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Pokémon Those Who Will Inherit the Earth

Summary

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Those Who Will Inherit the Earth

A series of unforeseen events results in a struggle for the sanctity of the planet.

This story started out as an extension of "Resting Place", but over the course of 2-3 rewrites it has taken on its own identity. Despite technically using the same characters, it is best considered a completely different story. This story is not canon to any particular PMD game but borrows some PMD tropes. I think someone unfamiliar with PMD could read the story and basically have no trouble understanding it.

Blood/violence (sufficient to warrant an "M" rating on AO3)

 
Last edited:
Chapter 1

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
The frilly flowers of liatris tickled Poppy's nose as the leafeon rooted about the marsh grasses. There was a hint of musk amongst their honeyed scent---nidoking, maybe---but the scent was old enough that it wasn't worth worrying about. Lavender's voice came from Poppy's right, a kind of undulating cadence to it like a whistling thrush. "...while they had been fortunate enough to survive their last encounter, it was with heavy hearts that the old ones gathered their allies and told them the news- Oh, you're not listening anymore, are you, Poppy?"

Poppy jolted a little and turned toward her addresser---a neatly groomed delcatty, and none other than her faithful partner. Lavender walked with a bubbly sort of spring in her step, jostling the exploration team pouch slung around her shoulder. "Er, sorry, I'm trying... I just noticed there were some interesting plants here."

Lavender raised her eyebrows. "Mm hm, more interesting than your old pal Lavender. I see how it is."

Poppy grimaced, but there was a smile behind that grimace. "Ah, jeez, I'm sorry. But uh, look." She dashed to the right, broke off the stem of an herbaceous plant nearby, and presented it to Lavender. The leaves were egg-shaped with ridged edges and a hint of fuzz, and the claw-sized flowers looked like open mouths with lolling tongues. "I found some lemon balm. We can make tea out of it when we get home. You'd like that, right?"

Lavender's gaze softened. "I would, yeah, though I worry there won't be any chesto berries left for us at the gorge if we're too..." She trailed off as she took another look at the plant in Poppy's mouth. "Hm, that looks an awful lot like... mint, I think?"

Poppy nodded effusively, the green tuft at the crown of her head her head bobbing as she did. "Right, same family, just a bit of a different taste. Good eye."

Lavender chuckled with a little shake of her head. "I have to admit, it's pretty amazing how you know all the plants, even all the way out here."

"It's just a matter of knowing what to expect, based on the environment. For the sake of practice, let me ask you: how would you describe this ecology?" She gave a sweeping gesture with her tail.

Lavender scrunched up her face the way she often did when she was thinking. "Hm... it's definitely wet." Lavender lifted her paw, which was mud-stained and matted with moisture.

"Right. And you may remember there's a special term for places that are always wet."

"Uh... Wetlands?"

Poppy nodded again. "Right. This one is particularly interesting; you can tell that glacial influence played a role in forming it." She took in the landscape for a moment---the rocks that studded the ground as though they had rained down from above, the smooth ridges that encircled the marsh and the little pockets of snow that had accumulated in the depressions near the peaks. Poppy could visualize how the ancient ice must have flowed as it carved swaths out of the earth, and the chunks it left behind that had melted into glistening kettles. She took a moment to describe these things to Lavender, who listened carefully. "...So, knowing that this is a freshwater wetland, what kind of plants might we expect to find?"

"Um, I don't know, like, ones that enjoy water?"

"Such as?"

Lavender drew back her head a little and made a desperate sort of noise. "Uhhhhhhh... I don't know... Cattails, I guess?"

"Sure, there's cattails. There's also sweetflag, milkweed, fox sedge, boneset..."

Lavender laughed anxiously. "Okay, okay Poppy, I can't remember all those at once. We'll have to go over it sometime when I can actually write things down."

"Oh, sorry, I might have come on a little strong there." Poppy was quiet for a moment as she stepped around a puddle. "Anyway, you were talking about that book of yours---The One Whose Name Was Lost to Time?"

Lavender's ears twitched. "Oh, that's right! The old ones are finally preparing to confront the enemy of life, but the best they can hope for is to seal it away for a little while... It's a bittersweet prospect. But what makes this part fascinating is the characterization of the antagonist..."

Lavender went over her favorite parts of the myth at length, and Poppy was happy to listen; she liked the way her partner told stories. As Poppy gazed up at the sky, she imagined the clouds as titans engaged in an epic, turbulent battle.

***

The chesto trees were only a couple hundred meters away now; the flaky bark and long leaves made their species clear even before Poppy could see the small red fruits with curled stems. Her mouth watered a little; they were just as abundant as the other guild members had told them.

Something rustled up ahead, and Poppy turned her head---a group of three pokemon were talking to one another a little farther off. Shinx, raichu, and servine. They didn't have badges, and their leather pouches were rugged, like they had been crafted by hand. They turned toward Poppy and Lavender with faces darkened by ashen markings. Poppy thought to pick up her pace, to greet them, but their sharp expressions made her hesitate.

The raichu turned to the side and shouted something which sounded like a foreign language, and someone called out a response response from behind a hill to the left. Then his group prowled toward Poppy and Lavender. Jagged yellow bolts flashed around the pokemons' heads, accompanied by the mounting hiss of static in the air.

Poppy took a step back. "...I hate to say this after we just got here, but we should leave."

Lavender nodded. "After you."

***

By this late in the day, mud smeared the guild headquarters' floor in whispy trails like cirri. The marble walls were lined with fraying tapestries that depicted explorers from a time long since passed. The pokemon gathered around the main room tapped their feet or leaned over to look out the main door at the sky; they were eager to get home after a long day of walking, and Poppy didn't blame them. But there she stood, delivering her message regardless.

"...To keep it short, we're not the first team to have encountered tribal pokemon in that area, but as far as we know we're the first to have been threatened. Therefore I felt it important to let everyone know as soon as possible."

From across the room the guildmaster, a purugly, shrugged through a layer of fat as thick as winter snow. "Very well," he said in a stuffy voice. "I will be sure to inform those that were not here so that they will know to exercise caution in their harvests."

"Best if we cut it out altogether. That's what's got them so bothered, don't you think? They probably see those trees as theirs."

"I don't suppose it matters. Either way, it would be a stain on our legacy to bend to the will of ferals."

Poppy bristled a little. "Hold on, ferals? With bags and body markings and language?" She shook her head. "Never mind, that's not even the issue. We don't even know how many pokemon we're stepping on here. Do you want this to become a war? We need to stay out of there, or get ourselves a mediator. I know the language barrier is an issue, but-"

The guildmaster wrinkled his nose. "That's enough, Poppy. Unless you have any new information to add, I think we can conclude this announcement."

Poppy snarled. "You're ridiculous."

"Let's limit ourselves to productive comments now, yes?"

Poppy shoved her way past a mienshao and bibarel as she stormed out of the headquarters. She was greeted by a view of the city below, its glowing windows and smoggy haze from distant smokestacks, and shortly after she heard Lavender's voice behind her.

"Hey! Poppy!"

Poppy stopped, and she waited for Lavender to catch up before proceeding briskly down the steep path to the left.

"I know that didn't go so well-" Lavender began.

"I'm going to write the Alta Civil Rights Union. I doubt they'll take my side, but... the only way to get that jerk to listen is if someone threatens him with legal action."

"Poppy-"

Poppy grimaced. "Lavender, I swear, if you're about to tell me I'm overreacting-"

Lavender shook her head vigorously. "No no no, it's not that, I just wanted to remind you that we don't have any paper left at home, so if you want to write the union, we need to get more."

Poppy gave a growling sigh and looked over at the sun, which wasn't even two paws above the horizon. "Of course."

Lavender frowned. "Sorry. You were hoping to visit the crew today, weren't you?"

Poppy nodded. "Not going to have time to at this rate..."

"Listen, I'm fine with going out and doing some shopping for you if it helps. I can make sure we have all the stationary we need to write a letter tomorrow while you go out and check up on everyone."

Poppy's expression softened, and she looked into Lavender's eyes. "...Really? You wouldn't mind doing that?"

Lavender laughed. "Not at all! I know you get really busy sometimes, so I'm happy to help out a little. It's really the least I can do. It's late in the day to be doing this, though, so make sure you get back home before dark, okay?"

Poppy smiled a little and briefly brushed her cheek against Lavender's. "Thank you. I'll be sure to hurry." Then she turned around and trotted downhill as fast as she safely could.

***

By the time Poppy arrived, the sunlight had already taken on a tangerine hue. Still coughing from the city's pollution, Poppy followed the river nearby, looking as far ahead as she could. Just when she was beginning to think everyone had gone home for the day, a familiar peal of laughter rang out up ahead. Her anger began to fade away as she picked up her pace.

A lycanroc came into view, chasing something playfully in circles while the others---a dragonite, bayleef, and tranquill---looked on in amusement. The tranquill turned his head.

"Oh, hey guys! Poppy's here!"

The lycanroc stopped his pursuit, and he and the others followed the tranquil's gaze. Poppy slowed down a little as she drew near the group and smiled.

"Greetings." Poppy saw a little blue streak as something---someone---dashed behind the dragonite. The stranger peeked out from behind his guardian's thick tail---the flipper on his head marked him clearly as a mudkip.

"Oh, who's this?" asked Poppy.

The dragonite looked back and smiled reassuringly. "It was so cool, Poppy---we were setting up branches to catch the silt, and this little feral guy just joined in and started helping! Like he was part of the team all along!"

Poppy smiled. "Is that so?" She leaned over to get a better look at the mudkip, who was already getting over his initial surprise and now eyed Poppy curiously. "Well, I appreciate your support. Here-" She reached into the pouch slung around her shoulder, pulled out a pear, and left it on the ground in front of the mudkip. "It isn't much, but here's a small token of my appreciation. Even if you're not hungry now, it'll keep for a while. Come back tomorrow and I might have something better for you."

The mudkip ventured out toward the pear and investigated it. Meanwhile Poppy addressed the dragonite again. "Anyway, that's a pleasant surprise. Has everything else been going well?"

The dragonite nodded. "I'm surprised at how fast we were able to narrow the channel back there already-" He gestured behind Poppy, where they had laid out fallen conifer branches so that they stuck partway out into the water. In some places, they had already been partly buried by silt. "And we've made good progress around this general area too, so I expect we'll see similar results again soon."

"And we got a lot of the new transplants in the ground as well," the bayleef added, nodding toward a line of young dogwoods and winterberry shrubs.

"Excellent," Poppy said. "This stream will really benefit from the shade and organic matter. I know we're not really monitoring, but at this rate we might start to see the fish come back soon..."

"I hope so," said the lycanroc. "I think there's more already, but it might just be my imagination. I would be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to catch some..."

Poppy laughed. "I guess you'll just have to hold off for a bit longer. Hopefully a good population gets established in a couple years. After what this place used to be, it makes me happy there's anything at all..." She looked around at the area, which was still in an awkward adolescence between grassland and forest. The ground cover was thin and wispy, like an infant's hair, and the wild trees had hardly grown past 3 meters. But such things couldn't be rushed.

"By the way, Poppy," said the tranquill, snapping her out of her reverie. "If your estimate is correct, and we finish up by the end of next month... Do you have any plans in place to keep this place protected? I mean, I know we have the deed and all, but..."

Poppy's expression grew sober. "Right. So that should protect us from anything like... last time. But I was thinking it would be a good idea to enlist a couple pokemon from the crew to serve as rangers once we're done. Prevent any individuals from doing anything unscrupulous."

"A pokemon ranger?" The dragonite said. "That sounds fun. Do we get to use a lasso?"

The bayleef cocked her head. "Um, I'm not sure if that's how that works..."

Poppy chuckled. "Well, anyway... Hopefully that idea will suffice for protection. We only have enough money left in the fund to pay a few pokemon, so if anyone in the crew is really eager to sign up, let me know."

Everyone nodded.

"Good then. Anyway, I don't mean to hold you all up, especially after everyone else has already gone home." She bowed. "Thank you all for another hard day's work."

The four pokemon smiled and said their goodbyes to Poppy and the mudkip. Poppy smiled bittersweetly as she watched the little feral follow them for a ways.

Poppy's exhaustion hit her like a weighted net now that her day was properly done. She slumped to the ground and took a few deep breaths. It probably wouldn't be wise to rest here for too long, but she wasn't eager to head back to the city. She preferred to watch the feathery grass sway, to listen to the chorus of cicadas and crickets like a thousand spectral bells scattered across the sanctuary. As the sun dipped below the mountains, and the orange sky turned to murky blue, she began to forget how small this little plot of hers was. The call of eagle-owls seemed to reverberate into infinity, and she could no longer tell where, exactly, the trees ended and the vast starry sky began.

Insects visited Poppy from time-to-time, and she tried to guess their species without looking. That one on her shoulder felt big, maybe a blowfly? But it flew away too quietly. A couple of smaller ones too, here and there, ticklish, barely perceptible. Maybe some kind of gnat. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine that they were checking up on her. Like old friends.
 
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Chapter 2

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
"Poppy."

Lavender's voice was frigid; Poppy was reminded of the times she had got in trouble with her mother. Even before she opened her eyes, Poppy knew from the bright red beneath her eyelids that the sun was already shining at full strength.

"Ugh..." Poppy croaked as she raised her leaden head. She tried to talk but wound up coughing.

Lavender rolled her eyes and unceremoniously shoved her bag in front of Poppy, positioned so that the nipple of the water pouch inside was accessible.

Poppy drank enthusiastically, even though the cold water stung her throat. She sputtered out an apology as soon as she was done. "Sorry... I didn't mean to fall asleep like that..."

"Poppy, you're an adult, and this is the third time this has happened. You shouldn't just be nodding off in the middle of the wilderness. It's not healthy. I was worried, you know. You could have been eaten. And I spent at least an hour just looking for- for heaven's sake, Poppy, look at me!" Her hackles raised slightly as she said those last few words.

Poppy obeyed, though she was sure her discomfort was evident. One wouldn't think a normal-type's eyes could look so steely.

Lavender cleared her throat and looked away for a moment. When she spoke again, her voice was a little softer. "Sorry... But look, I'm not letting you do this again. I'm coming with you if you go out here in the evening again. Even though I shouldn't really have to." She shook her head and grimaced. "It's like I can trust you with anything but yourself..."

Poppy stood up stiffly, trying not to make it too obvious that her leg had gone numb. "I'll make it up to you. I just... felt bad going another day without checking up on those guys."

"Well, you should have just sent them something, or... I don't know. This is clearly not the answer. It's irresponsible." She sighed, signifying the end of her admonishments. "Anyway, there's an easy job on the board today no one's taken yet, so I say we should get going and take care of it. You can worry about apologizing later."

"Understood," Poppy muttered. "I'll need to get some supplies first though. I think we used our last cheri berry on that chespin."

"Don't bother," Lavender said dryly. "I already took care of it while I was waiting for you."

"Oh..."

Lavender went on her way, and Poppy followed sheepishly behind at a distance.

At least the weather was nice.

***

The sun was still a good few paws above the horizon by the time Poppy and Lavender had filled out the paperwork officiating the completion of their most recent job. The entrance to the guild was bustling with activity, so the two of them walked a ways down and perched themselves on an out-of-the-way rock. That Poppy always saw new faces along this path never failed to impress her; there were the common species today, like golem and axew, but also a few that were more exotic. A goodra glanced remorsefully over his shoulder as a pair of luxio tried to avoid his footprints; Poppy couldn't help but smirk at that. Didn't these city folks know a little slime wouldn't kill them?

"So, Poppy," said Lavender casually. "When was the last time you took a bath?"

Poppy grimaced, suddenly aware of the matted clumps of fur on her chest, and recalled that there was such a thing as being too lax about hygiene. "Too long, I suppose. Guess I know the first thing I'm doing this afternoon."

Lavender smiled wryly. "Good, then. Any other plans?"

"No. I'll just head straight home."

"Sounds good." Lavender rubbed her head against Poppy's briefly. "I'll be waiting for you. You'd better come back this time, alright?"

"Heh heh... I will. I promise."

Poppy headed off, grateful that Lavender hadn't given her a harder time.

***

Poppy was laid down in the patch of sunlight that shone through the apartment window, looking over the request letter before her one last time.

"What do you think?" asked Lavender as she looked up from her book.

"So, exploration? And maybe an element of escort, depending on how good that team that got there first is."

"I doubt they'll be too bad. They outrank us, you know."

"All that really means is that the guildmaster likes them more."

Lavender laughed. "You're so cynical sometimes, Poppy. Just because you don't get along with him... Just stock up on restorative stuff if you're really worried about it."

"Mm hm." Poppy looked at the letter again. "Still, that's decent pay. We could afford to take some time off if we completed this one, maybe work on sorting out that chesto berry situation. And I need to start saving for another parcel, too."

"Oh, is there already another one you've got your eye on?"

"Well... Got a couple ideas. There's certainly no shortage of wastelands around here. That defunct mill in Laurel Valley wouldn't be a bad place to target. If everyone in the crew put aside, say, 150 poke a month..." She closed her eyes and rested her head on the floor. "But to be honest, I'd rather not worry about it right now."

Lavender nodded. "Fair enough. But before you get too comfortable, I don't want to let you take up all the good reading light."

"Oh..." Poppy began to stand up, but Lavender stopped her.

"No, that's fine. You can stay where you are." Lavender walked over to her. "Just let me..."

Poppy started slightly when she felt something cool touch her flank. She looked over to see Lavender laying her book on top of her, a mischievous smirk on her face.

"There," said Lavender. "Much better."

Poppy laughed. "Silly cat."

Poppy closed her eyes again. At the end of the day, she couldn't complain---the weight of the book was hardly unpleasant, and every once in a while Lavender would pause her reading in order to give her a quick lick or a nuzzle. Lavender's scent was a bit different from her namesake---sweeter, a little more forward, like sugary tea---but it was soothing all the same. From outside Poppy could hear the dusty creaking of carriages, the occasional bit of banter or argument between two pokemon, but it was only when she was with Lavender that these noises ever seemed relaxing.

***

Poppy emerged from the nook in which she had slept and looked out at the ocean. The water here was cleaner than on the shore they had departed from; Poppy could see the bottom, the cobalt pockmarks on the ocean floor where the rock and sand had been worn away. Jagged stone jutted out from parts of the shore like little mountains, and though the waves looked gentle, the sound when they crashed against these ridges was powerful and expansive.

Poppy walked up to Lavender, who was poised on the tip of one of the taller rocks with characteristic feline grace. "Fancy a swim?" she joked.

Lavender cocked her head; she hadn't heard Poppy's question over the sound of the surf. Poppy repeated herself a little louder and elicited a chuckle from her companion.

"I'll admit I'm tempted," Lavender half-shouted. "Did you sleep well?"

Poppy nodded. "How'd your shift go?"

"Nothing of note---was a little hard to hear over the water though." She gestured to the right, toward an even rockier part of the shore where most of the noise was coming from.

"Right. Let's start heading up, then!"

Lavender assented, jumped down from her perch, and walked inland with Poppy. There was no clear path up the steep slope ahead of them, but there was plenty of sturdy mountain laurel to grab on to. Poppy used her vines to help her, and she bounded upward almost as fast as flight. From time to time she reached her vines down to Lavender to help her catch up.

"Whee!" Lavender smiled as Poppy pulled her up. "You know, I bet we could use those vines as a makeshift swing set. You ever try that?"

Poppy chuckled as she sidled between two rocks, a mossy scent filling her nose as she did. "For someone else? Can't say I have. Used to swing around with them when I was younger though."

"Aw, really? Why'd you stop?"

"...I don't know. Guess I just forgot about it."

"You forgot? Aw man, Poppy. Sounds like you've been missing out."

"Heh. Maybe."

The two continued on a while, until eventually the incline leveled out. Poppy and Lavender both took a moment to rest as they looked at the sunny, open space ahead. It probably would have been a proper grassland but for the rockiness of the terrain; nonetheless the sparse patches of soil that were present played host to smaller flowering plants like butterfly weed and aubrieta. Though the ground may have seemed cold and gray from a distance, there was color if one knew to look for it, spots of violet and coral orange like flecks of paint. Oh, and that plant looked interesting. Was it...

"Poppy," Lavender reprimanded, stamping her paw.

Poppy stopped mid-step with her nose almost flush with the ground, suddenly aware that she had veered off-track in her eagerness to smell the flowers. "Er, sorry Lavender. But you ought to take a look at this plant, at least. I think you'll like it."

Lavender raised her eyebrow and walked over. "Is that so?" She beheld the plant to which Poppy had gestured. Its small, rounded flowers formed clumps at the tips of its protruding stalks, like little purple cattails. "What is it?"

Poppy rolled her eyes. "Come on now. Surely you know this one." She tried to hide her smile as she watched Lavender scrunch up her face in contemplation. "...Maybe try smelling it."

Lavender did so tentatively. "Hm... I don't know that I've seen this back home. I know I've smelled it somewhere though... I just can't quite remember."

"It starts with an 'L'."

"Oh, an 'L'? I don't know if that really helps. Hm..." She scrutinized her companion's face as though she might find a hint there. "Poppy, you aren't messing with me, a-" She froze. "Oh," she said flatly. "It's lavender, isn't it."

Poppy laughed loud enough to flush the nearby bluebirds.

"Alright," Lavender mumbled as her ears drooped. "I admit that may have been a little stupid."

Poppy patted her on the back. "You'll get the hang of it one of these days, dear."

"Ugh." Lavender looked up at the sky, as though to plead to the heavens for mercy. "O-Oh, but by the way..."

"That braviary, right?"

"Yeah. I don't like the way it's circling. I was beginning to think you hadn't noticed."

Poppy followed Lavender's gaze and watched the creature. Even from far below its size was impressive; Poppy imagined all 90-or-so pounds of it streaking toward her at full speed and felt a chill run down her spine. "I don't like to say it, but we should be ready for an attack soon. With this terrain, I don't think it's really practical to try and avoid its territory. And, well, we're just as likely to run into another one trying to do that, anyway."

"I hate to say that I agree. We should start designating points of reference."

Poppy nodded. "Good idea." She gestured to a boulder nearby. "That'll be twelve o'clock."

"Got it."

The two proceeded onward, the braviary hanging over them like a stormcloud; Poppy harvested useful plants occasionally, but she resisted the urge to bury her nose in the ground. She had to keep up with Lavender's brisk pace anyway; the delcatty was certainly the faster of the two on flat ground.

"That shrub'll be twelve now... Ugh." Lavender looked up for the umpteenth time after maybe ten minutes of traveling. "If he's going to attack us, I wish he would just get it over with alre-"

Her complaint was interrupted by the braviary's shrill, hawk-like screech. Poppy and Lavender both winced, ears ringing.

"I think it heard you," Poppy grumbled. "That's probably our last warning."

Lavender sighed. "Swell. I see it gearing up. I'll use swift when it dives and then get out of the way."

"Okay. Shrub is still twelve, yes?"

"Yes."

Poppy assumed a fighting stance and narrowed her eyes as the braviary dove. As it drew closer, it became clear that it was targeting Lavender first. That was fine by Poppy; she hated fighting flying types, and it gave her time to prepare her attack.

Lavender waited a split second and then opened her mouth to unleash a torrent of golden stars. But the braviary anticipated the swift and rolled out of the way in the blink of an eye. It changed its trajectory to target Poppy instead.

Poppy unleashed her energy ball as soon as she saw where the braviary dodged. She noted, with some degree of satisfaction, that she had timed the attack well; the sphere collided with its target before it could redirect its momentum, and burst into tiny green fragments like shredded leaves.

Poppy's satisfaction was quickly extinguished, however, when she realized that her opponent hadn't faltered, and in fact was barreling toward her as stubbornly as before. The braviary's talons glinted in the sunlight like obsidian as it extended them toward Poppy, and she did the only thing she could think to: duck.

The braviary's talons sliced through Poppy's skin like a razor, and stinging pain followed a moment later. Nonetheless, Poppy knew she had got off easy. A slower reaction, and she might have been carried off.

Poppy whipped around to look for her attacker, but to her surprise, saw only a clear blue sky. She turned immediately toward Lavender.

"Where'd it go?"

"Four o'clock," Lavender said as she trotted toward Poppy. "Dipped below the ridge."

That fast? "Let's head toward nine, then. Give us some room when it comes back up."

"Got it."

The two proceeded, keeping a look out behind them.

"You alright?" Lavender asked as they wove between rocks.

"Just a scratch. It won't impair me."

"Good. Now look alive." She gestured forward and slightly to the left.

The braviary peeked its head above the ridge for a moment before properly rising above it. Seeing that its prey was too far for an ambush, it began instead to flap its wings and regain its lost altitude.

"We should attack it before it can dive again!" Lavender charged toward the braviary, and Poppy followed closely behind.

The braviary dodged Lavender's next swift without much difficulty, but it was forced to slow its ascent. Poppy lashed out with a vine while it was distracted and grabbed hold of its ankle.

The braviary cried out, and Poppy flinched. Her face contorted as she strained against it, but she may as well have been pulling at a tree. Her front legs lifted off the ground, so she quickly lassoed a second vine around a nearby boulder to stabilize herself.

Poppy cried out for Lavender, but the delcatty already knew what to do. While the braviary contorted its body to try and peck and scratch at its restraints, Lavender closed her eyes and focused. Yellow sparks flashed around her mane as she prepared her next attack.

Though the attack itself---a jagged yellow bolt---only lasted for the blink of an eye, its effects were immediately apparent. The braviary made a guttural sound as its wings twitched and then froze up. It fell to the ground with a low thud, and Poppy wasted no time in subsequently wrapping up its wings and feet. She tied off the vines once she was done, and then detached them from her body.

"There," she exhaled, suddenly aware of her heartbeat pounding in her chest. "Happy holidays, I guess."

Lavender raised her eyebrow. "I still don't know if that joke quite lands."

"It'll be funnier when I learn how to make bowties." She shrugged, and then winced at the pain in her shoulder. "...Anyway, I'd suggest we move him somewhere safer while the vines degrade, but for two things. First... for a bird, he's heavy as all get-out. Second..." She watched the pokemon as it twitched and flopped around, trying fruitlessly to regain its footing. It struck her just how big it was, dwarfing her size even with folded wings. "That thunder wave is going to wear off in a minute, and frankly I don't even want to be around it when that happens. So long as its beak isn't bound, I doubt anything's going to try and eat it."

"Fair points both. Let's move on, then."

They proceeded, but Poppy was slower than usual. Lavender looked at her back. "That cut looks a little deep, Poppy. You want to put something on it?"

"Yeah, not a bad idea. It's not worth using the oran, though." She nosed through her bag and produced a plant with small white flowers and lacy leaves. "Here's some yarrow I picked earlier---you can make a poultice out of that. It'll help with the bleeding."

They stopped for a moment as Lavender did what she was asked. Her teeth were not made for chewing leaves, but she managed well enough.

"Smells like licorice," Lavender said as she applied the treatment.

"It is actually edible, as it happens---if you're omnivorous, anyway. Either way I prefer to keep it for... Well, stuff like this." Poppy sighed. "Anyway, if the pokemon here are really this tough, I can see why team Chlorosteel called for backup."

"I know, right?!" Lavender exclaimed, as though she had been waiting this whole time to say it. "I know everyone's gonna say 'type advantage' or whatever, but it's one thing for a pokemon to take an attack like that and stay conscious, and another thing entirely for it to just... plow right through it."

Poppy chuckled. "I'm glad you think so too. Caught me completely off-guard. Took your thunder wave pretty well, too."

"Indeed. Let's hope it's just an anomaly." Lavender stepped away from Poppy. "Anyway, you were right about that herb. Seems to have stopped the bleeding. Just take care when you're climbing so that wound doesn't reopen."

Poppy nodded. "Will do. Thanks."
 
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Chapter 3

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
The island's vegetation grew gradually denser as Poppy and Lavender neared their destination. By now oak trees too thick to embrace towered over them, filtering out most of the sunlight.

"I know I'm not the ecologist here," said Lavender as she slipped between the branches of a serviceberry shrub, "but this doesn't seem natural."

"You can definitely say that again," Poppy agreed. "The soil here shouldn't be able to support... all this. And check this out." She grasped the branch of a blueberry bush between her toes and bent it hard. The leaves rustled, but the branch held despite its thinness. "These plants... I'm not sure it would even be possible to cut down one of these trees."

"Maybe it's the same reason why the pokemon here are tougher, too. There's clearly something going on that we don't know about."

"Yeah. Hopefully we'll learn something from team Chlorosteel. Speaking of which..." Poppy took a deep breath. "Laurie! Scotch!"

"You've got to be louder than that," Lavender teased. She turned her head forward. "Like this---Laurie! Scotch!" She looked back at Poppy. "See, they'll have a much easier time-"

Lavender was interrupted by a distant but piercing screech---if a chunk of metal could crash to the ground and shatter like glass, that's probably what it would have sounded like.

"Huh, good job," said Poppy. "I haven't heard any skarmory on this island so far, so I'm willing to bet that's our quarry."

Lavender smiled with relief. "Thank goodness. Let's get over there!"

Poppy and Lavender threaded their way through the understory, until they saw a glint of steel through the bushes.

"Scotch!" Lavender picked up her pace. "Is that you?"

The skarmory peered through the leaves of a nearby sumac, revealing his face. "Hey, Lavender!" he called, his voice rough like grinding stones. "It's good to see you."

Poppy and Lavender closed the distance between themselves and Scotch and gave their greetings. Poppy gave Scotch a cursory look and was relieved to see he seemed uninjured. It took her a little longer to notice the comparatively diminutive lurantis that stood behind him, a little off to the side. The way she held herself, with her legs close together and arms half-hiding her face, suggested someone introverted.

"How are you two doing?" Lavender asked. "I got the sense, from what we were told, that you had had some trouble dealing with ferals around here."

Scotch nodded. "That's right. Laurie was injured badly by an arbok earlier. Wasn't poisoned, thank goodness, but we took it as a sign that we should call for help."

Laurie, the lurantis, stepped forward and held out her arm. There was a jagged spot of swollen flesh there about as large as a coaster, resembling a burn.

"Heavens." Lavender clucked her tongue. "That must have been really bad. How long ago was it?"

"Well, that's the thing... It's only been two days. I mean, I thought... I thought she was gonna die at first when we were treating it, but... she's already fine."

Lavender frowned and looked Scotch in the eye. "Two days? You're sure?"

"I mean, I was there."

Lavender shook her head. "Not that I'm unhappy to hear it, but even with good treatment... It's hard to believe. Unless..."

Scotch nodded. "We're thinking it has something to do with this place. If our guess is correct... All of us could be passively benefiting from the power that permeates this island. Just like all these plants here." He struck the tree beside him hard with his wing, and the sound reverberated across the forest like a gong. But he didn't so much as chip the bark. "And maybe the feral pokemon are strong because they've been here for longer. Just a thought. But either way, things keep getting crazier as we move further inland. If we keep going, we might be able to find the source of it all."

"Sounds exciting!" said Lavender.

"Sounds dangerous," said Poppy.

The two looked at each other, and then Poppy glanced away awkwardly. "I mean, I know it's technically the job, but I can't help but think if there's something that powerful, it should be left alone."

"The opposite could be true, too, don't you think? If we don't know what's causing this, it could bite us later."

"I guess," Poppy said, and then frowned. "I'm just worried about the guildmaster. You were there for our last conversation. I don't trust him with... whatever we end up uncovering."

Lavender nodded. "I understand that, Poppy. But it's too late to pretend this doesn't exist, so we may as well finish this mission and get paid."

"...You're right," Poppy mumbled. "We still have to keep going, so... we may as well be optimistic about it."

Poppy began to walk, but her gait was slow, and her chin was a little lower than usual. The others followed shortly after and soon overtook her.

***

The irony in having a strong, four-pokemon team is that it made having a strong, four-pokemon team no longer necessary. Even the more threatening ferals like rillaboom and arcanine seemed to recognize that they were at a numerical disadvantage, and they scrambled off through the bushes when they noticed the team approaching. Meanwhile the vegetation around Poppy, Lavender, and team Chlorosteel continued to grow to more extreme---if not frightening---proportions. There were paw-sized serviceberries and tree trunks nearly large enough to live inside, like something out of a fairy tale. Poppy was covered in itchy scratches where she had tried to push through a patch of brambles only to realize that the stems and thorns were as rigid as steel. Lavender seemed excited ("Look at how big that flower is!" "Poppy, try this dandelion!") but Poppy just felt like she was somewhere she didn't belong.

After a few days, an unusually steep ridge appeared on the horizon---a nearly perpendicular slope that led to an ashen, volcano-like crater.

"We might want to go around that," Poppy suggested.

Lavender gestured with her tail to the tip of the crater. "But look, Poppy, there's something glowing at the top there. We should check it out!"

Poppy, along with Scotch and Laurie, looked up. It was faint, but there was indeed a strange white glow coming from the center, like moonlight.

"Lavender is right," Scotch said. "That might be the source of all this power."

"I see," Poppy replied. "Away we go, then."

The teams picked up their pace slightly, though it was still slow going with all the foliage. Scotch led the way, flattening the shrubs where he could, while Laurie slipped through gaps in the branches like water. Lavender wrinkled her nose as she emerged from under a burdock shrub.

"You smell that too?" Poppy asked.

"Yeah," Lavender said as she picked a burr off her flank. "You don't know what it is, do you?"

Poppy shook her head. "Never smelled anything like it. Sweet, but not floral... I don't think it's botanical in origin."

"I think it smells more like a pokemon... Maybe it's a species we haven't seen before!"

Indeed it is.

The psychic voice was floaty, ethereal, like the sound of rubbing a wineglass. Everyone started. "What was-"

Light flashed in the corner of Poppy's eye, so she whipped her head around to look, and then did a double-take.

Azure and cobalt highlights on black fur. Antlers as tall as Poppy herself, spread wide like the mouth of a goblet. This island wasn't even that far from the guild; had Xerneas really been here the whole time?

Xerneas' gaze swept over everyone gathered before it, then swept over them again. I do not know why you all are here, but unless it is something pressing, I implore you to leave.

"O-okay," said Lavender. "Can I ask why? We came all this way to explore the island..."

To explore the island? Xerneas tilted its head and examined Lavender's pouch, with its guild badge affixed to the front. Its eyes narrowed fractionally and stayed narrowed. Guild members. I see. I am distantly aware of your organization.

The ensuing silence was long, but Poppy didn't want to speak up. Eventually Lavender opened her mouth, but Xerneas interrupted her. "Leave no stone unturned." A common saying amongst your ilk. Tell me, if you return home without having completed your exploration, what do you think the guild will do?

"They'll send someone else," Poppy said. "They'll send fliers too high for you to reach, or psychics."

Xerneas nodded slowly. I think so as well.

It was silent yet again. Scotch and Laurie shuffled their feet as crickets' calls sizzled throughout the understory. Xerneas stood still, statuesque, and stayed that way even as it resumed speaking.

I would prefer to keep this place secret, but I know that to be a naive prospect. As a gesture of goodwill, I will tell you what lies at the center of this landmass---and I hope that information inspires you and your ilk to act responsibly.

The explorers nodded.

Doubtless, each of you has already realized the unique qualities of this island’s lifeforms. And, as you have speculated, they do indeed arise from that source over there. It gestured with its head to the top of the crater.That crater goes far underground, nearly to the center of the planet. It exposes the planet’s energy itself, which bubbles up like a spring.

Lavender spoke up. "I don't get what you mean by 'the planet's energy'"

Nearly everything I know about it is in the name. But surely, at some point, you must have wondered about how us pokemon acquired our power. About what separates us from animals.

"And you're saying it's because of this energy?"

Yes. Though it is especially strong here, it actually permeates the entire planet. And pokemon, by nature, are able to harness it in myriad ways. Xerneas looked up to the sky. In the past, pokemon were far more powerful. You may have heard stories about it; about how skarmory used to be able to fly, for example. It pointed at Scotch. But populations have grown, meaning that there is now less of this power for each individual to draw upon. I bring this up to illustrate that the planet’s energy is a finite resource that warrants protection. I am here to provide that protection and ensure that it remains freely usable by all.

"That's interesting," said Lavender. "But a power source like that could be put to a lot of different uses, don't you think? Maybe pokemon could get together to harness a bunch of it and make, I dunno, lights that stay on all the time! Or like, superpowered carriages that can transport things really fast!"

Poppy stepped forward, into Lavender's view. "I would just like to quickly say that I do not endorse these ideas."

Lavender pouted at Poppy. "Aw, why not? Otherwise all that energy is mostly just going to be used for fighting, and that kind of seems like a waste."

"It’s more than just fighting. For example, if that power were depleted, I might not be able to use my vines as effectively. That would affect a lot more than just combat."

Lavender frowned. "Pokemon are smart. It shouldn’t be too hard for us to invent a way around-"

"Just because there might be a way around it doesn’t mean it’s okay to curse every pokemon on the planet with unnatural deficiencies." Poppy's face grew hot. "And what about pokemon with healing abilities? Should we contrive replacements for them as well? Sounds like we're well on our way to creating a solutionist dystopia."

I agree with the leafeon, Xerneas said. The natural order is too important to be tampered with.

Lavender wrinkled her brow. "But for emergencies? If we had an influx of refugees, say, and had to provide homes or heating? Could we use it somehow then?"

There is no use that will not harm others. The answer is no.

Lavender turned toward Scotch and Laurie. "And you two? I take it you feel the same?"

"Er..." Scotch shuffled his feet. "I don't know. I didn't expect something like this; I just wanted to explore the island. I'll have to think about it."

Meanwhile, Laurie just held still.

"Fine." Lavender turned and stomped away, crushing the fallen leaves beneath her paws. Scotch and Laurie followed shortly after.

"Lavender..." Poppy took a step toward her partner but then stopped and turned toward Xerneas. "I'm sorry about that. Good luck."

Xerneas simply bowed its head.
 
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Chapter 4

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Lavender stretched as she stepped out of the humble wooden vessel that she and Poppy had borrowed from the guild. By now she seemed to have forgotten her anger. The sun was low in the sky, and the docks were quiet this late in the day; just the sounds of water lapping at the shore. "Thank goodness... It's good to be home, eh Poppy?"

Poppy chuckled quietly. "Yeah... Didn't feel like a month though, did it? Oh, that reminds me, since we're close by anyway, I'd better go check up on the crew before it gets dark. I'll meet you at home."

Lavender shook her head. "No, Poppy. Remember last time? I'm coming with you."

"Oh." Poppy looked down. "Right. Sorry."

The two of them went on their way. It always felt a little strange to bring Lavender with her to her little sanctuary, but a part of Poppy was excited. Lavender hadn't been there in a while, so Poppy bet she would be impressed. They just had to crest this last hill, and then they would be treated to a panoramic view...

Had Poppy not been paying attention, she might not have recognized the place. The soil was barren, dry enough that a gust of wind blew dust into the air. The branches had been cleared from the river, and the riparian trees and saplings replaced with ornamental species that left the water exposed to the sun. A few hundred meters away, pokemon were pouring a foundation beside stacks of neatly-cut lumber. And even from atop the hill, Poppy could recognize the purugly---that pudgy gray blob---that sat beside the site, surveying it with critical eyes. The guildmaster.

Poppy's face flushed, and her hackles raised. Her heart pounded as she descended the gradual slope toward the construction site. She didn't notice how fast she was running until she heard Lavender call for her to wait up.

The soil beneath Poppy's paws was hard and warm from its exposure to sunlight. Like asphalt. Poppy tried not to think about this, or about the workers whose heads were turning toward her, or about anything, as she approached the guildmaster.

The guildmaster turned toward Poppy and gave her a smile and a nod as she approached. "Ah, you must be Poppy," he said in a saccharine voice. "How was your trip? You'll have to tell me all ab-"

"What. The fuck." Poppy's voice was strained, her throat constricted as she tried to stop herself from growling.

The guildmaster cocked his head innocently. "Excuse me?"

Poppy's ears started ringing. "I own. This land," she said, nearly spitting each word. Her voice, and the sounds of the workers around her, slowly grew muffled. As though buried under a sheet of snow.

"Ah, oh, of course! You must be a little confused." The guildmaster reached into his pouch and produced a small sheaf of paper. "Here, I figured you might want to review the guild's special privileges. Since this land is not in use and has not had plans for development for over two years, we are, because of amendment 14, legally entitled to purchase it- Worry not! You should have received a check by now reimbursing you for-"

"I want. The land." Poppy glared and lowered her stance.

The guildmaster gave a confused look. "But after all that work you did to clean things up, was your intention really just to leave this parcel sitting there? As a guild member, surely you must understand the importance of public service."

Poppy heard a crackle of electricity, no louder than static, right as she summoned her vines to attack. Her legs buckled beneath her, and she fell awkwardly to the ground. A tingling sensation like pins and needles pervaded her body.

Thunder wave, of course.

"I-I'm terribly sorry for my partner's behavior," Lavender stuttered as she nosed under Poppy and slipped the leafeon onto her back. "The last trip was very stressful for her, and she needs some time to rest..."

Poppy could feel Lavender trembling beneath her.

"So, um, w-we'll just be heading right home..." Lavender bowed awkwardly and turned away before the guildmaster could comment. She walked briskly, but stiffly, clearly holding herself back from breaking out into a run.

To Poppy, it felt like sleep paralysis. Adrenaline surged through her veins, dizzying her with each concussive heartbeat. The sounds of Lavender's footsteps grew distant, spectral, drowned out by the rush of her shallow breaths. Poppy prayed that she would faint; anything to save her from this sickening anxiety, this contempt that had wrapped its gnarled claws around her heart.

But it was not to be so. Poppy was still conscious as Lavender dropped her off behind a boulder, even if her vision had narrowed to a paw-sized tunnel. She tried again to move and was able to at least curl her paws.

"Okay..." Lavender took a deep breath, and Poppy only just noticed how hard the delcatty had been panting. "Poppy, you need to calm down. I get that you're upset, but let's talk about it before..." She tapped her claws against the ground. "...I mean, I know this was unexpected, but in a sense it's your goal, right? The land is clean enough for other pokemon to use, and, well, this isn't a bad use. I think you should still be proud."

Slowly, Poppy loosened up her limbs and rolled onto her belly. She did her best to steady herself as she got to her feet. Still so stiff---it felt like she was standing on stilts.

Lavender looked anxiously into Poppy's eyes. "Does that make sense? I mean, if there's something I'm missing, we can talk about it..."

Poppy nosed through the old, dried-up leaves in her bag, until something cool touched her nose. Her guild badge. She glimpsed the design---an emblem that looked like the sun, and a pair of unfurled wings. She grabbed it in her mouth and bit down on its unyielding surface as hard as she could. She heard something crack as she whipped her head around and hurled the badge onto the ground, right by Lavender's feet.

Lavender jumped back, startled, but Poppy heedlessly summoned one of her vines and smashed it into the badge. The impact sent specks of dirt into the air and left a mark on the ground like a scar.

Then Poppy turned around and staggered away. She did not look back.
 
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Chapter 5

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Thud. Thud. Thud.

Numbing pain shot through Poppy's body as she threw herself at the beech tree for the umpteenth time. A stinging sensation confirmed that the wound on her shoulder---acquired from a fight with a feral scyther---had reopened, but she persisted anyway.

"I don't think that's how you're supposed to learn tackle."

Poppy started and whipped around to face the source of the androgynous, child-like voice that had interrupted her. The speaker stood out starkly against the ferns, its pure white fur out-of-place in this wild setting. Poppy squinted at it for a moment---it was about half her height and vaguely rabbit-like, with long ears and a short snout and tail. When it leaned forward, its eyes iridesced like mother-of-pearl, such that Poppy couldn't distinguish an iris or pupil. It didn't look like any pokemon she had seen or heard of.

"Who are you?" Poppy asked, a little more rudely than she had meant to.

"You can call me Ann. And while I hate to intrude, you seem like you're a bit upset." Ann batted its eyes.

Poppy's fur was knotty, more brown than cream, and smothered with fern fuzz; she could feel the bagginess in her eyes, the matted spots on her muzzle where tears had soaked in. She looked more than just "upset". But she held her voice steady nonetheless, if only to change the subject. "You don't say," she said as she brushed a chip of bark off her shoulder. "It's rare to meet another non-feral out here. What's your story?"

"Well, I don't have a home, so I guess that makes me a wanderer." It shrugged. "But I'm not one to talk about myself. I would rather hear about you."

"About me, huh?" Poppy scoffed. "Hate to say it, but I'm not in the mood to talk about myself, either."

Undeterred, Ann gestured to Poppy's bloody shoulder. "How about that injury, then? It's not good to leave something like that untreated. Will you at least let me heal it?"

Poppy considered. She had to admit it would be a little reckless to say no---if her wound got infected this far from civilization, it could be dangerous indeed. "...I guess you have a point." She frowned. "Rare to see a pokemon around here that can heal though. What species are you?"

"Don't know about my species---only my name. But I can heal as well as anyone, I promise!"

Poppy shrugged. "If you say so... I guess you can go ahead if you really want to. Just don't strain yourself."

Ann approached Poppy with silent footsteps. Poppy stiffened as it touched her wound, but only for a moment---she was surprised to find that Ann's paw was as soft as a kit's, as though it had never touched the ground.

A couple seconds passed as Ann wrinkled its face in concentration.

"You okay there, Ann?"

"Mm, just give me a moment..."

At length Ann removed its paw, and Poppy looked down at herself. Aside from a nearly imperceptible bald spot, it was as if the wound had never been there. She observed that the foliage by Ann's feet was wilted now---had it been like that before?

"Phew..." Ann put a paw to its forehead and giggled woozily. "Okay, I may have forgotten how difficult healing really is... You'd think it would be harder to warp around the continent, but not for old Ann..."

Poppy wasn't sure what to make of Ann's remark about 'warping', but she was more worried about its condition. "Do you need to lay down?"

"Thank you for your concern, Poppy, but I'll be alright. I'm just a little out of practice."

Poppy's blood ran cold. "Who told you my name?"

Ann scratched its head bashfully. "Ha ha, oops. Here we are. This had to come up at some point, but I have a bit of explaining to do... But this might turn into a bit of a long conversation, so why don't we take a moment to relocate? I've been meaning to get some sunlight."

"...Very well."

Poppy and Ann continued talking as they waded through the ferns. "So, look..." Ann glanced away for a moment. "I'm privy to a lot of things. Think of it like I have a crystal ball, or something like that. I do a lot of observing. It passes the time, you know?"

Poppy narrowed her eyes. "You must have observed me from across the ocean. I haven't spoken to anyone since I got here."

"You would be correct. And, while it feels a little awkward to just be getting right into this, this does lead into what I've been meaning to talk about. The circumstances behind your return to this continent."

Poppy sighed. "Oh boy. This should be good."

Ann smiled reassuringly. "Sorry. I don't mean to bring up bad memories---I simply wanted to point out that we might have a shared goal. I think it's fair to say that we're both feeling a little disillusioned with the guild, yes?"

"You don't really need me to answer that, do you?"

"Fair enough, Poppy. Anyway, you're also one of the only pokemon right now that knows about the planet's energy, and we both know the guild isn't going to let all that potential get... 'wasted', so to speak. If they really want it, then frankly, I don't think even Xerneas would stand a chance. Its powers are greatly exaggerated."

Poppy tried to keep her voice steady. "So, what's your plan?"

"Despite my mediocre healing skills, I'm quite strong in... other areas." Ann sighed. "See, back in the day, I could have just gone right ahead and put the fear of god in those meddlers myself. But, long story short, I kind of got in trouble for doing things like that. Kind of got... banished to another realm, in fact." It laughed awkwardly. "So, as you might imagine, it takes most of my strength just to project this avatar here." It gestured to itself. "But if, say, there were someone else who already had a body in this realm, and they were willing to channel my power..." It leaned toward Poppy conspiratorially.

"So, you want a servant, then?"

"I'd prefer the term 'partner.' I don't intend to make you do anything you don't want to---and in fact, I'm not really sure I could." It waved its paw. "Oh, but I'm just speculating here. I'm not sure if that idea will even work, anyway. But still, if you want to give it a try..."

Even if Ann was lying, Poppy thought, she would gain nothing by refusing. "Assuming you're telling the truth, I'm not opposed---but there's something I have to ask in return. If your motivations are pure, I'm sure you'll be glad to accept."

"Mm, I have a feeling I know what you're about to suggest..."

Poppy closed her eyes. "I want to take back my land."

Ann smiled as it entered the clearing nearby. Its fur gleamed, eyes sparkled in the sunlight. "Poppy, if you're willing to help me, I'll let you do that, and so much more."
 
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Chapter 6

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Poppy opened her eyes for the first time in what felt like hours and squinted against the sunlight.

How are you doing?

"Still not used to hearing your voice in my head," Poppy muttered as she stretched. "Other than that... I'm a little frustrated."

Sorry, this is the only way I can communicate without that avatar. As for your frustration... Hm. Well, don't be too discouraged. I was expecting this to be challenging, since it's the first time I ever tried it. Tell you what, why don't we take a break and continue our journey west?

Poppy stood up and wandered out from under the overhang. The mountains were too steep for one to see very far---while "claustrophobic" would have been a strong word, Poppy would have preferred a more open setting. It was easier to read the landscape that way.

"I'm getting curious as to where exactly you're leading me. You've been very tight-lipped about it."

I don't want to ruin the surprise, Poppy. I know you'll like it, just bear with me for a little longer. Tell you what, if we keep going the rest of the day, we should be able to make it there before sundown. How about we do that?

"Hm... Alright. I've been getting tired of all this practice we've been doing, anyway." She turned her head. "Lavender, are you good to-"

There was nothing but empty space and ghost-white lichen between Poppy and the rocks. She scoffed at herself before going on her way.

***

The terraces along the mountainside were wide and lush with vegetation that seemed to mimic early successional forest habitat. Brambly blackberries and gooseberries sprawled over a carpet of thyme and geranium, and demure little peach and pear trees thrived wherever they found a solid foothold between the rocks and shrubs. Further inspection revealed a number of narrow footpaths that wound through the landscape like rhizomes, in some places overgrown.

Poppy felt a twinge of nostalgia. She noticed movement near the bottom of the valley and squinted. Was it the valley's caretakers?

Here it is! Ann announced. Go on down and say hi! No need to be shy!

As Poppy made her way down, she began to recognize the specks below. Their coloration---white, green, and red---seemed ornamental to her somehow, an impression which may have been helped by their whimsical patterns of flight. The way they darted about the air reminded her of schools of fish.

From time to time, the shaymin would turn their heads to look at Poppy, but it was not until she was near the bottom of the valley that a small group broke off and approached her.

"Hello?" the one toward the front said, maintaining a cautious distance. "You don't seem like the wild type... Can you understand me?"

Poppy blinked. "Um, yes, I can." She paused awkwardly for a moment, realizing that by now she had seen two---maybe even three, depending on whether or not Ann counted---so-called legendary pokemon species in the same month.

The shaymin who had addressed Poppy opened his eyes wide. "Wow, cool! I'll have to tell the others---just give me a sec!"

He flew away, leaving one of the other shaymin to scratch her head. Her voice as she spoke was clear and confident, with a subtle lilt. "Silly boy---he didn't even remember to introduce himself." She bowed her head toward Poppy. "My name is Holly, and I hope you are doing well. Is there anything you need?"

"No, I should mostly be alright..." She checked her pouch. "Maybe a little water, though."

Holly nodded. "We'll show you the stream nearby---you'll be able to drink your fill there. Anyway, what brings you here? We don't get many visitors."

Poppy was unsure of how to answer the question. "I've just been... Wandering around, mostly. Trying to... figure out my life, I guess."

Holly chuckled. "Trying to figure out your life? What is that supposed to mean?"

Before Poppy could come up with a response, the rest of the shaymin---perhaps a dozen, all told---surrounded her like bees that had discovered a new flower. "What kind of pokemon are you?" one asked. "I mean, she has to be grass," another said. "But I don't know the species. How'd you find us? Was it an accident?"

Holly addressed the other shaymin. "Slow down a little, guys... Let's not overwhelm her." She turned toward Poppy. "First thing's first, stranger---why don't you tell us your name?"

"It's Poppy, and I'm pleased to meet you all. I saw the, um, gardens? I'm very impressed with what you've all done with the place, and I commend you for it."

A number of the shaymin smiled. "Aw, shucks," Holly said. "You're gonna make me blush. We just have a knack for livening things up, is all."

"Well, all the same... Anyway, um, how long have you all been living here?"

Holly laughed. "Who knows? You might as well ask me how old the planet is. None of us can say for sure."

Poppy was taken aback. "Oh... But you can fly, can't you all? You don't move around at all?"

"Ah, well, we venture out from time to time, if that's what you mean, but this has been our home for generations. We have everything we need here."

"I see."

Ask them if they'll let you stay for a while! urged Ann.

"Um," Poppy began, "I've been traveling for a couple weeks, and I don't really have a proper home... Would it bother y-"

Holly gave a shushing gesture. "Say no more, Poppy! It's been a long time since we've had a chance to practice our hospitality. You can stay with us for as long as you want!" She turned to the rest of the shaymin. "I mean, tell me if you guys have any objections, but otherwise let's go ahead."

The other shaymin expressed their agreement with Holly.

"Excellent. Why don't I show you around a little, then, starting with the stream?"

Poppy was taken aback momentarily by Holly's openness. "Um, alright then. That sounds good. Lead the way."

***

Poppy may as well have been trying to catch a speck of dust; no matter how she lashed her vines, Holly would twist her body and flit out of the way, summoning speed as though controlling the wind itself.

Poppy paused for a moment and thought. She was tiring herself out more than Holly at this rate, but she didn't know what else to do. Projectiles hadn't fared her any better so far. She tried to recall if she knew anything good for flying-types—

Then the wind changed, carrying the scent of violets to her nose, and at once she envisioned the glade in which she and Lavender used to train. Oyster-shaped mushrooms fed on the sprawling roots of a fallen oak; moths and butterflies fluttered between scattered wildflowers; grasshoppers and katydids hid in the tall mugwort at the fringes, dappled by shade. Come on, Poppy, Lavender had once chided. If I can learn swift, I'm sure you can, too. Just give it a little more practice! Then Lavender had bumped shoulders with her, but in a gentle way that felt more like an affectionate pat than a shove. Her mane, warm from the summer sun, had brushed against Poppy's neck. The scents of dandelions and violets and vetch blended with Lavender's, forming something soft and richly sweet...

"Something on your mind?"

Poppy looked back up at Holly, who was hovering stock-still in the air as though suspended by strings. "Sorry," she said. "I realize the middle of a sparring match isn't the best time to get contemplative. Still, I've got an idea---something that might work."

"Ooh, that sounds exciting. Feel free to give it a try." She winked.

"Heh."

Poppy tried a few more times to strike Holly with her vines, and then once she felt ready, she opened her mouth and launched a stream of glowing stars toward her target. She noted the surprise on Holly's face with some satisfaction, and the shaymin, while able to slip past the first few projectiles in the group, was caught an instant later by a stray star.

"Ah!" Holly rolled around in the air and corkscrewed theatrically toward the ground. She landed on her back and stretched a paw up weakly toward the sky. "I have been defeated," she proclaimed, and then let herself go limp.

Poppy walked toward Holly, smiling. "I see. The proud legacy of Poppy the Explorer shall be passed down through the generations, and legends will tell of the day she slew the great and powerful Holly."

Holly chuckled. "You really were an explorer, though, you said. You don't really talk about it much, though."

"No... I've never been much good at telling stories. And there are some memories I would rather not bring up."

"Mm hm... And I'm guessing that has to do with why you don't explore anymore."

"And you would be right." Poppy looked around at the wide buildings nearby, places where the shaymin took shelter from storms and spent cold nights. Even if those buildings lacked foundations, the way the rocks in the walls fit together like puzzle pieces suggested an impressive level of craftsmanship, and Poppy knew firsthand that they were as warm as anything with a dozen shaymin packed inside. "But really, why would I want to go back now? This place is far better than that dumb city ever was."

"I don't know what a city is, Poppy."

"Nor do you need to." Now that she was close to Holly, Poppy looked her over. "Anyway, I'm guessing that attack didn't hit too hard, did it?"

"Mm..." Holly shrugged. "Might leave a bruise, but it shouldn't be too bad."

"I see. Here, I'll put some pressure on the spot..." Poppy placed her paw just in front of Holly's shoulder. "It was about there, right?"

"Ah, yes, you've got it." She smiled and put her own paw over Poppy's. "Your paw is so big Poppy, he he. I feel very taken-care-of."

"Well, Lavender always used to do this for me whenever I..." Poppy sighed and looked up at the sky. "There I go again..."

"Hm... You know, it might make you feel a little better if you talked about the things that are bothering you. I'm all ears."

Poppy smirked despite herself as she stroked the velvety fur of Holly's ear. "Did you mean that literally?"

Holly narrowed her eyes. "Do you mean to mock me, ground-dweller?"

Poppy's smirk became a proper smile. "No, I would never do that, Holly," she said in her sweetest voice. "Your ears are lovely."

Holly raised an eyebrow. "Mm hm. You'd better mean that, too." She yawned. "So, for the time being... all that sparring's got me kind of hungry, so what do you say we go get some fruit?"

"That sounds good to me. You think your shoulder's good?"

"Oh, I don't know..." Holly put a paw to her brow as though she felt faint. "I might need you to carry me for a while, Poppy."

Poppy rolled her eyes and took her paw off Holly, who sprang effortlessly back to her feet.

"I bet I could have got you to do it if I'd tried," Holly teased.

"I bet you could."

The two of them made their way across the valley floor, careful not to trample the aster and gracidea that freckled it. The damp soil squelched beneath their paws. They said hello to the other shaymin as they reached the terraces and ascended the overgrown paths, squinting against the sun.

It was no surprise, but the blackberries here were some of the best Poppy had ever tasted. Already her nose was scratched up from when she had tried to eat too fast and got careless around the thorns, but she was ready to dive back in nonetheless.

However, before Poppy could begin eating, her eyes were drawn to a rustle in the grass beside her---normally an animal wouldn't let her get that close. She carefully lifted a branch and revealed a patch of mangy, dust-colored fur.

The squirrel looked at Poppy as though half-asleep, its eyes glassy and half-closed. Its labored breaths reminded Poppy of the time when she had tried to leave the city on a smoggy day and instead wound up sprawled on the floor of the local library while she waited for her head to stop spinning. It felt like wearing an overtightened vest, she remembered.

"You find something?" Holly followed Poppy's gaze, and then frowned. "Ah, I see. He's not doing so well, is he?"

"Shall I euthanize it?"

"Poppy!" Holly bumped her companion with her shoulder. "I don't know how you explorers handle things, but we valley folk don't just kill someone once they get sick. We're going to care for it."

Poppy shook her head. "Sorry, just... wasn't thinking, I guess. I never had time to consider taking care of an animal before." She also didn't think this particular one had much chance of survival, but she kept that to herself.

"Hm," Holly said, her voice softening somewhat. "I suppose an explorer would be busy. But we've got time, Poppy. It'll be fine. In fact, I'm pretty sure someone made a pen for the last animal we took in---it should still be around. Come on, let's check."

Poppy picked up the squirrel as gently as she could with her vines and followed Holly downhill. Even though she was no longer part of the guild, it felt a little like a rescue mission.

***

The squirrel died. Despite Holly's insistence on taking it in, she accepted the outcome calmly. Poppy and Holly dropped the body off away from the village and resumed their usual routine---for Poppy, that meant training with Ann for as long as she could stand before indulging in the shaymins' company. The squirrel soon became a distant memory---a pointless diversion, in retrospect. Poppy had yet to realize what its illness signified.
 
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Chapter 7

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
The river was a sickly, pus-like yellow, and in some places dead fish had begun to pile up against the rocks. Poppy clenched her teeth. She wanted to look away, but something wouldn't let her.

"You ready to go?"

Poppy turned to look at Holly, who was shouldering her bag. The shaymin looked fine as far as Poppy could tell, and Poppy gave silent thanks that she hadn't used her water pouch since she had first filled it up at the shaymins' village. Its contents were the only reason that she could keep anyone healthy enough to stay with her on this journey.

"Yes," Poppy said. "How have you been holding up?"

"I'm fine." Holly drew closer. "I know I'm not an explorer, but I can get around alright. I think you can relax a little."

"Sorry. I know you could probably travel faster without me. It's just, if anything happened and I wasn't there to help, I'd feel kind of responsible." Poppy looked up to the cloudy sky. "And I have a feeling the pokemon responsible for the pollution are going to... present some problems."

Holly nodded. "Don't get me wrong Poppy---I'm glad you're with me. I'm impressed with how strong you've become---I don't know quite how you did it, but it makes me feel a lot safer."

"I just made a deal with the god of the underworld, is all," Poppy said, only half-jokingly.

The duo continued their journey, following the river uphill. Poppy leaped over boulders, scrambled up slopes, and bolted across plateaus so quickly that Holly frequently had to take flight to keep up with her. And all the while Poppy never felt the slightest hint of exhaustion---evidently her training with Ann had yielded better results than she'd realized. Speaking of which...

Have you reconsidered just teleporting us? Poppy asked Ann.

At this point it would probably work, but like I said, if I turned out to be wrong about that, you would end up dead. It's not worth it at this point---you're almost there anyways. In fact...

A distant boom, like thunder, reverberated across the mountainside. Holly froze for a moment, but Poppy changed direction right away to head toward the sound. "That's probably them!" she exclaimed.

***

The terraces at the bottom of the pit were as long and wide as roads, and about as colorful. Poppy had never seen so much bare stone and dirt in her life. All around, a number of pokemon---largely ground types---were busy chipping away at whatever soft spots remained, some with implements, some with claws.

Another boom rang out as a claydol exploded on the other side of the pit, spewing dust into the air. Holly flinched, and when Poppy turned toward her her face was tensed up in something like a grimace.

"This is it," Poppy said. "Remember what I told you? This is a mine. It's doubtless the cause of most of the pollution." She proceeded forward. "Stay close to me."

It felt surreal, walking through the pit. As Poppy lost sight of the shrubs and trees behind her, she felt like she was setting foot on another planet. But there was something familiar about the perfunctory manner in which the workers regarded her, barely invested enough to even give a suspicious look---for a moment, Poppy felt like she was out on the city streets again.

It was easy enough to find the overseer---Poppy just had to look for pokemon that weren't doing any work. One sandslash looked particularly clean, so she approached it and interrupted its conversation with a tired-looking excadrill.

"Excuse me."

Both ground-types looked surprised when they noticed Poppy, and then even more surprised when they noticed Holly behind her.

"Can I help you?" the sandslash asked, its voice more professional than its appearance would suggest.

"Yes. We come from a village downstream. The acid mine drainage from this pit has poisoned our water, so we would like you all to stop." The sandslash seemed a little incredulous, so Poppy had to repeat herself a couple times.

The sandslash scratched his head. "...Okay. Well, I don't know how much you know about remediation, but even if we stopped working today the acid mine drainage won't just go away. I don't know exactly what plans we have once we're done with this site, but that's up to the company. I'll certainly bring this up with the powers that be, and in the meantime maybe we can provide you with some clean water... How far away is this village, exactly?"

"A few days---well, for you, probably more than a week. But either way, we have to insist you all stop mining right away. Shaymin-" she gestured toward Holly "-are more skilled remediators than any of you. If you provide our village with clean water for a few months and let us get our strength back up, we'll get the job done."

"Hold on." Holly stepped forward. "If they're saying they'll supply us anyway, then wouldn't it be okay to let them finish what they're up to first?"

Poppy addressed her companion. "I'd rather not give them the chance to make things any worse. We haven't been able to keep up with their pollution so far, so we need to address it at the source; otherwise we're putting ourselves at their mercy. And it's not like they're stupid. They knew they'd be killing anything downstream when they did this." She turned to the sandslash and looked into its eyes. "Have I made myself clear? I need you to stop all this right away."

The sandslash grimaced. "Dear, if I did that, I could be fired. I want to work with you, but we need to go through the proper channels-"

"Then get someone to do that and stop in the meantime. Tell the 'higher-ups' whatever you have to. Say we threatened you. I don't care. I'm not giving you the chance to stall this out."

The sandslash took a deep breath. "Look. I'm being as fair as I can possibly be. If I tell everyone to stop working, that would be thousands of work hours wasted while we wait for a messenger. There's no way we could have known pokemon were living down there, so-"

"Of course there are pokemon living downstream," Poppy growled. "There's feral pokemon living everywhere." Her hackles raised, and her heart began to race. She had hoped to never feel this way again...

But this time it could be different. This time there was no Lavender to stop her.

Poppy turned to Holly. "Get away from here," she ordered.

"What? But Poppy, this concerns me as much as-"

"Then watch from above. I just need you to stay out of danger."

Holly looked like she wanted to say something, but she obeyed, ascending like a leaf caught in the wind.

"What's this about?" The sandslash asked as he narrowed his eyes and ever-so-slightly widened his stance.

Poppy turned toward him. "I understand your position. I used to be a city dweller. Worked for the guild. Didn't have to take orders often, but when I did, I hated it."

"Where are you going with-"

A flash of green from Poppy's vine, and the sandslash was on the ground. "Maybe your superiors will be more sympathetic if you come back with scars? Regardless, you need to understand you're not in a position to negotiate."

In an unexpected act of courage, the excadrill nearby charged Poppy, but she downed it just as easily. It called feebly for help as it struggled back to its feet.

Whether or not they had actually heard the excadrill, the pokemon around the mine were taking notice of Poppy; she watched as they rallied each other, and before long a few groups rushed down to confront her. Poppy swatted her new attackers away like balloons. Weight didn't matter; golem were sent flying as easily as gible. Poppy's biggest challenge was staying on-balance with each impact.

"Get back, everyone!"

A loud, rumbly voice; Poppy looked above just as the flygon spewed a torrent of flames from its mouth. It put a lot into the attack; for a good few seconds, Poppy was enveloped in blinding scarlet. As soon as the onslaught was over, she reached out to grab the flygon and slammed it so hard into the ground that she could feel the shockwave under her paws. Since it could fly, she wanted to make sure it wouldn't get the chance to chase after Holly.

The pokemon surrounding Poppy flinched and backed up as the dust from the impact settled. A few lycanroc and diggersby stared at her disbelievingly, probably looking for burns that didn't exist. Poppy stepped forward to attack again, but then stopped herself. She chose instead to take the opportunity to address the group.

"You can't hurt me. I'll keep fighting until none of you can get back up. Or-" She scanned the crowd and made eye contact with every pokemon she saw. "-or you can all go home right now and never return. That's all I want."

Poppy waited patiently while the workers mumbled to one another. It took a while for the first pokemon---a scrawny-looking marowak---to walk away, but soon after the others followed suit. As though inspired. Poppy looked up and was relieved to see that Holly was still there, though her teeth were bared in something like a wince as she watched the workers disperse. When she caught Poppy's eye, she gave her a concerned, almost pleading look.

Poppy's heart was racing, but this time she didn't mind it. She gave Holly a reassuring smile, which quickly turned into a grin.

***

Poppy's exhilaration still hadn't worn off yet, and it was all she could do to refrain from running ahead.

Holly was noticeably more sober. "...I don't know if I liked the way we handled that," she said, not making eye contact. She shifted the pouch around her shoulder, now stuffed with canned water.

"Listen, I know how those kinds of pokemon think," Poppy assured her. "I could have talked to that sandslash until I was blue in the face and it wouldn't have made a difference. Anyway, you deserve to have the same clean river you've had for however many generations. The fact that we even have to try to justify that to someone is degrading."

"Well, degrading or not..." Holly frowned. "They seemed willing to compromise. Are you really sure we couldn't have trusted them?"

"Never mind that; what difference does it make? Why take that chance to start with? They're the ones who need to appease us, not the other way around. This isn't a matter of life and death for them."

"Hm." Holly was silent for a while. "...I'll have to think about this some more."

"That's fine. Anyway, we'll need to head back there soon. We need to bring as much clean water back to the village as possible so the others can get their strength back. Then we need to bring as many shaymin as we can up to the mine. The most important thing is covering up all that exposed rock. Then we'll have to restore the vegetation so the topsoil stays in place..."

Holly's expression was distant as the clouds cast fitful shadows across her face.

"Hey, Holly." Poppy leaned in a little. "Keep your chin up, eh? We'll get it done. Soon this will all just be a distant memory."

Holly nodded solemnly. "I hope so. Thank you, Poppy."

***

Soft green light glimmered from behind Poppy, intensifying the hues of the foliage around her. She glanced back at the shaymin once more, in time to see a brand new tree rise up from the ground and weave its roots through the soil. The shaymin responsible exhaled as the light died down, and then he headed over to the foot of the terrace to rest with the others.

The villagers had put in a good effort, Poppy thought. By now the outside of the pit was encircled with shrubs and conifers, some of which's seeds had been carried over from the village. The plants splayed their lush leaves as though with pride. It particularly satisfied Poppy to see edibles growing here now, nourishing food in a place that had once been so barren.

But, Poppy reminded herself, now was not the time to celebrate. She returned her gaze to the horizon and scanned for any sign of movement. Nothing but birds, so far as she could tell. She started to circle the pit, a now-routine activity. She wasn't sure it was necessary to keep watch, given that she had Ann's help, but she couldn't do much to contribute to the restoration, and she liked to think her patrols helped the shaymin feel a little safer.

Mm, interesting, said Ann.

What is it?

Looks like those jokers have got themselves a new scheme. There'll be a shaymin coming up from the southeast, who's actually a zoroark. Guess they realized brute force wasn't working and decided to try infiltration.


Poppy snorted. How far is this one?

Maybe five miles still. You want to head him off?

No, I don't want to get drawn away from the group. Let me know once he's within visual range.

Very well.


The wait was a little awkward, but by now Poppy was confident she could trust Ann. Thanks for keeping an eye out, she said in the meantime.

Yes, well, I suppose it has become necessary, Ann said tiredly. If you ask me, I'd say things were complicated enough for us before all this mining nonsense started. Anything I can do to help us get through it... Ann sighed. By the way, the zoroark is close, but he seems to have spotted you. He's going northeast to try and circle around. If you look a little to the left, you should be able to see him.

Poppy squinted and looked out to the horizon. She saw some far off movement but couldn't tell what it was. Is that him?

Yep. Good eye you got, there.

Mm hmm. Well, now that he's seen me, I think it's time to say hi. I've got some things I think I'd like to say to him.


Poppy stepped down from her perch and trotted toward her quarry. It took a while to get near him, but he wasn't running away. Perhaps he knew it was futile, or he was just that confident in his disguise.

As Poppy drew closer, she could make out the "shaymin"'s features. The tufted ears, the scarf-like flower petals, the socks with rounded edges. The fact that it looked so convincing only enhanced Poppy's disgust.

"Drop the charade," Poppy demanded. "Lest I make you."

The "shaymin" shimmered like a mirage and turned tail to run even before it had finished reverting to its true form.

Poppy leaped after her prey, and the ground below became a blur. She came within striking distance just seconds later and lassoed her vines around the zoroark before she had even touched the ground. She saw the shock on his face for a moment, but before she could celebrate her success, her front paw caught on a rock, and she tumbled head over tail. She watched the sky and ground trade places a few times, making sure to keep her grip on the zoroark throughout it all. Eventually she rolled to a stop and stood up, slightly dizzied but no worse for wear.

I like the enthusiasm, said Ann with a giggle.

Hmph. Seems I have to work on my control.

Poppy lifted the zoroark up and drew him toward her. He had a sheepish expression on his face and struggled against his restraints seemingly more out of nervousness than any expectation that he might break free.

He stopped struggling when Poppy struck him across the face. Blood streamed from his nose a moment later, and his expression darkened as he turned his head back toward her.

Poppy looked the zoroark in the eye. "Just what, exactly, were you trying to pull?"

The zoroark's voice was hoarse, as though he hadn't slept in days. "Don't take it personally, now-"

"I asked you a question."

Blood bubbled around the zoroark's nostrils as he took a breath. "My orders were to persuade you to leave this place alone. Obviously, just going right after you wasn't going to work..."

Poppy slammed her captive into the ground, and his gasp was like a sheaf of paper being torn in half. Poppy stepped on his chest and looked into his eyes, her nose almost touching his.

"Listen," Poppy said. Her voice was soft, but she enunciated every word carefully. "I'm going to let you go, because I am a very merciful pokemon. But I see I have been too merciful. I need you to relay this to your employer: the next thug sent over here will be swiftly killed. I'm done playing games. You understand?"

The zoroark nodded.

"Good. You're free to go."

Poppy slowly retracted her vines, and the zoroark stood up and limped away. Poppy sighed.

"You must be frustrated."

Poppy started and turned toward her addresser. That look of concern might have seemed patronizing, had it come from anyone other than Holly.

"How much of that did you overhear?" Poppy asked.

"...Most of it." Holly looked away and batted her ear.

"I see. I guess those ears aren't just for show, after all." Poppy began to walk back to the pit, but she stopped when Holly spoke up again.

"Poppy... Do you really think it's right? To threaten them like that?"

"Yes. I might be powerful, but I'm not infallible. If I keep cutting them slack, then sooner or later they're going to outmaneuver me. And they won't hesitate to kill one of you if it gets them what they want. At least this way, I'm giving them a chance to back off before things go too far."

Holly sighed. "I wish it didn't have to be like this. Isn't there some way the rest of us could become stronger, like you? So you don't have to do everything?"

"I'm sorry, but no. My power comes from a finite source. It can't be shared."

Holly's eyes fell. "Then I suppose that's that..."

The two were silent as they walked back to the pit.

***

Since she was ahead of the group, Poppy paused to scan for any sign of movement. She didn't like how the breeze rustled the foliage below; it made it look like someone was trying to sneak up on her.

"Poppy," said one of the shaymin as he caught up to her, "I think we're alright. They haven't sent anyone else in weeks."

"I know, but it never hurts to be careful. I'll relax once we're all done with the restoration."

The shaymin nodded vigorously. "You'd better! You need a break after-"

A sharp cry, almost like a blue jay, rang out from behind them. Poppy whipped her head around just in time to see a single image. A gallade holding Holly in his arms. Restraining her limbs. That look on her face... confusion and anger...

Poppy instinctively struck for the gallade's head, but as soon as she did his body broke up like a mirage, along with Holly's.

So that was their game.

Leafeon, if you want your friend back-

Poppy's response was simple, automatic. Is that what we've come to? Blackmail? You've made a mistake. Keep your hands off her if you want to live.

While the shaymin scrambled in all directions to see where Holly might have gone, Poppy stood still, in a sort of limbo. She tried to think about solutions, to keep her mind off the implications of what she had just said, but on some level she knew it would hit her soon. It was the emotional equivalent of facing down a tidal wave. But then her eyes went wide as she remembered that she actually did have a way to deal with this situation.

Ann. Teleport me.

There was silence for a few moments. Ann? Ann?!

Sorry, Poppy, I had to look for him for a second. I could try to teleport you there, but are you sure? I'd say the odds it works are about-

I don't care, do it.


Ann laughed---an unfittingly sonorous sound.

What's so funny?

I'm just not used to being ordered around, is all. But fine. I'll comply. Just don't blame me if... Well, I guess you can't either way.


Poppy nodded. I am in your debt. She turned her attention to the shaymin around her, who had scattered about like leaves in a gust of wind as they searched for their friend. "Everyone!" she shouted. "I'm going to rescue Holly!" Her body started to glow white. "Stay together and wait here for me until I get back! Assume there will be more of them!"

As soon as that last word left Poppy's lips, she vanished.

***

Poppy took in the scene around her as quickly as she could. Before her was a shadowy overhang---probably meant as a sort of hiding spot, but she didn't have time to think about that right now. Her eyes were drawn to a glimmer of jade-colored light just to her right.

It was Holly. She had freed herself from the gallade's grasp, and now her paws were spread in a fighting stance as she hastily prepared an energy ball. Poppy's heart sank when she noticed the blood running down her flank, but she forced herself to disregard it and follow her gaze.

A pale green smear---the gallade was charging. Poppy struck hard, and in an instant he was on the ground. Poppy was taken aback---she didn't know if the crunch she heard was from grinding rocks or his bones.

Holly started and whipped her head toward Poppy. For a moment, before she recognized her savior, her eyes were wide and bright with terror.

"O-oh, Poppy! How did you get here? Where are the others?"

"The others are..."

About a ten minute flight south.

"...About a ten minute flight south. You're not hurt too badly, are you?"

Holly checked her flank. "N-no, I don't think so."

"Good. You should head back now, if you're able---as long as you stick to the air, you should be safe."

Holly moved as though to take off, but then she looked back. "Poppy..."

Poppy followed Holly's gaze to the gallade. His limbs were splayed out at strange angles, like a squashed bug, and though he breathed, he was too limp to be conscious.

"Don't worry about him," Poppy said.

But Holly hesitated. "Poppy, you said earlier... Are you really going to..."

"Am I really going to what?"

Holly grimaced. "To kill him."

Poppy took a deep breath, and a pit formed in her stomach as she spoke. "Well... I said I would, didn't I?" She glanced at the gallade once more. "What do you expect me to do with him? Apologize for the inconvenience and haul him all the way back home? Or were you thinking you'd rather let the wolves take care of him?"

"Poppy..." Holly's gaze fell, and her drooping ears framed her face. "There has to be a better way..."

Though her voice trembled, Poppy's resolve did not falter. "There is," she said, "and that would have been if they had gone and left us alone when they had the chance. Don't think for a second that this is our fault."

Holly glanced up at Poppy's face for a moment. "It's not about whose fault it is. Do you think his life is worth less than ours?"

Poppy stepped toward Holly, who shrank before her gaze. "I don't think that, Holly. I know it. These miners risked lives to get their way—because they think they have to, or because they're greedy. They're below us in either case. They don't know how to live peacefully like we do, and I can't make them try."

"...Okay." Holly's voice quivered as she stepped back. "If you feel that strongly, then I guess I can't convince you..." She turned away as the clouds cast shadows over her face. "I just hope both of us can sleep at night after this." Holly stood still for a long time, as though trying to think of something to say, but in the end she took off without any further remarks.

Poppy watched Holly fly away until she was nothing more than a dot on the horizon. It was only then that she took stock and realized that her limbs were shaking. She stood up to pace around, hoping to relieve some tension, and as she turned she saw smog-shrouded silhouettes in the distance like a mass of shadow. Buildings. The sight made her feel strange, like visiting kindergarten as an adult.

He was close, Poppy thought with a shiver. A little bit farther, and he might have lost himself in the city...

Poppy heard a groan and turned to look at the gallade. He was conscious now, unluckily. His breaths were sharp, pained, as though he were inhaling ice.

"Guess I'd better get this over with," Poppy mumbled. "I'd ask your last words, but I doubt they're worth hearing."

Poppy closed her eyes and struck one last time, and the sound was like stepping on wet twigs. She realized she wouldn't forget it for a long time. She turned away from the gallade---or rather, his two halves---as her body began to glow white.
 
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Chapter 8

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Poppy's eyes traced the silver ridges of the clouds above. The sky never got this dark near the city, she remembered. It was like an ink painting.

You made the national news, you know, said Ann. Not headlines, quite, but at this rate it won't be long.

Was it that big of a company?

I think when a teleporting leafeon threatens the members of a steering committee, that's going to make a splash regardless of the company's size.
Ann chuckled. I almost think the absurdity of the story will make folks more inclined to believe it.

Hm.
Poppy frowned. Well, so long as they don't know who I am...

You worried about your reputation?

Just don't want the folks back at the guild finding out. Though they'll have cause enough to hate me soon, I suppose.

Hm. Speaking of which... Well, there's good news and bad news on that front. The good news is that Xerneas hasn't acceded to the guild's demands to access the planet's energy. The bad news is that they're already preparing to take it by force.


Poppy gave a stifled sigh, remembering that she shouldn't wake up the shaymin behind her. Of course they are. I should have never thought so highly of them...

I know, right? Anyway, here's the bottom line. We have about a week until they make their move, maybe less. If we want to be effective guardians, we'll have to train as much as we can until then. Your recent actions should be enough to ensure that the shaymin remain unmolested, so I think it's safe to focus on improving our skills.

Are they really going to be that tough? I mean, I took down everyone that mining company sent after us...

You should know as well as I do that the guild has access to a lot of talent. The pokemon you fought this week were strong, but they can't compare to the opposition you'll be facing alongside Xerneas. They're taking this seriously, Poppy. They think that what they're doing will change the world---and they are, admittedly, correct.


Poppy shook her head. Ugh... That makes sense, but... I'll just say I can't wait for this to be over with.

Poppy heard footsteps and turned her head. She hadn't noticed Holly approaching her until she was less than a meter away.

"You look troubled," Holly said.

"I suppose that makes two."

Holly walked up to Poppy and sat beside her. "It's been a lot, this week..." She exhaled. "I still haven't told anyone about... that gallade."

"It's best we forget about him. It's not like he would have cared if we died."

"...A part of me envies your pragmatism." She looked away and pawed her ear the way one might play with a strand of hair. "But still... I'm not proud of how things have gone. I'd have liked it if we could have come up with a solution that satisfied everyone."

"Sure. But that would have been up to them to figure out—and they weren't willing or able."

"...I guess I'll trust your judgment on this. It is... your domain, in a sense." She sighed. "You know, if you lived with pokemon that were really that bad, I can see why you wouldn't want to talk about your past..."

"Well. Some of them were worse than others. But that's neither here nor there."

"Fair enough."

For a while it was silent, but for the whispers of the wind. It would probably rain tomorrow, Poppy thought. Just as well. She could train under shelter if she had to, since most of the work was mental.

"...So, your deal with the god of the underworld," Holly said. "How's that been going? He treating you well?"

Poppy smiled. "Why in fact, he is. Fine fellow, really. I'll have to introduce you to him sometime."

Holly smiled back. "Sounds good. Maybe we can all spar together."

"Yeah."

It was quiet again. Ordinarily Poppy wouldn't have minded that, but this time it was a bit different.

"...Thanks for taking me in," Poppy said. "And remind me to tell everyone else the same. It's really made a difference."

"Don't mention it, Poppy. We're all glad to have you around. Especially now."

Poppy nodded. "I know it's difficult, but we should try to get back to sleep. I'm sure we'll get through this faster if we keep up our strength."

"If you insist, then; I'll get right to it." Holly curled up right on the spot, pressing her back against Poppy. Poppy smiled and followed suit, resting her head on her companion's shoulder.

***

The oppressive din of the rain blocked out all other sounds. Flecks of water tickled Poppy's paws from splattered drops, and the ground was soaked even beneath the overhang.

Clear your mind, said Ann.

Poppy sighed. Look-

If you're talking, then your mind isn't clear enough. I'm not expecting anything, but you need to keep trying.

It's not that. It's just... I've been thinking about it. If we really wanted to screw the guild over, we could just teleport beneath their ships while they're sailing to the island and strike the hulls from underwater. Even the strongest pokemon are going to have a hard time crossing the ocean when the ship goes down.

Yes, that's quite clever. I was thinking we do something like that as our first course of action.

But...
Poppy opened her eyes and watched as sheets of rain slowly beat the soil into a turbid slurry. There will be healers on those ships, and innocents. I saved lives while I was in the guild. I protected pokemon. It was a pain sometimes, but I did a lot of good, and I knew it was the right thing. And I refuse to... to let a mass murder be the culmination of all those years of effort. She realized that her internal voice had become a little loud. She took a deep breath. So. Ever since my dealings with the miners, I've been thinking... There might be another way to convince the guild that we mean business.

What would that be?

We've seen that it doesn't matter how many weaker pokemon I have to fight, or what type they are. Unless an opponent is near my level, they may as well not be there. And the most powerful pokemon at the guild, the ones who will lead this... crusade, they probably know that too. In other words, if I arrange to fight the guild's most powerful pokemon in a duel and win, I can prove that they don't have a chance. They would have to give up at that point. So...
Her voice grew hollow. I might have to kill one pokemon in the process. Fine. It's better than killing the rest of the guild, and the pokemon I've worked with and said hello to every day.

Ann was silent for a while. When it spoke, its voice was more serious than ever before, as if it had just received a piece of terrible news. I think your logic is correct, Poppy; if I thought numerical advantages really mattered, I wouldn't have been so focused on you. However, with this idea... You would be taking quite a risk. I know you might be willing to play fair, but the guild-

But that's why I have you, isn't it? You're nearly omniscient. If they set up a trap, you could point it out. Besides, from what I know of their elites, they're an honorable bunch. They wouldn't want a part in something like that.


Ann was silent again. At least take just the top five or six most powerful pokemon and kill them in their sleep before going through with that idea. That way you'll tilt the odds in your favor.

I...
Poppy frowned. How much more likely is it that I would win if I did that?

I couldn't give you an exact number...

Then I won't consider it.

...Ten percent.

What?

I said... Maybe ten percent. Could be fifteen. Based on who I think the best fighters are and what I've seen of their battles, that's the best guess I could give you.

And how would you place my odds at winning in general?

...You're not going to like hearing this.

Well, say it anyway.

I'd give you about a fifty percent chance.


Poppy scoffed. Ann was right---in a way, hearing "fifty percent" was worse than hearing "almost zero." Fine then, she said. In that case, I'll just have to train harder. Poppy took a deep breath and tried to clear her mind once again. Gradually, the sound of the rain faded away.
 
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Chapter 9

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Poppy had arranged the battle to take place on the island, under the pretense that she had been guarding the planet's energy with Xerneas for some time. In reality, of course, she could teleport there whenever she pleased. The real reason was so that, if she lost the fight, Xerneas might stand a chance at finishing off her opponent while he was weakened.

Either way, the clearing before the crater wasn't the worst place to wait. Dragonflies' wings flashed amber as the sun moved in and out of clouds, and the scent of goldenrod was sweet on the wind. White-throated sparrows filled the air with their song like carefree whistling. Hello, little ones, Poppy thought, her paws shaking (it was a waste of her effort to try to get them to stop, she realized some time ago). Today might be my last day alive. Would you still be singing if you knew that? I wonder...

From beside Poppy, Xerneas tossed its head and issued forth a wave of sparkles like dyed stars. Whatever technique it used had a camling effect---Poppy's pulse steadied, and for a moment today didn't seem like such a big deal.

Poppy looked up at Xerneas' face. "Thank you."

Think nothing of it. I do not know how you became so powerful, but right now you are my best ally. For the sake of our future, you must defeat this opponent.

Poppy nodded. She had tried a couple of sparring matches with Xerneas an hour ago, and they had proved to be shockingly one-sided. The fate of the planet's energy really was up to her.

If you change your mind, Poppy, just let me know... Ann's voice was quiet, as though it was nervous, too.

I won't, but... If I don't survive, tell the shaymin what happened. And Lavender.

You have my word.


Footsteps rustled in the distance---the cadence was too deliberate to be ferals. Poppy grabbed the face mask from her bag and slipped it on. She didn't know if it would work, but she had asked Ann to get it for her anyway. Anything that might conceal her identity.

Poppy's opponent---Thorn---was the first to come into view. She had never seen a lucario before, but for some reason, she had always imagined them as being larger than this---Thorn was only a paw or two taller than Poppy herself. He stood as still as a statue, barely even seeming to breathe. His scarred face betrayed no emotion.

Thorn was followed by a number of other pokemon---a mix of spectators and medics---who fanned out in the clearing, as far away from the combatants-to-be as they could get. Poppy forced herself not to look at them; she didn't want to see anyone she knew.

"Are you ready, leafeon?" Thorn asked, his voice like a growling bear.

Poppy took in the nourishing feeling of the sunlight on her back and tried to burn it into her memory. She nodded.

"En garde."

Poppy opened with an energy ball. It was the fastest she had ever performed the move---the sphere was at full size in the blink of an eye and rocketed toward her opponent like debris from an explosion.

Yet her opponent was faster still. Poppy saw his aura sphere before she noticed he had even moved, and it collided squarely with her attack. Cyan light flooded the clearing, and the spectators shielded their eyes. And by this point, Thorn's second aura sphere was already rocketing toward Poppy.

Wind whipped at Poppy's face as she dodged, and brilliant cobalt light burned its afterimage into her eyes as the projectile flew past. At the same time a cold, spectral sensation passed through her body and sent a chill down her spine. But she kept her focus on her opponent.

Thorn launched a third aura sphere---Poppy was better prepared this time, so she sidestepped again and immediately retaliated with swift. The stars spread across the whole of the clearing as though to form a galaxy, forcing the spectators to take cover.

Thorn hastily emitted a beam of aura from his hand and slashed. The stars before him disintegrated all at once, and he dashed forward through the opening.

Poppy grimaced---she didn't want Thorn to get close. She struck with her vine and sharpened her senses to try to catch his reaction.

Thorn did not dodge, as Poppy expected---perhaps he had not had enough time. Instead he whipped around and grabbed the vine between his paws, leaning into the attack to avoid losing his balance.

That was fine by Poppy; she simply struck with a second vine, and this time she found her mark. It was a solid hit---the shock passed all the way through the vine and rattled Poppy's bones. Thorn flew backwards, and Poppy quickly began to prepare for a long-ranged follow-up.

But, to Poppy's surprise, Thorn had not lost his grip when she struck him. Using his hold on the first vine and the momentum from Poppy's attack, he twisted his body and pulled hard. By the time Poppy felt the slack on the first vine run out, it was too late.

Thorn threw Poppy across the clearing, and she flew too quickly to orient herself. She reflexively wrapped herself in vines in an attempt to soften the impact with whatever she was bound to hit.

"Agh!" Poppy cried out as the wind was knocked out of her; it felt like she had crashed into a slab of steel. A loud crack reverberated across the forest as the tree snapped from the impact, and Poppy's momentum carried her into a second one. She sank slightly into the wood, but this time the trunk held.

Poppy slowly peeled away from the tree and tumbled toward the ground in agony. It felt like she had been crushed against a bed of thorns, and when she inhaled it was like pressing shards of glass into her lungs. It was all she could do to keep her eyes open.

As Poppy made her second revolution in the air, she caught a glimpse of Thorn. His stance was wide, and yet another nascent aura sphere glowed between his paws.

In spite of the pain, Poppy did her best to clear her mind and waited. She tracked Thorn as she spun, kept her eyes on his paws. Maybe it was just her anticipation, but the moment seemed to stretch on and on for seconds, as though Thorn were delaying his attack on purpose. The aura sphere grew larger and brighter, gradually obscuring Thorn's figure. Just looking at it made Poppy's eyes tear up. Maybe that was Thorn's intention...

Finally, Poppy saw it---that now-familiar motion as Thorn thrust his arms forward. Right as he released his aura sphere, Poppy reached out with a vine and pulled herself toward one of the tree branches below. The aura sphere passed just above her, and she felt its cold on her tail right before it hit the tree with a deep thud.

Even though it felt like tearing herself in half, Poppy twisted her body as she fell and managed to land on her feet. She ignored the shock that passed through her body and took a ragged breath as splinters rained down on her from above.

Thorn was wounded too---there was a gash in his flank where his fur was stained crimson. The wound was deep but, to Poppy's dismay, not fatal.

Thorn once again summoned a beam of aura from his paw and rushed toward Poppy. She tried to strike, but Thorn anticipated the attack---he cut her vines in two with the beam before they could reach him, and as the severed halves fell limply to the ground, Poppy suddenly felt very vulnerable.

In the heat of the moment, and without enough time to try a ranged attack, Poppy tried to catch her opponent off-guard. She rushed toward Thorn just as he neared striking distance, and then turned to slash with her tail.

It was pointless. Thorn parried Poppy's slash effortlessly, and she was thrown off balance. Thorn retaliated with a slash of his own, and his beam grazed Poppy's neck and head as she jumped back. Poppy seethed---it felt like a shard of ice. Her mask, now cut across its length, fell to the ground, and she felt the open air on her face.

Then Thorn jumped back himself, toward the center of the clearing, and stepped away from Poppy. Poppy looked carefully into his eyes, trying to discern his intention. His gaze seemed... softer, than before.

The chill along Poppy's neck quickly yielded to a lingering, burning pain. She felt something stain the fur right around her collar---something warm. The feeling seemed to come in intervals, like...

Well. It was rather like a heartbeat, wasn't it. Poppy glanced down, and she saw bright red.

Ann...

Poppy, I'm trying, but... that's beyond healing. I... I'm sorry.
Ann gave a trembling sigh. It's over. You... You deserved better than this, I think. You really did. I promise I will remember you for as long as I live.

The moment was surreal. Poppy stared at Thorn and at the spectators as their faces turned from anxious to pitying. She sat down slowly and summoned a vine---this time not to attack, but so that she could press something against her wound. Her artery had been cut lengthwise, she realized, and blood had already begun to stream down her chest and soak the soil below.

Just try to stay calm, she thought, as the beginnings of dizziness began to manifest. You'll only bleed faster if you get nervous...

But then, what difference does it make? I'm already dead. I should just ask Thorn to finish me off.
She clenched her jaw. God damn it, if I'd just-

"Poppy!"

Poppy's thoughts were interrupted by a mournful wail, like a suffocating loon. Her eyes went wide, and she froze. Carefully, she turned her head to her right.

The sight of Lavender's face stung more than Thorn's slash had; her teeth were bared in an ugly grimace, her snout so twisted and wrinkled she was almost unrecognizable. It was the first time, as far as Poppy knew, that her partner had ever looked old.

Poppy took a ragged breath and tried to blink away her tears as her friend took a tentative step toward her. Slowly, she stood up and did the same. Laurie was there too, just behind Lavender, and the lurantis bowed with sorrow in her eyes.

At least... I can be with Lavender... Poppy thought as she took another feeble step. Maybe she'll understand... And even if she doesn't...

Maybe it was a sense of acceptance, or maybe it was her consciousness slipping, but Poppy's anxiety began to fade. She imagined Lavender's warm embrace, her sweet scent. Soon, she would...

She stopped. Laurie. Seeing the lurantis sparked a memory. That scar... Her wound, that had healed so quickly.

Ann. Can you teleport me into the crater?

It takes about five seconds for me to do that, Poppy, and it's far too obvious. They'll strike you down before you get the chance. Please, just be with-

Try.


Ann paused. It's been tried before, Poppy; to withstand direct contact with the planet's energy would be practically im-

I don't care, do it!
She commanded as she sucked in a breath. Now!

I-
Ann's voice cracked. ...As you wish, dear Poppy.

Poppy's body began to glow white, and as Ann predicted, Thorn realized what was happening and dashed toward her. Poppy tried to lift her vines, but she was too weak. The most she could do was stagger dizzily away, trying to put some distance between herself and her assailant. Judging by Thorn's speed, she had maybe half of a second.

I really am an idiot, aren't I... Poppy braced herself for the inevitable.

Suddenly a brilliant, pink streak slammed into Thorn's side, right in the same place Poppy had wounded him earlier. Thorn staggered, nearly falling over, and looked back up to see Xerneas place itself between Poppy and him.

"Out of the way!" Thorn growled as he launched an aura sphere. Xerneas tried to defend with another moonblast, but the aura sphere passed through it and knocked the legendary away like a toy.

The exchange took about three seconds. Not enough. Poppy clenched her jaw as Thorn turned toward her again.

"Stop!"

A familiar bolt of lightning flashed from behind Thorn. He twitched from the thunder wave and then whipped around to face his assailant---none other than Lavender---just as she let loose with swift.

Poppy's eyes went wide. "Lavender..."

Poppy didn't have time to see the rest of the exchange play out. Her body flashed, and in an instant she found herself tumbling into the mouth of the crater that had just a moment ago seemed so far away. She looked down into the center. Blinding white light, like nothing she had seen before. Even when she closed her eyes, the brightness made her head ache.

Am I stupid? Asked Poppy as the wind rushed by, splattering her blood onto her chin and face.

Look... If I thought there was a zero percent chance of this working, I wouldn't have done it. It's true that no pokemon has survived this before, but then again, none of those pokemon had my help.

So we've a chance, then? How would you place my odds?

...Less than one percent,
Ann said reluctantly. But, then again, that's just the kind of chance an explorer would take, isn't it?

Poppy smiled weakly. Goddamn right...

That was the last thing Poppy thought before she fell into the light.
 
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Chapter 10

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
A droning sound like a million insect wings all beating at once, or a million voices all crying out. It was neither harmonious nor discordant.

Poppy's body seemed to vibrate, pervaded by an electric, tingling sensation. She grew numb, as though her body were disintegrating. For all she knew, it was.

While the pain elsewhere had begun to subside, the ache in Poppy's head only grew more intense. It didn't matter how hard she shut her eyes; the light may as well have been inside her skull. Her eyes were tearing up---she thought? It was hard to tell.

The ache in her head spread down to her neck, and then out to the rest of her body. It drowned out any other sensation. Poppy tried to move her limbs, but felt nothing. Tried to open her eyes again, but nothing changed. Tried to contact Ann, but heard no response.

The droning was so loud, the light so bright... The experience was agonizing just by its sheer intensity. Poppy almost wanted to return to the surface, to just bleed to death in peace. She tried to remember the warmth of the sun, but she found she was no longer able. She couldn't remember what anything felt like, anymore.

For a long time there was nothing but pain, noise, and unbearable light. Just let me die, Poppy thought. Ann, if you can't get me out... Please...

Gradually the space between Poppy's thoughts began to grow, like a fading heartbeat. Stretches of oblivion. The pain, the noise, the light, all merged into a single sensation. And over time, in the same way that she had grown numb to her own body, Poppy began to grow numb to that sensation, too. She perceived neither light nor darkness, neither silence nor noise. It was empty.

Po , c n y t f r ?

Poppy was roused by a voice in her head, and she mentally winced as she became conscious of the light again. ...Ann? Is that... you?

Y s. I n ed you t pu l yo r v ne for me.

To... Pull my... vine?
Poppy tried to move, and felt nothing. I can't. I don't under-

No, you j st did i ! Again! Ju t try!

O-okay...
Though it seemed fruitless, Poppy tried again to pull, and lost consciousness a few seconds later.

C me on P ppy! D n't give up!

Poppy wanted nothing more than to do just that, to fall asleep to all this overwhelming stimulus. But she mustered her will and tried again, with Ann cheering her on all the while.

Yes! y can do t, P ppy!

It was only after what seemed like minutes that Poppy began to notice any change. The noise and light that she had acclimated to began to fade, and she felt her body again---it was like blood flowing back into her limbs. The rush of the wind slowly returned, but this time, Poppy wasn't falling---she was rising. Pulling herself up.

Poppy soared above the mouth of the crater, and for a moment, she seemed to hang in the air. The treetops looked soft, almost cloud-like from above, and their leaves trembled in the breeze as though with anticipation. Poppy's body tingled as though charged with electricity, and for a moment, as she looked out to the clear horizon, she felt like a kid again. Ready to romp around in the grass and play with endless exuberance. She turned her gaze to Thorn and Xerneas and all the other pokemon who were turning in shock to face her. From this height they seemed as small as insects.

Poppy felt no pain when she hit the ground in front of Thorn. The lucario put his hands out in front of him in a gesture of surrender and backed away, the aura sensors on his head rising as he did. The spectators gasped.

Y u are so luc y, sighed Ann, not even trying to keep the relief out of its voice.

Poppy grinned. Glad to be back, she thought. Though you're still a little hard to hear.

It t ok all I had to ke p you from evapo ating. I c n b rely talk to you r ght now.

Then in that case...

You'r running off the p net's energ , in essence. But... It's onl tempor ry.


Poppy's face fell, and her blood ran cold. She didn't want to believe it, but the truth was that she could already feel her vibrant energy beginning to yield to exhaustion like the light of the setting sun. She didn't have long, she thought---seconds, at best. Can I just kill Thorn? How powerful are the other-

N t as str ng as you, but th y're powerful enough to k ll Xerne s. I'm s rry, Poppy. We c n't be selective th s time.

...I see.
She looked back up at the baffled Thorn. So be it, then.

Poppy's vine pierced through Thorn's heart and retracted in the beat of a hummingbird's wing. She rushed toward the spectators before Thorn's body had even started to crumple, and lashed out. Her vines bisected her targets as if they were made of sand, splattering blood onto the grass. Blissey, illumise, miltank, beautifly, sylveon, oshawott, aromatisse, volbeat. She turned and found five more to strike. Dustox, sandslash, zoroark, espeon, delphox. So far, no one had had the chance to react, and it helped that Poppy was determined not to give herself time to watch her victims die. Already her limbs were beginning to ache, as though cramping, and flecks of black swam at edge of her vision. She rushed to the next group of pokemon.

Lopunny, breloom, infernape, drifblim. Gardevoir, hatterene. Zangoose, drapion, kricketune, audino, krokorok, togekiss. Poppy's heart was racing now, straining to keep up with her demands. Her vision began to narrow, but instead of giving in to the urge to stop and rest, she whipped her head around and honed in on the last group. They had finally realized what was happening, but they only had enough time to express their shock as Poppy sprinted over to them.

Swampert, conkeldurr, armaldo. Luxray, sableye, torkoal, goodra... lurantis.

Poppy turned her head to look away from the carnage, only to lock eyes with Lavender. The delcatty was frozen---not even so much as a twitch from her tail.

Poppy glanced away and staggered as she tried to keep her balance. Her legs were shaking now, and her hearing was beginning to fade. The sound of nature around her---the wind and cicadas and panicked birds---grew muffled by an ever-loudening white noise, like blood rushing through her head. Even if I can muster the strength... I will not hurt her. I will not stoop that low. I will not stoop that low...

Poppy closed her eyes and hit the ground.
 
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Chapter 11

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
A dull, dead ache pervaded Poppy's muscles; she felt like a corpse. She caught a whiff of yarrow as she slowly opened her eyes, almost scared to try to move lest she find she couldn't. Before her was a patch of black fur with a metallic, powder-blue trim. A moment later Xerneas lowered its head, and Poppy found herself looking into its royal blue eyes.

Are you in pain? Xerneas asked.

"...Some," Poppy muttered. Her throat felt like she had swallowed sand, and her voice reflected that.

Xerneas moved out of view for a moment, then returned with a familiar-looking pouch, which it dropped in front of Poppy. Lavender left this for you. It has some water in it.

Poppy raised her leaden head, feebly grabbed the pouch with her mouth, and accessed the water pouch inside it. While the fluid felt good in her throat and stomach, she felt a sort of uncomfortable nostalgia as she drank; the pouch had Lavender's scent all over it, mixed awkwardly with the bitterness of the old leather. She noticed, too, that Lavender's guild badge remained pinned to the front---had she not thought to take it with her? Or-

Poppy's thoughts were interrupted by Xerneas. Lavender helped treat your injuries while I was unconscious. Before she left, she told me to relay something to you. She said she would tell the guild that you won and that there is no point in trying to fight you.

Poppy rested her head on the ground once more. "I see... Then I suppose we win." She closed her eyes for a moment, but she couldn't stop seeing the patterns beneath her eyelids as pools of blood. "Did she say anything else?"

That was all she wanted me to tell you.

Poppy grunted. It stung to hear such an evasive answer, but she didn't press the matter.

Is there anything I can get for you? Xerneas asked. Are you hungry?

"A little... If the clouds clear up, though, I should be fine."

I will go get you some food. It is the least I can do. Xerneas turned and walked away. I will only be gone for a moment. The feral pokemon stay away from this place, so you will be safe.

Poppy didn't relish the thought of being left alone, but she supposed it was just as well. Though they were on the same side, she didn't know Xerneas well enough to feel particularly comfortable around it, and she had a feeling it might be a problem if it knew about Ann.

Speaking of which...

Ann? Poppy thought.

No reply. Despite Poppy's exhaustion, her heart began to beat faster, and a too-familiar dizziness pervaded her head.

Please don't be gone, Ann. If you're not there...

Poppy summoned her will and sent the "loudest" transmission she could. Ann!

Ah... Our hero is awake,
came Ann's tired reply. And now I am too.

Ann!
Poppy breathed a sigh of relief and smiled. At least you're still there... I was beginning to think you had forgotten about our promise.

Ann chuckled. Perish the thought, dear Poppy. I just had to rest for a while, so I couldn't keep an eye on you. I hope you're feeling okay.

Well, I'm... I'm alive. Thank you for helping me earlier.


Ann laughed. That sure was a crazy stunt, huh? I'm just glad everything worked out. I'll be sure to help you take back your land soon, too; it'll just be a little while before I get back in tip-top shape, is all. I hope you don't mind.

No, to be honest, I'm not too worried about that right now. I just... I want to see Holly and the others again soon. I know they'll be happy to see that I'm okay.

I'll get you to them as soon as I can. For now though, we'll just have to rest.

Right.
Poppy sighed and relaxed. Something about having Ann around seemed to help assuage her guilt, she realized.

The sun shone through the clouds a moment later, and it made Poppy smile, if only because she had thought she would never feel its light on her fur again.

***

Poppy burst through the door to the guildmaster's lavishly furnished office with his bodyguards wrapped up in her vines. She tossed the two pokemon---a makuhita and venasaur---onto his mahogany desk, and the wood split in half under their weight with a gruesome crack. Glass figurines fell to the ground and shattered like they had been waiting to for all their lives.

"Happy holidays, asshole."

The guildmaster recoiled and almost backed into the windows behind him. Poppy looked into his wide, sickly-looking yellow eyes, and though she hadn't relished the thought of going through this trouble initially, the look of terror on his face brought a smile to hers. Oh, and he was already audibly hyperventilating.

Poppy's laughter was dark, raven-like, and she was sure the pokemon on the other side of the hall could hear it. "So frightened! Oh, that's precious. Precious." She walked between the two halves of the guildmaster's desk while he stood trembling. She wouldn't be surprised if he dropped dead from a heart attack right now. "Listen, you miserable sack of lard. You should be thanking your lucky stars---I'm not even going to kill you. I do have a couple demands, but they should be pretty simple to comply with." She smiled. "To begin with, guild fees are a little high. I say we lower them by ten percent, and maybe be more austere to compensate. Canceling construction of that new building would be a great place to start; I'll even give you a head start on demolition.

"I would also demand that you put half of the guild's income toward ecological restoration and land conservation---like that fund I used to manage. I put Daisy in charge of it---bayleef. She's a member. Talk to her. Your first project will be to restore the land you stole from me.

"That is all for now. I'm sure I don't need to remind you, but of course, you should also make good on your agreement not to let anyone near that island again. I did win the duel, after all. Have I made myself clear?"

"Er..." The guildmaster made a sort of strangled sound and nodded. His eyelids fluttered as though he were about to faint.

"Good. If you fail to comply, I will know. You won't get any second chances."

Poppy turned around and walked a few steps away, but she stopped when she reached the doorway. Before proceeding, she turned around to look the guildmaster in the eye one last time, then stuck out her tongue.

***

Wooden crates larger than Poppy herself lined concrete walls, lit dimly by the bunker's skylight, and the air smelled of dust and old wood. A dreary place to die, Poppy thought.

In the center of the room the guildmaster stood facing an abra. A moment ago the two had been talking about how they were going to blow Poppy up, but they were silent now. The guildmaster turned to look at Poppy with a sort of frozen expression, a little different from their last meeting; his fear seemed muted by disbelief, and perhaps also by knowing that there was nothing he could do to change his fate. His eyes in the feeble light were the color of leaves long since fallen. The abra teleported away, which Poppy didn't mind.

"You didn't keep your word," Poppy said.

Poppy wrapped a vine around the guildmaster's neck, and he lost his footing as he tried to pull away. He hit the ground with a dull thud. "Poppy-"

Poppy didn't like hearing the guildmaster say her name, so she tightened her grip. The guildmaster gurgled and widened his eyes, and then twisted to try and bite Poppy's vine. Poppy let him. It didn't hurt. She summoned two more vines and bound the guildmaster's legs before approaching.

The guildmaster released the vine in his mouth and tilted his head, possibly to try and let more air into his throat, and possibly to look at Poppy. His abdomen shuddered as he fought to breathe, and his eyes were glassy. He might be blacking out already, Poppy thought.

Poppy needed something more sensitive than a vine, so she loosened her grip around the guildmaster's neck slightly and slipped a paw underneath. She probed hard against the guildmaster's flesh, and it yielded under her paw like rotting fruit. His pulse, when she found it, was rapid and feeble.

Poppy turned a little so that she could reach her tail to the guildmaster's neck, and he thrashed like a fish on land. His hip and shoulder slammed loudly against thick concrete, and it looked painful. Poppy looked around briefly for something sturdy that she could bind him to, but she only saw more crates. In the end, she simply cut him right then and there.

The guildmaster let out an infantile whimper, and Poppy felt warmth on her flank. She glanced down and saw bright red. Blood spurted from the guildmaster's neck, saturating his fur and hers. It pooled quickly on the impervious floor and crept between Poppy's toes and under her paw pads. The scent of iron filled her nose.

The guildmaster grimaced, baring antique-yellow teeth. His breath smelled like must and decay, and his tears stained his fur the color of wet pavement. He gently rocked his head back and forth as he sobbed, as though to try to comfort himself.

Poppy didn't like what she was doing. She felt disgust. She felt pity. She felt sick. But despite her best efforts there was something she didn't feel, even as she watched the guildmaster rock and spasm and cry, and that was guilt.

The guildmaster was probably nauseous by now, Poppy thought. If he opened his eyes, he might find that his vision was fading. Poppy unwrapped her vines and stepped back, and then she raised a vine above the guildmaster's head and struck.

Poppy had seen rodents run over by carriages, their flanks split open and organs squashed against the pavement. This wasn't any more gruesome than that, she thought. Just a bigger rat than she was used to.

***

The stones to Poppy's right had been carved into smooth, sculpturesque shapes by the force of the river. A fine mist floated slowly downstream, forming millet-sized droplets on Poppy's fur that glinted colorfully in the sun like gossamer. Red clouds swirled around Poppy's paws as she held them in the water. Ann... say the guildmaster got his way. He had that abra teleport the bomb to the island, and he blows it up in my face. Would it have killed me?

Months ago, when we were newer to this, it might have. Now, no. Your ears would have rung for a while, though. Bombs are unpleasant like that.

What of the island? The plants and animals?

Would have killed hundreds, maybe thousands.


Poppy shook her head. Then I can't feel bad for him. He got what he deserved. She removed her paws from the water and inspected them---they were still tinged with reddish brown. She sneered. I shouldn't have waited so long though. Now I can't get these stains out.

Why don't you just use your tongue?


Poppy shivered with disgust. Ann...

Oh. I guess I can see how you wouldn't want to.


Poppy sighed and stuck her paws back in the water. Anyway, I've been thinking, the guildmaster wouldn't have gotten away with the things he did if there weren't so many other depraved pokemon out there. I'd like to give them a similar ultimatum as I gave the guildmaster and see how they respond. Maybe, you know... make a movement out of it.

Ann chuckled. He he he. Well, if that's what you want to do, then I would be happy to support you. Just let me know when you decide on our next target.

Poppy cocked her head. Really? That easily? You're not going to say 'on one condition...'

Ann laughed yet again. No, not at all. I've got nothing better to do, and frankly, this is a cause I can get behind. I'm all yours.

Poppy smiled as she shook her paws dry. In that case, I'll be sure not to let your generosity go to waste.
 
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Chapter 12

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
The rain roared hollowly against the roofs of buildings with signs too worn to read. Somehow the rain in this region seemed colder than the snow from whence Poppy came; it soaked her fur to her skin, burdened her. Her footfalls were heavy against the path, and the scent of young goldenrod underfoot mingled with scents of rotting wood and petrichor. The ground here had been a path, once, but now it was hardly distinguishable from the pale green foothills that encircled the valley.

A breloom made a chittering noise as it slinked between two buildings a few meters ahead. It's really just ferals here, now, Poppy thought. She walked up to the building to her right and peered through the rain-smeared window. It didn't look like anyone had bothered to move the furniture out, and now nobody was left to right the toppled tables and chairs. The place looked like it might have been a bar or restaurant, but the only culinary items left were shredded grain sacks and scattered silverware. A mule deer was curled up in the far corner beside a shivering bulbasaur, under a table that looked like it had been made for some kind of ball game.

I thought civilized pokemon were smarter than this. I thought they could adapt. Poppy shook her head. I shouldn't have been so hard on Lavender. I'm as naive as she was.

Aw, don't get so down in the dumps, Poppy. Sometimes things get worse before they get better, you know?

Maybe.


Poppy watched the drops trail down the glass for a moment.

...You know, they might still have some alcohol in there, Ann said. You wanna get smashed?

No. I've spent too long moping already. There's too much work to be done. After that... I'll think about what I want to do.

In that case, you should head to Sterlingtown. I think they'll need our help the most.

Our... help.


Ann said nothing.

***

It was the same thing for miles---heaps of slate-gray rock like old wreckage. The plants that gripped the flatter parts of the ground were more like overgrown club moss than proper vegetation, patchy like balding hair. Rue wondered if his fur would get like that if he kept going without food. He glanced back, at his black stripes and puffy (though drooping) tail that were characteristic of a growlithe. He wasn't exactly balding yet, but there was a certain dullness in his coat like it had been washed out with soap and dried in the summer sun. He felt colder than he would have a month ago, and he thought maybe that had to do with it. Or it could have been his flagging metabolism.

"You alright, man?"

Rue glanced at his partner, Plumeria. The shaymin had slipped up beside him without him noticing---he had been staring at the ground too much, apparently. Rue gave a weak nod in response to Plumeria's question.

Plumeria frowned. "I don't think you really are. You want to stop for a bit?"

Rue didn't have the strength to say no. He dropped his pouch on the ground and took a deep breath as he leaned against a nearby boulder.

"There you go." Plumeria walked up next to Rue and leaned against him.

"A hundred and fifteen fucking miles," Rue breathed, his head swimming.

"I know it's been hard, Rue, but we're almost at the end. You've really hung in there. I'm impressed by it---seriously."

Rue didn't try to stop his tears. He flung his forearms around Plumeria and squeezed him tight like a teddy bear. His companion had a fresh, grassy scent with hints of citrus and coconut---a scent that didn't belong in such a rugged place. If Rue closed his eyes, he could briefly imagine that he was on a tropical beach, basking in the warm sun. A brief escape from the bleak chill of this northern climate, from the wind that pierced through his fur like a weavile's frozen claws. "Thank you, Plumeria," he gasped.

Only when he felt too tired to keep crying did Rue let his companion go. He wiped his eyes as he took in Plumeria's expression---a sympathetic one, the kind that hurt. He leaned in gently toward Plumeria, and the two of them closed their eyes as they touched noses.

Then an otherworldly bellow rang out across the mountains, shaking the ground beneath Rue and Plumeria's feet. It sounded like a herd of tortured cows.

Plumeria whipped his head around. "What was that?"

Stars filled Rue's vision as he rushed to grab his bag, nearly slipping on the loose stones below as he did. "I'd bet money it's our client," he said. "And by the sound of it, he's not doing so hot. Let's go!"

The two rescuers hurried toward the noise. Running was physically painful for Rue in his current state, and if he had anything left in his stomach he likely would have vomited. If his legs weren't twice as long as Plumeria's, there would be no way he could have kept up.

Eventually, the crash site came into view. The raft's shattered logs were piled up like a haphazard dam, and mist sprayed into the air as water crashed against the wood. The river roared as though enraged by the foreign blockage.

Rue slowed down and scanned the area as he approached the riverbank. "Aspen! Where are you?!"

Rue caught a glimpse of taupe fur out of the corner of his eye, slinking behind a boulder. He looked back at Plumeria. "Someone's over there."

"I saw. Let's check it out."

Rue and Plumeria approached, giving their target a wide berth. The first thing they noticed was the lycanroc, who, judging by his raised hackles and defensive stance, was not happy to see them.

"S-stay away!" the lycanroc growled as he took a step back---his voice sounded young. "He's mine!"

For a moment Rue wasn't sure what the lycanroc was referring to, but then he noticed the corpse beside him. A torso as thick as a tree trunk, fur of brown and cream. Antlers wreathed in leaves, rusty red and withered along the edges. Flies buzzed around the sawsbuck's glassy eyes, eager to fill their bellies with carrion.

It couldn't have been a coincidence. It had to be Aspen.

Rue looked into the lycanroc's eyes, and the creature shrank slightly under his gaze. "Clearly you're no feral," Rue said. "Just what on earth happened here?"

"L-look, he was injured when I got to him---I thought he was just gonna die anyway, alright? I didn't realize a-a rescue team was gonna come for him..."

Rue glanced down at his pouch---the lycanroc must have noticed the badge pinned on the front.

"So you killed... our client..." Plumeria's gaze alternated between the lycanroc and the corpse.

"P-please don't arrest me! I'm just... I..." The lycanroc locked eyes with Rue. "Please, you're a carnivore! You have to understand! All of us are starving at home, and I came all the way out here just to find something to eat. None of us can afford to buy meat, so... so..." He looked away and shut his eyes, dropping his defensive posture.

Rue didn't want to believe the lycanroc, but further inspection seemed to support his claims. His ribs and spine were visible even from meters away, and his waistline had begun its gradual retreat into oblivion.

"Let me take a wild guess here," Rue said. "Did it have something to do with a leafeon?"

The lycanroc opened his eyes wide and nodded vigorously. "Y-yes! She threatened us, said we couldn't mine anymore! She... she was scary. Nobody could stand up to her..."

Rue nodded gravely. "Right. Same thing happened in our town. Trashed our whole economy..." He sighed. "If I'm honest, the only reason we took on this mission was because we were desperate. Something this long-range really should have been left up to fliers. But we figured we might find some critters along the way that haven't already been hunted, and make at least some money..."

"B-but... How were you going to bring him back? Surely he's too heavy?"

"Yeah. This was supposed to be more of a... I guess, guarding mission than an escort. Aspen was stuck out here alone, and the only reason anyone knew was because he sent out a carrier pigeon. We weren't supposed to bring him back, just treat his injuries and keep him safe until they could gather up some proper fliers to carry him. Awful lot of trouble to go through, but apparently his friends were really invested."

The lycanroc winced.

"Sorry. Look, bottom line is... I get what you're dealing with. We're not going to arrest you. Even if we wanted to, we couldn't haul you all the way back to town. So just... Hm..." Rue sat down and considered his options.

"We can't... just let him go," Plumeria said. "He... he killed a pokemon..."

The lycanroc's wince deepened.

Rue shrugged. "What do you propose, then? We can't arrest him, and there's no point in charging a fine if he doesn't have any money. He's not even from our town. And Aspen's already dead."

Plumeria's horrified face gradually slackened, conveying sadness, then resignation. He sat down. "I... I guess you're right."

"But, with that said..." Rue looked at Aspen again and swallowed.

"Rue? What is it?"

Rue looked up to the heavens, to the dark swirling clouds above, and grit his teeth. "Well... Aspen's, uh, pretty big. I mean, it's not like... you could just... um... finish him in one go..."

The lycanroc furrowed his brow, and then a look of realization passed across his face. "Y-yeah, I mean, if you want to share..."

Rue glanced at Plumeria, but the shaymin was looking away.

"I-I'll just, um, search the crash site to see if we can salvage anything, then..." Plumeria took a ragged breath, as though he were sick. "Just go ahead and, uh, let me know when you're... done..."

Plumeria shuffled away toward the water, leaving Rue and the lycanroc alone. The two of them looked at each other with the same pained expression.

Then, out of nowhere, Rue felt something he hadn't felt in a long time. He shook his head, knowing it was too late to hide the smile on his face.

The lycanroc gave a quiet chuckle, and Rue spontaneously responded in kind. It was the beginning of an absurd resonance, a mutual catharsis. The two pokemons' laughter slowly intensified until it became painful, and tears escaped their eyes. The sound was harsh, staccato, like a fragmented scream.

***

Though it made him dizzy to even pick up his head, Rue looked out the window at the familiar, dusty road and the crooked, slapdash buildings that looked like cardboard cutouts. Hardly anyone was in town anymore, and those that remained were mostly grass types who could photosynthesize. The few carnivores were emaciated and shambled along the road like living corpses.

Rue was hungry. Ever since Aspen, he had been having fantasies. He imagined bursting out the door and sinking his teeth into one of those servine's throats, feeling the warm blood fill his mouth. They would be easy to eat, he thought---he'd hardly have to worry about the arms or legs. Just tear it open and get right at the organs. Then he would peel away the flesh, rib by rib, and swallow it down like jerky. It would be better than that, even; raw meat was so much softer, so much more mellow to the tongue. After Aspen, Rue had felt a sense of glowing satisfaction, of vibrant pleasure... Maybe it was just because it had been his first proper meal in weeks, but either way, he wanted to feel that way again.

Other carnivores in town had already given in to the temptation and killed a few on the sly. If Rue was going to do it, it would have to be now, before he grew any weaker... The thought tortured him. He wanted to hold out for as long as he could, but if it meant condemning himself to an agonizing death...

It was probably too late, anyway, Rue thought. He couldn't walk around outside for more than a few minutes without fainting---he doubted he could kill someone now, even if they were a grass type.

Rue's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Plumeria's hurried footsteps outside. He turned toward the door as Plumeria opened it. He knew he would never eat his partner, but that didn't stop him from salivating at the thought.

Plumeria approached and dropped off his catch---a single mouse---by Rue's bedside. "I'm sorry I don't have more," Plumeria said as he shrank back. "...If I could figure out how to fly, I know I could hunt farther out. The traps just aren't effective, since there's so little game left... so... I'm gonna stay out as long as I can and see what I can do." He turned around to leave.

"Plumeria."

He stopped. "What is it?"

Rue took a breath. "Can you come here for a second?"

Plumeria approached timidly, like a child expecting punishment.

Rue looked into Plumeria's emerald eyes---eyes that glinted as though rimmed with nascent tears. "Listen... This isn't working. It's the same thing for everyone." He paused to catch his breath---even just talking made him dizzy now. "I'm going to die either way. It doesn't matter what we do. So I've been thinking... We may as well get it over with..."

Plumeria recoiled. "Rue, what are you saying?! You can't just give up like that! I know it's difficult, but-"

"Plumeria. Please understand... It's just worse for everyone if there's more hunters, and I don't want to suffer anymore. Do you really think we have a chance of getting through this? Answer me honestly."

"I-I-I... If I just..."

"Plumeria."

Plumeria shut his eyes and shook his head. "I'm not giving up on you! I'll stay out and hunt all night if that's what I have to do. So just... just hang in there!" He turned around and rushed out the door, slamming it against its hinges. Rue didn't even have time to call out to him.

Rue curled up slowly, too exhausted to cry.

***

Hours passed with Rue in a dull haze, somewhere between wakefulness and sleep. When he saw a burst of light from beneath his eyelids, he wasn't sure if it was a dream or not.

He heard an unfamiliar voice, as soft and cold as falling snow. "Poor creature," it said. Not the worst words to hear before the end.

***

Plumeria kicked up loose stones as he galloped down the mountain path, heedless of the steep drop to his left. His fur glowed green as he neared his target. The leafeon turned her head just a moment before impact and froze, her eyes wide with shock. If Plumeria hadn't seen her kill a sneasel just a moment before, he might have thought he had the wrong pokemon.

Despite his smaller size, Plumeria struck Poppy fast enough to knock her down. He quickly sank his teeth into her neck---or tried to, but for some reason he couldn't quite pierce her skin.

Plumeria reeled his head back and cried out as flecks of green light gathered around him. The flecks formed into crescent-shaped leaves and slammed into Poppy. All shattered as soon as they made contact, shrouding the area in a green mist.

"You monster!" Panting with exertion, Plumeria feebly slammed his paws into Poppy's face. Her expression hadn't changed since he had first seen it.

Plumeria began to prepare another attack, but then Poppy brushed him aside like a blanket and stood up. She looked straight into Plumeria's eyes, not bothering to shake the dust off her fur.

"Where did you come from?" Her voice was strange---severe, but tremulous.

Plumeria stepped back. "What? Who cares! You killed Rue---and I'm not going to let you just get away with it!"

Plumeria charged again, but this time Poppy sidestepped. Plumeria stumbled as he regained his balance.

"...There's nothing I can do to bring your friend back," Poppy said. "You're going to have to move on."

Plumeria turned to Poppy again and bared his teeth. "Are you crazy? Just move on and let you have your way? As if!" He let loose with razor leaf, and the projectile burst apart against Poppy's head like a wave crashing against stone.

There was a moment of silence while Plumeria tried to catch his breath.

"I..." Poppy started to say something, but then she looked away.

"What's wrong with you?!" Plumeria accused. "Have you nothing to say for yourself? Nothing to say after ruining so many lives?"

Poppy sighed, deflating. "You've seen it yourself... Desperate carnivores preying on other pokemon. Even the more... self-sufficient species, like you and I. It's not right."

"That's because of your actions!"

"I know. And I'm cleaning up my mess."

Plumeria charged Poppy once more, only to be sidestepped again.

"Please try to understand," Poppy said. "I'm trying to make the world a better place, and violence is the only tool I have. I'm sure Rue was a good-"

"Shut up! You know nothing about him!" Plumeria hastily wiped his eyes and smeared tears and dirt across his face. "He was a beautiful pokemon! He took me in when I had no one else. He risked his life for me... So many times! We rescued dozens of pokemon together, and he never complained when I messed up, never asked for-"

"Alright," Poppy said. "I get it. I understand."

"-for anything from anyone!" Plumeria stepped forward, stomping his paw. "He took requests for free! And when we found someone too hurt to take care of, he stayed by their side until the very end, just to keep them company, and-"

"I get it," Poppy said, grimacing. "Look, str-"

"-And he slept beside me when I had nightmares, even when he didn't want to!" Plumeria's voice was hoarse from shouting by now, but it didn't stop him. "He made fun of himself to make me laugh! And when he was bedridden and starving-"

"Alright!" Poppy laid down and put her paws over her ears. "Shut up! I get it!"

"-he wanted me to kill him, so there would be more food left for everyone else! That's the pokemon you-"

"Shut up!"

Plumeria didn't see the attack that sent him flying, falling upside-down off the side of the mountain. His mind and body froze. He watched the ridge above fade away into the distance, his eyes wide with terror even as the sun burned its image into the back of his skull like some celestial cattle prod. Seconds passed as the mountainside sped past him, rocks and shrubs and grasses blurring together. Surely he should have hit the ground already. It should be over. He didn't want to die, but anything would be better than this interminable wait...

Out of the corner of his eye, Plumeria saw something---a vine---extend toward him and wrap around his waist. He felt tension, and his descent began to slow. He couldn't see how far he was from the ground when he finally stopped falling, and his fear-induced paralysis made it impossible to check. The vine gripped tightly as it raised him up, but even so, he was terrified to move lest he somehow break loose. He let himself breathe again when, after what seemed like minutes, Poppy finally deposited him back onto the mountain path.

Poppy slumped against a nearby rock, her eyes out of focus. She looked shell-shocked. "God... I thought you could fly..." She put a paw to her head.

Plumeria had forgotten about his mission, about vengeance. He gasped for breath in a trembling heap, as though dying. Was he crying? He wasn't sure. He was a victim of his own body, his own racing heart and clenching muscles. All he could do was plead silently for them to calm down.

They did eventually, of course, but it was slow going. When Plumeria finally stood up, Poppy turned to face him again.

"Are you okay?" The sincerity in Poppy's voice was uncomfortable. It made Plumeria feel like his insides were squirming.

"I'm fine," Plumeria said as he stepped back.

"Good. I'm sorry about that. It's best I go." Poppy closed her eyes as her body began to glow.

"No you don't!" Plumeria charged Poppy once again, and this time he caught her off guard and brought her to the ground. Her glow faded away.

"For heaven's sake," Poppy said with a joyless laugh. "Just what exactly is it now?"

"I can't figure out how to stop you if I can't keep track of you. I can't just let you run away."

Poppy hesitated for a while, and then she gently brushed Plumeria off. Then she turned around and headed in the opposite direction as before.

"Huh?" Plumeria said as he began to follow. "Where are you going?"

"I know a place you might like."

***

Long stretches passed with Poppy seemingly lost in thought; she spoke up only to ask if Plumeria needed to stop for rest or water. Even the birdsong was hushed, as though afraid to disturb her deliberations. At first Plumeria didn't like the silence because it gave him time to think. But as time passed he grew numb to it, and at times he forgot that he was traveling beside the person who had killed Rue.

Days passed until the duo reached their destination. The terraces along the mountainside were wide and lush with unfamiliar vegetation, reminding Plumeria of just how far he was from home. He could see specks of movement near the bottom of the valley, where there seemed to be---of all things---a little meadow peppered with orchid-pink flowers and small straw huts. In the center was a small, clear pond.

"We're here," Poppy said. "Let's go say hi."

The two descended, until eventually Plumeria saw that the specks below them were in fact shaymin like him, gliding about near the ground. One of them noticed the duo and flew swiftly toward them. He seemed interested in Poppy.

"Poppy!" he exclaimed, grinning. "You're back! And you brought a companion? Anyway, come on down---I'm going to go tell the others you're here." He turned and departed as fast as the wind.

"...Poppy?" Plumeria said to her. "Is that your name?"

"Yes." Her voice was quieter than usual.

When they reached the bottom of the valley, there were at least a dozen shaymin waiting for them, land and sky form both. They swarmed Poppy as soon as she was on level ground, nuzzling her, hugging her, all but inundating her with affection. A chorus of "How are you"s and "We missed you"s that lasted for minutes.

"I'm fine," Poppy said. She nuzzled one of the shaymin back gently, eyes closed. "It's good to see you all again..."

Plumeria wanted to believe Poppy was being insincere---that she didn't really care about the shaymin here, or about anyone. But as a shaymin himself, he sensed her overflowing gratitude, as warm as the blood in his veins. Nor did he think she could feign the fragility in her voice as she thanked each of her companions for their effusive regards.

One of the unoccupied shaymin noticed him. "How are you doing?" he asked, a little concerned. "You look like you've seen a ghost."

Plumeria opened his mouth and found he didn't know what to say. "It's... It's been a long trip... I guess..." He couldn't take his eyes off of Poppy. "Did she, uh, used to live here?"

The shaymin laughed. "She didn't tell you? She found us by accident a while ago, stayed a month or two, but she helped us tremendously with some pollution problems we were having at the time."

"But shaymin can cleanse pollution, can't th- can't we?"

The other shaymin nodded. "Well, sure, but this was something else---you wouldn't believe how bad it was. We had to-" He stopped talking when he realized that some of the others had noticed Plumeria.

"Hey, Clover!" one of them called. "Is that Poppy's friend?"

A group came up to introduce themselves, and before he knew it Plumeria was too busy with small talk to worry about Poppy. The shaymin of this valley were apparently very curious, and their interest in him only seemed to grow when he explained that he had forgotten most of his past.

Then Poppy spoke up. Her eyes were wet when Plumeria turned to look at her. "Everyone, um, if I may, I would like to take a moment to talk to my acquaintance in private before we get settled in."

The shaymin who had not yet talked to Plumeria turned now to look at him. "Oh, who is this? Is he your boyfriend?" one asked teasingly.

Poppy's laughter was muted but deep, and it disturbed Plumeria because it sounded sincere. Like a real pokemon. "No," she said. "I was actually hoping he could live here for a while, if that's alright---but we'll have to talk about some things first." She gestured toward Plumeria. "Come on."

The shaymin made way for Plumeria, and he followed Poppy to a small cave on the other side of the meadow. The sounds of the villagers' cheery conversations grew muffled as they stepped into the shadows.

"Do they know that you're... killing pokemon?" Plumeria asked.

"They don't need to," Poppy said as she situated herself. "Though I can't stop you if you decide to tell them. Anyways, listen." She looked into his eyes. "I... like this place, so I'm going to be visiting from time to time. If you stay here, you'll see me again soon enough---you won't have to keep following me. You'll have all the time you need to think of a way to kill me or whatever, and you'll have a chance to make some friends in the meantime. The shaymin here are very kind." She exhaled. "It's the best solution I can think of for both of us. What do you say?"

"...I don't trust anything you've said."

"Why not?"

"Well, you did just admit to lying to those shaymin..."

"Do you think I shouldn't have?"

The way she just... stared into his eyes was unnerving. "Uh... Yeah, I guess I do. You ought to be held accountable for your actions."

"If I tell them the truth, it benefits nobody." She shook her head---was that contempt in her voice? "But whatever. I know of nothing I could say that would change your mind." She walked past Plumeria. "I'll be staying the night," she said as she left the cave. "So you have until morning to decide whether or not you'd like to stay here."

For the first time in days, Plumeria was in no rush to follow Poppy. He thought for a while. Poppy was a bad pokemon, but she didn't hate him. The thought made him uncomfortable, but it occurred to him that to some degree, maybe he was being unfair to her.

Plumeria wished he could talk to Rue about this. He... Maybe he wouldn't know what to do, exactly, but at least it would give him something, some point of reference...

Plumeria heard footsteps and realized he had been laying in this cave for a while. When he looked, he saw a shaymin approaching.

"Ah, hello, Plumeria," the shaymin said cautiously. "Poppy said you might be upset, so I decided to come check up on you. Are you alright?"

"Oh, sorry if I worried everyone. I'll be okay. I need to think for a while."

"Okay---I can show you some good thinking spots that would be more comfortable, if you're interested..."

If he wanted to, Plumeria could tell this shaymin all about Poppy right now. It was a tempting prospect, if only because it would free him from his deliberations. But something in the shaymin's face stopped him. "Thanks..." he said. "Just anywhere quiet would be fine."

***

The next morning, Plumeria found Poppy looking down into a stream. She dipped her paw in and then watched it drip dry, as though fascinated by the look of the water.

"Hey, Poppy..."

She started and then turned around. "Oh, Plumeria. Have you made your decision?"

He gave a downcast sigh. "Yeah... I mean, I... guess I never really thought I could stop you anyway. So I guess I'll stay here..."

"And you've decided not to tell them about me after all?"

He grimaced. "I know I really ought to. But..." He shook his head. "I don't know why I can't. I'm just a coward, I guess."

Poppy looked at him critically. "Don't say that. I don't think you're a coward."

Plumeria looked at Poppy with bewilderment. "Poppy... I just..." He frowned. "I don't know what you'll make of this, but I think there's a good pokemon inside you somewhere."

"I know that. That's why I'm changing the world."

Plumeria sighed frustratedly. "Right. Of course. But..." He slumped onto the ground and put his paws over his head as though exhausted.

"...I think I had better go. The sooner you forget about me, the better."

Poppy's body began to glow, and this time Plumeria just watched her vanish. He felt like there were a dozen things he should have said, should have done, but he didn't know what they were.

"Hey! Plumeria!"

Before long one of the shaymin called his name, which made him chuckle despite himself. Were they worried about him again?

Plumeria took a breath and stood up. "I'll be right there!" he called, and went on his way.
 
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Chapter 13

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Patches of rusty red and mossy green patterned the base of the wing like shrubs reclaiming a mountainside; a line of white, like clouds along the horizon, preceded the gradient of honey yellow and tangerine scales that lined the edge. Poppy cocked her head at the two tailed pasha butterfly as it landed on a nearby cinnamon fern.

"Surprised to see you all the way out here, little one. Have you strayed from home as well?" She reached into her pouch with her vines, pulled out an apricot, and squished it. Juice dripped to the ground as she gently placed the fruit near the butterfly. "Here's something you might appreciate. I have no need of it, myself, so don't feel bad."

She watched the butterfly feed for a while before turning her gaze toward the marsh beside her. Red winged blackbirds perched with grace on spindly reeds, and the water reflected the sky so clearly that Poppy could see individual clouds. Spring peepers chirped away invisibly, like a chorus of newborn chicks, and the shelducks honked and purred as though with laughter caught in their throats. Poppy admired the birds' autumnal plumage and the subtle, s-shaped curve of their necks. She didn't mind that her fur was damp.

Would now be a good time to catch up? asked Ann.

Yeah. I guess so.

Ann---its avatar, rather---materialized next to Poppy and laid down beside her a couple meters away. "So, how are you?"

"Genuinely, I'm happy for all the destruction we've averted, but... this whole thing has got me thinking about carnivores. The civilized ones, anyway. They were hit hardest by my... policies. Ethically sourcing food for such pokemon is a real challenge, and I'm not exactly sure how to approach it. But it makes me wonder..." She sighed. "Um..."

"What is it? I promise I won't make fun of you if I think it's silly."

She sighed yet again. "Just let me put it this way. If I were to recreate the world from scratch, I'm not sure I would have any reason include carnivores at all. I just..." She shook her head. "I don't know. What would you do in my place, Ann?"

Ann nearly buried its face in the fur of its chest as it laughed---or perhaps 'chittered' would be more accurate.

"Hm? What are we so coy about?"

"Sorry. Listen---I find joy in simple things, like watching the tide, or feeling the breeze on my face. I think we're quite similar in that way. But the phenomenon that we call 'life,' I think you'll agree, is far from simple. I would find the world so much more agreeable if it were removed, and in my true form, it would be easy to achieve that. But with that said, it would hardly be fair to you if I took that course of action, would it?"

"Either way, it's not possible, right?"

"Presently, no. But there's something worth bringing up. As I mentioned, the realm in which I reside now is not natural; it was created to contain me. But the ones who did so are long gone now, and the bars of the prison are rusting away, so to speak. The deaths of pokemon accelerate the process, in fact, since they return energy to the planet for me to draw from. At this rate, it's not long until I'll be able to break free, and manifest my true form." Ann winked, and for an instant its eyes seemed to change to a bright, vivid blue---but then it blinked again, and the effect was gone.

"Oh. I see." Poppy took a deep breath. "Should I be scared?"

"You? No. Remember, I think of you as my partner. So, while my preference would be to purge the world fully, I recognize that's not what you want. However, we can both agree that some pokemon should not remain. So I think we can easily reach a compromise. Maybe we get rid of everyone who pollutes, or who lives in a city. Maybe we add carnivores, too. Maybe we get rid of all the other species and let shaymin rule the earth." It smirked. "It won't necessarily be fair, but if we do something like that, the world should come out more peaceful in the end. And that would be enough for me."

Poppy nodded faintly. "Yeah... As long as we can look back and be proud of the result..."

"That's what I've been thinking. But that's still a couple years off, so don't worry too much. In fact, I'll tell you what---why don't we do something fun tomorrow to unwind? Anything you want."

"...I don't know. I'll think about it."

Ann smiled. "Alright. Take your time."

Neither spoke for a while. The call of a bittern floated through the air, low notes like distant splashes.

"Ann..." Poppy said. "Thanks for being my partner."

Ann smiled again. "It's been an honor."

With nothing left to say, the two laid beside one another as the sun kissed the horizon.
 
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WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
So, real talk: I normally only read PMD socially--for Catnip, out of friendship, etc. But! I've been looking forward to checking out your work ever since your post on the intro thread about plants and environmentalism. (Heyheyhi we're already friends and you didn't even know it!) I'm definitely interested in some of the themes and conflicts you have at play here, and I'm curious to see how you'll use the lens of pokemon to talk through those issues.

Overall thoughts: the very first scene went a little long, as much as I love plants, and the ending line could use a little tweaking to make a more satisfying arc. However, the bulk of this was very interesting!

Line-by-line thoughts:

A youthful voice could be heard to the leafeon's right, with a kind of undulating cadence to it like a whistling thrush.
Since the story follows Poppy's perspective, it felt a little weird and stilted to avoid using character names until they come up in dialogue. I like the simile though! I'd do something like "Lavender's voice came from Poppy's right, a kind of undulating cadence to it like a whistling thrush ... but Poppy wasn't listening."

I love all the plants here--you work in horticulture?--but it felt like this first section mostly served to show us that Poppy is knowledgeable about plants, which I feel like could've been done more succinctly. For me, the story really started when they ran into the "tribal" pokemon by the tree.

It's possible that I'd be more sold on the opening if we got a little more of Poppy's inner life and emotional state. The dialogue does give us something about her character ... but we're very much held at a distance.

That said, if you ever feel up for a trainer journey fic, you'd have a friend in my character Una. She's got a lot of scenes involving foraging for plants and things. :D

Lavender's ears twitched. "Oh, that's right! The old ones are finally preparing to confront the enemy of life, but the best they can hope for is to seal it away for a little while... It's a bittersweet prospect. But what makes this part fascinating is the characterization of the antagonist..."
If this is foreshadowing, it's a little heavy-handed. If it's not ... I'd summarize and move through it a little faster.

They didn't have badges, and their leather pouches looked rugged, like they had been made by hand.
Wait, what's the alternative in the pokemon world? (Wrote this before I saw the factory spires and smoke.)

When they turned to face Poppy and Lavender, Poppy could see that they had ashen marks across their faces.
Ooh interesting!

This is another moment where I wanted more emotional reactions from Poppy. Is she afraid of them, interested?

"I don't suppose it matters. Either way, it would be a stain on our legacy to bend to the will of ferals."

Poppy bristled a little. "Hold on, ferals? With bags and body markings and language?"
👀 Well, hello.

Poppy snarled. "You're ridiculous."

"Let's limit ourselves to productive comments now, yes?"
Oof.

smoggy haze from distant smokestacks
Oh really! What kind of industry are these guys operating??? What a bummer that even in a world without humans there are big nasty factories and pollution.

Lavender shook her head vigorously. "No no no, it's not that, I just wanted to remind you that we don't have any paper left at home, so if you want to write the union, we need to get more."
Aww, cutie. The way she helps Poppy and looks out for her says a lot more to me about her character than the opening scene with the plants and the books did.

Poppy gave a growling sigh and looked over at the sun, which wasn't even two paws above the horizon. "Of course."
I didn't realize at the first that the sun was going down (I didn't read the chapter all in one sitting). I was getting "it's too early for this shit" vibes.

Excellent," Poppy said. "This stream will really benefit from the shade and organic matter. I know we're not really monitoring, but at this rate I think we might really start to see the fish come back soon..."
Ooh this is interesting! Sounds like in this world, rescue teams have more to rescue than just lost caterpies.

So that should protect us from anything like... last time.
Oh no ....

listen to the chorus of cicadas and crickets like a thousand spectral bells scattered across the sanctuary.
Pretty description!

she tried to guess their species without looking. That one on her shoulder felt big, maybe a blowfly? But it flew away too quietly. A couple of smaller ones too, here and there, ticklish, barely perceptible. Maybe some kind of gnat. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine that they were checking up on her. Like old friends.
I really like this image, and I like that you're making use of a dex entry. However, ending on the note of "almost-like-friends" doesn't seem quite right. Poppy clearly has friends and allies. It seems like what she needs are resources, protectors, manpower to watch over this safe space, and a voice. It might be nice to end instead imagining these insects watching over the land (but they're so small and delicate!) or maybe even whispering secrets to her (about the land, the dungeons, the tribal pokemon) ... but try as she might it only ever sounds like buzzing.

I'll be back sometime to check out what happens next.
 

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
So I've read this fic twice now. The first time, I was cooking lunch and decided to check out the first chapter. The first chapter led into the second chapter, and before I knew it I realized I'd picked up something I couldn't put down. I read the whole thing in a kind of daze, and couldn't muster anything intelligent to say. Tonight I read it again, and once again I was pulled on toward the end. There's an inevitability to this story, starting from the fourth chapter, when they discover the energy source, and solidifying in the sixth chapter, when Poppy meets Ann. There's a lot to digest here, so without further delay:

Lavender
I've already mentioned inevitability—well, Poppy and Lavender's relationship was another place I felt this. There's such love and friendship between them, and their relationship feels very real—full of in jokes, disputes, quiet moments. The most striking moment for me was when Poppy thinks about how she can enjoy the sounds of the city when Lavender is with her. Lavender is her anchor to city life, to the guild, but she doesn't understand Poppy. She doesn't understand that Poppy's values aren't her own. There was something oddly poignant to me about the time when Lavender doesn't recognize the lavender plant. It's a cute moment, a silly moment, and yet, there's something behind it. A gulf. And that sense animates the earlier chapters of the fic to me, pushes me along like subtle ripcurrents, this sense that something is not quite right, something is strained to the breaking point, and it will break. Lavender's final act of saving Poppy felt deeply tragic to me. I like that you don't show us Lavender after it, just the terse message Xerneas relays. Does she regret it? Will she spend the rest of her life regretting with all her heart that she saved the life of her dearest friend?

Holly
First of all, Holly is a darling. So I feel bad calling her a replacement Lavender, but that seems to be her function in the story. She plays second fiddle as Poppy's conscience, but unlike Lavender, there's never any equality between them. Lavender and Poppy were partners, but when Poppy comes to the shaymin she already has the power of a god and a knowledge of the outside world that gives her a different power. Holly is peaceful, kind, meek, and she is not going to stop Poppy—that is the true difference between her and Lavender. Holly represents everything that Poppy thinks is worth saving. And she allows that—she looks away when Poppy tells her to. The bliss of the shaymin colony in the final chapters, their innocence—they have that because of Poppy's violence. And they do not know to ask, and no one will tell them.

Ann
You never sit down and tell us who Ann is—and yet we're being told the whole time, in Lavender's innocent burbling about an old myth, in Poppy's not-really-joking comment to the shaymin, in the dead foliage at Ann's feet. We know, and Poppy knows, and yet it doesn't seem that bad. Ann's helpful and she doesn't ask Poppy to do anything she doesn't already want to do. And so Ann creeps up on Poppy and on us. She's a satanic figure at her finest: utterly opposed to life, and yet personable, disarmingly honest. And that honesty feels real. If her only concern were to be released, she could have picked avatars who would pollute the world until it was unlivable, until the death of nature heralded the death of many pokemon, and set her free. But her desire is a pristine earth rid of higher life. Obviously this story is not Resting Place, but I can see how Resting Place was its genesis. The final chapter in particular captures the powerful desire to have a clean, unsullied earth and the equation of that desire with death. Life is messy; death is simple.

Poppy
The hero. Or is she, after all, the antagonist? The twelfth chapter may have been my favorite and I loved the way you used it to flip the vantage point, turning Poppy from the savior of an overrun world to the killer and despoiler of society. But Poppy never doubts that she's the hero. And that unshakable quality makes her a fascinating protagonist. She hesitates, but only rarely, and when it matters most, not at all. She doesn't hesitate to spit in the guild's face, to make a deal with the devil, to kill. As you say in the brutal scene where Poppy kills the guildmaster, she feels many things, but guilt is not one of them. The chief emotion that animates her seems to be disgust—at pollution, corruption, ugliness, unkindness. Her cynicism is self-fulfilling: she decides that killing is the only choice, and makes it so. Maybe she's right. Looking at the state of the current world, it's hard to find her cynicism unwarranted. But in the end, she becomes the thing she argued against when they discovered the energy—she becomes a single person deciding how the resources of the world should be allotted, choosing who should live and who should die. There were times in the story that I felt for her—when she discovered that her plot of land had been violate; when she killed the gallade and realized there was no forgetting, no turning back; when she faced down her death. Other times, I was content to watch her, an emotionally detached observer—what will she do here? How far will she go? You depicted the increase in her power levels and her increasing apathy towards the deaths she causes well. Violence from compassion, that's Poppy's paradox. The greatest extremes of violence in order to safeguard the the most peaceful. She reminds me somewhat of the character Kiritsugu from Fate Zero, prepared to undertake any sin or evil in order to save the world. And similarly, Poppy forces the question: what will the world look like, when a person like that has saved it?

The World
It's a beautiful world, and the narrative never lets us forget it. Your natural descriptions are breath-taking, and it's the tenderness in them that gives them their beauty. Even when the world is at its most apocalyptic, the descriptions of nature do not lose their luster. In an equal but opposite vein, you portray the unease and ugliness of the cities. The scene where Poppy returns to find her land seized is one of the most strikingly described to me, the sheer loss of it from what had been there before. Poppy sees nature everywhere: even in the mud tracked on the floors of the guild, she finds cirri clouds. Besides the beauty of nature, the question of resources seems to be at the heart of the story. Chapter four hands us a problem—a massive energy source, currently equitably distributed. Lavender and Poppy's impromptu debate raises the question of winners and losers. Poppy comes down against alteration, but the world she brings into being is one that also makes winners and losers—a world in which the carnivorous pokemon cannot survive. You leave it a little hazy how they survived before, and what connection their was between industry and their feeding. But the messiness there feels real, whatever the reason.

The Ending
Maybe I'm just a sucker for this kind of thing but I found the ending poignant, cathartic in a shivery sort of way. Is the world better now then it was when Poppy began? Perhaps it's better for some, but it's much worse for others. I loved the time we spent with Rue and Plumeria. Rue's cannibalistic experience is so visceral, and his moral agony afterwards, as he begins to hunger to eat his own partner, was heartwrenching to experience, as was Plumeria's raw eulogy. But Plumeria's ambivalence in the end of chapter twelve was also mine—in the end, Poppy is difficult to hate, and perhaps all the more terrible for it. Circling back to the idea of inevitability, in the final conversation between Ann and Poppy, we never see Poppy agree. But we don't need to see—it's clear what Poppy will choose. And so the meek inherit the earth—or, in the end, will all of life become hateful to Poppy too, so that the earth inherits itself?

.
.
.

(I have line-by-line thoughts, mostly praise, with some sentence level quibbles, but I've gone on long enough. Perhaps at a later date I'll get around to posting them.)
 

WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
Chapter 2!

Lots to like in this chapter. I loved the strategic teamwork between Poppy and Lavender—and the new dimension of complexity in their relationship.

Poppy, you're an adult, and this is the third time this has happened. You shouldn't just be nodding off in the middle of the wilderness.
Oof! This says so much. Poppy doesn’t have it together—a little eccentric and probably has bitten off more than she can chew—

Even though I shouldn't really have to." She shook her head and grimaced. "It's like I can trust you with anything but yourself..."
—and it’s a burden on Lavender. If Poppy can’t take care of herself, I bet it’ll endanger their projects.

there were the common species today, like golem and axew,
Axew is common here, huh?

A goodra looked behind himself remorsefully at a pair of luxio as they tried to avoid following in his footsteps;
Suggestion: A goodra cast a remorseful glance over his shoulder at a pair of luxio who tried to avoid his footprints.

Didn't these city folks know a little slime wouldn't kill them?

Though on that note...

"So, Poppy," said Lavender casually. "When was the last time you took a bath?"
The cause and effect here is off. It feels like Poppy has forgotten or failed to notice until Lavender points it out, but the “though on that note” sounds like she is thinking about her untidy appearance.

What do you think?" asked Lavender as she looked up from her book.
A little muddy who’s looking up from the book. I’d make it a gerund phrase offset with a comma instead.

They outrank us, you know."

"All that really means is that the guildmaster likes them more."
👀 🍵

Poppy started slightly when she felt something cool touch her flank. She looked over to see Lavender laying her book on top of her, a mischievous smirk on her face.

"There," said Lavender. "Much better."

Poppy laughed. "Silly cat."

Poppy closed her eyes again. At the end of the day, she couldn't complain---the weight of the book was hardly unpleasant, and every once in a while Lavender would pause her reading in order to give her a quick lick or a nuzzle. Lavender's scent was a bit different from her namesake---sweeter, a little more forward, like sugary tea---but it was soothing all the same.
What a sweet interaction.

Poppy emerged from the nook in which she had slept, and looked out at the ocean.
I actually don’t think you need the comma here.

It starts with an 'l'."
Should be uppercase! (Otherwise it reads as an I instead of an L.)

"I hate to say that I agree.
Maybe “it, but” instead of that?

We should start designating points of reference."

Poppy nodded. "Good idea." She gestured to a boulder nearby. "That'll be twelve o'clock."
Loved this! Really gives a sense of their history.

Poppy cried out her name, but Lavender already knew what to do.
A little unclear. Suggestion: Poppy cried out for Lavender, but the delcatty already knew what to do.

Here's some yarrow I picked earlier---you can make a poultice out of that. It'll help with the bleeding."
Plants!! ❤ Haha I’ve got a yarrow compress in my fic too. Great minds think alike! I’m so glad someone else likes plant medicine. Though I have to wonder ... are berries rare and hard to come by here? Why are some plant medicines in favor and others aren’t? Are these kinds of plants less effective/magical than berries or has that knowledge simply been lost?
 

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Review response time

@OldschoolJohto
Thanks for the comments, OldschoolJohto. I am considering changes to address the things you pointed out. Just minor changes right now. It's a shame about that opening segment, I guess. You would be surprised how many revisions that went through; I struggled with it a lot. It's better and shorter than it used to be, but I will still think about if I can improve it. I don't want to get rid of it totally, if only because I like some of the description there.

I'm kind of on the fence about changing the ending line of chapter 1. I have a sense your feelings about that might change slightly as the story goes on, but they also might not.

Anyway, thanks again. Good to see another fan of plants out there. Even if my own knowledge isn't that great, researching plants and animals is a part of the writing process that I really like, and from time to time I learn something really cool.

@Pen
Your comments on Poppy and Lavender's relationship were good to hear, because that was a point of concern in some of the feedback I got on this story. I made changes to some of Poppy and Lavender's dialogue since the story's initial publication on AO3/FFN, and this makes me feel a little more confident that those changes helped their relationship feel more realistic.

There's also the way Poppy and Lavender's relationship ended. I'm glad you didn't mind my handling of the scene after Lavender saved Poppy, because I remember there was one reader who was critical about that. I think some readers just value closure more than others. It is what it is.

I also think chapter 12 is my favorite. Funnily enough, I didn't plan out the perspective switch, and it was only days after drafting chapter 11 that it occurred to me to go in that direction. I am fond of the scenes that take place from Rue's perspective, which is good, because they were emotionally draining to write, and I like to think that persevering through that was worthwhile. I can say the same thing of chapter 4.

Also, you are the second person to say that Poppy reminds you of Kiritsugu from Fate Zero, so I feel like this is a sign that I should watch that anime.

Anyway, I'm very glad that you appreciated the story, and that you took the time to write out your thoughts in such detail. If you post sentence-level critiques, I will try to address them.

Either way, thank you.
 

WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
Responding to Chapter 3!

Poppy and Lavender closed the distance between themselves and Scotch and gave their greetings.
This sounds like Poppy and Lavender are moving closer to each other rather than to Laurie and Scotch.

The way she held herself, with her legs close together and arms half-hiding her face, suggested someone introverted.
Love this—nicely handled.

Sounds exciting!" said Lavender.

"Sounds dangerous," said Poppy.
Two kinds of people.

The irony in having a strong, four-pokemon team is that it made having a strong, four-pokemon team no longer necessary.
*was

recognize that they were at a numerical disadvantage,
Suggestion: recognize that they were outnumbered.

Poppy just felt like she was somewhere she didn't belong.
Ooh ominous!

Indeed it is
Missing a period.

The psychic voice was floaty, ethereal, like the sound of rubbing a wineglass.
Innovative and apt description!

It tapped its hoof against the ground.
“It” feels like an odd choice here. I also can’t quite tell what role Xerneas (and, by extension, other legendaries) plays in this setting. How chummy are everyday pokemon with legendaries?

you must have wondered about how us pokemon acquired our power.
*We

But populations have grown, meaning that there is now less of this power for each individual to draw upon.
👀 Hello, tragedy of the commons.

Well, yeah, but like, what if we got together to harness a bunch of it and make, I dunno, lights that stay on all the time! Or like, superpowered carriages that can transport things really fast!"
Oh no, that’s so sad. Their grand ambition is to have the things we take for granted. And we know that, although cars and electricity are convenient, they certainly haven’t stopped humans from being awful to each other.

Unless you have some kind of ability that helps you deal with the cold-"

"Yes, in fact. I call it 'moving back to where I came from.'
Holy cow, the tea is piping hot. 👏

I only went to this continent so I could be part of the guild-
* Came

Maybe. But I don't know who we can trust to decide what constitutes an emergency. Certainly not the guildmaster. As far as I'm concerned, Xerneas is as good a candidate as anyone else."

You honor me, said Xerneas.
I did think the debate went a little long without Xerneas reacting or saying anything.

This is a very intriguing turn. I sense some heated debates and strained friendships in the future. One point that hasn’t been brought up yet and I’ll be curious to see explored: there already is inequality in how energy and power are distributed among pokemon! (Case and point: Xerneas vs. everyone else in this scene.) I wonder what happened there.

Say, have you read Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer yet? I suspect you’d enjoy it.
 
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love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Review response time

@OldschoolJohto

The debate between Poppy and Lavender, and the conversation with Xerneas in general, is yet again something I improved on since the first draft, but which I think, after receiving more feedback, still fundamentally has the same issues. I personally think chapter 3 is the weakest of the entire story, so if there is any part that needs to be completely rewritten, I would say this is it.

I also can’t quite tell what role Xerneas (and, by extension, other legendaries) plays in this setting. How chummy are everyday pokemon with legendaries?

What, do you expect me to include actual relevant cultural/worldbuilding details? Preposterous!

And the uneven distribution of energy is something that's not really ever addressed. I always imagined it was only uneven close to the crater, but that assumption kind of violates basic logic, so oh well, guess that's a problem I don't know how to fix. I mean, the same arguments for and against harnessing the energy kind of still apply, in my opinion, so at the least I don't think that issue totally ruins the story or anything.

Now, I never read Annihilation. I watched the movie at one point, but felt kind of let down by it, but I might try the book someday, since I know it's very different.

Anyway, thanks for the criticisms. They should help me improve things a little... Though it might be a while before my next round of revisions.
 
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