.

“~I think so, M- Autumn.~”

“^Heheh, if you’d really prefer using ‘Mrs.’ every time, then sure, go ahead. I just told you that you didn’t have to.^”

“~I-I know, it’s just... h-how I’m used to when talking to adults. I’ve always had to use either ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ with everyone, and it just... comes naturally to me.~”

“^Nobody else you could talk with in a more natural way?^”

“~Not since my grandma, n-no...~”

All the Indeedee could offer was comfort, and that’s what she did shortly after. Her shorter stature made it hard to hold too much of the girl’s body, especially with her holding from her left side, but nothing a bit of telekinesis couldn’t help with.

“^I’m so sorry to hear. Well, whether it’s ‘Mrs. Autumn’ or just ‘Autumn’, I’m here for you both, and will be watching over you today.^”

Anne took the news with a soft smile, leaning in closer.

“~Thank you, Mrs. Autumn. I... don’t really know what to do now. I doubt I’m in the right mood for drawing after what we talked about with Aria, and I don’t want to bore you by taking a nap—~”

“^Don’t you worry about me, sweetie~. If you’re tired, then feel free to snooze, you’ve got a lot on your plate tonight.^”

“~I d-don’t think I am, that’s the—~”

*rustle, rustle, rustle*

Both the psychic and the human looked up at the entrance to their room, expecting to see either a medic wanting to check up on Anne, or Cadence & co. to keep her company.

They turned out to be neither.

So was the second person who ran in, then the third, and the fourth; Anne left reeling back in an equal mix of surprise and uncertainty. All the while, Autumn’s expression grew ever flatter with each of the unexpected guests.

And then, they all finally noticed her.

“M-Mrs. Autumn!?”

Zephyr was the first one to speak up, breaking out of the group’s stupor at running away from class to see the oh-so-mysterious human, only to run into their teacher sitting there with them. Lacking any words, the Stunky turned to the rest of the group, who didn’t fare much better.

Blossom wasn’t as shocked as the others, but still doubted all this would reflect well on her in the slightest. The Dartrix shook in worry as she looked anywhere but at her teacher.

Mint’s startle was palpable to the senses in more than one way, prompting Autumn to quickly put up a Safeguard bubble around the Gloom, doing her best to make it let sound through without doing the same with scent.

“What are you doing here, Mrs. Autumn?”

Grace was the only one to lack the clear worry that filled the rest of the group, replaced almost entirely with modest confusion. Whether it was caused by the Zangoose being blissfully unaware of the mistake they had made, or just not caring about it, Autumn wasn’t sure.

Still, it was a fair question, and deserved a fair answer.

“^I’m looking after Anne here for today. Guessing you all finally got curious enough to want to visit her in person?^”

As sudden as the kiddo’s entrance was, ultimately it was both harmless, and potentially even helpful for acclimatizing the village to the human’s presence further. Of course, that depended on what said human had to say about it, still processing the group’s appearance one member at a time. Blossom was a familiar and very welcomed sight, of course, but the rest... well... they probably would be all nice too, when it came down to it.

Without a clear idea of what to do now, Anne simply greeted them all with as confident of a wave as she could force out of herself. Which meant ‘barely at all’, but it still beat doing nothing, especially when combined with equally shaky words.


“Hi, Anne!”

Blossom’s reaction was immediate, the owlet wasting no time before flying right up and onto the nearest surface that she could stand on.

Namely, Anne’s knee.

Despite all the scary, sharp looking talons, it proved to not be painful at all, leaving Anne’s reactions at just a startle, which then thawed into an amused giggle moments later. With Ember still firmly asleep, Anne slid her arm from around the foxie and reached it out beside the Dartrix.

Said owl interpreting the gesture as an excuse to nestle into her front, wasn’t expected, but it sure wasn’t unwelcome.

“~Hey, B-Blossom!~”

The rest of the newcomer group wasn’t certain how to react to such a sudden display of affection. Most of them just took the sights in for now, everything about how one of the scary and strange humans looked like. Autumn’s lesson proved accurate in the end—sheer height aside, Anne really didn’t look even slightly threatening, sure not with how lanky her build was.

Mrs. Aria at least had an excuse of being a powerful psychic to make up for that.

Some needed more time to really notice Anne’s full appearance than others, though.

“...how are you so tall?”

The Gloom’s slow yet surprised question left others uncertain about how to respond, since... yeah, Anne was tall. Really tall if her telepathically translated voice, sounding just as young as the group that had just visited her, was anything to go by. However, this wasn’t the sort of question there really existed an answer to, forcing Anne to come up with an equally silly response.

“~...how are you so short?~”

At least the other kids found it funny, if their held-in chuckles were any sign.

“^Now now, let’s not ask these kinds of questions to each other. Humans just are rather tall, and Gloom just are rather short, it’s as simple as that.^”

Both Anne and Mint mumbled out something that vaguely translated to ‘sorry’ as they looked away from each other, forcing someone else to pick up the topic—and someone else did.

“Oh oh, Anne, can I show them that nice drawing you made of me?”

Blossom’s question took the human out of any funk she might’ve started falling into before it could get too bad. An affirmative answer made the Dartrix fly over to the clearly human bag with glee in her voice as she tried spotting where Anne had left it. Even despite her eyesight being magnitudes better than everyone else’s in the room combined, the ‘notebook’ was nowhere to be seen, leaving Anne to speak up eventually—

“~Oh, it’s not in the bags, it’s...~”

The human opted to show rather than try to describe. After carefully laying down Ember on her back, Anne scooted over to the other side of the bed and started digging underneath the fluffy, mattress-like bedding, reaching her hand all the way to her elbow before finally finding what she was looking for and pulling it out.

For once, not even Autumn had any idea about why Anne had done that. Most gathered didn’t dwell on that confusing display for too long, especially not the owl most giddy to show off Anne’s artistry to others, but... most didn’t mean ‘all’.

“Why did you keep it buried like that?”

The Stunky’s voice was boyish, slightly younger than herself, and had a perplexing mix of confident delivery and a slight wobble to their voice all the same. That wasn’t even what Anne really focused on, though, only now realizing how unusual what she’d just shown was and putting her in a somewhat awkward situation. Not even something she did consciously, but... oh well.

“~I, uh, f-force of habit.~”

“But why?” - Zephyr replied right back, realizing immediately how little this response really explained.


“^Zephyr, it’s not nice to be digging into people’s behavior like that.^” - Autumn’s light chiding helped, but Anne wasn’t satisfied with that diversion. The question was valid, even if the answer to it wasn’t... pretty.

“~N-no, it’s fine, I’m... I’m used to my pa—people breaking or taking my stuff if I leave it in the open like this...~”

This answer too clarified little, but its implications were at least much clearer to sense this time. As were the obvious follow-up questions of ‘who’ and ‘why’. For all his prior brashness, Zephyr seemed to know better than to keep prying. Instead, he got up from his precious spot and... laid down beside Anne’s legs once she’d returned to her previous position, as if to look after her.


Blossom wasn’t far behind, either. Even before she was done flipping the pages over to the one with her likeness, she hopped over and roosted beside the weary human. Her nuzzled affection wasn’t as soft or as warm as Ember’s, but it was appreciated all the same.

“~I’ll be alright, d-don’t worry...~”

“I’m sorry others messed with your things, Anne.”

The Dartrix’s concern was well-intended, but somewhat misplaced. Oh, if only it had been as quaint as ‘others’ messing up with just her ‘things’.

If only.

“It won’t happen again under my watch!”

Zephyr’s words took Anne much more aback in comparison, leaving her unsure how to respond. As nice as it felt knowing that someone here downright wanted to look after her like that, it really wasn’t her immediate concern.

And that’s beside the point that a skilled psychic was much better suited for that task than a Stunky whose perspective was around one foot off the ground.

Still, the gesture was appreciated all the same, making Anne hold the owlet closer and smile down at the lil’ Dark-type in absence of any way of returning his concern beyond... petting him with her foot. She had no idea how well that’d be received here, but preferred not to risk it all the same.

“~Thanks, heh.~”


Silly as it might’ve been, Zephyr’s conviction still made Anne feel quite nice.

“D-do you still want me to show off your drawings?”

Anne answered with a light chuckle, a slightly tighter hug, and a firm nod of her glasses-clad face. Blossom wasted no time scrambling herself out of the affection and showing off the nicest depiction of herself anyone had ever made once she found the right page. She flew around the room, trying to hover in front of all her friends with the notebook in her talons, letting them all get a good look.

The reactions ranged from being solidly impressed, to being uncertain of how much they should be impressed, to a lack of any response whatsoever because of their attention having been captured by something else.

“What’s that on your face?”

The Zangoose’s question, delivered in a flat, creaky, yet feminine voice, took both Anne and Blossom out of left field somewhat. Guess some would find glasses to be much more interesting than some mediocre sketches made by a wannabe ‘artist’ with no actual knowledge or practice...

Trying to shake back that source of self-loathing before it could germinate further, Anne slid her glasses off and showed them off.

“~Th-these are my glasses. They help me see, and I’m almost blind without them.~”

Anne looked around the room to emphasize her explanation. An all-consuming blob of various shades of brown, and several vaguely defined colorful smudges strewn across it. Just enough to see where everyone was, but if not for Anne already knowing their species, she would have little idea what she was looking at. The lack of focus soon made her eyes tear up and forced her to put her glasses back on.

“How bad is your sight?”

Grace’s question was blunt, sure, but that didn’t bother Anne as much as her being unsure how to answer it. ‘-7.5 diopters’ was as helpful of an answer in an optometrist’s office, as it was utterly useless here.

And that was assuming it was still accurate. It’s been a couple years since she'd gone to get her prescription with her grandma, who knew if her eyes hadn’t gotten any worse since then. Even the very glasses she wore were long past their prime, and she had to occasionally ‘tweak’ them with pliers to keep them fitting on her head as she grew.

Thankfully, neither the Zangoose nor anyone else here really cared about any precise measurement, letting Anne answer appropriately vaguely once she’d realized that.

“~Really, really bad. Bad enough t-to make you look like a white and reddish blob without them on.~”

“Do all humans see this badly?”

“It would be much easier to keep ourselves h-hidden if they did!”

Zephyr’s response helped Anne avoid responding to such a silly question herself, the resulting amusement releasing a fair bit of tension around the room. Guess as opposed as she was to it previously, she still could give petting him with a foot a shot...

Trying to keep her movements as coordinated as possible, Anne gave it a shot, starting just behind his ears and moving across his entire back. Well-worn socks didn’t make for the nicest material to be delivering affection through, but—much to her relief—the Stunky really didn’t seem to care about such trivialities.

What mattered is that it felt really nice.

“How do these help you see?”

Blossom’s question was nowhere near as rude as Grace’s, but it wasn’t any easier to answer, unfortunately. Anne thought through how she’d even explain her specs’ functionality to the assorted kids, especially with her previous attempt at doing so ending up accomplishing nothing more than bringing further confusion to Aria and Autumn. Suppose a different way of describing it could work, a more inaccurate but more evocative one?


“~They fix your sight if it’s already bad, but if it’s good, they make it worse.~”

The rest of the group took the explanation in without many complaints—though not the Dartrix herself.

“But hoooooow?”

“~They... *sigh*, th-they curve light.~”

“Wow... how do they—”

“Can I look through them?”

Anne was immensely unsure how to respond to Grace’s question. She wasn’t opposed to others looking through them in principle, but... probably not when it involved the only thing that let her see being handled by paws with claws the size of knives. If only there was a way—

“^I’ll help sweetie, don’t worry.^”

The human nodded as the Indeedee carefully hovered her specs around, taking a couple of attempts each time to orient them the right way before letting each of the kids take a peek through them. Most of them went as expected. Brief headaches, expressions of disbelief, confusion about how something that they can’t see through at all can help anyone regain their sight at all.

Exactly the same step-by-step list that happened each time she showed them off to human audiences in the past.

Guess humans and mons really weren’t that different, heh—

“...ooooh. I see more of you now, I think.”


Everyone gathered looked stunned at Mint, though only Anne really knew what his admission meant.

“~O-oh. Seems you’re n-nearsighted too?~”


“~You see f-far away things much worse than close things.~”

“...oh. Yeah.”

The nonchalance with which the Gloom had acknowledged Anne’s impromptu diagnosis took the girl aback a bit. Definitely not how she had reacted to her first glasses... probably. She was too young to remember when that had happened.

“~Looks like you c-could use a pair of glasses y-yourself, heheh...~”

“...why? I’m doing okay.”

Mint’s response was even more surprising than his previous tone, leaving the two kids at somewhat of an awkward impasse.

“~But--wouldn’t you wanna see better?~”

“...maybe. Everyone helps me when I can’t see something. It’s not a problem.”

“~Y-yeah, that wouldn’t work in h-human world... really hard t-to get around if you see as bad as I normally do.~”

“Isn’t seeing close things better than far away things normal?”

Zephyr’s question was appreciated for the change in topic it brought with itself. Diagnosis of visual issues wasn’t usually a fun subject, but it sure beat thinking about how the world from which she hailed from could only accommodate her if she ‘fixed’ herself to be in line with regular people.

“~Oh, many ways! There’s the test where you have to read smaller and smaller symbols and at s-some point they’re too small to make out. O-or in my case I had them tested with a l-laser!~”

“^What is a ‘laser’, Anne?^”

“~It’s, umm—it’s like a lot of light packed into a very narrow beam.~”

“...is it like Flash Cannon?”


The term rang some distant bell in Anne’s mind, but not much beyond that. It sure sounded like a name someone would give to a move, and she probably overheard it from one of father’s league binges once or twice, but she had absolutely no idea what it looked like or what it did. Considering it was a move, though, the answer to the question of ‘what it did’ almost always ended up being ‘mayhem’.

“~N-no, no, not a move. If I had my eyes t-tested with it, it probably would’ve t-taken my entire head with it, h-heh...~”

To Anne’s immediate concern, either nobody got her joke, or nobody found it funny, since the expressions around the room were much more shocked than amused. Thankfully, Mint was there to help change the subject once more.

“...so it’s Electric-type then?”

Hardly a question the girl could answer, either. She supposed that thinking of everything in terms of types made much more sense for a mon than it does for a human, but it wasn’t a mindset she knew how to get into, especially when already feeling put on the spot. Suppose it was only fair to admit that, then...

“~I don’t know. M-most things in the human world don’t really fit into neat ‘types’ l-like that.~”

“...doesn’t everything have a type?”

“~I was t-taught that humans don’t have any types and that we aren’t even Normal-type. L-like, what type is something a-as simple as the sun, for example?~”

“Psychic.” / “...Fire.” / “Fairy?” / “E-electric!”

Four voices arriving at four entirely different conclusions immediately shifted the mood from mild shock at Anne’s claim about humans being typeless, to all the kids looking at each other with surprise and confusion. The human couldn’t even get a word in edgewise before an argument broke out, the sort that she had absolutely no way, or desire, to contribute to.

“Can’t be Electric, doesn’t glow like a lightning bolt.”

“...no way it’s Fairy, or it’d hurt all the Dark-types!”

“If it was Psychic, all the psychics would feel it every single day!”

“How c-could it be Fire, it’s glowing and not burning!”

The disagreement quickly devolved into an all-out, no holds barred shouting match between the four. Thankfully, Blossom at least hopped off the best before joining the rest of her friends in their deep, philosophical discussion. Anne, meanwhile, was left stunned at accidentally sparking it all, and wanting to collapse underground.

Autumn was laughing her lungs out.

All the combined chaos was loud enough to stir Ember out of her exhaustion nap and straight into Anne’s good arm. The vixen was taken aback at seeing so many of her classmates here all of a sudden, but wasn’t any more eager to get into such a pointless discussion than her human. What she did do, though, was join in on Autumn’s continued giggling. Anne giggled along once she’d gotten over her embarrassment, the two girls leaning on each other as any remaining tension quickly evaporated.

The evening would be scary and who knew what would happen, but for now, they had each oth—

Right as Anne was about to finish calming down, though, everyone gathered heard yet another laughter join them. Whispering, rustling, very girlish and coming from right behind them. It made the laughing trio stop and look around in confusion, their combined gaze soon stumbling onto the Phantump from the next room over, floating a couple of feet above Autumn.

They said something upbeat and amused when noticed, but almost nobody understood them. Instead, all the laughter suddenly ending made the rambling quartet call a ceasefire in their argument in case something bad had happened; their shared focus was soon also drawn to the stray ghost.

Way too much of way too sudden attention for the little one.

They let out a frightful squeak, and dove behind the Indeedee, using her to hide from the other kids.

“^Teehee, someone’s got a few too many eyes on herself, hasn’t she? Here, let me just link you up and—Anne?^”

Just beside Autumn, Anne stared at the Phantump so close to her, aghast. Before anyone could ask her what was wrong,

She spoke.

“~H-how are you speaking Unovan?~”

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Chapter 23: Trauma New


the gay agenda

Chapter 23: Trauma

CONTENT WARNING: Death, Hate Speech, Mild Gore​

The silence filling the clinic room lingered for a while as everyone either processed, or tried to process the implications of Anne’s realization. Autumn’s eyes went wide after just a moment as it all clicked for her, but others were much less successful.

And that included Sage.


As astonished as this human was at something, the Phantump couldn’t quite piece together what it was exactly. She recognized the last word the girl had said from somewhere, but not what it meant, leading her to tilt her head a bit.

“~Wh-what do you mean?~”

Anne didn’t expect that reaction in the slightest. It made her doubt her own observation for a moment before she shook it aside. Regardless of whether they understood her, they still clearly spoke Unovan, and almost certainly used to be a human.

Used to.

Maybe they just didn’t remember what ‘Unovan’ meant? Not a word most use often in their daily lives, very few people spoke anything other than it, outside of large cities, at least. Ultimately, though, none of that truly mattered. What mattered is that Anne felt both concerned and sorry for the ghost child in front of her, and wanted to help them somehow.

And that required them to meet each other first.

“~Umm... nevermind. Hi, m-my name is Anne! What’s yours?~”

Thankfully, the human’s meeting had the desired result. Her understandable voice, unknowingly made even more so with Autumn’s help, was friendly and warm, something Sage couldn’t get enough of. After shaking some of her previous shock, she hovered over closer and spoke up again, her words much more upbeat this time.

“~I’m Sage! Nice to meet you, Anne!~”

The ghost’s greeting clarified two things in Anne’s mind, one much more harrowing than the other. They were obviously a girl, and clearly a young one at that, younger than even her. The slight distortion when Sage spoke made it difficult to estimate exactly how old she sounded, but she couldn’t have been older than seven or eight years old.

“Hello, Sage!”

Ember’s woofed greeting took the hauntling aback, but she got over her own surprise quickly. In no time, she had hovered over to the firefox and introduced herself to her too—and then, the rest of the room. Each of her greetings were warmer and more energetic, all the pleasant interactions only making her more eager towards having more and more of them. She was rather skittish when talking to Grace in particular, though, which Anne... couldn’t blame her for.

A nice—if slightly blunt—Zangoose was still a Zangoose after all, and even the older girl would need a lot more exposure before she could finish reclassifying the sight from ‘run away NOW’ to ‘person’. She knew full well that broad categorizations like that helped nobody, but they lingered in her mind, whether she liked that fact or not.

Might as well take them head-on and work through them instead of pretending they aren’t a thing.

Autumn ended up being the last person to meet the ghostie, still rather stunned. Enough so to make Sage speak up and ask if there was something wrong, making the Indeedee lightly shake her head and offer the lil’ one a hug. One gladly taken—surprisingly so, considering Sage’s previous skittishness.

The most welcome kind of ‘surprisingly’.

As the situation in the room calmed down enough for the visiting kids to gradually drift back chattering among themselves and for Anne to come to terms with this Phantump some two feet away from her being a dead girl, the human heard a familiar voice in her head. It was clearly Autumn’s, but... slightly muffled, its contents quickly clarifying why that was.

“^Anne, do you... have any ideas about how we could help Sage? Oh—just focus on words in your mind and I’ll pick them up, no need to speak out loud.^”

It was an excellent question, to which Anne had barely any idea how to answer.

She half-heartedly nodded as she tried to really think through the implications of her revelation, their combined tragedy soon boring a pit in her stomach. This was just a little girl, someone’s child, and now she’s dead and presumably very, very far from home. The underlying surprise of a Phantump being a former human was there, but it was hardly important enough to merit anything more than an off-handed acknowledgement.

The past few days have made it very clear that mons weren’t anywhere near as different from pe—humans as everything in Anne’s life had tried to teach her. Why would they and humans be any different when it came to coming back as ghosts?

Why would humanity be spared from that horror?

As Anne kept thinking, further unpleasant realizations followed, with some of them aimed at nobody but herself. She was right, Sage was just a little girl, someone’s child, and so far away from her family. And all that would’ve been just as true even if she’d been a Pidove, or a Patrat, or any other species in her past life, too.

She had enough grip on herself in that moment to not let herself be dragged into the pit of self-loathing, not this time, but the self-awareness still stung.

“^How could we help her? I’m... I’m not sure. I suppose knowing what had happened to her would be helpful, but I can’t imagine that being comfortable for her to think about, and I don’t know if our curiosity will do her any good.^”

Autumn acknowledged Anne’s words with a light nod as she blankly stared into the nearby wall, her paws thoughtlessly petting Sage’s wooden shell. The Indeedee was too distracted by her own thoughts to notice the unpleasantness swirling around Anne’s mind, but Ember didn’t have that obstacle. No matter what exactly had soured her best friend’s mind, she still wanted to swat it out.

And there were few better antidotes to Anne’s gloom than the firefox’s soft warmth filling her lap and pressing itself into her front.

“^I think it could help a lot, though. Even if there’s only so much we could do with that knowledge, we might find out how to comfort her more, or whether there’s some dangerous predator nearby some of our scouts could deal with. Of course, all that only if Sage wants to talk about it; I’d loathe to put her through even more pain than she’d already been through.^”

The Indeedee’s response had Anne shudder slightly as she petted Ember’s back with her one functional hand; the thought of the younger girl having been hunted down deeply terrifying. Unsurprising—this was the wilderness after all, and every single human kid has had it drilled into them that venturing into the woods was very dangerous—but still terrifying.

Suppose this rationalization made sense, especially if it could lead to the village becoming safer overall. This was all miserable, and her eyes were rather damp even just from thinking about it, but they could figure something out for the lil’ ghostie.

They had to.

A further downturn in the mood earned Anne even more warm affection from the Braixen, slowly melting through the worst of her worries. Ember wasn’t entirely sure about the specifics of what Anne and Autumn were talking about, but she agreed with their drive wholeheartedly.


Ember’s affirmation had Sage look over at her confused, much to the fox’s amusement. Unsure how to respond verbally, she recalled a cute human gesture Anne used to show to her, trying her hardest to curl her fingers into a rough shape of a heart. Scuffed as her attempt at conveying the symbol was, it was nonetheless understood by the recipient, lighting up the Phantump’s expression and prompting her to try returning it.

To no success, but fortunately, that didn’t demotivate her too much.

Especially with someone else stepping up in curiosity.

“Th-that’s a cool name, Sage!”

Blossom’s greeting wasn’t the most well thought out in the world, but it succeeded at catching the girl’s attention all the same. And then, startling her at the realization that the Dartrix was standing some four inches away from her and had flown over entirely silently. Which then startled the owlet, not expecting such a drastic reaction; the two left unsure how to respond.

Zephyr caught just enough of the exchange to break into chittering giggling, almost making Blossom speak up at him in a mix of slight fluster and equally mild annoyance—

But then, someone else stepped into the room.

“Alright everyone, you’ll have to get out for a moment to give the human some space. It’s time to change their bandages.”

The unfamiliar voice, simultaneously a brief burst of buzzing with several clicking noises interspersed in it and a middle-aged lady mustering out all the patience she had available, made Anne perk up. She had seen the Leavanny that had just walked in a couple more times by now, but never heard her speak with a provided translation.

And as important as having her bandages and cast changed was, the thought that everyone would have to get out of the room because of her was an unpleasant one. Then again, forcing them to sit through what almost certainly was a gory sight didn’t sit right with her, either. Maybe the nurse could just lower the curtain around the bed again and shield them from having to see it that way?

“~U-um—no no, you don’t have to leave.~”

Anne’s words stunned the Leavanny, both because of being translated for the first time, and for defying her guidance in such a blatant way. Before the bushbug’s surprise could turn to annoyance—or worse, anger—Anne continued, hoping to clarify.

“~W-would it be possible for the curtains to get lowered again s-so that those who want to stay can j-just hop on the bed?~”

Now that was a much more understandable idea, if still rather silly. Though, if the patient was comfortable with it, then the Leavanny supposed she could let it slide.

“Sure. Alright everyone, you best get over there or get ready to see some blood. And you... u-um...”


“Yes, Anne. Sorry. Lay down here. You’ll have to move, Autumn.”

The room erupted into a fair bit of chaos as the mantis medic got ready and prepared everything needed to reapply a fresh cast. Anne’s still-aching body appreciated getting to lie down again; most shifted further away from Anne’s injured arm to avoid the gruesome sight—but surprisingly, not everyone. Of her guests, only Blossom did, leaving the other three behind to watch what was underneath all the thick bandages in a mix of morbid curiosity and... regular curiosity.

“First, I’ll need to numb the arm again. Can you—”

Anne was familiar enough to know what to do now, pulling back what remained of her sleeve to expose as much of her shoulder as she could, and stuck it out for better access. The eagerness of the gesture took the Leavanny aback, but not for long, especially as the surprise turned into appreciation for cooperating.

“Thank you, Anne. This will sting a bit. Hopefully, it hasn’t been too painful for you in the past.”

“~No, not at all!~”

Even despite her knowing exactly what would happen, the touch of the medic’s leafy limbs on her bare skin took Anne aback. She didn’t have the time to react further before it was followed by a quick, barely noticeable sting, and then... blissful nothingness. The muted aching in her left arm wasn’t bad enough to leave Anne agonized, but having it be suddenly removed still brought a wave of immense relief.

“~Ohhh... th-thank you, umm... nurse.~”

“Name’s Maple. And... you’re very welcome, dear. I’m really glad you’ve been cooperative.”

Whatever hesitation there might’ve been once Anne had first spoken up was now entirely gone. Maple’s words were as confident as they got, and that extended to her actions. Bit by bit, she peeled the cast off, making the girl shudder despite the lack of any associated pain. Nothing but a slight cold chill, and the unpleasant, wet sounds every once in a while.

She was so, so glad she didn’t have to see all the gory details—something the ones that elected to stay behind the curtain couldn’t say.

“...ohh, ewww. Wh-why’s there so much blood...”

Anne didn’t like the implications of these words one bit.

“Pfffft, most of us are full of blood, Mint. It’s really only us Grasses, Steel-types, and Ghosts that are the exception to that—and some rocks, too, I suppose. In almost everyone else, there’s a lot of this stuff when taken together.”

The medic’s answer was helpful in explaining the Gloom’s surface-level confusion, but did little to help with the underlying disgust. As Maple continued to take the cast apart, the Poison-type’s obvious discomfort got louder and louder, culminating in a dry heave, soft steps toward the room’s entrance, and the rustle of the canvas flap being violently pulled aside.


The Zangoose’s observation sounded more bored than the human would’ve ever suspected anyone to react to the presumed sight. A few moments later, Grace continued, genuine surprise filling her voice for the first time today—

“Wait, where’d he—Mint! Where’d you go?”

—followed by the noises of her leaving the room.

Over on the other side of the curtain, Anne was managing rather well. Ember had snuggled up to her almost immediately after she laid down. Fortunately for everyone involved, Sage didn’t try looking through the flimsy barrier separating her from a sight nobody her age should ever witness. Instead, she slowly gathered the courage to join the very comfy Braixen, before Zephyr’s voice made her jump a bit.

“Wow, I... I’m really glad I don’t have to see this in the wild.”

Everyone in the room aside from the pair of (once)-humans agreed strongly with that observation, even without seeing the bloody mess being referenced. The Phantump didn’t quite figure out what they meant, but Anne did, shuddering at the thought of anyone present here having to hunt other living beings for survival.

Only the most natural thing in the world, only absolutely horrific.

“Indeed, Zephyr, indeed. So... Anne. I think I remember you using your arms a lot.”

Words addressed to her snapped the human out of any growing warmth-induced drowsiness, first making her nod, and then clarify once she remembered that Maple couldn’t see her.

“~Y-yes, I use them a-all the time.~”

“It’s gonna be a long while until your arm is all well again, sadly. We can Heal Pulse all we want, but grave injuries like this still take a while to mend. And then I’m unsure how much you’ll be able to use it even after it’s done recovering. I think I remember seeing some nerves being damaged too...”

The thought of her injury being potentially permanent sent a pang of fear through Anne’s body. It stirred Autumn out of her thoughtful mood enough to scramble along to the human and try to join in on the comfort.

“~I-I see. Th-thankfully my other hand is the d-dominant one, I’ll live...~”


The confusion in Maple’s voice took Anne aback—and behind the human’s line of sight, Autumn, too. She supposed it was just a human thing, one she’d be glad to explain in that case.

“~It’s uh, it’s when you’re much b-better at using one hand than the other. L-like, I can draw and write with my right hand, but have no idea how I would do it with the other one.~”

“^Really? I would’ve thought these sorts of skills would work with both arms.^”

“~No, they don’t, n-not for me at least.~”

“I can’t imagine b-being better at using one wing than the other, heheh...”

Blossom’s giggling comment was amusing, but it also got Anne thinking. That made sense, with birds having one wing be stronger than the other would make it impossible for them to fly straight, and much the same was probably true for quadrupeds. Which left bipeds—and even then, only some of them, judging by Autumn’s confusion.

“Is that a human thing?”

“~I-I think so, Mrs. Maple.~”

“No, it’s not!”

Ember speaking up took everyone else aback, especially about something that sounded so human.

“I h-have that too! I only use my left hand for my wand.”

“~Are you left-handed?~”

Sage’s quiet question had the Braixen first pause as she double checked whether that word meant what she thought it did, before eagerly agreeing.

“~Ooooo, that’s cool! I’m right-handed.~”

The Phantump waved both her arms for emphasis, without a visible difference in how well she could move them. Could be that ‘dominant’ hand thing didn’t show up when waving, could be that she just wasn’t ‘right-handed’ anymore. A neat, and somehow-not-entirely-human fact in either case.

“Well, at least I’m glad that this won’t impact you as much as it would if it was the other arm. There’s something else I’ve been curious about, if you don’t mind.”


Anne felt her shoulder getting lightly pulled all around and exactly nothing below it, but the steadily decreasing coldness implied that Maple was applying the new cast. It wasn’t anything uncomfortable, but the sooner she could move freely again, the better.

“When you first got here, I saw a few of these small, round burn scars on your arms and had no idea what to make of them. All I could figure out was that they must’ve been here even before your accident. What had caused them?”

Well-meaning as the question was, it immediately sent a shudder through the girl’s body and the minds of the two nearby psychics. The answer was straightforward and horrible in equal measure, and exactly nobody wanted Anne to have to push herself through putting words to a disgusting, horrifying truth. Still, the girl tried.

“~I-it’s f-from... f-from—~”

“^Her human parents inflicted these onto her, and it won’t happen again.^”

Autumn’s voice was steadfast, not permitting even the slightest consideration of pursuing this topic any further. It was rather unlike her, taking the Leavanny aback, but she wasn’t about to argue with something this clearly unpleasant.

“I see. I’m... very sorry to hear, Anne. Alright, I think I’m done here. I will pull up the curtain now.”

The mix of Braixen warmth and a gentle psychic hug embracing much of her body helped Anne brace herself for the sight that awaited her—a thankfully tame sight. Her arms were wrapped in layers upon layers of reinforced silk, some of it still fresh enough to glisten. No blood on either her shoulder or on the couple fingertips that stuck out of the cast, but... the scene wasn’t without its gory parts, with Maple taking her time before carrying what remained on the previous cast out.

So, so red on the inside...

It was nauseating, and not just for Anne.

“S-sorry Anne I have to go-*umph*—“

Before the girl could even finish turning her head, Blossom was gone through the magically safeguarded window, leaving everyone still present hoping Dartrix hadn’t gotten too sick. Ember fared better, and Sage was thankfully too distracted by staring at the stick in the fox’s tail to notice, needing a long while to realize that both the owlet and the mantis were now gone.

Wanting to drag herself away from all that unpleasantness, Anne wasted no time before sitting back up and turning towards Sage. Anything to get her own condition out of her mind, and there was no better way to do that than to contribute to something genuinely helpful.

“~Hey, Sage?~”

The hauntling’s ‘hmm?’ had her looking all around the room, confusion creeping onto her wooden face at the surroundings yet again having shifted. So much more change here than in the uniform mix of white snow and black trees outside...

“~S-so... me and Autumn were curious about where you came from, a-and if you remember it.~”

Contrary to the worst of Anne’s fears, Sage didn’t immediately break into tears. In fact, she took the request very calmly; one spectral hand gently patted the bottom of her shell as she tried to think back.

Which sadly didn’t mean her introspective efforts would amount to much, however.

“~I... d-don’t remember. I’ve only been walking through the forest with Mr. Yaksha and sometimes sleeping.~”

The unfamiliar name caught everyone’s attention, Anne continuing shortly.

“~’Mr. Yaksha’? Who is he?~”

“~He’s a friend! He found me when I was all alone and has been protecting me! He’s a bit angry sometimes, but really nice!~”

As glad as everyone gathered was to hear that the little one didn’t have to brave the wilderness alone, the latter remark caught the attention of Anne and Autumn in particular, neither of them liking it.

“~Did he ever... d-do anything to you?~”

“~Nooooo! I said he’s nice, he’s just... uh... often not happy and talks little and sometimes gets angry, but never at me!~”

“^Hmm... ‘rough’?^”

“~Y-yeah! He’s my friend, and I wish he was happy.~”

“~I hope h-he will be too when he sees you having fun with us! What species is he?~”


Once more, a term Sage was unfamiliar with, forcing Anne to restate her question.

“~Wh-what does he look like?~”

“~He’s this big, and gray all around, and has these silly teeth that open.~”

The mental image of ‘teeth that open’ brought varying levels of discomfort to everyone gathered, but the human had a hunch about what it meant.

“~Do they open f-from the side and are golden?~”




“~So he’s a Banette?~”

While Autumn realized she’d seen one of these earlier right beside Sage, the Phantump herself got... a bit confused. She didn’t remember knowing that word, but the more she thought about it, the more something came back to her recollection, eventually culminating in a shaky nod.

“~Y-yeah, I think so.~”

The confirmation left Anne uneasy, in turn. All she’d ever heard associated with that species was immense cruelty and pure hatred, and to hear of one that had been apparently looking after this little ghost girl was... unexpected. Still, clearly yet another bigoted human myth, she was well aware—

“^Wouldn’t have thought one of them would ever make for a protector.^”

...or not just human this time.

Anne chuckled to herself, relieving some of the steadily building tension. As casual as their chat had been so far, Anne was almost certain it wouldn’t remain so for much longer. One deep breath, another, time to continue.

“~I’m glad to hear he’s been looking a-after you. Do you remember what happened... before that?~”

As predicted, Sage’s body language grew more uncomfortable almost immediately. Anne didn’t know what to do, but Ember’s wordless affection was eagerly accepted and appreciated. It was the most pleasant thing the Phantump had ever experienced, making her only bury herself further into the fluff. It didn’t look like she’d be giving an answer to this particular question. Anne and Autumn alike mulled through where to take this chat next—

But then, Sage clumsily turned around, and responded.

“~I... I d-don’t remember much. I know I-I used t-to be something e-else, b-but... I don’t know what. All I remember is laughter and my head hurting so, so much and it always makes me scared and I want to know what happened and—~”

Anne’s hug wasn’t anywhere near as comforting as that of the Braixen, but it was just as well received, especially with the human pulling in both the ghostie and the fox she was snuggling into in one fell swoop. Autumn wasn’t far behind either, focusing more on the situation around her now that they’ve both figured out a lead, and made sure that the lil’ ghost was interested in being helped.

As the part Grass-type slowly calmed down, others listened in to the commotion happening beside them. Stunky weren’t particularly well suited to climbing anything even close to vertical, but that didn’t mean Zephyr wouldn’t give it his best effort. Eventually, he’d made enough holes in the bedding to pull himself up onto it, and approached the cuddle pile.

“I-I’m sorry it happened to you, but I’ll protect you, Sage! I won’t let it happen again!”

The Dark-type’s posturing was silly at best, but that didn’t make the gesture any less heartfelt, bringing smiles to the room.

Aside from Sage.

“~B-but Mr. Yaksha is already protecting me.~”

The clarification brought on a few moments of awkward silence during which nobody really knew what to say, the Stunky most of all. Thankfully, Autumn was familiar enough with kid-induced uneasiness to think of a way out, audibly clearing her throat before telepathically chiming in.

“^That’s still a great gesture Zephyr, thank you. Now, Sage... would you want me to help you remember what happened?^”

Focus being brought back over onto the Indeedee made the Phantump’s expression light up once more. She wasted no time before huddling closer to Autumn’s front and firmly nodding; her sheer affection towards the psychic was no less confusing than it was earlier.

“^Alrighty, we can try to figure it out together! Now, Anne? Would you mind coming along with us to help me make sense of any human things I might see?^”

The human had absolutely zero idea what ‘coming along’ could’ve meant there, but it didn’t matter. As long as she could help the undead girl out, she was down.


“^Are you sure? I can’t imagine it’ll be anything... pretty.^”

“~I’m—I’m used to not pretty things. I’ll be alright.~”

To Autumn’s utmost regret, Anne was very right about that.

“^Okay. Ember, could you give us space? Sage, could you sit on Anne’s lap for this?^”

The hauntling took her time letting go of the chubby psychic, but ultimately did as asked, and so did the Braixen. Anne’s one-armed hug wasn’t anything warm like Ember’s or padded like Autumn’s, but it felt... nice in a more familiar way, at least.

“^Thank you both! Now...^”

The Indeedee took the deepest breath of her life before sitting down beside the human and the once-human, laying a paw on Anne’s forearm and grabbing Sage’s hand with the other one. She felt immense dread fill her as she prepared to descend in a much more controlled way than a couple of days ago. No matter how nervous it made her, Sage deserved to know what had happened.

And both she and Anne wanted to help with all their hearts.

“^...let’s do this.^”

A wave of static rushed through Anne’s brain as her body suddenly grew weak, slumping forward together with the other two. In just a few seconds, all three of them were completely out, somewhere between asleep and fainted, as Autumn reached into Sage’s memories.

To the very beginning.

To her very end.



Slow, careful steps filled the small clearing.

The point of view the three were forced into was almost entirely focused on the surrounding forest floor. The occasional glances up at the nearby trees showed off the beautiful fall colors filling the scene, be they still feebly holding onto the branches or laying dried on the ground. It was the latter that Sage was specifically interested in, though, their colorful sneakers constantly looking around in search of the biggest pile of leaves to crunch through.

They liked that sound.

Despite the focused point of view, most of Sage’s outfit was visible. A bright yellow, puffy jacket, sneakers spanning half the rainbow, a loose pair of stretchy jeans. And, on top of the latter, a clearly oversized skirt, one dark-skinned hand constantly having to hold it in place around their waist.

It felt nice to wear. How it looked and especially how it moved when they tried to twirl. It was so, so pretty, just like when their older sister wore it.

Sage hoped she wouldn’t notice it missing for a moment. They didn’t remember her wearing this one in a while, and if they just put it back like it was before, it would be fine, right? Their sister would probably be so angry about them taking it without her knowledge, and looking weird in it, if she ever found out. A part of them knew they weren’t supposed to be wearing it. After all, skirts were for girls, and not for—

“~Guys, look! Sage’s wearing a dress!~”

Suddenly, the focus snapped over onto the small hill surrounding the clearing. On top of it, a trio of older boys.

Faces distorted beyond comprehension.

Sage could only stand there in panic as they watched them approach, one arm still clutching their sister’s skirt to their side. The boys’ cruel laughter grew with every step, especially as they continued to mock them in their low voices.

“~Guess he’s really just a sissy, ahahaha!~”

“~No kidding! What, were you too fed up with just being a crybaby, Sage, and just had to grab a dress to go along with it~!?~”

The point of view shifted slightly backwards as Sage tried to hold them back with a raised hand. Eventually, a boyish, shaky voice responded, right as the three walked up to them.

Sage’s voice.

“~L-l-leave me alone—~”

“~Or what? You’re gonna cry harder?~”

The three’s roaring laughter reduced Sage to shaking again as they were surrounded. Each of the boys had a solid foot on them, the sheer distortion around their heads only conveying a cruel smile.

And then, the first shove came.

The world turned into a blur as Sage tried to remain standing, forced to let go of the skirt to regain their balance. It was of little help though, especially as they then tripped on it, sending them down onto their knees, to the trio’s monstrous amusement. They were too afraid to leave the skirt behind, grabbing it again before trying to run--

“~Oh man, everyone’s gonna love this!~”

As scared as Sage already was, it was nothing compared to the sheer terror that the taunt stirred in them, bringing them to tears.

“~P-p-please don’t tell—~”

“~Or what, huh~? What are you gonna do, you fucking crybaby, piss your pants!?~”

Yet more laughter, paralyzing Sage further. The world turned into a blur as they were shoved again and again, stumbling over their feet with every painful push.

“~Figures you dressed up like a girl with how whiny you are!~”

“~A fucking baby is what he is, a little baby girl that needs his bottle badly!~”

Sage closed their eyes as they tried to endure it all. Their inner ear screamed at being constantly shoved around, their body cried at the shoves turning into punches, into kicks, into more and more painful bruises.

“~And don’t you even fucking try telling anyone about this—~”

The whirlwind of pain abruptly stopped as they got grabbed by their shoulders with a grip strong enough to send them screaming if they had any voice left.

“~—‘cuz if you do, we’ll tell everyone what a fucking FAGGOT you are!~”

An instant later, the most forceful shove yet, sending Sage falling backwards. They pried their eyes open, looking up at the sky, at the beautiful fall around them, at the trio of popular, well-off bullies, at their smug, self-satisfied grins. Their laughter burned itself into their mind as they fell, fell, fell—

And then, darkness and unimaginable pain from the back of their head.

They tried to move; they tried to do anything, but their body wouldn’t listen. There was only burning, radiating suffering that intensified by the moment, and freezing numbness enveloping them from all around. Sage felt their warmth be drained through the back of their head, felt something wet there, and could do nothing but lay there.

And listen.




Steps racing away from her, crunching through the fallen leaves.

And eventually, nothing more.

For an eternity.

Freezing cold, oppressive darkness, suffocating silence. Without reprieve, without end, without mercy.

Untold infinities later, a blink back to the recollection.

A silent, unmoving gaze staring down at a lifeless body. Dark-skinned, bloated, covered in dirt and debris, with a few parts already taken by wildlife. Around its head, a brown, dried-out blot. Surrounded by decomposing leaves and almost entirely barren trees.


The scene continued in perfect stillness for an unknown amount of time. Not a single thought, not a single motion, only the oppressive, unending sight of a carcass that used to be a person.

And then, a distant voice. Followed by another, and another still. One of them low, very low, just like she’d heard before—


She had to run.

At last, Sage turned and levitated away as fast as she could, the most distant voices suddenly eclipsed by her own panicking breathing. Everything shook, the world was once more a blur of white and brown and gray and black—

In the distance, a heartbroken shriek behind her. A wail of a family shattered, of a child lost, of an unspeakable tragedy.

Further and further away.

Soon enough, it was gone, as was everything else. There were only the trees around her, the frost and decomposing leaves underneath her, and the silver, clouded skies above her.

A cruel world in all its vastness.

All the trio knew was that they’d been crying for hours.

They remained motionless even as they returned to awareness, only capable of shaking as tears continued to flow.

Anne kept the little girl close and held her tight, so very tight. She was afraid to let go of her even for a moment, afraid of unthinkable horrors happening to her again, of her being hurt so cruelly again. Autumn’s angle didn’t let her do much physically, but she more than made up for that with her psychics, keeping Sage in as warm of an embrace as she could manage, as if to protect her from the deathly cold.

Sage hurt more than words could describe.

The Indeedee felt everything going on around her. Felt their grief, their loss, their pain, Sage’s overwhelming fear. She wanted to do something, anything, to help in the moment, but there was nothing any of them could do. Nothing that could make up for what the Phantump had gone through.

All they could do was be there for her, no matter what.

As Autumn regained her bearings, she tried to push herself to at least check up on her surroundings. Ember held Anne as tight as she could, terrified at what was going on and feeling unable to stop it. Zephyr kept anxiously standing guard, constantly glancing over at them with uncertainty. The tiniest bit of relief filled his expression as he noticed his teacher beginning to come to again, but he didn’t dare speak up about it.

On the ground beside the bed, a wrapped bundle of a now-cold pastry, left behind by presumably Holly. Nobody else around them.

Bit by bit, she began calming down, pushing through the trauma of what she’d just seen. No matter how much she needed comfort in the moment, the two girls beside her needed it more, and she had to be there for them both.

Even as she tried to get rid of the last of them, tears kept coming in the most annoying way.

Once Autumn felt confident about not immediately breaking down again should anything happen, she finally dared move. One paw stroking Anne’s arm, the other Sage’s hand. She couldn’t do much, but she could do that—

And then, the Phantump recoiled slightly, withdrawing partially into her shell as she tried to press herself into Anne even further.

“~I-I-I wanna go home...~”

The Indeedee wanted to weep, but persevered.

“^Shhhhh... shhhhhh....^”

Quiet as they were, the shushes still helped. Just a gentle reminder of Autumn’s soothing presence, gradually seeping into the two traumatized girls’ minds and helping pull them out from the worst of it. Another attempt at physically comforting Sage went much better. The Phantump clutched her soft paw tight, clinging to it with all her strength, the little of it she had left after everything she just had to go through again.

Autumn knew she couldn’t say much beyond that, for there was nothing she could say. Nothing but the most banal response to a tragedy like that, the most obvious one. And yet, the Indeedee still said it, because it needed to be said.

Because Sage needed to hear it.

“^I’m so sorry, sweetie. We’re here for you, no matter what.^”

Pained as she still was, the words had reached the lil’ Phantump, making her slightly loosen her grip on the psychic’s paw.

They helped, even if they couldn’t fully mend it all, even if they couldn’t answer the most harrowing of questions at the root of it all.

“~Wh-why d-did they do that to m-me...~”

The Indeedee continued her affection as she wondered how to respond to a question like that. There wasn’t much directly in the terrible vision that would explain why these specific humans had set their abusive sights on specifically Sage, but it didn’t matter.

Because ultimately, the answer was the same.

“^Some people are awful, and want to hurt others no matter what, Sage. We could debate for days about why that is, but... in the end, that’s just how things are.^”

The Indeedee’s response was as satisfying as an answer to that entire moral conundrum would ever get—which was to say, not in the slightest. Still, there was one more thing she realized she hadn’t clarified, something easy to overlook, and yet, the most important sentence she could say. A philosophical answer wasn’t the point, wasn’t ever the point.

“^It’s not your fault, Sage. I promise.^”

What mattered was reassurance.

However trite it was, it too helped, especially when accompanied by all the time in the world for Sage to calm down. Minutes upon minutes of silence, of gentle touch, physical and psychic alike, of the chubby psychic’s warm, ever comforting presence. The most important message repeated over and over again when needed, anything to help it all hurt less.

Anne took even longer to come to after everything she’d witnessed. As harrowing as the recollection was for Autumn, it seemed to have hit Anne particularly hard, to the point where the Indeedee had to pry the Phantump out of the human’s embrace just to let her move freely again. With time, she too regained her bearings, especially once everyone around had joined in to comfort her.

Including Sage.

Because as much as she hurt, Anne hurt too and was a friend. Why wouldn’t she help her?

“~Th-thank you all...~”

With the whispered words signaling the return of the final member of the memory-diving trio, Ember immediately set upon vocalizing her concerns.

“A-Anne! What happened!? You all were crying s-so much, and even afterwards, and you were s-so sad, and...”

The human didn’t know how to answer. Ember deserved so much better than to have something as cruel as what they had all just seen be meticulously explained to her, insult by insult and strike by strike.

Especially with Sage able to understand her as well.

“~J-just something really sad, Ember. I-I’m okay now, I think.~”

It was a lie, but one that couldn’t be avoided unless they all wished to spend the rest of the day wallowing in the misery of it all. It wouldn’t have even been a wholly unthinkable thing to do, not with how terrifying it all was, but they all had to move on. Sage didn’t want to keep hurting by thinking about it, Autumn wanted to focus on actually helping the two girls out, and Anne...

Had to make sure of something first.

The human doubted whether Autumn had grasped all the implications of the scene now burned into her memories forever. Hell, she suspected she hadn’t done so either, but there was one detail that stood out clear to her, something she knew existed but never really got to interact with before. Not consciously, at least. And she wanted to help, however little she could do. Help this lost child, this little girl feel safe, be her friend, and—if what she’d noticed was right...

Help her be a girl, too.


Everyone sat so close together that the matter of sliding over from Autumn’s affection to Anne’s was a matter of hovering just a couple of inches over.

“~Y-yes, Anne?~”

“~Could I ask you something... p-personal?~”

Autumn looked at the human uncertainly. She wasn’t sure where all this was going, but a part of her doubted it would do anything but bring more tears. Still, Anne clearly had a plan of sorts; she was doing this for a reason, and the psychic let her keep going for now.

“~L-like what?”~

Anne took a deep breath as she tried to mull through the ‘right’ words for this. She wished so, so much she was more familiar with any sort of proper terminology for this, anything that would let her avoid potentially insulting this hurt child beside her, but... she didn’t. All she could do was ask what she had on her mind as earnestly as possible, and hope it wouldn’t be taken the wrong way.

“~You’re a girl, right?~”

Everyone else was rather confused at hearing such an odd question, be it because of how from the left it was, or—in Autumn’s case—by having no idea what did that matter for what they had all just seen. To Zephyr in particular, it came off almost like a setup for an exceptionally ill-timed joke, but no laughs came. Just an expecting human, and an uncertain hauntling, suddenly plunged into deep thought.

It wasn't a topic Sage spent a lot of time reflecting on, especially after ending up like this. Being a girl felt natural to her, but after what she’d just seen, she couldn’t help but wonder whether she hadn’t accidentally done something wrong. Maybe she shouldn’t have been thinking that. Maybe it was bad of her to do so.

She didn’t know, and the more she tried to mull it through, the more worried she became. It was only after Anne’s fingers brushed against her wooden shell did Sage snap back to awareness, stuttering out the best answer she could think of.

Hoping it would be the right one.

“~I-I think so... I’m a girl, right?~”

An instant later, as close of a hug as Anne’s one arm could provide.

“~Yes, of course you are!~”

Anne’s audible determination, appearing to have come entirely out of nowhere, was perhaps even more surprising than the pointless question that came before it. Not unwelcome in the slightest, though, lifting everyone’s spirits, especially when paired with her slightly teary, but resolute, smile. Sage didn’t expect an answer like that, but what surprised her the most, was… her own reaction, in turn.

Just how nice it felt to hear that. She didn’t even know why, but it just did.

Sadly, it wasn’t the only question Anne had on her mind. She was well aware of just how much more unpleasant this second one could be, how many awful memories it could dredge up, but she had to know. They all had to know, so that they wouldn’t inadvertently bring more pain upon her.

“~I also wanted to ask... would your parents have been angry if they knew?~”

Despite how dumbfounding her question was for everyone else, Sage knew exactly what she meant by it. She might’ve taken her time gathering her thoughts for this previous one, but this time it was she who answered with all the confidence her tiny body could muster out.

“~No! They w-wouldn’t, they never did anything bad to me, they would never hurt me!~”

Neither the tone nor the response Anne expected, but they were both reassuring in their own right. And resulted in an immediate follow-up, one that would likely sting even more.

“~Did you tell them?~”

Unfortunately, Anne’s hunch was right.

Sage’s tiny body shook as she recalled her own thoughts about doing that, from an eternity ago. All the doubts she had, all the times she took her sister’s clothing just for a moment to feel nice, all the times she felt like she didn’t fit with the boys at all. Dozens of chances to speak up and talk to her parents about this, ask if she was doing something wrong.

All of them squandered.

“~N-no... I d-didn’t know what was going on, a-and it was so scary and I didn’t want to make them scared a-and—~”

Time time, everyone scrambled in.

Even if only Anne truly knew what they all just discussed, Sage’s distress was clear to see, and they all wanted to provide whichever attention they could. Touch, psychics, warmth, even just soft fur. All of them were noted, all of them helped.

Anne felt guilty about pushing the conversation on like this, especially about something she neither had experience with nor didn’t strictly need to know. After everything she’d been through, she just wanted to be as sure as possible that this current hell wasn’t indirectly caused by Sage’s parents being similarly abusive or otherwise not accepting of her, but... it didn’t seem to be. Which, if anything, only made it even more tragic.

Because it all could’ve been avoided, and wasn’t.

It stung and hurt, especially with the ghost’s sadness soaking through her flimsy t-shirt. Anne wanted to help make up for all this. Make up, however ineffectually, for everything Sage had been through, but wasn’t sure how.

Was there anything she could do?

While the human churned through that question, Autumn was torn between concern for Sage because of the sudden emotional downturn, and alert at sensing something, someone, behind her. Pink, glowing eyes, golden zipper for a mouth, peeking in through the nearby wall.

Staring at them all in anger.

The Indeedee had no idea how to respond, focusing on putting up a Protect if needed while continuing to act as if she hadn’t spotted them. If this really was the ‘Yaksha’ that Sage had mentioned, then they shouldn’t have been a threat to them, but... their fury made Autumn think otherwise. Why would they be so angry if they really were the Phantump’s guardian?

Who were they really

As if in response to Autumn’s thoughts, she felt the ghost’s emotions behind her shift. As intense as their anger was, it quickly gave way to first reassurance and relief, and then, even more worryingly, to distress and shame. It left the Indeedee stunned as she sensed Yaksha withdraw from their room—and then seemingly from the entire clinic, too.

Something was off about all this, and she needed to find out what.


Autumn’s calm, but no-nonsense tone perked the human right away. Her worries about her behavior getting called out were erased soon after, thankfully.

“~Yes, M-Mrs. Autumn?~”

“^I... need to leave for a moment. Are you gonna be okay with just the others here until I’m back?^”

The thought made Anne shudder a bit, at least initially. She didn’t feel in danger here even with her future being uncertain, and between Sage understanding her and Ember knowing enough telepathy to talk to her, Autumn’s assistance wasn’t strictly needed, but... she still made the girl feel safer. Cared for.

Then again, Autumn definitely wouldn’t have asked that without a good reason, so...

“~S-sure. Are you g-gonna be back soon, Mrs. Autumn?~”

“^I hope so! Alright everyone, I need to take care of something and won’t be gone for long. Please take care of each other in my absence, okay?^”

Autumn’s question got the predictable chorus of reassurances, bringing a weak smile to her face as she slid off the bed and headed out. She expected nothing else, but it still brought well-needed confidence.

Once she’d left, the Stunky wasted no time before jumping off the bed and... coming to a stop beside the door. Anne expected him to eventually move or at least vocalize something, but he just stood there, completely still.

As if… standing guard.

“~Thank you, Zephyr.~”

He didn’t even react, and not like Anne could blame him. Especially since her words were likely little more than gibberish to him—



She figured it out.

Without wasting another moment, Anne immediately slid over to the edge of the bed that all the bags laid beside, and dug in. Several items she needed to get, a few more she hoped to find—assuming that Mrs. Graham had taken what Anne thought she had—and the last few would just make the entire process easier.

Ember helped a bit, though mostly in the task of pulling everything needed up onto the bed with her psychics. At some point throughout the process, an array of noises that came from the direction of the door snagged the Braixen’s attention. Squeaks, woofs, mewls and oinks, some familiar but many not. A part of Anne’s mind begged for her to look over her shoulder and see what in the world was going on, but it was just this one thing left; she could get it done first—

Yes, there it was!

Pulling a plain, all-black, and very well-worn t-shirt from underneath a dozen pounds of cargo turned out to be harder than expected, especially with Anne’s ability to get leverage being... limited. Still, she managed it, tossing it onto the small pile beside herself before assessing her spoils.

Freshly dragged out shirt, the knife she took from her house, a smaller pencil case with a few assorted items. Some glue, some needles, rusty scissors. Beside all these, a few markers and a mess of dark fabric that used to be a pair of trousers some three years and five sizes ago.

She had everything she needed.

With the supplies taken stock of, Anne finally turned around to find out who had joined them all in the meantime. Bell was an appreciated presence—something Sage could attest to right away—Reya looked cute as she chatted with Ember, the Shinx roughhousing with Zephyr was charming, and the Grumpig watching over them all... was there, too.


The well-familiar voice both redirected the lil’ Ralts over to Anne’s location, and caught the Phantump’s attention once more.

“~Did you ever want to have long hair?~”

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 24: Scars New


the gay agenda

Chapter 24: Scars

Garret had a plan.

Despite the seriousness of the task ahead, he marched on with a smile, confident in his ability to discuss it all in the right way. His plan wasn’t the most detailed out there, and if there was anyone who knew that sometimes not even familiarity trumped the impact someone’s looks might have, it was him—

But he wouldn’t let that get him down.

His role in keeping Anne safe wasn’t as crucial as that of his wife or mom—at least, not yet—but he didn’t take it any less seriously because of that. The human girl’s future was uncertain, and if a closer chat with one of his coworkers would help her chances even a little, then that was all the motivation he needed to give it his all.

‘Coworkers’ as a term was... stretched, in this specific context.

Both of their roles around the village were very fluid. They weren’t expanding fast enough for someone to have to constantly work on new construction, but his mix of raw strength and decent dexterity never had to look far for a problem he could help with. Putting new buildings up or expanding existing ones was his most common task, though, and the Meowstic he was heading towards was often busy carving decorations and furniture for said buildings.

They knew each other just enough to be relatively friendly, but not to have ever spilled their hearts to each other, which... they probably wouldn’t be able to avoid this time.

Garret tightened his fur’s grasp on his thin limbs as he pushed on, some of the winter cold piercing through regardless. No matter how hard he tried to keep his spirits up, this was going to be difficult, and doubts were never too far behind. Doubly so, with nobody having seen Max for the past couple of days. Thankfully, Hawthorne wasn’t bringing any worries about her dad up, which meant that whatever reason he had for keeping himself in his burrow, it wasn’t anything tragic.

The Grimmsnarl hoped so, at least.

Even without tragedy, his seclusion still had unnerving implications. The Meowstic was never the most courageous person out there, but he gave off the impression of being calm and composed, unlike what his present absence would’ve implied. Then again, considering what humans had done to him, it could just be the case of a fear intense enough to erode any composure.

It would make Garret’s task here much more difficult if so—and even more necessary. He could do this; he could help his wife and the little girl out—


Hearing a buzzed-out rendition of his name made the fairy look to the side, ending up staring the Vespiquen in the eye. Hardly the person he expected to just chat him up, leaving him with a blank—yet still intimidating—expression.

“What is the human’s status?”

“Plenty good, Liz! She was recovering mighty well last I saw her yesterday!”

This time, it was he who was the receiver of a blank stare, growing blanker still as the exhausted Vespiquen slouched slightly.

“I didn’t mean personal status. Are they staying or not?”

A much drier, more matter-of-fact question that Garret had absolutely no answer for. He really, really wished he did, be it so that they could either start celebrating or figure out what to do to keep Anne safe, but ultimately it remained to be seen where the elders’ whims would go.

“I—I don’t know, Liz. It’s still undecided.”

A low, droning buzz, not letting the bee settle many of her calculations. Barring any personal like or dislike, she had to know whether they would end up with another mouth to feed or not, and the sooner she had an exact number to work off of, the sooner she could start redirecting the village’s efforts around. ‘I don’t know’ was perhaps the worst non-answer imaginable.

She needed numbers, even if just bullshit, made up numbers.

“That doesn’t help. What is the probability of them staying?”

The Grimmsnarl was much better with arithmetic than the bulk of the village on behalf of constantly having to calculate stuff for construction, but he only drew blanks here. It was an enigma that depended on way too many factors, many of which he wasn’t even consciously aware of, to estimate. He couldn’t come up with a concrete answer.

An off-the-cuff, throwaway value it was.

“I’m not sure—seven in ten, maybe?”

“Naaaah, more than that.”

Mikiri’s voice butting into the chat yanked Garret’s attention away. She was passing by them, dragging what remained of the human two-wheel behind herself through the snow. Liz immediately got to crunching more numbers upon hearing his estimate; not noticing the Mawile’s addendum.

Whether her obliviousness was accidental or intentional, only she knew.

“Seven in ten.”

“I’m tellin’ ya, it’s more!”

“Seven in ten isn’t enough for certainty.”

Boy, did he know that all too well.

“Very unideal probability. Please let me know once you’re more confident.”

“Just round it up to a ten in ten, c’mon.”

To Mikiri’s continued annoyance, the Vespiquen kept not acknowledging her existence. She hovered away shortly after, without sparing the metal fairy as much as a glance. For her efforts, she earned herself two tongues being stuck out at her before the tinkerer resumed her own trek, leaving Garret to follow in her tracks.

Seven in ten was a very unideal probability indeed.

Even that felt like high balling it a substantial amount, too. It felt higher than fifty for sure, but exactly how much higher was anyone’s guess, and Garret didn’t feel confident about his in the slightest. Ultimately, though, it didn’t matter.

He’d still keep trying, even if it was zero.

The thought gave him a well-needed burst of confidence as he marched on. Something he really wished he could share with his wife.

He really hoped Aria was okay.

A different kind of concerned thought provided just enough distraction to let him return to his full pace. Worries swirled under his head with every step; his wife’s terrified shriek still burned into his recent memory. So unlike her for her dreams to hit her, so unlike her to ever get that scared or tear up so inconsolably—and yet, here they were. As difficult as this situation was for them all, Aria was taking on much more stress than everyone else, and it really, really showed.

Once all was said and done later today, Garret was dead set on holding her tight for the entire night, no matter what the verdict would be. Be it comfort for her accomplishment of saving Anne, or reassurance should everything they’ve been doing to amount to nothing, she will need him more than ever.

And he will be glad to provide.

The mental image of the former outcome warmed his soul up as he came to a stop in front of a small shack. Max’s dwelling was rather barebones even by the standards of the village, but they made do—at least enough so to never complain about any issues that needed to be fixed. Whether that actually meant they were doing perfectly fine... depended, and there have been a few instances of recent arrivals who didn’t dare speak up about their problems because of worrying about coming off as either weak or demanding.

He trusted Max not to fall into that trap, but ultimately, it remained to be seen. After a few more moments of hesitation than he would’ve liked, Garret knocked on the door with as much gentleness as he could muster. Less than he wished for sometimes, but hopefully just enough for the task.

For a few moments, the dwelling only answered with silence, providing plenty of kindling for the flames of worry. What if something bad did indeed happen to him and Hawthorne was too afraid to tell anyone? What if he was too terrified to respond to someone knocking on the door? What if—



The familiar voice was a balm for his mind, immediately tossing all worries and replacing them with relief. Max’s gamut of expressions was almost as stilted as Garret’s, but even then the fairy could clearly pick up on him not doing too well, besides just looking plain ill. Puffy, half-lidded eyes, slightly matted fur, an occasional shiver rocking his entire small body.

Still, he was here, and that’s all that mattered.

“Good morning Max! Are you doing alright?”

All the Grimmsnarl got in return was a squinting, confused expression, not helping any. Suppose he needed to just speak up louder and enunciate better—easier said than done.

“Are you doing alright, Max?”

Even despite Garret doing his best to be understood, it still wasn’t enough. Not a comfortable situation for either of them, but at least the Meowstic knew what to do next.

*sigh*, come on—*achoo!*—come on in Garret, need to put my ears on for this.”

Without waiting for a response, Max turned around and ventured into his humble home, and Garret followed. It was as plain on the inside as it was on the outside—a few pieces of furniture, a large group cot, a handful of assorted clay jars, and potted plants along the walls. Even despite the hearth burning brightly, the building remained oddly cold. There had to have been some insulation issue somewhere, and once he was done with the actual purpose of his visit, he wouldn’t mind staying longer to fix his coworker’s place.

But before that, came a chat that the Meowstic needed to prepare himself for. With more focus than such a simple act should require, he levitated two oblong objects into his physical grasp, and strapped them onto what remained of his ears.

Garret didn’t know how a Meowstic ought to look. Really, almost nobody in their village did. Their sample size for many of the more uncommon species inhabiting the village was 1, leaving them assuming that every one of said species looked exactly like the person they knew. It was very hard to recognize someone looking different without a reference point.

At least, most times.

The two scars at the tips of his single-segment ‘ears’, combined with his daughter’s appearance, clued most others about something being wrong. And while normally asking a question as blunt as ‘who cut your ears in half’ was never a good idea, it thankfully wasn’t even needed here.

Because the answer, as with many bad things, was ‘humans’.

Once Max was done putting the unwieldy prosthetics on, he turned to Garret again and beckoned him over to his spot beside the hearth.

“There we go. Mind going over what you—*achoo!*—what you said there, Garret?”

The rough imitations of what the top part of his ears would’ve looked like—folded over and almost reaching his eyes—didn’t help with psychics any, but it at least let him recover some hearing.

“Ah, I just wanted to check up on you, Max. You’ve been gone for quite a while now, got everyone worrying!”

The Grimmsnarl’s jovial tone was a bit forced, but thankfully no less received because of that. It brought some well-needed relief to the room, followed up by the Meowstic putting a kettle full of ice-cold water over the small, but roaring fire.

“Caught something nasty a couple of days ago, dunno from where. Makes me ache all over. I doubt I’d be much help for anything in this state.”

His words were self-evidently true, especially after a salvo of sneezes that followed. As glad as Garret was that his coworker’s absence was just a result of an illness, a check-up was only a partial reason for his presence here.

And to his surprise, Max was aware of that, too.

“Don’t worry—*achoo!*—it doesn’t have... too much to do with the h-human...”

Garret was simultaneously taken aback by Max’s words and concerned about the tone change near the end. It was as if confidence evaporated from him with each word, until all that remained was a pretense that neither of them believed in. In all this, though, one part stuck out to him the most.

“I didn’t bring up Anne at all.”

Despite his uncertainty, Max couldn’t help but to give the Grimmsnarl a slight smirk.

“Hawthorne complained to us yesterday about Autumn having taught her and everyone else about humans—I guessed that she, and likely you too, are quite involved in the entire human ordeal. And, given that you know her name, it seems—*achoo!*—it seems I was right.”

Garret might’ve wished to shrivel at being seen through so easily, but he tried not to let that get to him. Especially since, to the best of his ability to tell, Max didn’t sound offended about that.

“Well... yes, you’re right. I also wanted to talk about her, if that’s alright.”

“Oh, it is, it is. Though, I figured I wouldn’t have to go over all this again.”



“A-again? What do you mean, Max?”

“Oh? Elder Celia visited us yesterday evening to discuss just this topic. I would’ve thought that you knew.”

Nope, and Garret most definitely didn’t enjoy thinking about the implications of that. He’s never had any negative interactions with the Primarina Elder, but with how concerned his wife and mom were about her, him being so as well felt warranted.

“Nope, first time hearing about it. Sorry for that, can’t imagine it’s one bit pleasant.”

“Don’t worry about it, I—*achoo!*—I figured that the discussion would eventually reach me considering... yeah.”

Even though the thought of spying on an Elder’s actions made the Grimmsnarl feel queasy, he couldn’t resist asking.

“Out of curiosity... was she angry or anything?”

“Hardly—I don’t even really know how she was. She just showed up, asked a few questions, hid her face behind that flipper the whole time and left before I could get her a drink. Nothing accusatory, just all flat and matter-of-fact about the human situation. Kinda like what I’m imagining you wanted to ask me, too.”

That description didn’t feel the Fairy-type with even the slightest bit of confidence.

“Well, I suppose there’s gonna be some overlap—”

“You wanted to ask me what was my opinion about the human possibly staying here considering my past, r-right?”

Garret’s taken-aback look told Max everything, and so did the Meowstic’s amused chuckle tell the Grimmsnarl in return.

“It’s alright. To sum up what I told Celia... absent any context, I wouldn’t want the human to stay, no.”

Dense silence filled the room as the demon processed the response, eyes growing increasingly wider. Before he could ask for an elaboration, or even plead his case, the water in the kettle finally announced its readiness, distracting Max away from the tense discussion.

Garret wouldn’t have ever guessed that there’d be a situation where a cup of warm tea couldn’t help in calming down—and yet, here he was. Fortunately for him and his task, though, Max wasn’t done.

“However... I’ve gathered from a few rumors and what Hawthorne had overheard that this isn’t just a random human. Hell, I sincerely doubt anyone would be seriously arguing for them to stay unless there was a damn good reason for it, and that alone makes me reconsider it. It’s...”

Max had to pause and dig his mind for words, much of his confidence waning by the moment.

“It’s not that I hate them specifically, even hate humans as a whole or anything, it’s... it’s just scary. The thought of seeing a human scares me. I—*achoo!*—I have a nightmare sometimes, of a human silhouette barging through my front door and hurting everyone I know. No matter how hard I try not to think about it, that—that association doesn’t go away, and I don’t know how many nigh-sleepless nights it’ll take for it to leave me alone.”

He took a deep breath, followed by as large of a sip of the hot tea as he could, having to lift the heavy wooden cup with both paws.

“And if what I’ve gathered overall is true, that it’s really a choice between that human staying here or possibly death... then their wellbeing trumps my silly, irrational discomfort.”

As relieved as Garret was, there was part of that response he wanted to hone in on—

“It’s not irrational, Max. You’ve got good reasons to be spooked, I get it.”

“I don’t recall ever going over it all with you specifically, hah.”

“Well... yes, you never have, but with a fear as intense as that, there has to be something that caused it.”

“You’re not wrong, don’t worry.”

With a moment of downtime, both men could enjoy a good sip of tea as they gathered their thoughts. Garret calmed down at the thrust of his visit having been successful. It really was a life-or-death situation, and Max expressed clearly that, in that case, Anne’s life was more important than his discomfort. It felt a bit... rushed, though, and didn’t really match up with what he’d heard about Hawthorne, piquing his curiosity further.

“Thank you for a thoughtful answer, Max. Makes ya wonder where’d Hawthorne get her attitude from...”

Immediately, a drawn out, tired, regretful exhale. Regardless of if the Meowstic was hiding something from him, the point about his daughter struck true. Garret wasn’t expecting to catch his coworker on a lie, and so didn’t act suspicious—merely really, really curious about what Hawthorne’s deal was.

“It does, I’m aware. Me and my wife should’ve been more forceful in getting these attitudes out of her when we first heard them. By now they’ve all festered and I worry it’s too late to change anything.”

“I wouldn’t say that, Max. Kids are smart, especially ones as old as Hawthorne.”

“I know, I know, but—*achoo!*—it’s still difficult to convey a more nuanced attitude. No matter if I’m afraid of humans or not, they’re no more universally evil than we’re universally good, and I don’t even think humanity as a whole is some malignant force. I’ve no idea how to tell her that in a way that doesn’t sound like me backtracking on what I said.”

The Grimmsnarl pondered on that question for all of fifteen seconds before coming up with an answer, of which ten were spent downing a good sip of the tea.

“Why not backtrack on what you said? If you told her something that’s just outright wrong, then correcting her isn’t a bad idea. She’s old enough to know that her parents aren’t always right.”

“I meant it in the sense that anything I say will sound fake. As if I’m being overly polite because that’s what others want to hear, whereas a harsher, more intolerant attitude is my ‘real’ one. Not true in the slightest, but I have no idea how to prove it to her—believe me, I’ve tried, it just doesn’t stick.”

Now that was a much tougher question.

Correcting oneself was one thing, but doing so to someone who didn’t interpret anything beyond your original words as genuine was... challenging, bordering on impossible. Garret didn’t have any magical advice. He hoped under his breath that he wouldn’t ever end up in a situation like this with any of his children, especially when it concerned something important.

Garret discarded the simple suggestions such as saying it from the heart or being as genuine as can be. If he could think them up in a minute, then most definitely so could Max, and they just didn’t end up working for one reason or another.

Though... he had one more idea.

“It sounds like you need to show it to her, not just say it.”

Just as with Garret’s other ideas, Max had thought about this one a bunch of times in the past, before inevitably discarding it because of it just being impossible. No way to dissuade his daughter’s hatred of humans without having a human to interact with. Even now that it was more possible, all the Meowstic could think of was just how much he didn’t want to do that. No matter how nuanced his abstract opinion of them was, he was entirely content to never see another human ever again.

But if it was the only way to get his daughter to stop being so virulently hateful, it looked like he’d have to.

“I... I guess. It—*achoo!*—it’s terrifying to think about, but you’re right. Either way, not something I can do here and now, and likely not until the human ends up staying for good.”

Fingers crossed.

“Just... wished I had more restraint so that things never got this bad to begin with.”

Max’s words snapped Garret’s attention back over to him, their implication worryingly uncertain. Was he blaming himself for just Hawthorne, or for the entirety of his present state?

“What—whatcha mean, Max?”

“I—I told her too much at too young of an age, I think. She was curious about what happened to my ears, so I told her. Asked me about humans, so I told her that too. I wasn’t keeping any secrets from her, even though now I think I really should have, in hindsight. Well—not ‘secrets’ secrets, but things that she was just too young for, things that she shouldn’t have had to hear when so little. It was too much detail for her, I could tell, but I just couldn’t stop. I...”

A much more intense shudder rocked the Meowstic’s body, his entire small self huddling closer to his mug.

“I worry I’ve scarred her with what I’ve told her. She just got scared and angry; so much of the nuance went over her head, but it was enough for the worst of it to just burn itself into her mind forever.”

Garret took a larger sip as he chewed through Max’s words. His situation was messed up and perfectly understandable simultaneously, and he’d be lying if he said that it didn’t leave him a bit conflicted about his coworker’s character. Then again, he hadn’t endured as much trauma as the Meowstic clearly has, he was in no place to judge.


Judge too harshly, at least.

“If you don’t mind, Max... what did you tell her?”

The Meowstic let out a dry chuckle, the accompanying smile painfully fake. This discussion obviously wasn’t getting anywhere further without him going over just what he’d told his daughter—and by extension, telling the tale of his past once more.

“Figure going through what I’ve been through will help to explain it, yes...”

Garret lifted an eyebrow at his question being warped right in front of him. Before he could speak up in protest about it, Max explained himself.

“I—*kachow!*—I know that’s not what you asked for, Garret, but the two are one and the same, pretty much. A recollection of the same awful events either way.”

The Grimmsnarl wasn’t entirely convinced, but went along with it. Max obviously knew better, and this didn’t sound like any sort of malicious, intentionally construed lie.

“Alrighty. I hope it’s not too much to go over all that, then.”

“No, no, not anymore. For better or worse, I’ve mostly grown numb to it by now.”

With a deep breath, he began his recollection proper.

“I don’t remember a lot from the earliest parts of my life. To the best of my knowledge, I was with my human from the moment I hatched. She lived in a small house with only me, and since she left for a human job early each day, I spent a lot of time alone.”

That sounded... unpleasant.

“Huh. You were left alone for hours as a hatchling?”

“Not quite hatchling, but... yes. I didn’t mind a whole lot, since it was warm and she left me plenty of food and water. Or, at least, I don’t remember minding at that point. One day, though... I had a slip-up.”

Garret nodded and took a big sip of the tea, still following along.

“I don’t recall what caused it, really. I probably just got scared by a loud sound, but the next thing I remember was staring at a shattered table and half of a wardrobe, together with other damage around it.”

“Did... you do that?”

“Oh yes, yes. Espurr are… surprisingly powerful. Disastrously so, occasionally, and without the right ways of managing stress, that kind of power can sometimes just... slip out. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened if I had been raised by other Meowstic, maybe it still would and they would’ve been able to handle that much better, I—*achoo!*—I don’t know.”

“How did... ‘your human’ react?”

“She was terrified. Not that I can blame her, but it didn’t help either of us. I felt her get scared, so then I got scared, and I remembered us both panicking for a good while after. I didn’t want that to happen again, didn’t want to accidentally hurt her, and we both feared that I would do that on accident. The next thing I really remember, probably a few weeks later, was waking up one morning, a-and—”

Max cut himself off right as his voice wavered. Instead, he pointed up at where the scars on his ears were, the implication obvious.

“Just... one day I woke up, and suddenly had almost none of my psychics remaining, and was partially deaf.”

“I’m so sorry, Max, that’s terrible...”

“Really, I thought I’d gotten over the worst of it by now, but seems not. Guess something like that never really just leaves us alone, no matter how much we think we may have it under control at the moment. I’ll—I’ll get over it, don’t worry, it just hit me hard there.”

The Meowstic took his time taking deep breaths as his coworker stared at him in concern.

“A-alright, I think I’m okay now. So, one day I wake up, and the tops of my ears are gone. For Espurr and Meowstic, it’s where a good chunk of our psychics are stored, so without them, it’s so much harder to do anything. And it scared me. It felt like the entire world had suddenly gone so, so quiet, and I didn’t understand why. What was left of my ears hurt a lot; I couldn’t keep my balance; I kept bumping into things, and—and it all just hurt. But... that wasn’t even the worst part.”

Garret lifted an eyebrow, a small shudder accompanying the gesture.

“You know, before then, I felt her caring for me. She wasn’t home as often as I wished she would be, and tended to be very busy, but... I could feel her affection for me. Even when she was stressed and didn’t have time to play with me or whatever, I could still just lay down near her and feel better. But after that, I... I couldn’t sense that anymore, I just didn’t have any way to. It’s as if all that warmth had just disappeared. That was even scarier than losing all my psychics.”

The Dark-type couldn’t relate exactly, but his imagination provided him with plenty of fuel for his empathy, anyway. His kids couldn’t sense his love for them directly, of course, but they still saw it clearly every day. His words, his affection, his pride, being there for them when they felt down, or like they didn’t fit, or for any of a dozen other reasons.

And to imagine them losing not just that, but also what amounted to both of their arms all at once, without even being able to ask for an explanation, was...

It was Garret that needed a moment to recover this time, the awfulness of the mental image almost making him cry there and then. As soon as had the chance later today, he would go there and hug his kids tight and there wasn’t an earthly force that could stop him.

Just had to find out where ‘there’ was, but that was a footnote.

“Good gods, that’s—I don’t have words, Max.”

“I... yeah. It was awful. Afterwards, I was even more scared, but didn’t have a way of expressing it anymore. No telepathy, and without telekinesis, I could barely do anything by myself. And since my fear wasn’t as noticeable now, she just couldn’t spot it either. She’d spend even less time with me, got even busier, and all I could do was run in circles around a house that was barely twice or thrice the size of this one.”

This time, instead of further sorrow, Garret saw his paw clench to his side, a flat expression turning into a scowl.

“And she stopped taking me places. Before then, I have faint memories of seeing the outside world, plenty of other humans, some grass and trees, fresh air—but that also was just gone after whatever happened to my ears. For a while, I thought that I really deserved it all. That I had done something terrible by breaking that table by accident, and that this was my punishment. After I evolved, even without my ears, I could just barely make out her thoughts sometimes, so I would just... sneak up on her. Try to sense all I could, figure out the why of it all, get an answer, any answer, and—”

The Meowstic took a deep breath, trying to keep his rage from pouring out even further. Instead, a couple of tears slipped out from underneath his eyelids.

“She thought she was doing me a favor.”

Out of all the possible answers, this was the one the Dark-type expected the least of all; staring at his friend aghast.

“H-how could she have thought that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe—maybe some twisted idea that if I couldn’t do my psychics, then I wouldn’t have had to worry about accidentally damaging anything else anymore, which...”

Another pause to catch his breath, another opportunity for his anger to condense into sadness.

“I was already resentful of it all by that point. Being stuck in that tiny house, unable to do anything, unable to even figure out any human items. The couple of ‘toys’ she brought me for entertainment got either broken or I was too sick of them to even look at them anymore. I felt imprisoned; I felt angry, and I couldn’t keep it in any longer. My claws were quite grown out by then, so I just started scratching things. Anything, everything, just to show her, show how furious I was—all I got for it was a trimming session that I eventually gave up fighting against. She had won, and I had lost.”

“It beggars belief how that human could’ve thought she was doing anything but being abusive towards you...”

“It does, doesn’t it? Though... I think she knew, but she just had no idea what to do with me.”

“Even putting just letting you go aside, couldn’t she have handed you off to a safer human house?”

“You’d think, but... I don’t think she could have, actually. For all the awful things they do, I think my—my ears having been cut off was still against human rules. At least, I think that was the case because of what happened some time later.”

Max had Garret’s entire focus, expressed through an intense nod.

“One day, she accidentally left a window unlocked, and I took the opportunity to get out. I climbed out, escaped, and just... ran around the area for a while. I barely recognized some of these places, but each time I did it made me happy, and oh goodness, there was so much greenness out there. She only kept a single plant in a clay pot in her house, and I forgot just how much grass and trees there were outside!”

The second-hand euphoria at breaking out was marred by how disturbing it was to hear something as omnipresent as trees be described that way.

“But then, I—I kept running into humans. And they feared me. Whether it was because I was a Meowstic, or because of the missing ears, I don’t know. But it just happened almost every time. I’d keep walking away, but then some of them would start using their ‘phone’ things that my human used at home, and I got just the worst fear that something bad would happen to me if I stayed there. I couldn’t have been out for more than a couple hours, but I was terrified by the end, at that overwhelming fear coming my way. I—I managed to get back home, and hid in the darkest corner until my human came back.”

By now, Max was shaking fearfully in place, barely maintaining his composure.

“These random humans were scared of me, then once my human came back home she was scared of me too, and I was scared of them all. B-but then, in the evening of that day, some more humans showed up, with scary blue uniforms. I saw them talking to my human, they spotted me and got alarmed while my human got scared, and I hid again. Squeezed myself into a tiny nook behind some furniture while they were still talking to my human, and didn’t dare to move. Then they kept searching for me, and they just wouldn’t stop for hours and I stood in place and it hurt and I was afraid I got myself stuck and I wouldn’t have been able to escape on my own and—”


The Meowstic flinched at the unexpected sensation, eyes shooting open to see a dark-haired hand patting his shoulders. More startling than comfortable, but he appreciated the gesture.

“Apologies if that was too much, felt you going down that dark path and wanted to help.”

“Suppose distraction helps with that, too. Th-thank you, Garret. Anyway—they kept searching for me for hours, almost found me a couple of times, but eventually left. I waited for a while longer afterwards, then managed to force my way out of that spot, all wet with tears. It was all dark, there was a thunderstorm outside, my human was gone, I had no idea what had happened, but I knew I needed to get out before they came back. The windows were closed, and I scratched and pounded at them for ages, trying to break through. I didn’t know how to use any moves, I just kept bashing my body against it and prayed it would shatter.”

“What happened then?”

“I looked around the house for anything that could help, and found a small hammer. It finally started making cracks, so I kept hitting it, put all my strength and all the psychics I had into it, and eventually it just exploded into a rain of glass. I didn’t wait any longer and just jumped through. I felt the pieces scratch me from all around and the cold rain drench me, but I knew I couldn’t stop. Took off toward where I remembered all the trees being and ran. And ran, and ran, and ran, until I couldn’t run anymore.”

By the time Max had finished his tale, his breathing was little more than anxious gasps. He stared unfocused at the floor as the recollection finished washing over him. He had no idea how long it’d take for him to truly calm down again after all that, but that was a problem for later.

“Then, the next thing I know, I was here. Sprout had spotted me when scouting, and brought me over. And then... just an even larger, much more relieved blur.”

“I’m—I’m really glad you found safety here in the end, Max. All that sounds like an utter nightmare.”

“Oh, it... it was, at times. Most of the time it was just—just a boring torture. I thought it wouldn’t get to me as much this time, but I suppose I was wrong. I-it got me thinking too, because I liked some things from when I lived there, you know. I had no idea what a godsend running water was until I had to make do without it here. And indoor heating, gods I’d spend so much time sleeping beside the radiators in the winter.”

That was an entire tangent Garret didn’t expect in the slightest, leaving him really curious to see where it’d go.

“I just wonder why they have to be the way they are. These things I mentioned are tiny compared to many others. The sheer standard of living there is so much higher than here, but that doesn’t matter if they keep all that to themselves. And now I’m thinking why. Why do they treat us the way they do; why do we have to hide from them; why do their ‘trainers’ enslave us, and...”

The flimsiest deep breath the Grimmsnarl had ever seen, only barely interrupting Max’s revelation.

“And I think it’s all borne of fear. As much as I fear them, as much as we all fear them and what they can do to us if they band together—I think they’re just as afraid of us, if not more. In a one-on-one, almost any mon could kill almost any unarmed human and it wouldn’t even be close. I think that’s why they want to contain us so much. It’s not hatred—not just hatred, and whatever hatred there is has to come from that fear. And you know what’s the worst thing?”

Garret was too busy processing Max’s revelation to respond, but that didn’t stop him.

“I have no idea how it could ever change. Even if all humans just gave up a-and said to the entire world that they wouldn’t try catching us ever again... there’d be many, many mons that would use that as an opportunity for revenge—even a good few in this very village. And the other way, if mons as a whole tried to lower their guard, we’d all end up getting contained and exploited. Are we just stuck like this? Forced to hide from humanity forever? Will—will anything ever get better?”

There weren’t answers to these questions, and both men knew that fact very well. But while Garret might’ve seen the obvious implication of that fact and looked away, Max didn’t, and was being increasingly sucked into a vortex of despair—


Nothing a bit of percussive maintenance couldn’t help with, though.

If nothing else, it startled the Meowstic out of his train of thought, leaving him blinking at his coworker. Garret didn’t consider himself a particularly intelligent person, not like Jovan, or Ana, or even his wife was. Still, he liked to think he got a couple of things figured out, and this area was one of them.

“Y’know, thinking about this kinda stuff helps nobody. If we can improve the world, we should, but if we can’t, fretting about it won’t do us any good. It’ll just make us all the more miserable—at least that’s how I see it. Whattcha think?”

The swerve away from the previous topic came from the left field, but Max couldn’t say he didn’t appreciate it. It felt boorish to admit it, but Garret had a point. The last thing the Meowstic needed was to be sucked further into despair, especially with so much happening.

“I—I think I agree. Thank you, Garret. For that—*achoo!*—and for giving me an opportunity to chew through all this. I may have gone through it all over a dozen times now, but... something clicked this time that didn’t before. I promise not to get too depressed about it, but goodness, I’ll need some more time alone to finish processing it all.”

“Well~ you’re very welcome, Max! Thank you plenty for having me. Don’t worry, don’t worry, I’ll be heading out in not too long—just noticed one thing when I stepped in.”

The Meowstic raised a single eyebrow, taken aback by the followup.

“It’s weirdly cold in here. There’s a hole in your wall somewhere.”

Max groaned as if half his soul had left him, topped off with the weakest nod Garret had ever seen.

“I miss concrete...”

A few hundred meters away from her son, Autumn was taking the winter head on.

Granted, that might’ve been because she forgot to take her shawl with her in her haste and had to resort to focusing much harder than usual on her safeguard, but she was doing it anyway. She had little spare brainpower to focus on her bodily sensations, though, not with the trouble she was likely getting herself into.

That Banette sounded suspicious the moment she saw him. And with his reaction to Sage’s group hug, it felt like her concerns about him had been justified. She knew full well that him leaving could’ve meant many things, some much more innocuous than others—but it had to mean something, and considering the graveness of Sage’s past, Autumn didn’t want to stop until she knew just what was the older ghost’s deal.

She would’ve really preferred if she wasn’t being led out of the village in pursuit of him.

Even if she was safe against whichever Ghost-type moves he could use on her, the other types were still fair game. No matter how much of an expert at Protects and other defensive moves she was, she knew as well as anyone that with no offense of her own, all pure defense would accomplish was forcing the attacker to be more patient.

Of course, all that presumed that it’d come to blows. A possibility that Autumn was reasonably confident wouldn’t happen, but her fears disagreed.

And now, it was time to see whether they would be proven right.

Out of everything she expected Yaksha to be doing once she’d finally caught up to him, Shadow Clawing away at a random, snow-covered tree wasn’t it. Each strike was accompanied by a grunt of equal parts rage and regret; each grew ever more potent. None of them physically damaged the tree, but they still eroded it, draining it of whichever passive, motionless life it held—

Until it couldn’t take any more.

After one last strike, the brittle wood finally shattered under its own weight, sending the log falling toward them both. And while the Banette was either too paralyzed or too unwilling to move out of the way, the Indeedee didn’t have that limitation.

Autumn shrieked as her eyes were overcome with a green flare, her aura enveloping the entire tree. It only lasted a second or so, but even that was enough to redirect it away from them, if at the cost of a pounding headache and draining the elderly Normal-type of much of her remaining strength.

Leaving her defenseless before the grief-stricken ghost.

“~What the hell are you doing here!?~”

His ethereal voice overflowed with fury; pink eyes drilled into Autumn’s very soul. A part of her wanted to turn and run, but the rest wanted—no, demanded answers.

“I can ask—*pant*—I can ask you the same question. Why did you run, do you have something to do with what happened to Sage—”

“~How DARE you claim that!?~”

Their stare-down had turned into a powder keg in an instant. No matter how righteous in her indignation the Indeedee felt, a more restrained part of her knew nothing good would happen if she pushed the envelope further. She still didn’t trust him one bit, but figured she could take a half step back, even if she didn’t mean it.

“I-I’m not, and I apologize for the insinuation. Still, I need to know for Sage’s sake—why did you run?”

Hearing an apology was more effective than Autumn could’ve ever imagined. Instead of calming the Banette down, it outright stunned him; much of his ever intensifying fury evaporated in an instant. It took a while before he found the composure to respond, tone having switched from aggression to... discomfort.

“~That’s—that’s none of your business.~”

“Maybe, but as her guardian, it’s definitely Sage’s business. We both want the best for her, don’t we?”

Yaksha had a hard time disagreeing with that logic, much to his unease. He despised having to be introspective like that, only pushing through that dislike because of the ghostly girl.

Any other time he’d tried descending down that route, he only found a bottomless lake of hateful tears.

“~It’s... I failed her. I’ve been protecting her for weeks now, but couldn’t make her anywhere near as happy as your entire bunch did in the time it took me to nap. I fucked up the only thing that gave this entire existence any purpose, the only thing I had left.~”

The admission took Autumn aback, unexpected in its clarity. It didn’t answer everything, it barely even answered anything, but it made for a great jumping off point.

“What do you mean by ‘the only thing you had left’?”

The question had the Banette grow more distressed. For a moment, the Indeedee worried about that emotion reverting to anger, but thankfully, it turned towards despair instead.

“~I don’t have anything else. It’s been years, decades since I woke up in this body, and I remember nothing from before I met Sage, and nothing before I first died. Watching over her is the only thing I have, that I ever remember having. If I can’t do that, if I can’t even do this one fucking thing...~”

To Autumn’s fear, his fury made a swift return, aimed at the entire world.


She watched his body go limp as he turned his face to the sky and unzipped his mouth all the way, letting the pink tendrils of whichever spectral energy that controlled him lash out at the nearby air. It didn’t last more than half a second, but it left the Indeedee slowly reeling backwards.

And then, she stopped.

He might not have felt like he had a purpose anymore, but she did.

“I—I don’t know. But what I do know is that no matter what mistakes you’ve made previously, you can still fix them. Nothing stops you from being someone who makes Sage happy, nothing stops you from treating her and others more kindly. Or from staying here for good, if that makes her the happiest.”

Emboldened, Autumn approached closer, elderly body shaking in the cold.

“You can change, Yaksha. We all can. Do you want to change?”

“~Yes, of course I do! Why the hell wouldn’t I!?~”

“Good. Then I’ll try to help however I can, especially if you two will stay here for longer.”

She sensed the tiniest seed of gratitude within him, before the addition at the end turned it right back into mockery.

“~Here? With a human?~”

“Why not? Sage is a human ghost—”


His momentary outburst ended as soon as it had begun, stunning the Indeedee as the Banette gripped his head. It hurt, all of this hurt; it was as if an invisible knife was stabbing his mind. Agony beyond description, making him fear he was about to finally fade away. And then, it eased out, bit by bit, the wounds of unknown origin gradually mending.

He was still certain this random mon must’ve been lying, but it clearly wasn’t worth getting this angry over either way.

“~I... nevermind. I think I’m—I’m better now~”

Especially since no matter what their pasts were...

“~Could you... guide me back?~”

...he knew he wanted to be there for Sage until his very 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!
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