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Broken Things

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Normal 1.15: The Trainer and The Tower
Lila

Once upon a time a powerful trainer named Lila defended a tower in Hoenn.

*​

{Supūn.} The alakzam stands at attention. You wave a hand over the assembled crowd. {Start evacuating. Ask the pokémart staff in Ever Grande for ethers if you get tired.} He leaves.

“Shida, Hirune.” Your cradily and snorlax look towards you as they materialize. “Shida, use vines to hold the foundation together. Hirune, start shoring up the building with boulders.” You have no idea if that will work. You make sure not to let your pokémon know.

“Den’atsu.” The manectric barks. “Go up the hill and try to draw the bolts towards you.”

Finally you send out Mangurōbu and Opera. Your two first pokémon. “Mangurōbu when you rematerialize push all of the water away from you and off the roof. Opera, I need you to take me up.” Neither object as you withdraw your starter and walk towards Opera. The altaria settles low enough for you to get onto her back before she starts ascending. She’s slower than normal. It takes you a second to realize that altaria wings could get really, really heavy in the rain and you’ve never felt a downpour like this in your life. “Come on, keep going,” you mutter. She gives an adorable war cry and continues to ascend. Slowly ascend. Now she’s not even breaking even. You prime your swampert’s pokéball and lob it onto the roof. A flash of light tells you it was successful and you tell Opera to go down.

There’s a presence in your mind. Something impossibly big is looking right at you. “Protect!” you scream. For a second you think that you’re doomed. For a second the red light stands up against the rain. For a second it stands against a hydro pump. For a second you fly back into the wall as the shield breaks.

You use every bit of telekinesis in your body to slow your fall.

You take stock once you hit the ground. The presence is gone. The titans are focused on each other again. Your quick thinking and Opera’s best efforts mean that only most of your ribs are broken. Opera is—oh. A quick press of a button confirms what her neck already told you.

*​

A blast of staggeringly bright green light strikes the roof. A fissure opens up and swallows your living fossil back into the earth. The cliffs freeze as kyogre grows frustrated with her lightning being redirected.

*
There’s a knock at the door. You don’t say anything. Don’t move. Barely notice it. The door opens anyway and you see a white man in a suit enter. He walks over and sits down in a chair in front of you, between you and your pokéballs.

“It takes guts to teleport into the midst of fighting gods.”

You don’t know where he’s going with this. You let him continue.

“I should thank you. Two-hundred and thirty-six lives were saved.” And four were lost.

No. Far, far more than four.

“So,” the man leans back and clasps his hands. “What comes next for you?”

You open your mouth but the reply dies in your throat. What does come next? It was going to be the League but with four pokémon down you have no chance. No desire. League matches are controlled but you’d always be scared that two would become one.

He smiles. “Nothing?”

Nothing.

“Then may I offer you a job? I believe the International Police could use a daring hero such as you.”

“Not a hero,” you croak out.

He raises an eyebrow. “You put your life at risk to save others.”

You stare at him. He stares at you. Eventually he gets the hint, slides a business card into your hand, and leaves.

It takes a while. Four months, in fact. But eventually you call the number and say yes.

*​

If you’d known seven years ago what you know now you wouldn’t have accepted. Not because of the danger. Quite the opposite, in fact. You’d much rather be fighting ultra beasts than facing your most dreadful opponent of all: meetings.

The other participants—Gladion, the kahunas, Admiral Wilford, and Governor Fisher—are already present when you and Looker teleport in. Selene was probably invited but since she’s always either very early or not attending at all you’re willing to bet that she’s not coming today.

Once you’re seated the admiral clears his throat. “Good morning and thank you for coming. I would like to begin this month’s meeting by discussing the recent activity of the Skulls.”

“Must we?” Hapu asks. “They’re small time criminals. I would prefer that we stick to the UBs.”

“They were ‘small time,’” the governor says. “That is no longer the case. Now they’re revolutionaries.” You can’t help but roll your eyes at the seriousness with which he says absurd things. “We’ve found pamphlets that say as much”.

“They’re kids who are mad at the government.” Hapu crosses her arms. “Do we need the military, the police, and the kahunas to go after them now?”

Now, of course, is a time when aliens show up in Alola one to three times a month.

“Especially now,” Admiral Wilford answers while puffing himself up a little and glaring down at the teenage kahuna. The latter doesn’t so much as blink. “They’re testing the waters. Burning buildings. Scaring off tourists. Stealing from trucks carrying construction materials. Who knows what they’ll do if we don’t show them that their actions have consequences?”

“I think we can all agree that no one wants a city taken over again,” Governor Fisher adds.

“You’re playing into Plumeria’s hands.” Oh boy. Gladion’s defending Team Skull after you fought so hard to get him and his Silvally onto the council in the first place. You don’t disagree with him. But he really needs to learn to read the room, manage his reputation, something. “You crack down on them. People get hurt. People get killed. That gives her propaganda and reasons to escalate. You want to really piss off the natives? Kill a bunch of their kids because they broke some ****.”

Red and teal flare around the table. Anger and conviction. You should step in. Or watch. They want to talk about the skulls they can talk about the skulls. Yeah. Watching is fine.

“If we let the rebels do whatever they want then we might as well just hurry up and surrender to them.”

Is Plumeria’s approval rating higher than the governor’s? You don’t actually know at this point. Probably not a good idea to ask. But you can quietly look it up under the table. She wins 27 to 23.

The admiral and the governor keep blustering at Gladion and Hapu. The older kahunas stay out of it but from their emotional colors you’re pretty sure that Molayne agrees with the governor and Olivia and Hala side with Hapu. Experience tells you that Looker’s against the skulls. Counting votes leaves you four to four. Time to tiebreak.

“Can we vote on taking direct and coordinated action against Plumeria as a council?” Formal. Maybe too formal for Hapu and Gladion. Glances are shared. Eventually Molayne shrugs and gives you a ‘sure’ of approval.

Four votes for action, as you predicted. Four votes against plus your own. No need to waste time and resources on some kids with middling pokémon and no idea what they’re doing.

“Well then,” the admiral crosses his arms and actually growls. “Anything else we need to talk about?”

“VStar,” Olivia says in her distinctly kind-but-no-nonsense tone.

“What about them?” the governor asks. “And why talk about them here and not at the ecology board?”

Judging by his emotions you’re pretty sure that Rachel has him wrapped around her finger. You’ll need to have another talk with her. She’s not actually a controller and you can’t punish her just for being an effective lobbyist but sooner or later the wrong person will get too paranoid and you’ll be left to clean up the mess.

“Tapu Lele’s taken notice.”

“As has Tapu Koko,” Hala adds.

“And Fini.”

For a long moment no one dares to speak. There’s an interesting mix of anger and solemn acceptance around the table.

“So what,” the governor finally says. “They’re going to throw another hissy fit and destroy a city if our democratically elected government doesn’t bow to their every whim?”

“That’s possible,” Olivia says in a neutral tone you couldn’t have managed under the circumstances.

“Could they withhold assistance against the UBs?” you ask.

“Also possible.” The Akala kahunas looks towards you with a neutral face masking sadness and anger.

That’s bad. Even with the tapus you’re barely eking out wins and every loss has the potential to snowball if defenders are killed or demoralized. “I think it might be worth appeasing our allies, then.”

“Selene’s beaten Tapu Koko, right?”

“I’ve done what now?” The champion enters the room. Her emotions are a mess and you’re pretty sure she’s got a new scar or two from the last time you saw her. Definitely a little bit paler. Someone else follows her. A woman in a spacesuit with gray skin. You can sort of see her mind’s colors but they’re subtly wrong. Tones you usually don’t see in configurations that don’t make any sense.

The woman outlines a square with her hands. “Alola, people of Alola.”

Selene sits and her guest follows. This is the first time that the champion’s brought someone back from Ultra Space. “Now,” Selene says as she sits down at the head of the table, “I would like to hand off the discussion to my new friend, Soliera.”

Hala starts but gets shut down by a glare from the champ. He takes the message. Whatever was being discussed before can wait for now. Soliera clears her throat. “Good day. I am with the Ultra Recon Squad.” Multiple eyebrows are raised and heads are tiled. No one but Selene seems to actually know what that is. Thankfully the alien gets the hint. “We monitor and police threats in Ultra Space. It gives me no pleasure to inform you that one is heading towards your planet.”

“On top of the ultra beasts?” you ask.

She makes a clicking sound with her tongue. “This is far more serious. There are light-based beings that roam the void. When healthy they are benevolent and freely share their energy with others. They are called necrozma, blinding ones, guiding lights.” She closes her eyes and her voice drops lower. “When they are wounded they seek out new worlds to drain the light from to heal themselves. They can drain countless worlds and still never be content. One took notice of yours after a strange spike in energy four years ago. It should arrive in less than one of your planet’s orbits.”

Of course it would. Because on top of everything else Alola needed a world-ending monster dropped right on top of it. The universe can’t let you keep six pokémon for long.

*​

“Hey! Wait up a sec!” you turn around to see the new Ula’Ula kahuna chasing after you. Smiling on the outside. Smiling a little less on the inside. Molayne runs a hand through his gray hair when he catches up. “Mind if I borrow your Ultra Scanner? There are some improvements I want to install.”

“Please do. Want a ride back to your lab?”

He nods enthusiastically as you hand over the device. “Yes, of course.”

Supūn ferries him over as you consider your schedule.

*​

The North Point Pokémon Center is close enough to your condo that you can just walk. Might as well since it’s a very nice day. Warm with a mild sea breeze. Gives you some time to glance over the files you have on the new girl. Cuicatl Ichtaca. Long green hair, dark skin, cataracts. Kind of gaunt. Citizen of Anahuac. Two pokémon registered. Vulpix, OT Raphiel Brooks. Tyrunt, OT Cuicatl Ihctaca.

Tyrunt? Really? How? Why?

American mother but no citizenship. Arrived on a challenge visa September 20, 2019. No official record of her powers. There are a few documents from Anahuac attached. Strange mix of terrible and stellar grades. Legally emancipated from her living father. Deceased mother and twin—oh **** that was three months ago.

You’ve seen the statistics and the reality enough times to know that surviving psychic twins are more likely than not to die within the next year, often by their own hand. It’s concerning to say the least. You’ll need to do a full scan. You’d need permission but as the semiofficial regulator of the Alolan psychic community you’d be the one to semiofficially grant it so—approved. Full scan is semiofficially legal now.

Your mind bushes against hers well before you reach the center. A quick glance shows that she’s on a bench overlooking a golf course and the ocean. Well, if your mind has found hers she’s probably aware of you so there’s no time to go back into the records.

“Hey, I’m Lila.”

She turns towards you and smiles at an invisible person to your left. “Cuicatl Ichtaca. Good to meet you, ma’am.”

“Sir,” you correct on reflex. Her expression wavers and her feelings, slightly obscured behind anti-telepath defenses, shift to shame. You wave off her concerns. She doesn’t notice.

“Are you trans?” she asks.

“Sort of.” You sit down at the bench and glance at the two white pokémon—wait does that tyrunt have fluffy white down feathers? Anyway. Gender. “Non-binary, I think.” Haven’t had another psychic outright confirm it to you. Not sure what the confirmation would even be worth since minds are internally inconsistent and can change by the minute.

The girl doesn’t say anything. The vulpix on her lap stares at you and the tyrunt behind her on the bench stands up tall to get a better look. Onus is on you to restart the conversation. “Enough about that. You can call me Lila.”

“Cuicatl Ichtaca.” Every time she speaks she sends you a psychic signal. You’d been letting them bounce off your shield but maybe you should actually read one. A few thoughts set up a quarantine. “Both words,” she practically whispers. It sends out a signal for you to translate. ‘Both words.’ In Japanese. No accent. Huh. That’s probably her specialty. You leave up a few mental stopgaps but otherwise let yourself receive the messages. Kid’s not attacking. Looks way more scared of you than you are of her.

Wait, did Rachel tell you about your formal job? Because if she only knew she was talking to a cop, well, in this climate you really couldn’t blame her for being terrified. “What were you told you about me?”

“You watch over the psychics on the islands. That’s all.” She starts ruffling the fur on her vulpix’s head. Nervousness? “Did I do something wrong?”

She’s done a few things that weren’t ideal. She should’ve reported her powers right off the bat. Rachel might be able to get things smoothed out but in any event it would look too much like the community protecting its own from otherwise neutral laws. Not a great look. Unfortunately you’re in a position where the best thing for her, you, and the community is for her to just not report it.

“No.” No reason to tell her about all of that. It would scare her and kids can do dumb things when they’re scared. As can adults. “I just like to check in with new psychics on the islands. Welcome them to Alola, talk about options, lay down the rules, the usual.”

She frowns. “Miss Bell said you would talk to me about schools.”

Makes sense. They’d probably be good for her Having a structured, supportive environment is seldom a bad thing.

“Right. There are a few schools on the mainland. Probably one in Anahuac.”

“There is,” she mutters. “They use us as spies.”

Oh. Well. Tiny blind girl might not be the best spy. Too noticeable. But the language filter would help a lot.

“The government doesn’t make psychics do anything here,” you lie. White lie. There’s registration, occasional psych evals, semiofficial supervision, a few laws that Rachel likes to come dangerously close to breaking… and annual talks with CIA and FBI recruiters. The recruitment talks are mandatory but accepting isn’t. The distinction would probably be lost on her anyway.

Wouldn’t matter. She still doesn’t seem to buy it.

“Any particular reason that you aren’t interested?” you ask.

“Money.”

Well. She’ll get along fabulously with Rachel, then. Or they’ll become business rivals and die cordial but mortal enemies.

“School would be free for you.” That one isn’t even a white lie. The government would much rather have psychic kids in one place where they’re easily supervised and sheltered from the worst of poverty during their formative years. Lessons learned from the empath defectors of the Cold War.

“No.” She shakes her head and green locks fall into her face. “I need seven hundred and eighty-one thousand dollars.”

It sounds like a joke but she’s dead serious. You reflexively switch into cop mode. “Why? You on the run from—” Cartels. The government.

Rebels.

American-born mother. Green hair. Language-based telepathy. Hell, you’re pretty sure you heard somewhere that one of his cousins was blind. You take a deep breath. She has far darker skin than you’d expect. You could still be wrong.

“Any of your ancestors Korean?”

The girl blinks. “My grandmother. Why?”

“My former boss might’ve worked with a relative of yours.” Hard to even call that a white lie when ‘worked with’ means ‘hunted.’ Unsuccessfully hunted, but hunted nevertheless. Probably for the best there. You don’t want to imagine his old boltund trying to take down Zekrom. Anyway, time to bring him into this.

[Can I ask you a question about N?]

[Yes.]​

His absurdly prompt responses stopped surprising you years back. He’s probably slightly precognitive. Truth be told you were already typing your next message out.

[He ever contact his birth relatives?]

Something starts beeping incessantly beside you. Supūn is standing there with the new Ultra Scanner in hand, lights blazing and sounds blaring. You snatch it away from the pokémon and shut it off. Supposedly there’s a UB right on top of you. “Excuse me for a second.”

You get up and walk far enough away from the bench that even with the girl’s blindness-enhanced hearing she won’t be able to overhear you. Then you dial the Ula’Ula kahuna. He picks up on the third ring.

“Hello. Any problems?” He sounds cheery enough. Something deep inside of you wants to rip into him even more for it.

“I set it off.”

You can hear the awkward swallow over the line. “Okay. Uh, send it back and I’ll see what I can do.” He clearly wants permission to end the call. You won’t give it to him.

“You know I hate it when this happens, right?”

“…I can imagine how you’re feeling, yeah.”

“No. You can’t.”

The Kahunas lied to you. Looker lied to you. Supūn lied to you.

Everyone lied to your face for years and now he pretends to know how you feel.

*​

On May 7, 2014 a wormhole opened near North Point. Two police officers showed up to investigate, prepared to fight whatever demon game through. They found a young woman covered in bruises. She was asked her who she was. The asker isn’t in the record. The woman answered in Japanese. A few minutes later she would be translated as saying:

“My name is Lila. I come from Hoenn. I was a powerful trainer who defended a tower.”

There were six pokéballs on her belt. Four were broken. One held a snorlax, the other an alakazam.

The alakzam introduced himself as Supūn. He told the men that his trainer was psychic and Ultra Space with its alien minds slowly eroded hers. He only kept his sanity because his trainer decided to keep him in his ball as much as possible and rely only on herself and her other pokémon.

Apparently she found her way out.

The alakzam translated the woman’s words. The words that she continued to mumble to no one in particular while picking up sand and letting it run through her fingers and onto her tattered, blood-stained clothes. He said they were true. He refused to provide more context. He’d lost some of it himself. And he said then as he would say many more times in the future, “Knowing what she had wouldn’t make her any happier now.”

She was taken to Tapu Lele. He made the woman whole by shredding everything that was real and weaving a lie between the words she’d said. A lie that the International Police supported with forged documents and even an actress claiming to be her mother. A lie that conveniently left behind a faller willing to do exactly what the lie’s crafters wanted from a faller.

Convenient how that worked out.

At first you’d accepted their explanation that you’d fought enough UBs that the aura just rubbed off on you and drove more near. As you learned more and more about them you slowly realized that’s not how things worked. Eventually everything fell apart after you really dug into your documentation.

Now you keep living the lie because what else are you going to do? Abandon the people to alien ambushes because their leaders were manipulative? Doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it. Doesn’t mean you’ll take it when a kahuna rubs it in your face.

*​

You end the call to find a text from Looker.

[Sounds like something he would do. Why?]​

Deep breath. You didn’t come here for N. You didn’t come here for your own demons. You came here to do a wellness check on a child. Everything else can wait a few minutes. {Supūn, I need help doing a silent scan.}

Silent scans are one where the target doesn’t notice. On a trained psychic they’re next to impossible, even with pokémon help. She’s not trained. Rather than smooth walls her defenses are ever moving chainsaws. Most of it will hurt if touched. It’s good combat form. Not good standing form. Leaves holes. You point out one you’d noticed to your alakazam and he forms the link. Alright time to look.

While you have some telepathic power you’re fundamentally an empath. You don’t look directly at the structure of her mind, just the impressions that things have left. Easiest to do for connections to other people.

It’s immediately obvious what parts used to directly connect to her twin. Apparently a functional relationship. Differentiated personalities. That’s good. Means they shared less. Makes it easier to cope. Not easy—it still looks like her mind was messily sawed in half and error reports stack up every minute when an old routine doesn’t work. Could’ve been worse, though. Whatever consolation that is.

A few slightly atrophied connections. A father figure, an older sister(s?), and a younger one. A mother figure grouped separately from that cluster. That one is particularly strange. Almost like hero worship. Very few meaningful connections but a very clearly felt absence. Only been frayed for a few weeks, though. That one might require a deeper file review. Maybe even some document requests to Anahuac.

Then someone who was probably her actual father. Solid links to her and a bunch of the twin’s old emotional pathways seem to lead there. Oh boy. Some love, a lot of distance, fair bit of pain, and a very serious break around the time of the twin’s death. Then spite. It’s new but it already deeply stains her perception of him.

A few minor ones. Casual friends, teachers, distant pets, maybe a crush. None truly defining in her mental architecture. None terribly missed.

New connections. Ones formed entirely after the loss of the other ones. None that span both periods. Strange. Not calling home at all? Two fairly advanced links to other minds. Her pokémon. Complicated but satisfactory relationships. They give her headaches but probably also cuddles. Good, but not enough to anchor a person with. There’s a third recently broken link. More positive. Fewer headaches. Almost as much love as her starter. Relationship severed against her will. Connection’s become linked to the parent-sister figure clusters. Loss. Less hope of recovery. Were the other three pokémon? Possible with her powers.

Two main human links. One has deep rings of annoyance and pain with a sheen of reliance and hope on top. Other is the opposite. Mostly positive with a level of fear and distrust at the surface. Neither is really deep enough to be sustaining.

Rachel. Her mind signature mixes in a little bit. Fear, disappointment, some feelings similar to her parental figures. Authority. Authority that’s failed her a little and helped her a little.

Well. That’s all the new ones. Now for the biggest one. Her impressions of Cuicatl Ichtaca.

Bad. Deeply, horribly bad. Years long trails of hate, disgust, disappointment. Small threads and spots of love. Of hope. Recently blunted. Feelings turned decidedly darker and dimmer with her twins death. A step away from ending things, which is a half-step further away than she’d been only a few weeks ago. Slight progress. Not enough progress. You’re not comfortable adding her to the list of the dead yet but if you were a betting woman, well, you wouldn’t bet against it. You’ve seen happy people destroyed by their mind being shattered. She wasn’t happy to begin with.

You close the link and hand the scanner back to your alakazam. He teleports off without a word and you walk back to the bench. Kid’s a little paranoid. Probably because a cop walked off to make a long call after a very odd exchange.

“Hey, sorry, work called. Anyway, I have one last thing to take care of.”

“Okay…”

You really need to stop saying cryptic things and cutting off. Kid’s going to be justifiably terrified of you.

“Tapu Lele,” **** him, “gives new psychics on the island a z-bracelet. Can I put it on you?”

She smiles a little. Inside and outside. “Okay.”

Fits perfectly without adjustment. That’s rare. Maybe the tapu had already scouted his new subject out himself. Wouldn’t be the first time. “Now, want to try it out?”

“I have a Normalium-Z,” she answers. “Pixie knows roar.”

Of course she already had a plan. Got her first Z-crystal and immediately thought about how she’d use it if she could. Roar’s a good testing move, too. Don’t need to put a pokémon in the way of it. Might piss off some golfers and you’d have to investigate yourself for a noise complaint. Nothing too serious.

“Alright, put the crystal in.” She takes out a smooth black case with one white crystal and seventeen empty spots. Heh. They’re really giving kids full cases. Encouraging them to seek out the hard ones, too.

You guide her hands through the (relatively simple) motions for the normal crystal. Her vulpix lights up and an instant later an ear-piercing shriek rumbles down the cliff. Some people start below. Let them. You remember the first time you used a crystal. Good memory. One of your first fond ones that was actually—Cuicatl collapses to her knees. Right. ****. Rough on first time users.

You kneel down to help her and when you take her wrist you notice that her pulse is going crazy, her eyes and wide open and. And she bends over and pukes. Her tyrunt rushes over but you push her aside. Bit rougher than your first time. She got vomit in her hair so you go behind her and hold it back in case she has to throw up again. She does and—seriously what is it with this dinosaur and vomit? At one point her arms give out and you catch her and oh wow you can really feel all of her ribs. Her heart is still trying to shake itself free of its constraints.

Extreme thinness. Self-hatred. Possible poverty? Cause doesn’t matter. You really shouldn’t have given her a Z-crystal. Damn it. Should have noticed.

“Mind if my snorlax carries you?” A weak nod. You send her out and gives the order.

Right after Cuicatl’s safely in the bear’s arms you feel her slip into unconsciousness.

****.

*​

Her heart was still beating and she’d regained consciousness when you dropped her off. A few hours of watching your police scanner and the Center’s called for neither an ambulance nor the police. She’s probably fine.

As fine as a suicidal teenager living in the path of a wanted terrorist and a light-stealing abomination can be, anyway. No. Don’t think about necrozma. Not now. Problem for future Lila. Focus. Good things.

When Supūn brought back the scanner back it didn’t instantly flag you.

That’ll have to do for today.
 
Last edited:

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Blows dust off Serebii account.

Well its been a while. What better way to come back than with a recap of everything that came before?

cn transphobia/ableism


Recap 1


Genesis

So, um, you already know all of this. You know everything. You’re Xerneas. But I’m also allowed to tell you anything, right, and I thought I should work through some stuff before we head off to Ula’Ula.

I guess this begins with Lyra but I would rather not talk about that. You already know it anyway. Maybe begin with VStar? Sounds good. There was a whole orientation thing and I got to meet a bunch of people and they went over stuff that I sort of remember. Pay is low but I suppose I shouldn’t complain given the circumstances. Later got paired with Cuicatl and Allana.

Should I describe them? I want to a little bit. Like I’m talking to a friend. None of mine are talking with me. They don’t have my new phone number. Maybe they wouldn’t want to talk if they did. Most are Lyra’s friends more than mine… Anyways, Cuicatl’s blind and she had really nice green hair but then she cut it and it’s a little less nice. Her eyes still kind of creep me out but she’s really nice and good with pokémon, like her adorable little holy vulpix.

Allana’s… she was probably pretty. I think she’s changing. I’ve seen her inject herself and I think she’s starting to get a little bit of stubble. I don’t know if it’s reversible. I hope it is. Should I throw out her drugs to protect her? I know I’m not supposed to steal things, but you can’t be okay with what she’s doing. I know how this happened, too. She’s angry and kind of controlling so someone probably convinced her she had to be a guy.

It’s really sad.

Then the journey happened. I’m praying for her. Right now, in fact. May she find peace and guidance back onto the right path.

Paths. Journey. Sir Bubbles and I set out to Akala to make money. Still not sure how much money we’re going to need. Haven’t heard from my parents yet. I pray that they accept my apologies soon. I think my punishment so far has been fair.

Oh, I got to ride a mantine on the way to Akala! It was really, really fun. I felt you there. Thank you for creating mantine. And the oceans. And poliwag.

Right. Sir Bubbles and I got attacked by Team Skull. Some nice bystander stepped in and saved us which is good because brave, brave Sir Bubbles boldly ran away right into danger. He’s not very smart but I love him.

I almost got to capture an eevee. But then an ariados got it. I’m not sure how to feel about that. I know you created ariados and they need to eat but it still felt a little wrong seeing it. That’s not insulting your creation, of course! I just don’t understand it right now. I pray for wisdom on that.

I won a trial! Father’s chess games paid off and I got to skip right to fighting the boss, a giant oranguru. Sir Bubbles put it to sleep and then Inferno managed to damage it enough that it gave up and showed me a Z-crystal. That I can’t use yet. I pray for a Z-Ring.

Wait. Inferno! I forgot Inferno. He’s just the cutest little leafeon. Smells like leaves. Loves cuddles. Doesn’t actually do much. Anyway, her old owner was very mean and abandoned her when she didn’t evolve into a flareon. I hope he believes in you so that he can be forgiven. Otherwise it’s ironic. Going to an inferno for abandoning an Inferno.

Which might not be funny. I’m sorry to remind you of the people you can’t save.

Later on I caught my newest team member, Count Cloudy! She’s just the cutest little castform. The best part is that I don’t have to sleep in a tent that’s getting rained on again. Allana’s mad, though. We could have made a bunch of money if I’d turned him over. Cuicatl says that we have enough for food and we already have a tent and clothes and stuff so I don’t see the problem.

So. Um. Yeah. I don’t know how to end this.

I pray for safety on Ula’Ula and luck in catching pokémon and friendship and maybe healing for Cuicatl and insight for Allana?

May my words and deeds bring honor to thy name.



Kekoa

I know this was for logging transition stuff. But. Don’t want to take pics today. Not much different. Got my period last week. Cuicatl says that my voice is a little deeper, but I think she’s just being nice. I guess I smell different? More pimples.

That’s it.

I’ll write about the journey here.

Met Cuicatl and Jennifer. Jenny’s a haole *****. I treated Cuicatl like one. She’s cool tho. More later.

Went to Akala. Mantine riding sucks. Jenny seemed to like it. Made her more of a *****. I ****ed up on food and had to eat white sludge **** and gritty eggs and potatoes. Otherwise good gear picks.

I went home. To Paniola. Couldn’t make myself talk to Kanoa. Did meet Jabari. He doesn’t get it. Maybe never will. I was mad. Snapped at Cuicatl. She outed me. Met a cool kanaka man on Route 7. Cuicatl talked with me. We buried the hatchet.

Still not entirely sure I should have. She definitely knew I was trans when she misgendered me. Outed me. But she’s here alone and tried to be nice. I’m trying to forgive her. To move on. Even if she doesn’t deserve it. Oh, also she has her own secret. Rather not say in case the cops read this. Still not sure how I feel about it.

Won a trial.

It was hard. Kanoa beat me at chess. Hekeli took out her pikipek with two hits, no damage. Then totem oranguru. Hekeli hits hard. Maybe too hard. Got me a talk about force early on. Don’t know what the nurse was thinking. Pikipek hit as hard as they want. Anyway. She didn’t hit hard enough. Had to rely on Makani. But! The oranguru used trick room. Makani was super fast and bit the totem until it gave up.

Kanoa and I talked some more. She gave me her number. Doesn’t hate me for leaving. Seemed to pity me. **** that. I’ll still text her. She seems happy. Trial captain and everything. I owe her a real match when I’m stronger.

I have two pokémon now. Hekeli is still a pikipek but I think she might evolve soon. “Evolve.” Cross the arbitrary line. We don’t really hang out much. I think she likes fights. Cuicatl says that she needs a reason to stay. I hope fighting works.

Makani the grubbin doesn’t really listen to me. Smart enough to bite at stuff attacking him. Prone to spitting string on my face.

Cuicatl thinks it’s ****ing hilarious.

…it kind of is…

Oh. Right. One last thing.

My brother tried to give me a ****ing tyrunt egg. Because last time we spoke I was in a dinosaur phase. Thing imprinted on Cuicatl. For the best. It’ll piss Jabari off.

God damn that girl is going to have a keokeo and a tyrantrum.

I should tell Sis about her. Figure out if she can be used. Or how we’ll fight her if she’ll stand against us.



Cuicatl

I don’t know if you can hear me. I hope you can.

Please don’t wait. I told you before but I’m worried you ignored me. Go. Please. I could be a while.

I’m on my own journey. Boring compared to yours. No rivers of blood and jaguars. I’m in Alola now. Tried to go to Unova but couldn’t get the visa. It’s tropical and humid here. There are even mountains. It feels more like home than I’d like.

I have a starter. Her name is Pixie. She’s an ice-type vulpix. Incredibly soft, really prideful, less smart than she thinks she is. Reminds me of Alice, just not strong enough to back her words up. Yet. The people here worship ninetales as ice gods. Someday she’ll be really powerful. Not quite hydreigon level but really what is?

There are aliens here. They attack at least once a month. Really strong trainers are sent to catch or kill them. We went through a forest burned in one of those fights. I don’t know if the trainers “won” or “lost.” There’s a difference between knowing that the world may end in a few years and living in a place where it’s happening now. One of my friends here was in Japan when Quetzlcoatl appeared. I wonder how he feels, seeing the wrath of gods and monsters twice in his short life.

I guess I should tell you more about my friends. Kekoa is the one I was talking about. He has a pikipek and a grubbin that don’t really like him. Maybe he can fix it. He was really rude to me for a while. I hit back. I don’t want to talk about that. He’s accepted me for now. I told him about my gifts. I know I shouldn’t have but it felt right at the time. He really cares about his home. Wants the colonizers gone. Can’t blame him. They ruined Anahuac with a treaty. Can you imagine what it would’ve been like if they’d actually taken over? Kekoa’s angry. Hurt. I understand that. Maybe we can help each other.

Then there’s Genesis. She’s kind of the opposite of Kekoa: really sweet seeming but mean at the core. Kekoa’s trans. Genesis follows the deer cult. She’s been misnaming him in her head. I can’t really say anything about it but that’s going to blow up. I’m taking Kekoa’s side when it does. Maybe she’ll learn. Maybe we’ll kick her out. I’d feel a little bad. I don’t think she wants to be here. There’s just nowhere else to go. Hopefully she’ll hate being alone more than she hates being nice.

I had a little paras for a while. Five of them but I really only talked to one. She was kind. A little dull. Thought that everything she saw was the biggest, coolest thing ever. Pixie didn’t like her. She’s very jealous and I think she would’ve killed the poor paras if I hadn’t gotten rid of her. I wanted to make Pixie leave out of spite. But I need her power more than I needed the paras’s.

Power. Two more things I want to talk about.

I got a tyrunt.

Kekoa’s brother… details don’t matter. Don’t know them anyway. The egg was supposed to be Kekoa’s, but the hatchling imprinted on me. Tyrunt imprint! Like birds! And she has super soft down feathers and, um, needs her food regurgitated. Like a bird! And she’s also a dragon! Sort of. Her language is a little like Upper Draconic. How old is that, anyway? I know it’s for myths and I always knew the gods were old but… that’s very, very old. Were they the same gods? Quetzlcoatl wouldn’t have to change for the dinosaurs. Did the others?

If I was at home I would ask a priest questions until he stopped answering. Maybe you can ask Xolotl for me.

I named the tyrunt Mitzcocotonaz, or Coco for short. She’s very smart for her age. Knows about hunting and what parents are supposed to raise her (although she still thinks either she’s a human or I’m a tyrantrum). Is that normal? Tyrantrum are supposed to have been smart and raised their young for a long time. Why would she need that much instinct? Did the people who made her put it there? Remember how in the book of Jurassic Park the pyroclaptors murdered everyone because they only had instinct, not learning? Maybe the scientists had read book and gave her more instincts.

Why give her the murder instincts, though?

Scientist were probably more concerned with whether or not they could give her murder instincts than if they should. Only explanation.

I also got a Z-Ring. Knocked me out to use it. But the strange thing is that it felt… familiar. Second-hand familiar. From someone else’s memories. Couldn’t have been you. Maybe Mom, but I don’t think she ever used Z-Power. Maybe it’s third-hand. Memories that Mom or Renfield took from someone and then gave to me on accident. But who? Who did she know here? Are they still here? Can I meet them?

I guess you want to know how I’m doing. I’m holding on. Barely. Pixie and Coco help. I miss you. I miss Renfield, Alice, and Searah. I miss Mom even though I never got to meet her.

I can’t get you back. Or Mom. But her pokémon…

I don’t care what I have to do. I’m getting them back.

I swear it on your ashes.
 

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Mission Two: Electric

It is the triumph of civilization that at last communities have obtained such a mastery over natural laws that they drive and control them. The winds, the water, electricity, all aliens that in their wild form were dangerous, are now controlled by human will, and are made useful servants.

-Henry Ward Beecher


Electric 2.1: Six
Pixie

11/16/2019 | [-33:03:17]​

You jump into Skysong’s lap as she sits down in front of Matriarch. You can feel the pink eevee’s eyes boring into you but if you get into a fight now your trainer will be mad. So you won’t. Because you’re a very well-behaved fox. You still turn around and stick your tongue out at it before settling down. Let him be jealous of your perch. He isn’t cuddling anyone.

“How was Akala?” Matriarch asks.

“Good. I won a trial.” She scratches your ear and you press your head into her paw with pride. “Got a new pokémon.” You abruptly slink back down and suppress a hiss. “We caught the pokémon we were supposed to.” She sounds a little angry. Why? You helped her find prey. Well, not her prey. Humans sometimes trade their prey with other humans for reasons that you still don’t understand.

Matriarch makes a low throat noise that humans sometimes use to respond to things without speaking. “And how are you holding up?”

“Fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

Skysong’s heart rate is up and you can smell her stress responses start kicking in. Will you get to fight the eevee? Sure, the green eevee cheated so you narrowly lost but you can definitely take this one and show Skysong that you’re much, much better.

“If you say so,” Matriarch concedes. “By the way I don’t think you ever told me why you’re going on a journey.”

“Money.”

Matriarch leans back and her voice shifts to something a touch quieter and softer. “And what’s the money for?”

There’s a pause of several shallow breaths as Skysong’s face scrunches up and her paws clench.

“Some of my Mom’s stuff.”

“Okay.” Matriarch sighs and you can feel her body shift. “If you want to tell me more you can.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Well, if you want help finding things I do have friends in Unova.” Pause. “And the Anahuac pokémon markets.”

Your trainer’s breath catches in her throat and you seize up, ready to blast out ice shards at the smug ugly fox in the corner. Skysong finally lowers her head and exhales.

“If a hydreigon gets sold in Anahuac, can you let me know?”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Skysong’s heart rate starts to slow a little. No eevee fight. What a shame.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Matriarch offers again.

“No.”

“Okay.”

Someone drums a paw on the wood above you. Not entirely sure who.

“I’m going to need a Class V license.”

“Maybe,” Matriarch says.

“Tyrunt require—”

“Most pokémon grandfather into the license requirement you obtained them at. The exceptions are mostly just pokémon that don’t recognize their old trainers. I’ll see what I can do about getting the reqs changed, but in the meantime I’m trying to find you a mentor for your IV. Just in case.” More drumming. “You have an idea for your V paper?”

“A draconic dictionary.”

“That’s what I would recommend.”

The rest is boring. The eevee never attacks you and you never get an excuse to attack it.

It will live for now.

[-32:18:15]​

Pale red light rushes all around you before fading, leaving you intact.

Mission accomplished.

“What was that?” Growlsleeper grumbles on the other end of the room.

“Pix and Coco were going at it again.” Skysong sounds tired. Not just because it is night and she is diurnal; you woke her from her sleep because Eggbreath was pressing against you and soiling your precious fur. Skysong gently presses you off and slowly gets to her feet before finding her hooves and stick. “I’ll take her out for a minute.”

Yes! Eggbreath is gone and you get to go outside!

You move a few steps ahead of her and make sure to have very loud steps so that she can follow you because you are a very good guide fox. Eventually you step out into the—it’s raining. Oh no. Thankfully there is a climbing structure under an overhang that you can lead Skysong to so she can sit down and pet you and only you for maybe the rest of the night.

She sits down. You jump on her lap. The headscritches are very half-hearted. Disappointing. You press your head into her hand so that she knows to do better.

“You know,” she says while not petting you harder, “She’s going to be forty times bigger than you someday.”

It takes you a second to convert from her terrible numbers into the correct ones. Forty is forty-four. A good, symmetrical number. “And I’ll be forty-four times stronger.” Or you could just kill her before she gets too much bigger than you. That’s always an option.

Skysong shakes her head. “You’ve seen the movies, right? You know what tyrantrum, sharpteeth, whatever, can do?”

“Fail to kill baby pokémon and then fall into a lake and die?”

That does earn a muted giggle and an ear scratch. “Or kill off a clan of pyroclaptors. Fire-types. She’s good against fire-types.”

“Fire melts ice into water. Fire-types hate water.” How does she keep forgetting that?

“How about the sun? She loves heat and light. You don’t. She can guide me in hot cities.”

On one level you want to object. Badly. Your trainer spends more time in the warm than the cool and this is a chance for Eggbreath to persuade her to leave you. But being offered a reprieve from your worst duties is good. And someday you’ll be cold enough that the heat won’t bother you. You concede with a huff. Eggbreath can die after you evolve and command the blizzards.

Skysong switches to giving you long strokes from your head to the tips of your tails. This is also good petting. You purr so that she knows to do this more often. For a long time she continues. The sounds of the wind and rain are a little like those of snowstorms raging above your den.

It ends right as you’re about to fall asleep. You’re too calm to complain until Skysong picks you up into her arms and stands up. “Please be nice to your sister,” she whispers.

No.

You hiss and squirm out of her arms and start growling the moment you hit the ground.

“No. Not my sister. My sisters are on The Mountain.”

“Oh,” her face falters and her scent shifts. “I didn’t know you had family.”

She says it like she’s sad that you do. Why wouldn’t you? You had to come from somewhere.

“Do you want to talk about it?” She crouches down and offers more scritches with her hand. You don’t take the bait.

“No.” Of course you don’t want to talk about them. Especially the living one.

The one that Avalanche thought was better than you.

[-27:07:41]​

You reappear next to Eggbreath on a long metal strip jutting out into the water. Your trainer immediately bends down and starts putting your harness on. Eggbreath is already in the very short leash that Skysong uses because even she doesn’t trust the demon bird. Once you’re buckled in Skysong gently picks you up and turns you around to look at—

Oh.

The Mountain is right there, looming on the horizon. A pillar of white in a landscape of red rocks and blue skies. “Are we going there?”

“No. This is as close as we’ll get.” She silently strokes your head. “Do you want to?”

Do you? Someday, yes. When you can go back and beat up a whole pack of redcrests and drag the corpses to Avalanche so she knows that she chose wrong. When you’re sure she’ll lick your head and send one of your siblings down in your place, that’s when you’ll return.

Now… you know you can’t face The Mountain and win. Not after it killed so many of your siblings.

“No. Not yet.”

Eggbreath starts wandering off while Skysong’s holding you in one arm and petting you with the other. You shriek alarm to let your trainer know that there is misbehavior afoot. “Thanks,” she mutters in a not-properly-thankful tone. She sets you down somewhat roughly into a patch of sand and calls Eggbreath over. The beast comes running back and nudges her head against Skysong’s leg.

Skysong ruffles her headfeathers before picking up the leash.

The nerve she has.

[-27:06:00]​

“Behave yourselves” is what Skysong said before curling up and falling asleep on the sand.

Eggbreath is not behaving herself. She’s harassed an armored beach spider into its hole and is trying to dig down after it. You’ll let her. When Skysong wakes up you’ll have a long list of the demon’s misbehavior ready to go. She’ll be horrified and immediately send Eggbreath away and then you’ll have time to get any new team members kicked out before she can decide to leave you for them.

There’s a pained cry and shaking sounds. You look over to see the beach spider pinched onto Eggbreath’s nose as she slams her head into a rock to get it off. Your ears perk up. Maybe Eggbreath will get herself killed. Or at least get hurt so badly that Skysong realizes that she’s way too weak to stand alongside you.

The spider lets go and Eggbreath scurries off to find something else to murder.

Your gaze falls upon the green eevee and you reflexively growl. He’s just lying there on your beach. Menacingly. Like he owns it. Like he’s better than you. He isn’t! Eevee are beneath you and Hummy and Rocktosser were wrong to think otherwise. They probably failed their quest because they pushed you away and kept some pathetic little stupid weakling in your place. Maybe they died because the little asshole they kept couldn’t save them from a monster.

Serves them right.

No. You can’t allow the eevee to take naps so close to Skysong. He’s a threat to you and your trainer. You slowly rise up and creep closer to the abomination. Your paws are built for walking silently on snow and sand is close enough. His chest rises and falls as he menacingly breathes in his sleep.

You take a deep breath and unleash the most perfect of slushballs. A perfect hit to the face. The monster’s ears stick straight up and he starts shaking to get it off of him. He turns and you see one eye covered in snow as the other narrows into a glare. The eevee steps forward and the earth falls away as you fly through the air. You skid to a halt as sand blasts into your fur. The eevee—how did it move so fast?—steps over your belly and lies down on top of you. Then his head dips and his eyes close again.

No! You flex all of your muscles and squirm madly to escape. He’s not much bigger than you, this shouldn’t be hard! If only you weren’t on your back. Then you could just press off the ground. And breathe normally without a fat eevee crushing your lungs. After a few glorious minutes of struggle you come to accept that the eevee has cheated too well. You will need to summon help.

You scream.

Just when you think that your mighty roar might go unanswered something rushes into your peripheral vision and slams into the eevee. As the smelly stupid fox gets knocked off you roll over and bare your fangs to meet it. You glance to the side and see—Eggbreath. Huh. The bird holds her mouth wide open and swishes her tail back and forth.

“What’s going on?” Skysong asks.

“The eevee attacked me!”

“Playtime!” Eggbreath says while slapping her tail into the ground.

“Is anyone hurt?”

“No!” Your traitorous ‘sister’ replies.

“Cool.”

Skysong rolls over and puts her head back down on the sand.

Eggbreath growls and lowers herself into a pouncing position. The eevee just stares before turning to look at something on the beach. It’s a small bird. Not even a pokémon. Eevee’s glance is enough to get Eggbreath to notice and she runs off to harass it. Leaving you alone. Which is fine. You can still defend your honor and protect your trainer from the deceptive fox in front of you.

The monstrous plant sits down on his haunches. “Why do you care so much?”

You hiss in response.

“If I did anything to you…”

“You’re trying to steal Skysong!”

He blinks and swishes his leaf from side to side.

“Who?”

You stamp a paw. How dare he play dumb!

“My trainer!”

Slow blink. Leaf swish.

“Why would I want to?”

Because she’s your trainer and you’re the best and that means that she’s the best trainer! Your thoughts come out more as a irritated screech than proper language. He sits down and tucks his legs under him.

“Why would I steal her when I could just join your team?”

“She already has two! One would have to leave.” Obviously. He’s just toying with you now. As he keeps staring at you with his big stupid eyes you start readying another attack.

“You know humans can have six pokémon, right?”

Lies! Terrible lies! He’s trying to get you to let your guard down so he can sneak onto the team and convince Skysong to make you leave. Just like every other eevee. You’re smarter now than you were in the past. You’ll stop him. Kill him if you must.

Eggbreath leaps over and kicks up sand on impact. She immediately dips low to the ground and softly growls while the tip of her tail carves an arc in the sand.

“Play!”

[-26:16:03]​

Skysong grabs her stick and you follow close behind. Eggbreath stirs as if she wants to follow before giving up and settling back into the blankets. Ugly diurnal baby bird. So much better than her. You help without being asked.

Where is she going, anyway? There’s a scent marking station inside of the room.

Outside. She’s going outside and sitting down on a bench. You hop up as she sits down.

“Why are you harassing Inferno?”

Oh. Now you get to tell her everything that the eevee has done.

“He attacked me while I was trying to sleep and then he said mean things and tried to make me stop breathing and she also attacked Eggbreath and she’s going to hurt you someday.”

She presses your ear down before withdrawing her paws. Skysong sighs and folds her arms.

“Pixie, I don’t like it when you try to hurt my other pokémon. Or Kekoa’s. Or Genesis’s.”

“You should. They’re lying to you. Trying to steal you.”

It’s simple, really. How can she not get it? She picked you. That means she’s smart.

“Pix, I’ve told you this before.” She sounds irritated. At the eevee? Good! Skysong is finally getting it. “If you want to stay on the team, then I won’t kick you off. Promise.”

Lies. The others all made promises. They all left you behind in the end.

“Did you get left right after you got jealous and attacked other pokémon?”

You hiss. She may your trainer but she has no right to say those things. “I am not jealous of eevee. I am much better.”

Skysong gives you a thorough headscratching in apology. “Maybe your people left you because you got scared they’d leave you so you started acting out. Made them leave behind ‘mons they cared about. Cost them sleep. They got fed up. Decided you weren’t worth it.” She’s wrong. It’s not so simple. Besides, you tried being nice on The Mountain. Look where that got you. Her hand presses down and gives you a few gentle strokes down your back. “I won’t leave you,” she lies. “Unless you want to be left. You don’t have to fight to stay. Promise.”

There is a way that the promise can hold. “No more pokémon.”

“Why?” She asks like an idiot.

“Won’t have to leave anyone unless there’s a third.”

Her hand pauses in the middle of your back and gently presses down. “But I can have six?” No. That’s not possible. Two. Avalanche kept two. Hummy and Rocktosser and Lightstare and Lowgrowl all kept two. “Genesis already has three, y’know? She’s not leaving any of them.”

That’s a—the green eevee, the spiralfrog, and the shapeshifter. Three. She has three and none of them are trying to kill each other. That’s. No. That. They all had to leave you. Had to. Thought you were worse than eevee. If they could keep you then. Then. You were worse than nothing.

You are worse than nothing.

Skysong flips you onto your back and presses you into her chest. You barely notice. If she’s lying than she’ll leave you. If she’s not then she’ll hate you someday because. Because everyone else has. Why does she pretend to care? What is she planning? She drops you back onto her lap and leans back. Her pets grow slower. It doesn’t matter. You have things to think about.

When you finally look back up she’s asleep and the sun is awake.
 

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Electric 2.2: Worlds That Never Were
Cuicatl

24/3/2010

A low hum of disapproval fills your mind.

{You’re hurt.}

“Yeah, I know.” You scout for your favorite spot with your feet and then sit down. “Thanks for telling me.”

{I warned you about overusing your powers.}

“You did.”

Why does Renfield care? He doesn’t have to deal with your headaches.

{Ah, but I care about you. If you’re hurt, I’m upset.}

“Why care?” you grumble. “Mom’s been dead for years. You could’ve left.”

When Renfield laughs it sounds like bubbles floating to the surface in your mind. Somehow. Maybe he can teach you. {When Danielle found me I was a mere solosis. I cared for nothing. Did nothing. Just sat still in the sunlight and attacked anything that came near. She raised me. Taught me strategy, empathy, history, literature, and music.}

“You can sing?”

More mind bubbles. {Well, she taught me how to appreciate music. She used to sing a lot.} Like you.

“Did she name me for that?” Cuicatl means song. Ichtaca Secret song. Or song of secrets.

Something swishes from side to side at your mind’s edge. No. {As I understand it your father named you. She would have picked… I suppose it doesn’t much matter.}

Right after she died dad went against mom’s wishes? Why? Did they each name one child? More swishing. {No. They could never agree on a name, or even what language the name should be in. I suspect that Danielle would have given names at birth and refused to accept others. As it were… the chance did not present itself.}

You pick up a pebble and roll it in your fingers. It helps you think. “They fought?”

{On occasion, yes.}

Your finger slips and the pebble falls. “Over what?” You reach down. Can’t find the exact pebble. Pick up another one. Coins are better but you aren’t allowed to have them unless you’re going to the store.

{They both loved you, even before you were born. They wanted the best for you but disagreed on what that entailed.}

There’s hesitation in his voice. Half-truths. You want to press him, but he knows what you’re thinking and since he’s not saying more he probably won’t if you challenged him aloud.

“What was my name supposed to be?”

{Child, you have nothing to gain by mourning worlds that never were.}

Mourning worlds that—now he’s just not making sense. On purpose. “Don’t care about worlds. Just want to know what my name was.” You wouldn’t actually use it. Dad would be mad. And your classmates already think you’re the enemy’s child.

Searah saves him with an excited squeal and the plodding of clawed feet. You smile and wave to her. The name can wait. She hugs you by gently placing her front claws onto your shoulders and pressing her warm, fuzzy body against your chest. She’s pretty heavy for her size and you need to press your hands back behind you to stay sitting up. Easier to hug her when you’re lying down.

“Hello, girl.” She backs away and sits down right in front of you before pressing her snout into you and sniffing all over. It’s weird. Freaked you out the first time. Now you think it’s cute. Her tongue flicks out and curls around your neck. “Okay, that’s enough.” You roll your eyes at the heatmor’s angry huff and stick your legs out so she can lie on them. She does.

Her fur is very warm. It’s nice for a cool, cloudy day in the mountains. The moment is simple, perfect. Still just a moment. It must end. Laundry and cooking left to do.

Searah protests as you try to move your legs out from under her. “Noooooooooooo.”

“Sorry, I have work to do.”

“Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine. More cuddles later?} You stroke her back as you slowly get to your feet. Legs aren’t asleep. If you’d stayed any longer they would’ve been.

“Of course. Cuddles later.” Wait. Is Renfield still here?

{Yes,} he thinks / says.

“You can move things with your mind, right?”

{Yes.}

“Then you’re helping me with laundry.”

{Can I come, too?!} Searah asks.

The thought of long claws cutting through cloth crosses your mind. “Not now. I’ll warm up some water later. You can light the fire for that. Or be the fire.”

{Fire!}

“Yes, fire. You’re very good at fire.”

A surge of pride flows into your mind as the heatmor stands up on her hind legs to hug you goodbye. You return it and your sister wanders off to find more bugs to eat.

[-23:03:00]​

You have a plan for surviving this mountain.

First, keep track of your footsteps with a marching cadence. Second, match your breathing to it. Third, keep powering on whenever you trip. Fourth, think of nothing else but your breath and the cadence.

It’s not working very well but you’re still not willing to call it a bad plan. Judging by the sound of Kekoa and Genesis’s breathing they’re doing even worse.

“Break,” Genesis cries out between steps. You hear her lumber off the trail moments before her pack crashes into the ground. You’re happy to pull aside and gulp down water with her.

None of you understood how bad Route 12 was going to be. No shade, constant sunlight, and even the earth itself burns. You’re slowly being baked alive and the paths are all uphill and full of loose rocks. Pixie would help but you can’t keep her out in the heat and Coco… well, she’s still a hatchling. Dragon or not she tires quickly.

The last water bottle gets stowed away. Yet no one asks to end the break. “Maybe we could hike at night,” you suggest. “Less heat.”

“Too dark,” Genesis answers. You attempt to make eye contact, lids as far open as you can get them. “And, um, predators,” she quickly adds.

“I’d rather be awake when the houndoom come,” you reply in the best deadpan you can manage.

She shuts up and Kekoa softly laughs. It reminds you of every other conversation you’ve killed for being too dark, of everyone in town who feared the dragon girl too much to reach out. One day you were the stupid blind girl who kept getting held back or the child of the northern enemy. Then one day you were the baby sister of a hydreigon and everyone else stayed far away and hoped you forgot about everything that came before. Even the new kid who came to town was taught by your classmates to stay far away.

Kekoa breaks the silence. “Not at night. We’d be tired, make mistakes. Early mornings are fine.”

Funny. Right now you’re so tired that you could collapse right now and sleep in the warm sunlight. Maybe never get up.

That means you need to go. Now. Before you actually do stop moving and set up camp away from water.

“Ready to go?” you ask, even though you aren’t ready yourself.

Genesis groans but responds with a “Ready.” Kekoa lifts up his pack and takes a few steps onto the path before saying as much himself.

Breathing. Cadence. Breathing. Cadence. On and on and on.

[-22:18:25]​

Kekoa and Genesis are setting up the tent and suspending the food bag. You’re sitting on what Kekoa insists is the least uncomfortable rock in the campsite running one hand through Coco’s feathers and the other through Pixie’s fur. This isn’t a bad place, all things considered. A stream runs nearby so there’s a small forest with some shade. Sure, it’ll draw predators and prey closer to camp, but most will leave the humans alone. Even the dragons have learned that humans are weak alone but will come back in bigger numbers and with stronger allies. Inferno will probably scare off the stupid and desperate. Not that you’d ever say that aloud with Pixie in earshot.

You’re going to cook today. Or at least warm some stuff up on a tiny stove. Anyone could do it. You certainly don’t want to. Not when your legs are dead and your arms also hurt for some reason. You will. The others are doing their chores. You won’t be deadweight. Not while you’re living out your dreams.

Footsteps approach and someone sits down beside you. Coco, traitor that she is, jumps off your lap and demands pets from her dad. Pixie immediately flicks her tails out to cover the space Coco was sitting.

“You okay?” Kekoa asks. You process the words and belatedly nod. “You don’t look okay.”

Rude.

At least he shuts up before he overstays his welcome.

For a while.

"Can't believe we're doing all this for some rich mainlanders." You tilt your head and angle it in his direction. "Some videos went viral of a pet dedenne. Now all the influencers and wine moms want one."

"Oh." It makes sense. Honestly you thought that people would just use them as generators or something.

You hear Genesis crash down some distance away. "When's dinner?"

Rude.

You stretch out and revel in the pain of a thousand aches. "Can you get me the stove and food?"

[-22:18:17]​

Vegetables and rice are easy enough to warm up. What’s harder is hearing Genesis scrape her bowl clean while you and Kekoa wait for the meat. Even with Pixie’s cooler you still wouldn’t have brought any if Coco didn’t need it. Big health risk. You don’t want to get diarrhea in a place where you have to dig your own toilets. And Coco makes you chew and spit. It’s too close to something else. Having a Z-Ring that can make you puke doesn’t help with that.

You still do it for her. Coco breaks away from her father and thumps her tail on the ground to tell you that she’s present and wants her meal. It’s cute. Even if the rest is gross and makes you feel even grosser.

Pixie flicks a tail against your ankle to tell you that she is also present and would like food. Jealous little ****. You give her about half of your portion of meat. She keeps it cool so it’s her right. Besides, the vegetables are good.

Dinner’s quiet. As usual. Everyone’s tired and hungry.

You wouldn’t mind going to sleep soon. Especially if you’re going to get up early tomorrow.

But you should train.

It’s pretty hot still. Not fair to make Pix exercise.

Yeah. You’ll get some sleep before the tent gets crowded.

[-22:13:38]​

You have to pee but there’s something outside. Somethings. Not talking. Just knocking pebbles around. Making quiet steps. One brushed by the tent a while back. Maybe you should wake Pix up. Maybe you shouldn’t. She would growl. It would either scare away whatever’s outside or start a fight you might not win.

A pokémon makes a soft grunt. Another agrees. Neither gets translated. Dark types? Or was there just no meaning in the sounds? There’s the soft trickling of water—scent marking over Pixie and Inferno, probably—and then the pokémon head out. Manectric? Houndoom? You wait another five, ten, maybe thirty minutes and hear nothing more. Gods you have to pee. Is it safe to go out? You want to wake up Genesis to have Inferno with you. She’s on the opposite side of the tent so that would wake up Kekoa. He’d give you ****.

You slowly start to lift yourself up, earning a soft yip from Pixie as you do so. There’s rustling next to you and you freeze up. Another shift. “You goin’ ow?” Kekoa drearily groans. Genesis starts moving as well.

“Yeah. Can Inferno come with?” The grass-type makes his distinctive leaf swish noise. Yes. You unzip the tent, awkwardly feel for your shoes, and step out into the surprisingly cool air with Coco and two foxes at your heels. After zipping the tent back up you reach for Pix and bring one of her tails to your leg. “Bring me to a rock.”

She starts walking off. Coco bounds away but you’re too focused on peeing to scold her. She barks and starts running towards you, tail dragging behind her and stirring up the gravel.

{New scent!} she says. {Like Sister. And fire!}

Houndoom, then. Inferno won’t do much good if they come back.

Pix flicks your leg. You’re far enough away from the tent and at a good enough place to pee on the rocks. Dry area. Pokémon look for the salt and moisture. If you peed on a plant it might get ripped up. Inferno would be sad. More sad, anyway. Still not sure what his deal is. If you ask you might get close and accidentally take him away from Genesis. It would be unfair.

A small rock falls a few meters away. All three pokémon abruptly stop and look towards it.

{Floating rock.} Pixie says.

“Arms?” you whisper.

{Two.}

Oh. Could be worse. You start walking back to the tent and your pokémon reluctantly follow.

Genesis passes by on the way out. For a moment you consider telling her about the houndoom. You don’t. They’re gone now and she would get scared and freak out and then you would be on edge the whole night for no reason.

Plus, if they did come back and decided to attack, well, there’s probably nothing to be done.

[-22:09:14]​

A bead of sweat hits the bridge of your nose. The cadence and rough breaths continue. One hits your shoulder. Not sweat. Rain. Just a sprinkle. A fat drop hits the top of your head. Another on the shoulder again. Another on—your knee, your back, back again, thigh—they blend together too much to keep track. Thunder. Loud, fast, sharp. Close. Another bolt just a little bit further away. Electric types. Electric types everywhere. You’re on a barren mountain ridge with electric types everywhere. And for once in your life, you’re the tallest thing around.

“There’s a valley to the side,” Kekoa says. “We need to get down.”

He’s right. But. “How steep?”

“Not too bad.”

“I… don’t want to trip and hurt my ankle again.”

“Yeah, well, you want to get electrocuted?”

Genesis slides down—roughly. If she’s struggling while sighted and with long legs—another bolt. Frighteningly close. The roar almost deafens your right ear. The hair on your arms rises up and you run to the side. As if you could dodge lightning. You feel it when your feet hit the incline and you start to slide down on a wave of pebbles. Bend down like your surfing on rocks. Keep going—

The next strike is so close that for a second you can hear nothing but faint ringing.

If you’re ****ing deaf on top of everything—the slide breaks as you reflexively twitch and you fall flat on your face. Again. For the second time in two weeks. Don’t care. The rain intensifies and you’re drenched and cold and there are scrapes on your face and you still can’t hear much at all. No. You can hear the thunder again.

Cold comfort.

Maybe someone says something. Maybe they don’t. For a long time you lie face-down as water streams down all around you and thunder continues to rock the mountain. When it finally stops it’s just as fast as it came. A minute later you can count the drops again. Soon there are none at all.

Sharp stone edges meet your hands when you press yourself upright. It’s fine. You’ve faced worse. Just a quick pivot and a small shift to be facing uphill. “Are you alright?” Genesis asks. Voice full of concern.

“Yeah.” Sort of. You’re stronger than you look. Sometimes. Are you? Yes. Not doing this now. “How bad is the climb?”

Gravel shifts as heavy footsteps bound upwards like a capricurl walking on a cliff face. Kekoa probably. He confirms it a moment later. “Climb sucks. Jennifer and I can help you up.”

More footsteps. Far more slips. Genesis finally makes it up with no serious falls but much less grace than Kekoa. You pull the straps on your pack tighter and prepare to climb.

Kekoa does his best to guide you up the slope.

“Root to your right.”

“That patch looks loose. Half-step—****, are you alright?”

You bite back a curse and steady yourself. The patch was loose and your left foot slipped at a bad angle. It pulses in pain within your boots. Bad, but not quite as bad as in the forest.

“How much left to go?” you demand.

The words are more aggressive in the air than they were in your mind.

“Uh, Jenny, can you see if you can reach her?”

She can. She does. The rest doesn’t hurt too badly. Soon you’re on mostly flat ground.

“’m fine.” Mostly. Fine enough to walk. “Thanks for the help.”

“You sure?” Kekoa’s makes it sound closer to: ‘You aren’t.’ “Looked bad. And that’s the ankle you hurt on Akala, right?”

“Yes. I’m fine. I can walk.”

You aren’t a burden whatever anyone says. The wilderness has always been your home. If you can hold your own anywhere it’s here.

“We can stop at the next campsite. Don’t have to go all the way to ours.”

Can’t he take a hint? You’re fine.

“Whatever,” you respond. “Ready to hike?”

Genesis grunts and Kekoa speaks: “Hike on.”

Cadence and breath. Right foot. Left—right foot. Long, quick strides and gentle steps. It’s fine. You’re fine. You’ve powered through far worse. The humidity is worse. Hot, sticky air that hangs on your skin like a wet blanket you can’t take off. That’s worse. It’s fine. You’re fine. You’re fine. You’re fine.

Kekoa’s footsteps stop and you try to stop. No. You take a step forward and rest on your right foot. Much better.

“I’m calling it here for the day.”

Idiot. “People will notice if we’re late.”

“We’ll be even later if you can’t walk ‘cause you hiked six miles on a bad foot to look tough.”

You want to fight. Insist that you can keep up. Aren’t the weak link. But he’s right. You are. Useless. Might as well admit it.

[-22:08:32]​

“It’s not too swollen,” Kekoa says. “Just keep an ice pack on it.”

“We don’t have—" Pixie. Right.

You reach into your pack and release your pokémon. Coco roars at the air and thumps her tail in case you sent her into a fight. Pixie just swishes a tail against your leg to tell you she’s there. You reach back into the pack and pull out a rubber ball. Once Coco starts growling you toss it off for her to try and murder. Who knows how long it’ll last once she gets real teeth but it’s a nice distraction for now.

“Cool. Call me over if you need anything.”

Kekoa trudges away and you gently pick Pixie up and move her next to your ankle. With another quick movement you drape one of her tails over it. “Can you keep a tail there?”

She grunts and settles down. No complaints about the heat or Coco. Nothing to say at all. You messed up and pressed her too hard too fast. Broke her. As usual. Ankles, brothers, starters, selves. You’re a master at breaking things and a failure at fixing them.

Coco’s small but energetic footsteps come back and the ball drops with a ‘thud’ to the earth. You reach a hand out and hold it right over where you think the ball is. You shoot a finger down in a quick, teasing jab. Oh, this? This old thing? You want me to throw it, huh? Suddenly Coco leaps forward, bats your hand aside, and snatches the ball up in her jaws before running away. Odd. Usually, she just gets excited when you do that. For the best. Ball was coated in spit. Didn’t really want to touch it.

A cramp hits you right in the groin. You wince and awkwardly adjust your good leg in response. The trail hasn’t been good for you. Started eating too much. Period came back. You’d cut back but when you don’t eat and hike too much the world starts rocking and you start making dumb mistakes.

“Mother! Why are—" You silence her with headscritches. “I’m fine, Coco. Just laying an egg.”

She drops down to the ground. “New sister?” …you walked right into that one.

“No. Just an egg. Won’t hatch.”

She doesn’t get up but her tail starts swishing in the dirt. Doesn’t matter. She’ll get bored soon.

“Hey, Genesis!”

It takes her a second before she trots over. And finally answers. Like she couldn’t just call back from across the clearing like a normal person. “What?”

“Can you get me a tampon?”

“I, um, uh, yeah. Sure.”

Why is she embarrassed? She probably gets them most months, too. And she knows that Kekoa’s trans so there aren’t even any biological men here to get grossed out for no reason. Is she actually embarrassed or did you just catch her at a bad time? Ugh. Wish you could see blushes.

Genesis drops the tampon and some new underwear in your lap rather than just handing them to you. “Thanks.” Maybe you could lie down just a little bit longer? No. You like these shorts. Better take care of it now.

*​

“Hey, uh, this is our campsite?” Some kid announces his arrival while you’re still getting changed under the rain fly. Coco reacts to the new voices by slipping under the fly and running out doing her best impression of Pixie’s barks. The fox herself just sighs. {You can talk to me about anything,} you tell her for the third or thirteenth or thirtieth time.

“Sorry! One of us got hurt in the storm so we stopped early,” Genesis says.

“They okay?” Another kid. Female? Or maybe just very young. Or both.

“Just tripped. I’m fine!” you announce as you leave the tent. It’s not the best line for making an entrance but it works. “I think there’s still room for two groups.” Going by clearing echoes, anyway. Most sites seem big enough. It’s a good guess. Satisfied that her mother can deal with the problem, Coco stops barking and runs back to you for praise. You bend down to give her scratches. Pixie butts in a second later for her share. You make sure to give her extra.

Sometimes you swear that you can hear staring. Only question is if they’re staring at you, Coco, or Kekoa. “You blind?” You, then.

“Yes.”

You’re blind and you hurt yourself (again) and he’ll tie the one to the other and he won’t be entirely wrong. Genesis didn’t trip. Neither did Kekoa.

“Cool. Ice-type trainer?”

What? Sure, you have Pix. But Coco’s. Oh.

“No. She’s not an ice-type. Just has white feathers.”

“We haven’t introduced ourselves, have we?” Genesis interjects. “I’m Genesis, she’s Cuicatl,” she says with mostly correct pronunciation, “and… that’s…”

By the suns. She set herself up. Kekoa’s either too far away or too uninterested or too cruel to finish so for a few seconds it just hangs in the air. “I’m Kekoa.”

He had to have noticed, right? Will he say anything? You’d been hoping to push back the Genesis-Kekoa fight until Pix had returned to something close to normal. Gods. Not here. Not with kids watching.

“Cool. You want to battle?” one asks. “I’m Ty. I am an ice-trainer and I want to fight your vulpix.”

Kekoa sighs. “I’ll ref.”

*​

Pixie starts to growl. Eevee. Glaceon. You’re fighting a glaceon. Time to stall and put together a plan.

“How far are you in the challenge, Ty?”

“Two grand trials. Beat Sophocles and heading on to the next. You?”

If you ever had hopes of winning a slugfest they’re gone now. “One trial.”

Ice shard’s as good as useless. Left with three utility moves. Roar, baby-doll eyes, confuse ray. Stalemate? Good for a friendly match on the trail. “Did you grow up near Lanakila, then? That how you got the vulpix?” He seems interested. You can stall. Maybe even get in some baby-doll eyes before the match starts. No. That affects humans, too. He’d notice.

“I’m from Anahuac. I adopted her in Hau’oli.”

Kekoa clears his throat. “I lived near Tapu Village for a bit. Bunch of ice-types there even without climbing.”

Pix has probably readied her opening moves. Time to get the show started. You stretch your mouth into a big, maybe fake-looking smile and clap your hands. “Great! You two can talk about it in a minute. Ty, I accept your challenge!”

Your heart pounds in your chest despite the low stakes. You can win this. Show Pix that she’s better than an ice-type eevee. Or no worse than one. Maybe make her happy.

“Alright. One on one. Don’t hurt each other too badly. Potions ain’t cheap.”

“Snowflake, go for an ice beam!” Snowflake. Oh no. Did he get it as a glaceon? Or was he setting up an Inferno situation? Doesn’t matter. You snap your fingers and think your command as cold air rushes past your feet. ****. Big hit. Is Pix—

She growls and the cold air stops coming. The confuse ray landed. It givese you a moment to think. You could try baby-doll eyes. But if Snowflake knows ice beam, if that’s its go-to move, then maybe it wouldn’t do much. Two snaps. {Roar into ice shard.}

Most roars are wordless as far as your gift is concerned. This one isn’t. There’s a lot of meaning in the scream. Most of it profane. All of it angry. You can practically feel Pixie baring her teeth and venting days, no, years, of rage at one frozen fox. No, not ‘practically’ feel it, you can feel all that. Connection is too wide. You close your eyes and draw your mind in. The link becomes quieter.

“Come on,” your opponent calls. “Substitute!”

Baby-doll eyes are useless. Confuse ray… you’ll need to break the sub first. {Don’t need to lose your voice. Now,} “Ice shard!”

The scream becomes a hiss as the cold air whips back up. Another surge of cold joins it and Pixie rolls through the gravel. To the side. Not towards you. A dodge. {Keep it up until the fake is gone, then confuse ray.}

You don’t know what happens. Pixie keeps hammering away while cold air rushes to your side of the field. Feels stronger than any of Pixie’s attacks. And through your connection you feel her get weaker and weaker.

“Calling it now,” Kekoa says. “Ty wins.”

Pixie growls in pain / anger but doesn’t keep attacking. You can hear Ty walk over.

“Good play, there. Ordering confuse ray without a word.” If you had given a word he would have just shouted ‘Close your eyes!’ or something else simple and effective.

“Thank you.” You hear Pixie sulk off with dramatically loud steps. Should you praise his glaceon? You should. But Pix is here. How to word this…

In the end, Kekoa saves you. “You wanted to talk about the Mauna, right?”

“Yes! So, like, when you say there are a bunch of ice-types at the base, what are you counting as ‘the base?’” Their voices start drifting away and you take the chance to sit down. Pix immediately jumps on your lap and Coco comes running in from somewhere to lean against your side.

“You did good work, Pixie.” She doesn’t answer. “Need any healing?”

“No.”

“Okay.” You hadn’t felt any wounds on her, anyway. Her fur’s just frozen together. Might not even be a bad thing given how hot everything is here.

[-22:19:50]​

“That, uh, looks really good.” You start and almost tip the stove over. That was the girl in the other group. Forgot her name. And she’s very close to you. When did she get there? You’re not easy to sneak up on.

She starts to stammer out an apology before you cut her off. “It’s fine. Really.” Silence. Well, near-silence. Kekoa’s playing fetch with Coco. The stove’s sizzling. Genesis and the ice-trainer are talking. No. Not silence. Still awkward. “What do you usually eat?”

“Freeze-dried crap.

“What are you making tonight?”

“Freeze-dried crap.”

Poor thing. “Why? You have ice-types. You can keep real food.” Pixie grunts and plops down beside you. Snuck up on you. Again! At least she has padded feet.

“Wouldn’t that be super heavy?” The girl’s voice is quiet and monotone. Difficult to find emotion in. Hard to tell if she genuinely wants to change or just wants your food for the night.

“Do you have any big pokémon to carry things?”

“Um. I have a trevenant. But she’s really slow. Then Ty trains ice-types that don’t like heat. And Matt has poison-types.” She pauses to find a way to say the obvious. “I don’t want poison on our food.”

Fair complaints. “You have a type as well?” Wait uh. That could be taken the wrong way.

“I train plants.” Okay good. Was thinking about battling and not romance. “You have a theme?”

You flip the vegetables. Or some of them. Hard to make sure you flip them all and that none fall off of the tiny stove. “Sort of? Genesis is making a rain team.” Even if she doesn’t know it yet. “Kekoa’s going for fliers. I like big predators.”

Here comes the silence. The dragon girl silence. Hello, plant girl. Good riddance.

“That’s so cool.” Um. “I mean, dangerous.” What? “But cool.”

“Thanks?” Seriously, what? That’s not supposed to happen. Especially not from plant girl. You press your lips together and stir the pot while you think. “Not as dangerous as you’d think. Most mons could kill you. Some are nice enough to remind you.” You inch a hand towards the stove to feel the heat coming off. Feels like the food’s probably done. Taking the vegetables off the stove gives your brain another moment to catch up. “Plants are also cool I guess?”

Plant girl gives a short, bitter laugh. “They really aren’t. Most of them. My decidueye just evolved and she’s great. Distant. Protective. Still cuddly.”

You rummage through the food bag to find the sliced pidove breasts. Or what passes for pidove breasts here. No idea why they shape it like that when it was all grown in a petri dish. “Huh. Powerful, protective, and cuddly. Sounds like the ideal pokémon.” You make sure to reach out to Pix as you say it. She is powerful, protective, and cuddly. The ideal pokémon. And you love her very much and won’t leave her. The fox presses her head into your hand and accepts the scratches but doesn’t say anything.

“How’d you learn to cook?” the girl asks. Still hungry, it seems.

“Godmother taught me. I did most of it at home. House full of boys, you know?”

“I… no.” She awkwardly shifts. “I don’t think that’s normal? To make children do all the work?”

You scowl and bring your hand away from Pix. Time to use hand sanitizer and put the meat on. “I’m not a child. I’m fifteen.” Almost old enough to train for the army if you weren’t useless.

“I see.” It’s clear that she doesn’t but she’s letting it go because. Your shoulders are tense and your face is twisted. Americans. Judging you and your culture. You take some deep breaths and relax your body. Smile. Doesn’t matter if its fake. She’s just a kid. Don’t lash out. talk about the meal instead.

“This food’s better than what I usually made at home. Don’t think the others would settle for maize gruel.” Even if ātōlli is great with a little honey and the right seasonings. And pinolli was a staple in the old days. Instant food, just add water. Never actually made it. Simple, though, you’d just… ugh can you even get good maize here?

Plant girl coughs. “Can I have your number? For cooking advice. Later.” The last parts are surprisingly quick. Is she embarrassed by something. A crush? Or she doesn’t want you to think she has a crush? It’s kind of adorable either way. Not that you would ever reciprocate. She’s eleven at most and you’re maybe straight? Still working that one out. Not as if anyone would ever court you.

“Yeah, sure. It’s…”

[-21:10:59]​

“Break.” Odd. You’ve barely been hiking ten minutes. And Kekoa usually isn’t the one to call for it. “Long break. Put your packs down.”

Very odd. Not his period, he had that three weeks ago if you’re remembering right. Pixie still found it unsettling. Also you’re going to have to tell Coco why his father is laying an egg in a few weeks. ****. Not looking forward to that. You were trying to avoid giving The Talk to a tyrannosaur. Still, you drop your pack and you can hear Genesis drop hers.

“Now, Jennifer, can you tell me my name?”

Well. Not how you would’ve handled it. You would’ve waited until Blush Mountain. Not forced the issue when you had to stay close to her for a few days more. Too late now. Here we go.

“I…” Genesis takes a deep breath. “I won’t lie to Xerneas, Allana.”

So much conviction in her tone. So much disrespect in her words. How’d she even remember Kekoa’s old name? You forgot about five minutes later. Not even on purpose.

If the familiar sound of a fist hitting a face is anything to go by, Kekoa has a fantastic arm.

Genesis reals back and sputters. “The heck was that for?” she demands. “I could’ve broken a tooth.”

No. The hit wasn’t nearly strong enough. Or maybe it just sounds louder when you’re the one getting hit?

“And you would have deserved it.” Kekoa doesn’t even sound angry. Smug, yes, but not angry. You take a step back to stay off the battlefield.

“I wasn’t going to use that name for you!” Genesis protests. “You were the one who wanted to know. Not my fault if you don’t like the answer.”

“I have the right to know how my teammates feel about me.” Still even while Genesis rages. Or tries to rage. Her voice is high enough that it’s actually kind of adorable.

“And I have the right not to be judged for my religion! You liberals like tolerance, right?”

Hmm. She may have a point. She’s being an asshole, but you hate it when Americans judge your religion. Then again, if you were being an asshole to them it would be reasonable. You don’t sacrifice non-believers unless they raise arms against your country.

“I don’t tolerate bigots,” Kekoa sneers. He’s getting emotional, too. Good chance this goes back to blows and someone gets hurt.

“Let’s not hurt each other out here,” you ask. “Get to Blush Mountain and then beat each other up?”

“I’m not beating him up!” Genesis exclaims (screeches). “He’s the only one who got violent.”

“Deadnaming is violence.”

As someone who’s been hurt by fists and words, there really is a difference.

“Kekoa goes in front. I go in the middle. Then Genesis.”

“Can’t we just leave her?” Kekoa asks. “She’s the one creating problems.”

“And you’d get in trouble for leaving someone alone in the mountains.”

Kekoa pauses to consider it.

“Fine,” he concedes. “I don’t need to take any more **** on its behalf than I already have.”

“Its?” Genesis asks. “I thought you wanted people to respect genders?”

“That’s enough.”

“Go **** yourself.”

You have a sinking feeling that things are only going to get worse from here.
 

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Electric 2.3: Gods and Kings
Genesis

[-28:07:15]​

There are two types of museums: the ones filled with dangerous lies spoken into the world by Yveltal and presented as fact, and the ones that actually present facts. The true ones are wonderful! This one has a bunch of pictures of the power plant under construction and a room with a really overly complicated steam-powered device that rings a bell.

The museum says that the Blush Mountain Geothermal Plant is the largest of its kind in the country and third largest in the world. There’s a giant hole in the ground and very hot air comes out and turns water into steam. That spins a rod which… produces electricity somehow. You really tried to understand that part but half the words didn’t make sense. Doesn’t matter. This place makes most of Alola’s energy. It’s weird to think that when you turn a light on steam comes up in Blush Mountain and spins a wheel and then sends electricity down a wire on the ocean floor to another island where it goes into the room and makes... How did lightbulbs work? Internet time! Okay, the internet says that it makes some metal so hot that it starts glowing. Like a metal candle. Ugh. Such a better name. Metal candles and horseless carriages.

Annoying that you had to come alone. Sure, Cuicatl can’t read signs so she might not have liked it. But it’s all renewable power and save the earth and everything so Allana would think it’s cool. She’s not talking to you and you aren’t sure you’d want her here anyways. She did hit you a few days ago. Hard. Just for your beliefs. Honestly, she’s lucky that it stopped hurting by the time you got back to civilization.

It doesn’t matter. Really. Yveltal makes sure that the true believers will be persecuted. If you’re getting attacked, you’re doing something right. Not that it feels good. And then Cuicatl pretty much took his side! Even though he attacked you. Ooh, measured from the seafloor to peak Mt. Hokulani is the tallest mountain on earth. Wait if all of Ula’Ula spreads out from Hokulani does that mean that the entire thing is a mountain? Even the flat parts? Are all of the islands actually mountains? And why is Lanakila the one capped in snow year-round if its shorter? Internet time. Oh. It’s already noon. Lunch time.

Then Elekid hunting.

Here’s hoping that Cuicatl’s in a good mood.

*​

“Hello, Genesis.” You start and glance at Cuicatl. She’s awake and sitting awkwardly on her bed, half-crouching with Coco leaning on her side and Pixie lying beneath her back so that she can’t move. “You’re back early.”

“Yeah. I, um, wanted to see if you wanted to get lunch? And then maybe we could go dedenne hunting together.” Allana isn’t present. Where is she? You shouldn’t ask that. Not when you’re trying to get Cuicatl to like you for a few hours.

She twitches her leg and Pix moves to the side. Coco starts slipping and her trainer barely catches her in time. After pushing the dinosaur upright Cuicatl slips over the side of the bed and stands up. “Sure. Let me just…” Her hand slips to her belt and Coco disappears in a flash of red. A sheepish grin creeps onto Cuicatl’s face. “I don’t trust her table manners.”

*​

The shrill cry of a kricketune sounds off beside you. Cuicatl wipes the sweat off of her brow and brings her phone to her ear. You can hear a woman’s voice come through for almost a minute. Despite the call she never asks you to stop and you keep on going closer to the grassland. Closer to elekid.

There are three pokémon out to help you find one. Coco keeps bolting ahead, thumping her tail on the ground to tell her trainer to catch up, realizing that it won’t happen, running back to you, and then running ahead again. Right now she’s running back for the fourth time. Pixie and Inferno (better name TBD) keep pace with you, Pixie by Cuicatl’s side and Inferno by yours. The foxes have good dog noses and Cuicatl says that tyrunt’s are even better.

Cuicatl lowers the phone and tucks it into her pocket. “Who was it?” you ask.

“Miss Bell.”

Miss… Bell… Hmm. You’re not the best with names but. Wait. You remember her. “The VStar person?”

She nods. “Yes.” Coco rushes off again. “She gave me Pixie.” The fox perks up at the mention of her name but keeps quiet. Right. You vaguely remember that. It got buried in the memories of your first meeting. In fairness a lot of stuff came up and you were very nervous. “What do you think about VStar?” Cuicatl asks you.

“Um.” To be honest you haven’t thought much about them. “It’s cool that they let people like you” and Allana “go on journeys. And give pokémon to people who want one. Like you and Pixie.”

“Hmm.” Her face stays even and her voice is neutral. You still get the impression she disagrees. “We get three hundred dollars for an elekid. They sell for $1500. VStar gets most of the money. None of the danger.”

“Yeah, well, that’s just how companies work. They need to make a profit so they can exist and pay us at all.”

For a second a flash of… something flashes across her face. Anger? Disappointment? It’s gone in less than a second. “My father was a merchant. Traded with the States. He gave money to the schools. The library. The doctors. When business was bad he’d keep giving. Sometimes wasn’t enough food in the house but he helped everyone else. That was his duty. Your merchants aren’t like that.”

That’s insane. Actually insane. People look out for themselves because no one else will. Like life vests on planes. “So he starved himself to buy a few books?”

Cuicatl gently shakes his head. “I don’t think he ever starved,” she says softly. “Or my brother. I took care of them. That was my duty.”

Your eyes narrow automatically. “So he starved his daughter to make himself look good to everyone else?” Inferno yips beside you. He’s stopped moving, planted his butt down, and is staring at you with wide eyes. Why? Is he scared? …how loud were you just then? A glance at Cuicatl shows that she’s lowered her head. There’s hair over her face but you’re pretty sure you can see a scowl.

“Let’s talk about something else,” she says. Her voice is still quiet. It somehow feels violent. Threatening. Like the tiny blind girl is going to murder you with words. You’re not good with people. At all. But you’re pretty sure that if you keep pressing her she’ll hate you for trying to help her. Like Allana. Then you’d have no one to talk to. Except maybe Exodus.

You know that if you say anything you might say something wrong, so you don’t say anything at all.

*​

“Well, we’ve made it to the tall grass,” you announce. The plain stretches out in front of you with brown and yellow grasses covering a rugged plain bounded by cliffs on both sides. More grass stretches out below the cliff. Something like, oh, what’s the word… terraces? The things they use for farming in South America? Sounds right. Cuicatl reaches for her pokéball and withdraws Tyrunt. “Uh, weren’t you going to use her to find dedenne?”

She shakes her head as she curls the leash up.. “I was. But she’s never smelled one. And she’d probably scare them away.” As soon as the leash is in her pack and the pack is back on her back she nods with a look of quiet determination. “Hike on.”

Sometimes you can hear stuff rustle around you. Inferno or Pixie lets out a growl once or twice. Never bark to signal that an dedenne’s close. The grass rubs against your arms and it’s starting to get really irritating. Cuicatl’s wearing her poncho and a long skirt and you’re envious. And she gets to trail behind you after you press all the grass out of the way.

“Water break,” she calls. That’s rare. She almost never calls for a break. You stop in acknowledgment and glance back at her as she slowly lowers herself to the ground and sits criss-cross applesauce. She still keeps a hand tightly gripping her dinosaur’s tether. Pixie just curls up beside her.

You slowly lower yourself and pull out a water bottle. Looks like you could be here a while. She doesn’t drink. “You read about primarina?” she asks.

Primarina? The water starters. You’ve definitely heard of them. Seen a few. Can’t say you’ve read that much about them. You shake your head and then catch yourself. “Not really.”

“I thought about getting one,” she says. “They like to sing. Live in groups called ‘choirs.’ I thought it would be fun to sing with a pokémon.” She reaches out and rubs a finger over Pix’s ear. “Didn’t. Glad I didn’t.”

That would’ve been cute. And would’ve meant that Sir Bubbles could have a friend in the pools at night. But this way she has a guide fox so things worked out the way they were supposed to. But why does she want to talk about the seals?

She presses on as if to answer your question. “Now, there’s something else interesting. Every choir has one girl and a lot of guys. The primarina’s the girl. When she dies or leaves a brionne evolves.”

“So then there’s a male primarina?” That is kind of weird. They look very feminine. Wait. She said that every choir has a female primarina. How does that…

“No. The brionne becomes a girl when it evolves. Organs change and everything.”

“You’re joking.” She has to be. That’s impossible. How would it even work?

Cuicatl just shrugs. “Look it up if you want.” On the internet. Full of lies. “Bunch of other ‘mons do it. Basculin, axlawful…” You can see a faint smile form under her hair. “You watched Jurassic Park, right?”

“Sort of. I was asleep where a lot of it.”

She waves her hand through the air. “Your loss. Anyway. In the movie they put poliwag DNA in the tyrantrum. Let it change sex and lay eggs. Because, y’know, poliwag can do that if they want.”

They can what. You reach down and let Sir Bubbles out. He looks up curiously and—oh thank goodness you can’t see eggs. Still a he. Cuicatl goes on, “There was a zoo with a psychic working there. Had him ask some delibird what their sex was because they’d need surgery to tell. Found out that the delibird themselves didn’t know. Just kind of guessed.” That’s an obvious lie. Way too ridiculous to be true. “Then there’s the Aztec gods. We have four big gods. One takes whatever form he wants. Male, female, pokémon, human—doesn’t matter.”

“Well, they aren’t even real,” you insist. Lies from Yveltal. Myths to lead her people astray. Drive them to murder.

You just earn a slow head shake in response. “They don’t care if you believe in them.” Of course they don’t. They aren’t real. That’s incredibly selfish, too. She gets to go to Aztec Heaven but doesn’t want anyone else to go with her. “You think Xerneas created everything right?”

“Yeah…” Yveltal made evil. You don’t think he actually made anything real though. No. Evil is real. Ugh. Doesn’t matter. You know what it means.

“Then if Xerneas made primarina and axlawful and poliwag and delibird, why’d He give humans the tools to do it and then tell them not to? Can’t be wrong or He wouldn’t have done it for pokémon.”

“That’s…” Wrong. Right? “People aren’t animals. Pokémon. Whatever. We aren’t supposed to… do a lot of things that pokémon do. Even if we can.”

“Yeah, yeah.” For a second you can see her bite her lip. “Although there is some Galarian who thinks humans should drink their piss like desert pokémon do.” You regret eating lunch before having this conversation. Has she really… “I’m not convinced,” she says. Your worst fears dissolve. Well. Not your literal worst fears. Figurative worst fears. She sighs and uncrosses her legs. “Just think on it, okay?

“Okay.” You can do that much. Will do that much. If nothing else you have to find an unbiased source to figure out if she’s lying or not. Which she is. Probably. Not that it would matter if she wasn’t. She’s still wrong morally.

“Want to catch some dedenne?”

Ugh. You really don’t want to go back to walking through the grass. “Do you think our pokémon will get the scent soon?”

“Probably already have. Just don’t know what it is.” She grins and glances away. “My fault. Tried to find one in the city. Ran out of time.” Huh. Well, not as if you were trying to find an dedenne. Honestly you were basking in the joys of indoor plumbing and air conditioning as long as you could before it was time to go back on the trail. “But,” she dramatically flips a finger up and raises her voice, “I do have an idea.” Cuicatl brings the finger back down and unlocks her phone before holding it out to you. “Go to the videos. I have thunderstorm sounds saved.”

“Why?” You still do as she asks, flicking into her stored videos. There are a surprising amount. Just from the blurry thumbnails of random objects you’re pretty sure that she took them. “And what are you filming so much?”

“One: dedenne love thunderstorms. Maybe it’ll draw one out.” She pauses and purses her lips. “Or a togedemaru. Or elekid. Or golem. Electabuzz if we’re super unlucky.” Cuicatl starts petting Pixie like she isn’t about to throw herself and the fox into danger. “Two: I like having voices recorded. In case, um,” the darkness slips back onto her face and she turns away from you, “in case something happens.”

You don’t know exactly what happened in her past. From what you’ve heard about Anahuac you don’t even want to imagine. Something bad. Whatever it was. “Hey,” you nudge her shoulder, “you want a hug?”

“Yeah, sure.” You lean in and wrap your arms around her and she gently leans her shoulder into you. Wait, how long should you hold a hug? If it was just a greeting hug you definitely would have let go by now. But this is a ‘friend feels sad and I do not trust myself to say un-sad things’ hug. Clearly longer. Is this good? She isn’t leaning out. Okay. So. Still doing this. She’s using the travel shampoo you recommended. Well, the same one you use. Saving space and all. You like it. Of course you do. It’s yours. Uhhhhhhhh. She leans away and places her arms behind her. Smiling. Faintly but it still counts. Good job! “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” You stop yourself there before you can ruin it. In the distance a bird starts chirping. You have no idea what kind it is.

Cuicatl turns to her ice fox. “Tell me if anything gets close? Flick my ankle if it’s a dedenne, hiss for other stuff.” He huffs in response and slowly gets up on all fours to stare intently into the grass. Cuicatl reaches into her skirt’s pocket (it has pockets!) and pulls out a bag of seeds and nuts. She scatters them into the wind before sitting down. Then she turns to you and tilts her head. “Play whenever.”

“I, uh, this is safe, right?”

She shrugs. That really helps your nerves. “We’ve got Inferno for geodude, Count Cloudy and Sir Bubbles for togedemaru, Pix for dedenne and elekid.” Ah. So she’s assigning everything but the tiny mouse and the actual baby to you. In fairness both of the bigger pokémon have a type advantage against her. And Pixie has all kinds of tricks for the capture. Okay, fine. it’s fair enough. And she doesn’t sound concerned. But—

“Why Sir Bubbles? He’s a water type.” However brave and strong he is he won’t like dodging lightning.

“’cause Count Cloudy will be using ember in dry grass. I want the whole thing watered down.”

That makes a lot of sense. The Count’s embers are still tiny in comparison to Sir Bubbles’ bubbles so it should work out. You steel yourself and let the thunder roll.

*​

The thunder keeps rolling. At some point the sun came out from behind the clouds and you really want to curl up and take a nice nap in the sun on an impromptu grass bad. Cuicatl’s already half there, sprawled out with her head on her backpack and her eyes closed. Not that the eye thing actually matters to her. Why does she ever open them, anyway? It’s weird.

Something big moves the grass in front of you. Heavy, too, from the footsteps. Pixie starts a low hiss and Cuicatl bolts upright. “Graveler or golem. Pixie, use baby doll eyes when it gets closer. Genesis, pelt it with razor leaf, bubble, and water gun once it’s distracted. Be prepared to throw a ball and run.”

“Right.” You turn around to see Inferno already moving into position. You relay orders to Count Cloudy and Sir Bubbles—Sir Bubbles start to run away. You withdraw him for now. Don’t want to deal with that and a battle at the same time. The graveler stops moving just as you can get a good look at it. Mostly gray. Little black and yellow stones jut out from the surface here and there. You can’t see the face but you get the impression that it’s really ugly.

“Any time,” Cuicatl whispers. Right. Dramatic shout or quiet whisper order.

It comes out as a shout.

Inferno flicks her head leaf and begins her assault. Water streams out from the sky, admittedly at a rate closer to a trickle than a torrent. How is this supposed to hurt a solid rock that comes up to your hips? It shouldn’t. It seems to. The graveler makes a cry of pain that sounds like, that is, rocks grinding against each other before awkwardly turning around and lumbering away.

Slowly.

Doesn’t look like its coming back.

Victory!

*​

When you wake up there’s another battle going. Cuicatl’s crouched down behind Pixie while the fox wrestles with a small yellow, with a dedenne! An adorable dedenne! You know you can’t keep everything VStar sends you to get but you wish they didn’t pick such tempting cuties. Inferno and Count Cloudy are currently watching the brawl. Just as you start to move the dedenne jerks and tosses Pixie out of the way. The pupper lands on her feet and starts prepping ice… no. Her eyes are… the dedenne halts and uneasily glances around. Confuse ray.

A ball rolls into your knee. “Can you toss it for me?”

She would have troubles with that. Not that you have too much experience with this. You did it underhanded last time so let’s try that. Just a gentle toss. The dedenne starts turning around and sparks fly around its hand as it sees the pokéball. Then they fade. It all fades to red. The ball shakes. Pixie raises her tails up and prepares an ice shard, probably for real this time. Another shake. You’re holding your breath. Know you’re holding your breath but can’t bring yourself to exhale. Another ball rolls into your foot as Cuicatl prepares for. Click. Capture.

You let out the breath you knew you were holding. The breath and the small shift in posture that comes with it calms you. Not to sleep. All exhaustion was driven out in the, what, forty seconds since you woke up?

“You’re a really deep sleeper,” Cuicatl says, irritation and amusement mixed in her voice. “We’d been going for ages before you noticed.”

“Well, I did wake up when I was needed.”

She rolls her eyes. You think she rolls her eyes? The frosted pattern moves. “That was my third ball.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Thought your snoring might scare off the ‘mons.” Her shoulders roll and she leans back on her hands. “Worked out fine thanks to Pix.” The ice fox puffs up her fur and sits down, tails curled around her. Cuicatl’s smile sinks a little. “If you’re tired we don’t have to stay out. Always tomorrow.”

Tomorrow… Tuesday. Right. “Sorry, it’s a holiday.”

“Well, it’s about to rain…”

Is it? There are a lot more clouds. And the sound of thunder. From beside you. Wait. You reach down and turn the phone off. The battery’s almost dead. Looks like you’re going back one way or another.

“Okay. Day after tomorrow? We’ll still be here right?”

“Yeah. Heading out on the… twenty-ninth? Sorry. Hard to remember three calendars.”

“Three… The American one... The Aztec one…”

“We have two calendars. One for gods. One for farming and business and stuff.”

“Yeah, but, couldn’t you just… adopt the one everyone else uses?”

She sits up and starts getting her things together. “Ours are better. Months have the same number of days.” That’s actually pretty reasonable. You can never remember what days have 30 and which have 31. “What’s the holiday tomorrow?”

“Thanksgiving.” You mirror her and get your pack around. Thankfully there’s not much. “We get together with family and think about what we’re thankful for. Then there’s a parade in Castelia.”

Cuicatl stands up and makes a broad sweeping motion around your impromptu clearing. “Can you get the ball?” You pick it up and slip it into her hand as you stand. “And that’s the genocide one, right?”

“No. It’s more about being thankful for the natives helping us out.”

She gestures towards the rough direction of the Pokémon Center and you set out. Cuicatl follows behind. “Right, then you killed all you could and stole half their land.”

“I think you’ve read a lot of propaganda.” Well, not read. Heard? You did manage to keep your voice very neutral. Good job. She’s wrong but you don’t have to be mean. If you are you might be actually alone on Thanksgiving. And then you’d probably burn down some grass while fighting a togedemaru.

“Just because it’s propaganda doesn’t mean it’s wrong.” You glance back at her. What was that supposed to mean? Of course it’s all lies. That’s what propaganda means. Doesn’t matter if it’s Anahuac or Yveltal herself saying it, all of it’s lies. Well. Okay. The natives did give away a lot of land. And some of it was stolen. But that’s not your fault. And you like being thankful for stuff. Can’t you just do that without making everything political?

*

[-27:11:49]​

What do you have to be thankful for last year?

In hindsight, way less. Should’ve been thankful for a lot more in 2018. Your family, Lyra, good food, a place to stay every night. Sure you were thankful for all of that but… not as much as you should’ve been. You’ll be better at that in 2020. But now you have pokémon to be thankful for! Sir Bubbles, Count Cloudy and Inferno. One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong.

The Green Knight! Yes! You’ll tell her later. She will be ecstatic.

Sir Bubbles, Count Cloudy, and The Green Knight. Then Cuicatl. She is away from her terrible father and has enough food now. For some reason she still seems sad. Sometimes. Other times she seems really energetic. She’s confusing but you’re thankful for her. Then… well, Allana is a ministry opportunity. The silver lining in your bad situation. And your family’s still alive so you should be thankful for that!

Lyra… no. Not this year. She is on a journey of her own. Maybe you’ll cross paths and she’ll apologize for what she did.

Apologies. Family. You glance at the window and watch the water run down the glass. Another rainstorm. Even if it wasn’t a holiday you couldn’t go dedenne hunting. You turn back to the room. Well, not a room. The small area between sets of doors. Some volleyball courts and outdoor pools past one set, a hallway connecting the pools and lobby down the other. Allana’s in your room and you don’t want to do this with other people around.

You take a deep breath and call your only relative who might listen.

First ring. You can do this. Second ring. You need to do this. It’s the point of the holiday. Third ring. What if they aren’t taking calls today? Someone picks up. “Pine Pass Programs. What can I do for you today?”

Another deep breath. “Hi, I was calling to see if Exodus Gage can talk. I’m her sister, Genesis.”

“Alright, please hold.” Gentle piano and… harp(?) music starts to play. You lean back on the wall and exhale. Exodus. Exodus, Exodus, Exodus. You visited on her birthday five months ago. Haven’t called her since. It’s fine. She’s better now. Much better. You still tense up. Even though she’s across the Pacific and younger than you.

“Hey, Gen.” Her voice comes through. Well, close enough to her voice. You don’t have it memorized. But you still sort of recognize it. Puberty. Changing. Or maybe you just forgot. Bleh. “What’s up?”

You’re alone in a cramped corner of a Pokémon Center because your mom kicked you out for something that isn’t your fault. “Nothing much. How are you?”

“Eh. Have the day off from classes. Decent lunch a while ago.” A while ago?

“What time is it on the mainland?”

“Two-thirty.” Right. Weren’t sure exactly how many hours ahead they were. “So, this a friendly family call or do you want something from me?”

What help could she even give. You shake your head. Focus. Not the issue. “I just wanted to wish you a happy Thanksgiving.”

“Aww, thanks.” You can sort of make out a quiet chuckle on the other end. “’course, probably helps that you got kicked out. What’s the deal with that, by the way? No one’s telling me.”

Do you tell her the truth? Would it matter? There’s nothing she could even do about it, right? Right? Nothing comes to mind. You try again. Darn it, you’re doing this. “Lyra kissed me. I didn’t ask. I didn’t like it. Mom still got mad. Didn’t want Levi to get corrupted.”

“Hmm. That all there is?” She sounds smug. Definitely not supportive. And what’s she getting at.

“Yes. That’s it. I don’t really get it either. Okay, like, I did for a few days but it’s been over two months now.” You aren’t crying. Your voice is breaking for other reasons. You will not cry in front of Exodus. You will not. “Maybe they just think I want to journey or something?” You don’t. It’s sometimes not bad. You’d rather be home.

“Oh, sweetie.” Somehow she sounds even smugger. Yeah. This sounds like Exodus again. “You still don’t get it, do you? It’s almost sad.” She definitely does not sound sad.

You can hang up at any time.

“Get what?”

“Well, for one… no. That’s not mine to tell you. But I don’t think I’ve told you why…”

“No. You haven’t.” The voice cracks stop. You think you sound really cold. Good. She deserves it.

“Yeah, well, if Mom and Dad ever loved us they stopped when Levi was born. They had their heir. We’re just decorations now. And if we don’t act the part they’ll throw us in the trash.”

Delusional. Absolutely delusional. “Exodus, they sent you to therapy for trying to choke their son. You can’t justify that.”

“Heh, you didn’t say I was wrong…”

“And you’re wrong.” Your thumb drifts to the red button that will end the call. It stops just over it. “They still love you. Why else would Mom go all the way to the mainland to visit you?”

“Love, first of all this ain’t therapy. At best it’s discount juvie. Second, it’s been years, okay? I’ve changed.” She sighs into the phone. “I was eight. I made a mistake. I’m sorry. Really. If they loved me, they’d let me out. Give me a chance to make things better.” You can practically see her shaking her head through the phone, crocodile tears in her eyes. “I was like you once. Thought they were just scaring me, heh, scaring me straight.” You don’t get what the joke is. Wait. Ugh. Terrible joke. “They weren’t. I wasn’t the decoration they wanted and they tossed me out of sight.”

“They visit.” Often. At least once a month. More than you’re getting. Plus they call. “Trust me, they do love you. They’re just worried about…” Levi, mostly. Pets too. She probably killed a glameow and an ariados. Probably. You only really put it together after she was sent off. She’s clever. Knows how to hide things. If the housekeeper hadn’t overheard the struggle…

She butts in before you can finish the thought. “That doesn’t mean anything. They only come because they think they’re good parents and that’s what good parents should do. When I talk they don’t listen. Ever. Then they path themselves on the back and leave.” You don’t know how to answer that. So you don’t. “Just be glad they didn’t send you to conversion therapy, okay? A few kids here have been to that. ****ed them up something good.”

“Language.” There’s somebody listening to her conversation, right? And she’s only thirteen. She has no business talking like that.

You fidget and your thumb presses the last quarter inch down onto the end call button. You could call back. You don’t want to.

Instead you slowly slouch down and sit on the radiator. So many lies. Primarina are transvestites. Blood sacrifices keep the sun moving. Your parents don’t love you. Exodus was ever justified.

You put the phone down next to you and lower your head into your hands. You don’t scream. A convenient crack of lightning does it for you. As a kid you heard about temptation. You thought you’d be strong enough to resist. That you would earn your afterlife.

You still will.

It’ll just be harder than you’d anticipated.
 

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Electric 2.4: Spiderwebs and Lost Souls
Kekoa

[-24:08:40]​

Before you take out lunch you kick your boots off and stretch. Downhill was supposed to be easy. Instead it was a thousand controlled, halting steps to keep you from tumbling down. Did bring you to a damn nice lake, though. Perfectly clear water with a few wishiwashi darting below the surface. Mountains reflected in the water. The **** they put on postcards. There’s another group sitting down for lunch about a third of the way around the lake but otherwise you’re alone.

Well, alone with Cuicatl, some Pokémon, and a transphobic piece of ****. Pixie and Coco have already curled up on their trainer as she lies down. Count Cloudy the Pretentious is hovering over the pond, the leafeon is curled up in a sunbeam, and Sir ****ing Bubbles is staring into the water and deciding if he’s man enough to swim in it.

You can see Hekeli flit between branches from time to time. Makani, your grubbin, thankfully ignored you when you sent him out and is busy rooting around in the dirt. Cuicatl told you that your ‘mons would need a reason to stay. Thankfully, he found one on his own. Something changed on Blush Mountain. Not evolution. For the best. Don’t want to deal with Makani the vikavolt quite yet. Might think it’s funny to spit ten thousand volts in your face rather than string. But he seems to get why he should stay. The bug grew up on Akala. Never had a chance of evolving on his own. With you? He can become a terrifying murder bug. Will become a terrifying murder bug.

And the people (and colonizer) are sprawled out in the shade, ignoring the hike the afternoon will bring. Food. You were supposed to pull out food. Canned meat and hummus, raisins that are somehow more dehydrated than usual, and crackers. Bland but cheap and nutritious. Maybe Cuicatl’s thought of something better but she’s never complained. You toss some at the haole thing and gently hand your friend her portion. Then silence. Near-silence. Eating sounds and spitting followed by happy dinosaur noises. Not quite as close to pikipek noises as you’d expect from her feathers and build. Speaking of! You can hear Hekeli’s songs and they’re getting really complex. Plus, her beak is growing out. If she’s not a trumbeak yet she will be soon. Damn shame she won’t be useful in the next trial. Maybe she can come in with a rock smash if the crabrawler you’ll catch later can’t do the job.

You hear barking noises and the sound of snapping twigs behind you. You glance back and—pancham. Two of them bumbling towards you, tripping over tree roots and each other. That means there’s a momma pangora nearby. “Cuicatl,” you say as neutrally as possible, “there are pancham here. Bears. Fighting-types. Momma’s a dark-type.”

The thing beside you makes a dumb “aww” sound and, after a pause, “We aren’t allowed to feed them, right?”

What? No. Gods, no. That’s how you get killed. But if a pangoro’s staring you down you’ll gladly bribe her. Unless she decides she likes your food and wants to take the rest, plus three weak animals and some pokémon. Throw pokéballs, run, and pray? Always an option. Maybe you could trip the asshole and make a break while the pangoro’s eating. No. A bit too harsh. Just a little bit, though.

Cuicatl sits up and gently smiles without showing any teeth. “Hello. Can I help you with anything?”
The pancham stand up on their hind legs and start adorably growling something out. Cuicatl’s just nods and strokes Pixie’s tails with one hand while physically restraining her tyrunt with the other. Girl’s smart enough to know she doesn’t want a fight. At best she loses and her pokémon get hurt. At worst she wins and gets killed by a confused pangoro.

“We’re just passing through on our way north.”

It turns out pancham can make a sound best described as an excited squeak.

“I’m sorry, but you can’t have any. It would make you sick.”

That earns a tiny roar. In the forest something a lot bigger than a twig snaps. For a second Cuicatl’s composure breaks. Then she starts to open her eyes wide and slowly shake her head. “Oh, no. We’re very scared. Terrified. But we’re—poison-types. We eat bad things. Bird ****. It would make you sick.” The sound of snapping branches keeps coming closer. “Promise.”

More squeaks and growls while Cuicatl slowly nods her head. “Not all humans can. Just me. Can’t talk to your—” Heavy breathing at the forest’s edge. A giant bear with a cape of black fur stares down at you. ****. Cuicatl recovers much faster than you do. Thank the gods. Her gods. Whichever get you through this. “Well, that’s rude of her. You scared me plenty on your own.” To your friend’s immense credit, it turns out pancham can feel embarrassed by their parents. One of the cubs turns around with a pout and start garbling out something to her mom. The pangoro’s stem twitches in her mouth for a second before her face settles into a smile.

The mother barks at her children, shoots a half-hearted glare at Cuicatl, and heads back the way she came. The pancham clumsily run after her.

No one, pokémon or human, dares to move for several long minutes. In the end Hekeli moves first by dropping down to a nearby branch and making a nervous trill. Cuicatl collapses back down, head hitting her pack, and mumbles some (untranslated) words in Nahuatl that are obviously swears.

“First time meeting a bear without a hydreigon at my back.”

Wait.

What?

“You had a hydreigon?”

She awkwardly shrugs as best she can while lying down with her vulpix on top of her. The tyrunt is still standing where she was, glaring at the forest’s edge. “Mom did. Did I not tell…” She snaps. “That’s right. I was going to threaten to sic her on you in Paniola. You cut me off.” You can feel a little blood come back into your cheeks for the first time since the pangoro drained it out. Just how far did you press her back then? The whole conversation’s a blur. Honestly you only remember her outing you. Sure, you knew that she was mad at you but you’d figured it was just the name thing. Maybe you should apologize. But its damn hard to apologize if you don’t even know what you did wrong. And she wasn’t exactly blameless in that whole ****up.

Stop. You’re going to say something you’ll regret. Regret after forgetting what you said, anyway. Also, what kind of person just threatens to have their pet dragon eat someone? Cuicatl Ichtaca. Yeah. That’s who. At least her new dragon thinks you’re her father. Probably won’t eat you.

Probably.

“Were you, um, talking to the bears?”

Right. It’s here. And hasn’t been told, apparently. Good call on Cuicatl Ichtaca’s part.

“Yes, I was.”

It awkwardly shifts as its castform drifts closer. “How?”

“I can talk to pokémon,” Cuicatl says like that’s just a perfectly normal thing. Is she going to do the accent trick? Still haven’t quite moved past that. After that you’ve been able to hear a slight accent in your voice but that might just be because that’s how you think she should sound.

“How long?”

“Hmm?”

“How long have you been able to do that?” There’s a hint of betrayal in its voice. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.

“Since I was seven. At least. Maybe earlier.”

Coco shakes herself off and plods over to you. How much of this is she following? If it’s just her trainer’s part then does she even understand what the humans are talking about? “Why didn’t you tell us?” the thing asks.

“She told me weeks ago.” It’s rude to Cuicatl. You’ll apologize later. But the look on Jenny’s face makes it absolutely worth it. Even if your friend’s half-snarl ruins the view.

“I don’t tell people if I can help it. Had to tell him to end a dumb fight.”

It wasn’t a dumb fight. She outed you in front of a colossal jackass and you said something that made her think about murder. And if she really wanted to make peace she probably could’ve found another way. Girl’s smart, sometimes.

“Why not tell people?” Its mouth hangs open as she struggles to find words that aren’t its usual level of stupid. “I think it’s cool. And it would help you make friends.”

“N,” you answer for her. “That’s why.”

It’s something you’ve thought about in the last few weeks. Maybe Uffe was right and she’s just another refugee from a collapsing fascist shithole. But she said her mom was from Unova. Someone important from Unova. And her hair has to be natural green. You would’ve noticed her roots by now. Of course, N was Asian. Cuicatl isn’t. Right? How do you do the loud thought thing?

Hey, Cuicatl, was your mom Asian?

{Second person to ask me that in a month.} You flinch more than you’d like to admit. {Can this wait?}

Yeah. It can.

{Cool.}

“The terrorist?” Cuicatl asks, aloud. “Sorry, that was a long time ago. Didn’t follow it.”

“Yeah, the terrorist.” Or freedom fighter. Same difference. ‘course, he went at it wrong. Tried to free the pokémon. Didn’t realize that shitty humans would immediately take them back. You have to take care of the shitty humans first. “They say he could talk to pokémon. Told him that fighting was hell, training is slavery, all that. So he tried to take over Unova.”

“As one does,” Cuicatl says. Her voice is flat but it sounds like a joke. You snort as a sign of support.

“As one does. He failed. Flew away on a ****off thunder dragon. Sometimes people spot him but he hasn’t done anything big in years.”

The thing slowly gets to its feet and starts pacing. “But he was wrong. Pokémon benefit from the system. Hilda used her team’s bonds of friendship to defeat him.”

“Hmm.” You turn to Cuicatl and do your best to project your voice in her direction. “Is that right?”

She shrugs. “Sometimes. Coco’s staying close to her parents. Ce wanted food and shelter.” A grimace. Her pace picks up. “Pix likes being appreciated. Pokémon don’t always like it. The social ones like home. Some ‘mons just don’t want to get hurt. Guess neither were right. Not all the way.”

Well, that’s some centrist bullshit. You were expecting better from her. Wait. “If you weren’t staying mum over N, why don’t you tell people?”

Cuicatl pulls her pack to her and puts her arms through the straps. She’s clearly trying to end the conversation by just getting on the trail. For its part the thing has stopped pacing and is just staring at your friend. “Governments. Anahuac would’ve made me a spy, U.S. might deport me and tell Anahuac why.”

“I’m not going to tell anyone,” the transphobe lies.

“Even if you had a filter between your mouth and the place your brain should be, she wouldn’t owe you ****.”

It looks like you punched it again. Or killed a puppy in front of it. Good. You pull on your own pack and get up before withdrawing Makani.

Cuicatl sighs rather loudly. “Can we please be civil? Just for a little bit?”

You snort. For real this time. “Oh, please. Jenny won’t even say my name and you want me to be civil?”

Another sigh as Cuicatl slowly gets to her feet and flicks her cane out. “He has a point, Genesis. If you want to bring him around and save his soul,” you can’t tell if you’re imagining Cuicatl’s cringe or not, “then he has to be willing to talk to you. If you insist on being rude then he’ll never listen and never convert.” {Not that I care about that,} she adds to you alone.

Hey, missionaries ****ed over Anahuac, right?

{They tried. We kicked them out centuries ago.}

Good call.

{Thanks.} “Let’s just head out,” she mutters, aloud.

[-24:01:12]​

Cuicatl slowly pivots to ‘look’ around the campsite. “Smells like eucalyptus,” she says. And it does. Pretty strongly, in fact. There’s a big clump of the trees at the edge the clearing. “We could make bug repellant from that and water. Cheap.”

“I’m not lugging more water around than I have to.”

“No,” she looks at you with… disappointment? “We just get the leaves now. Grind out the oil and put that in a bag. Mix with water when you need it.”

That does make sense. Mostly. But. “You know we’re up $600, right? We can buy real bug spray. Even with Alola prices.”

Cuicatl drops her pack and sits down. Her usual routine after arriving at campsites since she can’t set up the tent or hang bags or anything so she’s kind of useless until it’s time to do a few minutes of cooking. “Yes. But. We should also buy another pack or two. More balls and potions. Another tent. Human and pokémon food. Maybe a real pokédex. And I want to make money eventually.”

You turn back to the tent. The poles and fabric that will soon be a tent. Your ugly assistant awkwardly hovers nearby but does move in once you start setting it up. At least its intelligent enough to do some menial labor. “How much money do you really need? Payouts are supposed to increase later on.” Supposed to. Not that you trust VStar one bit. Yours is a marriage of convenience. You need power to save Alola from its false queen, they want you to help them plunder Alola for profit. But nature rebuilds.

All will be well when the kingdom is free.

“Seven hundred and eighty-one thousand dollars.”

The pole you were holding clatters to the ground and you stare at her dumbfounded. You can sort of see the other one doing the same. “Holy ****.” Cuicatl’s looking down at the ground, absently stroking Pixie’s back. “You’re serious?”

“Yes.”

“In deep with the cartels?” Has to be it. You’re pretty sure Anahuac has free healthcare so it can’t be a ‘my brother is dying of cancer’ thing.

That earns a lazy headshake in response. “Nah. They’re more to the north and east.”

“Then what the hell do you need it for?”

“I… I’d r-rather not say.” Is the stutter real? Just something she wanted to communicate? Intentionally or not? Everything she says about her power raises more questions than answers and she rarely gives answers when you ask. Her face tells you what you want to know. Push now and she’ll burst into tears, threaten to murder you, or both. You reach down and pick the pole up. The thing does likewise and you set up camp in silence.

*​

“Can you help me gather the leaves?” Cuicatl Ichtaca finally asks, composed, after the food bag is hung up.

“Look…” A few dollars won’t make a dent in the debt. She can’t even make the money here anyway. At best she walks away with maybe a tenth of it. How do you phrase that without being an asshole here? And since when did you start asking yourself that question? Baby doll eyes. The trick Pixie pulled on you in your first battle with her. She made herself small, vulnerable. Stirred up every damn bit of estrogen in your system. Her trainer’s doing that now. Ugh. **** her.

“I know.” She sounds tired. Defeated. Manipulative. “I know. But I’m bored and I want something to do. Can I at least have the leaves?”

*​

She’s still harvesting eucalyptus. It’s a slow process filled with trial, error, and lots of awkwardly moving her hands around in the general direction of the tree. Her pokémon are ignoring the tree she’s groping and staring up another one. There’s a komala sleeping probably ten feet up. The thing hasn’t noticed it yet. Probably. It is being perfectly quiet, just staring down at the grass between its crossed legs.

You’re bored. You could have hekeli fight the komala. Seems cruel, though. Beating up something for just sleeping nearby. Nah. You’ll save her energy for dumbass haole kids in Malie. Still bored. You could cook but that’s literally the only thing Cuicatl does for anyone. And some translations. Maybe more of those now that the thing in on the secret. Eh. **** it. You’ll help her. She turns her head a little bit when you approach. “Kekoa, right?”

“Yeah.” You start picking leaves. She has a quart bag in one hand that she’s putting them in. Once you’ve got your first fistful you stick those in with hers.

“Thank you.”

You grunt out something that was maybe supposed to be “no problem” in your head. Wait. Can she understand that? …

Cuicatl Ichtaca, can you understand that?

“Understand what,” she mutters.

“That grunt?”

She rolls her eyes. “You have to at least try, Kekoa.” The bag is gently pressed into your hands and she starts walking back to the campsite. “Going to make dinner now.”

Did you say something wrong? Not say something you should have? Maybe she was just hungry. You turn back to the tree. You can hear footsteps behind you as Cuicatl’s pokémon go to beg for food, the komala forgotten. Should you have told her about it? She does like cuddling her pokémon and komala would be into that. Then again, komala isn’t exactly a killing machine. Might undercut her rep. Her pokémon would have told her about it, right? Seemed to be important to them. More as prey than a potential snuggle buddy. What will happen if or when she catches a prey pokémon? Or when Coco gets big enough to just snap up Pixie in a single gulp? Eh. You can trust her. She’s probably already drilled into the little dino’s heads that foxes are friends, not food.

Komala, on the other hand… definitely food.

After a few minutes of blissful silence there are human footsteps behind you. Definitely the thing. Cuicatl would either have the swish of her cane or the patter of pokémon footsteps or both with her. You stand still and stare straight ahead. Maybe it can take a hint. Or at least not see motion. Wait can Coco actually see non-moving stuff? She has to, right? Something to pay more attention to in the future.

“I, um… I wanted…” A deep sigh. You give it a glance over your shoulder. It’s hunched over, staring at its shoes with its hands awkwardly fidgeting against each other at its waist. Like it’s going to confess a middle school crush or some ****. “I wanted to ask if we could meet halfway. Like, you don’t call me by my name so, I dunno, maybe you could make up a nickname or something that isn’t All— that isn’t your old name.”

“No.” You very deliberately go back to picking the leaves. It steps into your peripheral vision but you ignore it.

“I’m just asking to be able to do what you’ve been doing to me for months!” Gods, it’s pouting. Like it’s the victim here. “Just, please…” What a great argument.

Ugh. It won’t go away if you don’t give it anything. And right now you’d rather have her go away than stay 1000% true to your principles. Fine, here goes. “You’ve got your name in Galar. Here? My kingdom. I call you what I want.”

Your kingdom? Since when are you royalty?” You see her hesitate. “Unless, um, you are…”

You’re not but you’ve met the princess. Dresses in rags. Lives in the same orphanage you wound up in. Sure, she could probably afford better clothes but it’s all the principle of it. Tattered robes on the princess of a tattered kingdom. The girl who spends more time with the dead than the living. Ghosts. The mournful and angry souls of an occupied nation. What was. What lingers. What stands ready for revenge.

You opt to let the leaf bag fall from your hands and give her a real glare. You flick a hand back over your shoulder. “See that? The mountain in the distance? I’m gonna kick out that haole ***** you put on a throne on Mauna ****ing Lanakila. Then I’m tearing the whole place down. Give the palace in Hau’oli to the real queen. Take back my home from assholes like you.”

That just earns a few slow blinks before it brushes a stray blonde hair off its face. “No, you can’t. That would take a vote or something. Not just a battle with an athlete.”

“Hmph. We can’t take back the kingdom with a battle but we could lose it with one? That right?”

It pointedly looks away from you. “It wasn’t a democracy. That was how things worked then.”

You know that well.

*​

In 1888 Elisha Gage strolled into the Palace and challenged the Queen for her throne. He didn’t do it right. He was supposed to first be accepted into the island challenge and then complete it. That would’ve required him being an actual citizen of the kingdom and not some haole leech. The Queen accepted. You don’t know why. He faced the four kahunas and the Queen all in a row to take the throne.

He did that all wrong, too. Bought himself five teams. Brought a different one in to each match, all tailor-made for the win. That wasn’t supposed to happen. No one had ever used more than six pokémon for the royal challenge before. But the rulebook doesn’t say anything about using thirty pokémon! You can imagine his smug face. Like he’s a ref allowing a growlithe to play basketball with an entire country on the line. It also ignored the point. There were no rules in the first place. Just traditions. The people knew what they were supposed to do and they did it. You had a shred of decency.

He won. Barely. Later came out that he’d paid three-point-eight mil in that days’ dollars for his final team. The Queen could’ve told him to go to hell. She didn’t. You don’t know why. He sat on the throne and called in the marines and told them that Alola was part of the U.S. now. All so that some spiderweb dealer could pay less taxes.

Hope he’s happy in hell.

*​

You don’t say any of that. You just stare right into its icy eyes and cross your arms. Hope she’ll be happy in hell with Old Man Gage.

It rolls its shoulders and tries to almost look you in the eyes again. “I… fine. Sure. Not what I wanted to talk about.” You snort. Of course. It thinks its entitled to pick everything it talks about. “I just wanted to say that I was mean to you and I’m sorry… Kekoa.”

“Dinner’s ready!” You blink and turn towards Cuicatl Ichtaca. There’s a half-empty bowl in her lap and she raises another spoonful of food to her lips as you watch. Dinner has clearly been ready for a while. She just wanted to sit back and watch the show. Listen to the show. Did she tell it to do that? Doesn’t really matter. The thing has turned around and is walking over to the food with far too little weight on its shoulders.

Her shoulders. Maybe. Ugh, fine. You’ll at least need to pick another name for her. Jennifer is too close to her real one. Janette? Sounds good.

[-23:16:49]​

It isn’t raining when you step outside. In fact the sky is almost suspiciously clear for this time of the year. Full moon overhead and the clearing is remarkably bright for the middle of the night. Wings stir at the forest’s edge and Hekeli glides over to perch on your shoulder. She’d hear a pangoro coming and a rattata isn’t enough to take her out anymore. It’s safe to leave her out at night.

As you walk away from the tent to pee movement catches your eye. A dark, slender shape rises up near the treeline. It’s almost as tall as you. No, taller. You finally catch the shape of its—her head and the red markings on her chest. Salazzle. You’re being summoned. The salamander drops down on all fours and raises her tail into the air as a signal before slipping into the forest.

It’s hard to follow the fire-type. The trees block out much of the moonlight and there are way more shrubs in your way than there were on Route 12. If Cuicatl hasn’t heard the noise herself her pokémon definitely have. You really hope she doesn’t follow. She’d understand, of course, but she might get sucked in deeper than you’d like right now.

The forest abruptly breaks into a clearing, another campsite from the looks of it, and you see the woman sitting on a log in the middle. Her hair’s shorter and died black but the tank top, tattoos, and baggy pants let you know that you’re dealing with Big Sis. As if the salazzle wasn’t enough of a giveaway. She flicks her hand towards the ground and you sit. Probably too far away. Might have to raise your voice a little bit. Not that you were sounding stealthy before.

“I got your message a few weeks back,” she says. Like it’s just a normal thing that Big Sis reads reports from someone who isn’t even a grunt. Should you respond? She’s supposed to be pretty casual. She’s also the only one doing anything about the False Queen. A hero here in the flesh. One on one. What would you even say? “The Nahua girl’s interesting.” You know that you needed to tell her about Cuicatl. For a moment you still regret bringing Big Sis’s attention to her. “But not what I want to talk about.”

That’s… not what you were expecting. What else did you even say? Damnit you were tired and a little angry when you emailed Manollo. You’ve forgotten half of it. Running problem today. “I almost have two Z-Crystals.” That can’t be what she wanted to hear, it sounds almost pathetic when you say it aloud.

She blinks twice and slouches a bit. “You really don’t know…?” Don’t. Know. What? Plumeria shakes her head and smiles. “Dummy. Genesis is a Gage.”

Genesis is. Gage. Elisha. The Old Man. The Spiderweb Prince. The Kingdom Thief. She’s his spawn.

Holy. ****ing. ****.

You knew she had money before but billionaire heiress? To a family that’s somehow worse than most billionaires? ****. Honestly, her being a transphobic piece of **** is now waaaaaay down on the list of things to hate about her. It. Hate about it. Definitely not ‘her’ anymore.

Plumeria dismissively waves her hand through the air and brings you a little bit closer to reality. “You aren’t actually in Skull so I won’t give you orders, but. A suggestion: do whatever you can to keep her on the trail and away from her family.”

“Why?” Everything still feels unreal. The words slip from your mouth before you realize how stupid they are. Big Sis has a reason. She always does.

Her expression doesn’t waver. If she thinks you’re a dummy—she did call you a dummy didn’t she—then she’s not pressing it now. “I don’t need her now. There’s some **** that’s about to go down and we’re laying low. Later?” The smile returns. Less friendly this time. “Yeah, I can find a use for her. Much easier to get her if she isn’t being guarded by daddy.”

A kidnapping. You’d have to gain its trust. Regain its trust. Pretend to be nice. Call it Genesis. Act like its human. A friend, even. It’ll all suck so much. But in the end everything will have been worth it when you see the look on her face.

You nod slowly. “I can do that.”

The Skull Boss slowly gets to her feet and looks—up—to meet you in the eye. Shorter than you’d thought. Never been this close to her before. At the Mauna she always sat above everyone else. Her height’s probably why. The shadows around her shoes move and a gengar rises up behind her. Hekeli cries out in shock and flutters into place in front of you. You call her back and she glides to a branch behind you.

“You’re using one of VStar’s phones, right?”

“Yes.”

She slips her hand into her pocket and holds a flip phone out to you. Should you? Yes. You step closer to Plumeria, defender of Alola, and take it. Your hand almost touches hers. Stupid.

The boss turns around and starts walking towards the edge of the clearing. It’s almost. Heh. You’ve gotten used to Cuicatl’s dumb military-types pivots in place. Kind of weird seeing normal humans turn around. “My number’s saved in there. Tell me if things go to hell.”

“Wait, I.” She turns around and glances at you. ****. What were you saying? “Does this mean I’m in Skull? For real?”

Plumeria turns back around as her gengar’s shadows rise up to engulf her. “Whatever you want, kid.” When the unnatural blackness fades to normal night Big Sis is gone.

You’re left alone with a pikipek—no, trumbeak, a phone, and a mission.
 

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
CN: Child Abuse, Eating Disorder


Electric 2.5: Life Goes On

Cuicatl Ichtaca

[-15:03:11]​

The air feels like rain again. You’d hoped that being in the States would bring a real winter and summer and not just wet and dry seasons. Of course, you weren’t so lucky.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but pokémon aren’t allowed in the library.”

You stop and turn towards the voice. An employee? You gesture towards your cataracts. “I need her to get around.”

The wind picks up. For the time being it doesn’t carry water with it. The woman is silent far longer than she needs to be. “Do you have her service pokémon documents on you?” She sounds unimpressed. Almost aggressive. Coco would’ve growled at her already. Pix is probably considering it.

You don’t have the papers. They don’t exist. “She’s not registered.” You plow through to keep Pix from taking it personally. “But she’s smart. Won’t cause trouble.” Last bit might be a lie. She’s been behaving well recently. Well enough to gamble on.

“I’m sorry but we only allow registered service pokémon. An assistant can help you around if you need it.”

Right. Because being jerked around by a stranger with no training is better than letting your (somewhat) trusted helper do it. Your heart rate’s up and your shoulders are tensed. Pix flicks a tail to your ankle. Probably asking if she should fight. You make an effort to relax your shoulders and take a deep breath. You don’t win this fight. This woman has the power and she’s made up her mind. Experience tells you that all the facts and logic in the world won’t change that. “Fine,” you concede with a huff. “You good going in your ball, Pix?”

“Yes.”

You withdraw her and clip the ball to the second spot in your belt. Before you take your cane out you slide your hands back down to your skirt’s pockets (making your own clothing has its advantages). “Well, now what?”

She hesitates. Figures she didn’t have an actual procedure. Just saw a rule she could enforce on some kid and decided to be cruel. You could take out your cane and save her but a little bit of your own cruelty bubbles up and you let her solve the problem she made. “One second,” she finally says. “Let me get someone to help you.”

It takes a lot longer than a second. By the time it starts to drizzle you’re starting to doubt that she’s coming back at all. When it starts to pour, you’re certain that she isn’t. With a sigh you pull out your cane and walk into the building itself. You consider letting Pix out and walking in anyway. If the same woman is still there you doubt she’d complain again.

She doesn’t speak up when you step inside. You’d half expected that she’d just darted through the door and spent a half hour staring at you through the glass. “Excuse me,” another woman calls out. “Can I help you?”

There’s no way to be sure she’s talking to you. She probably is. You nod and turn in the voice’s direction. “Yes. Where are the computers?” In an ideal world you’d ask for journals and in-depth guides in Nahuatl braille. Or at least American Braille. You doubt such things even exist.

“Certainly. They’re just down… actually, let me take you there.” You hear her approach and you feel her slip her hand into yours before she immediately starts moving. Not the best way to do it. It makes keeping pace awful. And you would have liked it if she asked you first. Or given you time to collapse the cane. Still, you do eventually find yourself in front of a computer. Then she power walks away before you can figure out how to log in, turn the screen reader on, access the internet… anything.

After many days and even more arguments on the trail you’d wanted time alone. At least time away from other people. And you need to have a talk with Pix. So far you’ve managed to bring Kekoa around in two talks and tag-teamed Genesis in three. Hopefully this one’s as easy. But you need information. Everything you can get on vulpix thought. Make some guesses on how she sees the world. That brought you here. You’re still no closer to the information.

Even if you wanted to call Genesis or Kekoa there’s another obstacle. You’d have to talk in the library. You really aren’t supposed to do that. Sure, you could find a bathroom or a door outside. But because Pix isn’t here you’d have to ask someone. Talk to someone. Aloud.

You slump forward in the seat and cross your arms, letting the cane clack to the floor.

Why does this always happen?

July 2019​

The gate creaks shut beneath you and you take a few steps forward. Your cane is out because Achcauhtli won’t coddle you when you don’t need it. No, not won’t. Can’t.

Your mind is half gone and even the remaining half feels so empty these days. There’s nothing to say. Your godmother has taken over your chores for the time being. It’s more kindness than you deserve but it also deprives you of a simple, routine task to get lost in.

Maybe you do deserve it, then.

You hadn’t told anyone about your brother’s headache and neck pains. His meningitis. If you’d forced him to seek care right then he wouldn’t have died. You’re sure of it.

You killed him.

You still haven’t fully grasped what that means.

Maybe you never will.

With more care than your body deserves you lower it to the ground. Silence. Nothing approaches. Alice had been hanging around the house for a few days but apparently ellas needed to eat. Searah’s probably exhausted all the ants in the area after staying put for so long. Renfield’s mourning and you can’t judge him for wanting distance. And Spike…

“Hey, Spike.”

Spike doesn’t answer. He wrapped you in a vine when you told him. It was the most affection he’d ever shown you. Or your mother, from what memories of hers you have. Seems he’s back to normal now.

Great. Just great.

The wind is surprisingly chilly for the height of the summer. You take your arms out of your poncho to hug yourself underneath it. The sleeves whip around uselessly in the wind. There’s homework to do. You should go inside. Should. You won’t. You were failing anyway. Again. And he can’t read your books to you anymore. What’s even the point?

If you ran off right now who would care? You could take Searah, Alice, and Renfield with you. Live in the woods. Escape cactus spikes and worksheets for good. Your godmother would understand. Father would have to step up around the house. Surely he could handle it. Someone had to be cooking and cleaning before you were old enough to do it.

When Alice comes, back you’ll go.

There’s nothing here for you anymore. Nothing but ghosts.

You’ve seen enough American films to know about their vengeful ghosts that haunt the living. Try to solve their own murders. All that stuff. It’s not like there aren’t ghosts in Anahuac but they’re… different. Forgetful. Destructive. Apocalyptic, even. You really want to believe in the American ghosts right now. He’d come back and torment you for killing him but at least he would be around. And if he punished you then you wouldn’t need to do it yourself. It would be perfectly just.

The back door creaks opens and you hug yourself a little tighter. Speaking of punishments. Father’s heavy footsteps come closer until he settles down beside you, probably staring off at… whatever’s in the distance.

“He was supposed to do so much more,” he says with terrible resignation. You let the words wash over you and turn your head in his direction. It sounded like he had more to say. Maybe he doesn’t. You certainly don’t. “He had Danielle’s powers and pokémon. He could have taken so many captives. Brought honor and resources to the village that I never could have.” You can almost feel the frown. “But he never took to the pokémon.”

You shake your head. “He did. Searah and Renfield saw him as a brother. He even talked sense into ‘chovsky once in a while.” All those years and you never figured out how. Knowing the swanna you never will. “He just cared about humans, too.” You leave the ‘I didn’t’ unspoken.

“Hmm. Doesn’t matter anymore.” The wind picks up a bit more. This time you slip your arms back through the sleeves. Can’t look like a child in front of Father. “And you… I had a plan for you.” A hint of passion bleeds through despair. “Achcauhtli would gain money and status. You could care for his home and pokémon. But now,” he takes a deep breath. You get a twinge of pain through your powers for some reason. “Now that won’t work.” And the passion is drowned as quickly as it came. “I had to find a new plan. You aren’t smart. Or strong. You would get captured on the battlefield in seconds. Your gifts could make you appealing to a noble family, but they would not want your deformities in their bloodline.”

And there you were thinking you would escape punishment today. At least this is only verbal. Even if words can hurt more than cactus spines or chili fumes. “You are decent at housework but unattractive. And high-class men want smart wives. Good marriage would be difficult.” You get it. You’re a total failure. “But… between Danielle’s gift and your blindness you might be able to convince a temple that you’re close to the gods.” He doesn’t scoff. That’s left to your imagination. “That would require sending you to a school for your kind so that you might learn something. Then tutoring on manners and religion before you could ever apply to an apprenticeship.”

You like to think that you’re good at astrology. Can’t say you’re an expert on the entire religion. More importantly… “Can I bring Searah and Renfield with me?” Alice is far too big an ask. But Renfield could help you mask your powers by having a translator pokémon and Searah’s not too high maintenance.

“No.” Before you can argue he cuts you off. “They would only distract you. Besides, I needed money for the school’s tuition.” No. He can’t— “I sold Nari’s pokémon this morning.”

You—

He—

You—

You never got to say goodbye.

Again.

“You’ll depart to Tenochtitlan tomorrow at—” You swing a fist at his face. And miss, falling to the ground in the process. He stands up in an instant and pins your back to the ground with his boot. “Cuicatl. Ichtaca.” Disappointment drips from his lips like venom from a snake’s fangs. “Your one virtue was obedience.” He presses down harder and you can feel the pressure on your spine and the metal tip on your back. “Danielle’s pokémon were never yours. They were mine. I did this to help you.”

You scream. He’ll have to back off if

No.

Alice isn’t coming.

Achcauhtli can’t drag him off if he goes too far.

But you scream anyw—something hard strikes you on the cheek. Your jaw snaps down on your tongue. Not hard enough to break clean through but enough to hurt and bleed. He takes a few steps away as you spit out blood.

“You will apologize,” Father finally says as you start to pull yourself together. You will not. Not to him. Not after what he did. The pressure reappears on your back. “You will apologize now.” No.

“Was it for tuition or Patolli debts?” you hiss. Blood sputters out of your mouth with the saliva.

“You will apologize for that remark, too.’ He presses harder. Much harder. Your chest, such that it is, presses painfully against the ground. It’s. It’s fine. You’ve dealt with worse. He presses the metal tip of his boot down and steps off. He starts walking away and the door opens. “I’m almost glad Danielle died when she did,” Father says. “She would’ve hated to see what became of her daughter.”

The door slams shut and you slowly press yourself up to all fours. A simple flex of your spine brings pain but shows that nothing’s broken. A quick stroke of your tongue shows the same for your mouth. No. Not quite. You spit out a shard of tooth. It was at the back. No one will notice. Doesn’t hurt when your tongue touches it.

Good. You’re running away. You’ll find your way to America and make good, valuable dollars. Then you’ll buy back at least Alice, Renfield, and Searah.

Before that… Father is stronger than you but he must sleep. Even you could smother him and run away in the dark.

No.

It would be killing your own blood; the Eagle Warriors would hunt you down. And. And. No. You don’t deserve to. You already killed his son and wife. He did everything he could for Achcauhtli and the village. Thought he was doing everything he could for you. He does care for you. Loves you. And Mom loved him. Gods, you killed your mother’s son. If she ever would have liked you she hates you now. If you killed Father, too…

You bow your head in shame for ever considering it. If anything you owe enough to your mother and brother that you need to come back to him once this wrong is righted.

You can face Father again with a hydreigon at your side.

[-15:02:28]​

You know that you’re slipping to a bad place. Maybe as bad as the day by the water in Hau’oli. Miss Bell pulled you out then. She’s not here to do that again. Should you call her later? She hasn’t messaged you since you saw her between missions. No leads on Alice, apparently. Not that you could even act on any right now. Cheapest you’ve seen one auctioned for was $781,500. Then you’d need a little more money for Searah and Renfield. Neither species seems that expensive but if their new owner realizes you’re attached they might drive the price way up.

Nothing is happening in here. You should go outside. You bought an audiobook rental account earlier. So long as you don’t buy the books it’s cheap to read them for a few days. Plus, you can make notes on the big stuff. At the very least you can sit outside under the overhang and listen. It’s probably not the most up-to-date stuff but it will do.

Before you can talk yourself out of it you reach down and search for your cane. Once it’s in your grasp you extend it and start trying to map out your earlier steps.

After accidentally hitting your cane against a wall enough times someone comes to help you out.

[-14:22:59]​

You have to pee.

Truth be told you’ve had to be for over an hour, but now you’re at a chapter break and someone just disturbed you by going out the door so it’s time to take care of that. You put your phone back into your bag, stand up and whoa. You stand stock still as the wave of vertigo washes over you. When it leaves your legs are still weak. How long has it been since you ate a proper meal? You didn’t eat breakfast and dinner was early yesterday so… a long time. Pokémon Center’s lunch is closed. You can either wait a few hours or eat out.

The latter takes money. And it’ll have so many calories. Even if you give Pixie some it’ll still make you fatter. Focus. Pee. Now. You slowly pivot and reenter the library.

[-14:22:41]​

It’s only misting outside. Pixie still wouldn’t like being out in it. Her fur would get wet and even if she held on for your sake she would be upset. You could send Coco out but she’s not good on a leash. Runs into your cane a lot. Sometimes tries to jerk you around even though you’re much bigger (for now). Makes navigation hard. You elected not to eat out. No. Not quite. You elected to let fate decide. If there’s something on the way to the park that smells too good to resist, well, then you can stuff your face and regret it later.

You have to ask for directions a few times on the way but you steadily get closer to your destination. Supposedly a bunch of Japanese people came to live in Malie. They built a park themed around Johto. You’ve never been to Asia. Probably never will. This might be as close as you ever get and you might as well enjoy it. Even if you can’t really appreciate the theming.

When you’re maybe a block or two away your stomach finally makes you do something stupid. Something smells like dough. Kind of fresh dough. And fruit. Maybe meat? A sweetness to it. A lot of scents mixed together but it’s not unpleasant. Smells close. You pull out Pixie’s ball and let her out. The fox shakes herself off, hisses, and shoots out a wave of cold. Probably trying to freeze the water droplets in the air. Good girl. You bend down a little bit to get her attention. “Can you take me to the food?”

Food isn’t far. Close enough that she just opts to tell you where to go and trail behind. “A few steps forward. A few more. Thought your legs were longer.”

“Thanks for rubbing it in, Pix.”

“Hmm?”

You force a smile and shake imaginary dirt off your top. “Nothing. How much further?”

When the food truck approaches you can vaguely sense it. Something ahead of you to the right. Hard to say how you know it’s there but you do. Echoes, maybe? Like a dolphin. Once you get close you slow down and start drifting towards the edge of the sidewalk.

The window opens up and a man’s voice comes out. “Hello. Do you want to order?”

With another forced smile you turn towards him and brush a few stray locks of hair out of your face. “Yes. What do you sell?”

“Crêpes.”

Your power can’t translate it. That’s just the name of the thing. At least, there’s not a Nahuatl word for it that you know. The meaning in his mind can’t match one in yours. Whatever they are they smell good. “What do you recommend?” You don’t want him to read the entire menu to you. It’s a little embarrassing and you’re out in the mist with an impatient fox.

“Sweet or savory?”

Hmm. Ordinarily you’d be mad that you asked for an opinion and you got a question. You’re exhausted and thinking about food just wears you down more. But this is a decent question. Savory probably has more calories. More cost. Closer to a real meal. Sweet is immature. Childish. Irresponsible. It’ll last for an hour or two at most.

“Sweet,” your stomach says before your brain can make a decision.

“Rawst, then.”

He gives a price. Higher than you’d like. Of course, you don’t even know how much food you’re getting. You don’t want to ask. You might just walk away altogether. And you can afford it, even if it isn’t wise. There’s someone in line behind you and they don’t object to the price so it’s probably what’s on the menu. You almost want to haggle it even if you know Americans hate it. In the end you just turn over a few bills and get some coins back in return.

After a few minutes of waiting you finally get your order. It’s big but thin. Kind of light. Still a reasonable price by American standards. You pivot and step further back onto the sidewalk. Pix follows by your side, a tail flick marking her location. “You smell grass? Trees?” She yips. “Can you lead me there?”

She wordlessly passes by you, making sure to rub against your leg so that you know where she is. She occasionally grunts as you walk behind her, sweeping with your cane with one hand and trying to balance a kind of unwieldy crêpe in the other. You don’t really know if it’s sloppy or not but so far the shape seems to have held. By the time the faint whiff of gasoline and dull roar of humanity starts to get replaced by wet grass and birdsong your stomach’s started to growl again. “Food is here,” it says. “Human is in eating mood. Must remind her she is hungry.” Bad stomach. You already knew all of that.

Once you’re into the park for real and feel the pavement shift from asphalt to gravel under your sandals you give Pix new orders: “Can you find a shelter? Some place to sit out of the rain.” You’re pretty sure she knows what a shelter is. Can’t hurt to clarify. A puff of cool air hits your ankles and you can faintly hear her moving through the grass. The rain starts to pick up a little and you hear an angry yap in front of you when the first real raindrop hits Pix. You retract your cane and step off the path. The blades of grass reach through the sandals to tickle your feet and you know that you’re going to have to wash off all the clippings stuck in your shoes later but for now you welcome it. Soft. Good length. Not like the dry, long grass by Blush Mountain. Once your shoes hit concrete again you almost trip. The shelter has a floor about two centimeters off the ground. Thankfully you don’t faceplant. The crêpe doesn’t even fall from your hands. You extend the cane again and find your way to a picnic table. Above you the rain picks up some more but strikes the roof instead of you.

When your cane strikes something hard you feel it out and discover a picnic table. You gently lower yourself down to sit and hear Pix jump—twice—to get on top of the table. Your free hand slaps down beside you. “Pix, please sit here.” She complies with a meaningless grumble.

Crêpe time. You unwrap the aluminum foil and feel around the edges. Doesn’t seem like too much got out. Just a little… cream? You bring the tip of your finger to your mouth and taste it. Probably. Sweet. A little thick. Further fingertip inspection shows that it’s a tortilla folded on itself with some filing in the middle. You gently hold it level and bring it up to bite.

It’s good. The cream(?) flows just enough that what you bit off flows a little inside your mouth while staying in the part of the tortilla you didn’t eat. Kind of cold. Contrasts with the warm tortilla. Another bite brings the rawst berries in. Sweetened. Probably in a syrup of some kind. Do they even grow rawst here? It changes the texture. Not in a bad way.

The filling and berries are sweet but feel like they have substance. Easy to eat. You smile despite yourself. You need to learn how to make these. What culture is it from anyway? Asia? Ugh. You’ve done a lot of cooking but almost all of it was traditional. A few things from your mother’s memories. Sometimes. Father never seemed to like that.

Father. Mother. The cream turns sour in your mouth and your smile fades. So little of the crêpe left. You let yourself go. Enjoy sweets like you have any right to after what you’ve done. You put the rest down next to Pix and stew in your feelings while she devours it. How dare you? Your brother is dead by your hand and you let yourself act like nothing happened.

Father is cruel. Blunt. Not always the best at business. Loses much on his games and keeps playing anyway. But he wasn’t wrong about you.

There’s a content mewling beside you before Pixie stretches out, her front paws pressing into the side of your leg before she curls up and her tail casually rests on you. “Where’s Eggbreath?”

Right. It’s not about you. There’s a call from deep inside to just be quiet and take the punishment. Throw up as penance. Whatever must be done. Maybe you will. Not now. You had a purpose.

“She’s in her ball. I wanted to talk to you without your sister.”

Her tail is very pointedly moved off your lap. “Not my sister,” she growls.

You shrug. Just keep raising it. Eventually she’ll stop arguing. Maybe even accept it. Doesn’t have to be now. “I still want to talk.” No verbal answer. No flick of the tail. She’s waiting on you to speak. Why can’t you pull words from the pit in your stomach? Just. Try. You had a prepared speech and everything. Deep breath. You’ve got this. Just get through this and then you can fall apart. “Two moons ago I asked you what you wanted and if I could help.” A pause for dramatic effect. You really wish you could gauge her reaction. “I want to ask it again. What do you want?”

She doesn’t answer for a long time. It takes everything you have to not spiral deeper in the silence.

“Everyone leaves,” she finally says. “Parents. Humans. Everyone. You’ll leave.”

That’s a lot more than you were expecting. You’d been prepared, well, you’d been planning to slowly drag the truth from her. Didn’t think she’d be that self-aware.

“And what do you want from me?”

You hear her shift next to you. Still doesn’t touch you. “You’ll leave.”

Didn’t answer your question. Doubt you’ll get an answer if you ask again. Okay. Different track.

“If I say I won’t you’ll say that I’m lying, right?” She doesn’t answer. That’s a yes. “I get it. Words don’t mean much. Someone else tell you that they wouldn’t leave you and they did?”

“Yes.”

Thought as much. One human lies about one thing, all humans lie about everything. It’s a lonely thought but not all wrong.

“Well,” you take a deep breath and prepare to rip open some wounds for her sake. “I already left Ce for you. Hated doing that. Tolerated a lot of nighttime screams. Let you move my cane over and over again. Watched you goad your sister into misbehaving a lot. And you told Ce to sleep on my face one night, right?” And, you, Pixie, are ugly, stupid, helpless, unmarriable, and a kin-killer. You swallow the thought and press on. You have to you’re just like him. “A-and you know what? I haven’t left you. Didn’t go through all of that to leave you now.”

No. That wasn’t right. It’s still wrong. Tearing her down and saying that you’ll sink down and stay with her. There’s another part. One that your family never quite taught you. Deep breath. Stop crying. You can do this.

“And I still love you, okay? You’re very soft and pretty and you have a lot of personality. Just…” Fine. You can’t stop yourself from crying. You at least turn away so she can’t see the tears. “But this isn’t working for either of us and we need to talk about where we go from here.”

You’ll cry but you won’t sob. This is about her, not you.

“Damn it, Pix, say something.”

A paw presses into your leg. “You’re sad?”

Say something that isn’t about that, damn it.

“I… yes. Sometimes.” There are good hours. Days, even. Maybe. Right now you can’t remember what they feel like or if they ever existed at all. “It’s not important.”

Another paw joins the first. “Because of me?”

“No. I-I killed my brother and I don’t…” know how to feel. A lie. You do. You’re feeling it right now and you very well should.

“Were there seven?”

“What?”

The paws withdraw and you can faintly feel her weight shift through the bench. Standing up? “There were seven. Six would be kept. You killed one.” She says it like it’s simple. Justifiable, even. Common sense.

“Is that… what happens when there are three vulpix?”

“I should have.”

She’s deadly serious. What the ****? “when there are three, even two pokémon, you try and…” You struggle to say the words that you know finishes the sentence. …kill them.

Pixie figures it out anyway. “Sometimes.” Gods above, what do you even say to that? “I don’t like being left alone,” she says with a low, almost inaudible hiss. Shame, maybe. Or weakness. Rolling over and letting you take a shot at her organs. Metaphorically. “Then why’d you kill your brother?”

And there she returns the shot in kind. A bullet straight to the heart.

“I…” You have to do this now. If you don’t she might get scared and leave on her own. Doesn’t make it easier. “He was sick. I knew he was sick. Didn’t think it was bad. He asked me not to tell. I went hunting. When I came back he was dead.”

The rain continues to pound on the roof. Condemnation. The heavens themselves judging you for what you did.

“You didn’t kill him?”

Your scowl deepens and you growl from years of dragon bonding instincts. “If I’d told someone he could have been treated with… potions and stuff. Wouldn’t have died.”

She shakes herself off and starts pacing on the narrow bench, the sounds of little footsteps barely audible over the pounding of the rain and your heart. “Did you poison him?”

“No.” Gods, no. You never could have.

“Hurt him? The wound got infected?”

As if you could even hurt him if you wanted to. “No.”

“Then you didn’t kill him?”

“It’s not that simple.”

Humans,” the word is loaded with disdain. “Mistakes happen. Weavile attack. Sisters die. Life goes on.”

Cold. Brutal. Draconic, even.

And you thought you were a predator.

Her pacing stops and she walks back towards you. “Is that why you were kicked off your mountain?”

“It’s related to that.” You don’t dare explain your mission to her. Not now. You’ll need more than three teammates and you don’t know how you could convince her if she knew. Before she asks for more information you need to move on. “Details don’t matter. I’m going to stay with you, Pix. Promise. But I need you to at least try to be nice to other pokémon. Don’t give me too much stress. A few games and pranks are fine but, this,” you spread our your arms. Not really sure what this shows to her. “This needs to stop.”

That didn’t go at all how you planned it to. This was supposed to be a negotiation, not an ultimatum.

She’s silent for long enough that you begin to think you’ve pushed her too far and made a terrible mistake. You love Coco. As long as she’s toothless your team can’t do anything. Both can be true.

“No eevee. No ice-types.”

Nothing that could replace her.

“Deal.” You lower a hand to her and she tepidly sniffs it before slowly raising a paw onto your fingers.

Your stomach roars and ruins the moment. She slips her paw off and backs away. Above you the rain’s a little bit weaker. You could probably walk in it if you had to. And you have to. Eat now or you’ll keep spiraling for at least another twelve hours. “You don’t have to walk in this weather if you don’t want to. That’s my part of the deal. I won’t make you fight or work unless you agree.”

“I’m walking you.”

Maybe she doesn’t believe you. Took the wrong message. Thinks she has to earn your love. Maybe. Right now you don’t really care. Just a sad, pathetic child who wants to stuff her face.

Focus. There will be more food at the Center if you can wait.

You slowly bend your face muscles into a smile while you take out Pix’s harness. Calm your breathing. All you have to do for now.

The rain will wash away the tears.
 

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Electric 2.6: Eventually
Genesis

[-14:13:33]​

You wake up to the sound of Cuicatl hissing below you. No, not hissing. Words. Cursing? Not in English. Weird. You glance down right before the lights flash on and force you to close your eyes.

“You okay?” Kekoa asks. “Oh ****,” they answer.

You wait for the neon blue afterglow to fade from the back of your eyelids before opening them up. Blood. There’s, um, a bunch of blood on Cuicatl. With a shiver you go back to staring at the ceiling.

“Yes, I felt them,” Cuicatl mutters. Clearly in a bit of pain. “They’re very good teeth.” Coco makes a happy chirping noise. Weirdly similar to the pew pew of a cartoon laser. “No!” You start from the shout right beneath you. “You don’t have to show anyone else. Promise. Please don’t.” A red glow shines on the ceiling before quickly fading.

“Come on. Let’s get you down to the nurse,” Kekoa says.

Cuicatl huffs. “Someday I’ll stay in a Center and not have to see the nurse.”

“Are, uh, you really hurt?” You keep your eyes bolted on the ceiling and study the little ripples in the plaster.

“I’ve been worse.” She sighs. “Coco bit Pix on the tails. She’s going to be mad.”

People move below and Cuicatl lets out another sharp, pained hiss.

“Sure you can walk?” Kekoa asks.

“Yeah. Barely broke the skin.”

You’d think a tyrunt bite would do a lot worse. She’s pretty lucky. Not sure what to say next. “Have fun” is entirely wrong. “Good luck” is maybe too morbid? The door shuts before you can decide on something. And Kekoa left the lights on because of course they did.

[-14:6:34]​

“I’m buying denim.”

You step through the doorway into a tense argument in the making. Kekoa’s leaning back on the ladder to your bunk while Cuicatl glares (?) at him from her new bed. She’s gripping the scruff of Coco’s neck hard enough that her knuckles are white. For her part the dinosaur’s tail is held straight back and she’s bent down like a persian ready to pounce.

“Cotton kills. You know that, right?”

Even you remember that from orientation. It uh, gets wet, and then it… poisons you? Can’t remember why it kills.

“By hypothermia. We’re in the tropics.”

You’re still hovering by the door. When all three of you are awake you remember how small these rooms really are. “Hi…”

Cuicatl turns to you, relaxes, and half-smiles. Relaxes. Coco yanks herself free and bolts across the aisle to Kekoa. They shoot the dino a nasty glare and easily bat her aside with a quick kick well before they get bit. You glance back and find that Cuicatl’s smile’s been twisted beyond recognition, her face scrunched together and the edge of her lip curled up in a vicious sneer.

“What just happened?” Her voice somehow sounds like a sword unsheathing in a movie. Her power? Just a thing she does? A trick of your imagination?

“Kekoa managed to kick Coco before they got bit.”

The air immediately feels colder and Pix isn’t even out. “Kekoa,” she says. Her voice is perfectly flat but there are somehow layers and layers of rage behind it. “You don’t kick my pokémon. You don’t hit my pokémon. You. Don’t. Hurt them. Not ever.”

Coco, suddenly very uneasy, looks back and forth between her fighting parents. You know the feeling. Poor girl.

“I’m not letting her bite me.”

You think that some of Kekoa’s fight is gone. In its place there’s… nervousness? Uncertainty? Fear? Ugh. Negative, doubtful-ish feeling.

Cuicatl slowly shakes her head. “You should buy denim, too.” She gently taps the bed beside her twice and Coco bends back down, wiggles her butt a little, and jumps up onto the bed while her arms flap uselessly in the air.

Well. You sort of started this mess. It falls to you to finish it. “So… um, if you want to go to the thrift store I’m entirely down to take you. Could be fun!”

[-14:5:49]​

For once it’s not raining. That’s something to celebrate. And after a shower and hot meal Cuicatl does look happier as she walks next to you. Well, walks attached to you. She’s grabbing your arm. Not your hand. Good. Would’ve had to say no if she asked to hold hands. Too much risk of repeating the whole Lyra thing. Her hair’s almost jade when it’s wet. Ordinarily it’s sort of a light green. Looks better wet, really, although clumps do occasionally stick onto her face.

It takes a long time to walk there (Cuciatl says you don’t have clothing and bus money and she might be right) but eventually you get to the store. You’re not really sure what you were expecting from it but it’s very big. Almost cavernous. Smells a little too much like disinfectant for your taste and the lights are almost uncomfortably bright. Not that the latter would bother Cuicatl. Lucky.

First you try the women’s section because Cuicatl isn’t a kid. She told you that it wouldn’t work but you’d at least wanted to try to get something that fit right and looked adult. As it turns out Cuicatl doesn’t actually own much stuff that was made with normal sizes in mind. But she does know her measurements so a few quick internet searches help you find the sort of stuff you’re looking for. She was right after all. Well, onto the kid’s section. Cuicatl looks pretty bummed out about that. Maybe you should’ve just gone there at the start so the reminder was less obvious. Things to remember.

But! You do find something really great!

“Hey, Cuicatl?!”

She turns towards you. Clearly not as excited as you are.

“I found a shirt for you.”

It’s a basic t-shirt with an orange base and a hydreigon drawn on the front with the word “DANGEROUS” in all caps beneath it. Definitely fits her vibe. She seems to agree; a faint smile forms as you describe it.

“How much is it?”

“Six dollars.”

She shrugs. You’ll take that as a yes.

Eventually you find some jeans that should fit her and take her back to the dressing rooms. She goes into one before you can ask if she’ll need help. Thankfully you’re still kind of in earshot if she needs any. Just standing very still and straining your ears to hear if she falls or something.

Your worries were unnecessary. She comes out unhurt in the jeans, shirt, and her sandals. The clothes are about the right length but are still a little off. Cuicatl isn’t built like a tweenage boy so they hug her a little tight in some parts and hang loose in others. Maybe a little uncomfortable but it looks nice. Attractive without being slutty. More than anything you’re just struck by how normal she looks. You can almost imagine having gone to classes and hanging out with her in the past. Sure, she was always your age, but with the blindness and the way she dressed there was always something marking her as from a different world than you. That’s not entirely gone since she still has a lot of ear piercings and green hair and cataracts but it’s shifted somehow. She could have been your weird friend.

“You look good.”

She smiles. For real. “Thank you.”

Before you can say anything else your phone begins to vibrate in your pocket. Local area code. “One sec. Gonna take this.” You answer. “Hello, Genesis speaking.” Not like anyone else would be speaking on your phone. Should you have left that part out?

“Gen?” Your heart jumps into your throat and stops you from breathing. Metaphorically. (Hopefully.) “…you still there?”

“I. Yes.” You start walking away from Cuicatl for a little bit more privacy.

“Good. You still in Malie?”

How’d he know you were in Malie in the first place? Does it matter? “Yes.”

“Cool. So am I. You want to meet up?”

“One second.” After muting the phone you go back to Cuicatl. “You have Pix and her harness, right?”

“Is everything okay?”

Not an answer to the question.

“Yes. Do you have the harness?”

“Yeah…”

“Good. I have to run now. I’ll see you later. Maybe tonight.” Not sure how long this lasts. Best case scenario you’ll just go back tonight to get the last of your stuff and then you’ll be off the trail for good.

So, so close.

It isn’t far to the meetup spot. Just a couple blocks, seven minutes, and three percentage points off your phone’s battery. Then you’re standing in a strip mall parking lot looking at a fairly well trafficked breakfast place. Maybe you shouldn’t have gone for the mediocre Pokémon Center food this morning. You take a deep breath, roll your shoulders, and walk through the doors. You spot Levi in his adorable little suit and slacks and you make a beeline for him. He gets up to intercept you and you share an absolutely glorious hug at the end of the table. You don’t cry, of course. You’re very strong. Has he grown? It’s been a few months—a few months!—so probably. He seems taller. You can’t comfortably rest your head on his.

He breaks contact and slowly sits back down on his end of the booth. You slip into your side and figure out what to say. What to say, what to say. For all that you’d dreamed of this nothing actually comes. “It’s good to see you,” Levi finally says.

“You too,” you say like a genius poet. “How’d you find me?”

“Luck, mostly. Found a note in Dad’s office. Bugged him about it. He gave me your number, loaned me Red, and told me not to go find you.” Red. Dad’s pyroar. Descendant of your great-grandfather’s starter. You’ve always been a little scared of her but… you’re starting to realize how much you’ve missed her. Missed everything.

The waitress comes and you have to quickly glance at the menu. Pancakes seems good. The Center’s pancakes are always pretty bad and you can add good pancakes to the long list of things that you’ve missed. When she leaves you’ve finally thought of what to say. “How have you been the last few months?”

He shrugs and takes a sip of his water. “Fine. Classes are good. Mom’s been kind of weird and Dad’s… out of the country more often than not. Think he would’ve come with me but he’s meeting with some military people. Talking silk prices, I think.” Wait, spider silk. It’s bulletproof. Could probably block tyrunt teeth. Maybe even tyrantrum bites. But normal-sized clothes don’t fit Cuicatl and tailored silk isn’t really something you can afford. When you get a card again that would be a good gift. Levi smiles. “No adventures or anything. Tell me everything, please.”

Everything is a bit much to ask. You’re not sure how much you want to tell him about Kekoa and a lot of stuff was surprisingly boring. But! There’s a lot that you can share. By the time your food has come you’ve told him about the oranguru trial, bear attacks, castform hunting and why Count Cloudy is the best and will be even bestester when he learns to control the weather, leafeon and why they’re surprisingly good-smelling and cuddly, the brave Sir Bubbles, Pixie’s antics, Kekoa and Cuicatl raising a dinosaur together… when the food comes you keep talking between bites and by the time you’re both finished you still haven’t quite told him everything. Levi just smiles and occasionally asks questions but he really does look interested and you like being around him so you just keep going.

Eventually the plates get taken away. Eventually the waiter asks if you want desert and you say no. Eventually your glass stops getting refilled. Eventually you take the hint. Eventually it gets a little bit too awkward to stay in place.

Levi pays and you head off for ice cream. On the way you let out Count Cloudy and Levi tries to shake his hand… blob… things. They’re made of water vapor so it doesn’t work but His Grace at least seems amused by it.

Your brother does come around to talk more about himself. School is fine. (You tamp down your jealousy that he gets to go to school at his age.) He saw a movie with some friends. Went to the mainland with Dad.

He awkwardly shifts. Weird. That’s more of your thing. He looks down and away from your gaze. “I need to go back soon.”

Even you can realize that the “I” instead of “we” is a big deal. Should have realized it a long time ago. Dad not wanting to come himself. The not-approval Levi received to even meet with you. So obvious. But you’d hoped that… that this was it. Made yourself believe in spite of everything.

It feels like it should be raining. Yet it’s the only day this week that it isn’t. Funny how that works, right? At least Count Cloudy would shoot some water guns at your head if you asked.

Levi awkwardly pulls a few neatly folded bills out of his breast pocket and hands them to you. Hundreds. Several. Four? Five? “Sorry that I don’t have more, but…”

“It’s plenty. Really.”

More than plenty, Kekoa might say. Wait. How do you even use this? You’d have to say where it came from and then there would be follow-up questions and eventually Kekoa would find out things he shouldn’t and everything would fall apart. Then Cuicatl… she would change, too. Girl needs money and you’d just be a means to an end.

You’ll have to break it up into smaller chunks. Claim that you’re getting periodic donations from the family.

Since when did you get so good at hiding things?

“We can still call or you can visit again, right?”

He keeps his eyes averted. “Maybe? Mom checks my phone. Worried that we’re talking. Next time you’re in a city you could try to message Dad. I could find an excuse to visit that wouldn’t tip Mom off.”

You don’t really get told that far in advance where you’re going next but you will be between missions in a little bit. Right after the solstice, actually. Timing isn’t great but you can pretend that it’s just delayed celebration. “Yeah. I should be in the main Center in Hau’oli on the 25th. Head out again around the New Year. Don’t know the exact day, yet.”

Levi smiles and runs a hand through his hair. “Good. I’ll swing by then. See if I can get Dad to come since it’ll be the solstice and everything.”

“That would be nice.”

He flicks his head to the side. “You want to come with me to the harbor?”

You really do.

It’s mostly quiet on the way. There’s just too much to say to say any of it. And you don’t want to distract from Levi’s presence by focusing on words. You’ve missed him. So, so much. For some reason it’s hitting you harder now than it has at any point before.

Once his ship leaves and you wave him off you find a quiet picnic shelter in the park where you can cry undisturbed.

[-12:14:51]​

“This isn’t a beach day,” Kekoa says. Even though you’re on a remote beach northwest of Malie, for once its not raining, and the water looks lovely and you could just wade in a little without getting your clothes wet. “We’re just here to catch crabrawler.”

Spoilsport. You still take your shoes and socks off, anyway. Less chance of blisters and you’d like to feel the sand between your toes. Cuicatl apparently had the same idea. Great! Now it’s just Kekoa standing on a beach in hiking boots, probably getting lots of sand in them.

“Fine, whatever.” Kekoa mutters. They ask their trumbeak to—yeah, you aren’t really listening. Time to get your feet wet. A little while after you can hear a very angry bird loudly pecking at something, followed by a scuffle in the sand. The fight stops far too quickly.

Drat. You were hoping this was going to be a long capture day.

“Guess I’m up,” Cuicatl mumbles, clearly no happier than you. “Come on, Coco! Let’s attack some trees!”

It’s fun to watch the dinosaur growl up at a crab—only to take a coconut to the head. It seems to annoy her more than anything, and she starts tackling the tree trunk until the crab comes flying down, claws drawn back—into an ice shard. Coco jumps back at her trainer’s command and Pix takes over, firing off a confuse ray. The battle doesn’t go too well for Pix, but eventually the crabrawler is so confused that it trips over its own legs and falls to the ground. Cuicatl catches it shortly after (with Kekoa guiding her arm when she throws the ball).

“Well, Genesis.”

Kekoa looks at you expectantly. It’s your turn to find and catch a crab to use against the stupid metal hedgehog at the top of the mountain so that you can stay in the Pokémon Centers a while longer. If Dad doesn’t rescue you. Which he probably will.

“Can’t we just enjoy life a little?”

Kekoa huffs and shakes their head. “We only have a few more days of good weather. You want to hike—up a mountain, no less—in the rain?”

“Fine, whatever.”

You put your shoes back on and send out Green Knight and County Cloudy.

[-12:22:07]​

Cuicatl reenters the clearing. Coco’s beside her on the shortest leash she could find in Malie and Pixe’s keeping a wide berth from the dinosaur. It’s still weird to see the girl in normal clothing. Good weird. Wait. Pixie and Coco. Just Pixie and Coco.

“Where’s your crabrawler?”

She shakes her head. “Pix met a crabominable before. Didn’t like them one bit. Thought it was best to let Kekoa look after him for now.” Right. The big crabs are ice-types. Makes sense they would live on the ice mountain with the ice foxes. “Besides, Coco thought he was a toy.”

Ouch.

Her foot gently taps a log and she maneuvers to sit down on it. Coco’s leash is kept taut despite the dinosaur’s attempt to yank herself free. “Hey, Gen? Mind sparring?”

“Um. Yeah. Sure? What did you have in mind?”

“Target practice. Have Coco try and hit Count Cloudy in midair.” But she can’t fly? That’s it. A shrike hunt. Something to wear Coco down and buy her trainer a moment of peace. Brilliant.

You send Count Cloudy out and Coco’s eyes immediately lock onto the castform. “Count Cloudy, dodge Coco’s attacks!” Sure, you didn’t need to shout that like you were on one of those Asian cartoons, but you’d best get into the habit. It’s way more fun when you do that in actual battles.

Cuicatl bends over and unclips the harness. “Bite the cloud. Go.”

Coco rockets off, leaps into the air while flapping her arms… and misses before crashing back to earth. She shakes herself off surprisingly quickly and goes for a second attack. Cuicatl leans back on the log and takes a deep breath. “Why’d you have to run off yesterday?”

Ugh. Thought that you wouldn’t have to talk about that since she didn’t ask when you came back. Figures she was waiting to ask without Kekoa around. Wherever they are. Somewhere down the trail. Another campsite, maybe? Sometimes it seems like they’ve totally made up with you and sometimes they go sulk in peace. Focus. Might as well tell her most of the truth. That way you don’t have to remember what lie you settled on. Plus she’s psychic. Maybe lies don’t work on her at all.

“My brother dropped into town. Wanted to see him while he was still here.”

She hums in response. Just holding a single note for an almost impressive amount of time? Using her powers? Behind her Coco makes another fruitless jump. “Thought you got kicked out.”

“What? Why?” How? How did she work that one out?

“You didn’t plan. At all. And, uh, no offense but you don’t seem to like the outdoors much. Even if it was spur of the moment thing you probably could’ve got a more traditional starter if your parents were signing off. That left running away or getting kicked out. Never took you for a runaway, so…”

“Why can’t I be a runaway?” You can’t tell if you should be offended or not.

“You follow orders. Would’ve needed to get pressed really far. You like touch way too much to have been hit. And you aren’t sad enough for being worn down with words. Maybe your parents are atheists and you disagreed on that but you’re named Genesis…” she shrugs. “No idea why you would’ve been kicked out, though. Not much of a rulebreaker.”

How much of that was her power? And… “How do you know so much about all of that?”

She grimaces. “Parents are strict in Anahuac. You learn pretty quick how to tell whose Dad does what without having to ask.”

You’re afraid to ask what all her dad did to her. She’d probably get awkward like she did back on Blush Mountain when you pressed. No. Can’t ask. Not directly. There are still other ways to get to it. “So? You a runaway? Get kicked out?”

“Both, actually.”

“How?” That doesn’t even make sense.

She shrugs. “He wanted me to move. I picked another option.”

“And you can just leave the country without his permission?”

“Don’t really remember. Whole time period was kind of a blur.” Another shrug. “I’m here now so I guess I could?” A crackle of static sounds off behind her shoulder. She ‘glances’ back before turning to you. “Please tell me that was Count Cloudy.”

“I, um, think it was Coco?” There seemed to be sparks around her mouth at least.

Cuicatl has the decency to keep her cursing in Nahuatl.

[-12:21:56]​

The good news: Denim is pretty resistant to cold and electricity.

The bad news: Denim can be set on fire.

The good news: Her little dragon knows all of the magic fangs!

The bad news: One of her jean legs is a little bit scorched.

The good news: At least she gets jean shorts out of this?

The bad news: Pix is growling softly at the edge of the clearing while all fluffed up by static.

The good news: That’s pretty cute.

The bad news: Cuicatl can’t even see it.
 

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Reading this on a screen reader? Head over to AO3 for a more accessible version.

Electric 2.7: (In)efficient
Unit001_101110110

[-6:17:17]​

[Unit100_110010 Summons Unit001_101110110]

Alarm Lvl 1: Mistake Probable

[Unit001_101110110 Alerts Unit100_110010 of Alarm Lvl 1]

[Unit100_110010 Summons Unit001_101110110]

Summons Received With No Amendment. Unit001_101110110 Initiates Flight to Unit100_110010. Obstacles = None. Atmospheric Anomalies = None.

Mission Successfully Completed. Summons Answered.

Unit100_110010 turns towards you. No communication signals are detected. Appraisal continues for approximately 18.711114 seconds.

[Unit100_110010 Assigns a Mission to Unit001_101110110. Mission = Monitor UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca. Corollary1 = Defend UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca. No Further Instructions.]

[Alarm Lvl 111: Heat Vent Malfunction Detected in Unit001_101110110. Mission Success Probability Beneath Tolerable Thresholds.]

[Unit100_110010 Assigns a Mission to Unit001_101110110. Mission = Monitor UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca. Corollary1 = Defend UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca. No Further Instructions.]

No further communications signals detected. Appraisal continues.

Incoming Information Packet. Src = Unit100_1100010. Coordinates Enclosed. Image enclosed.

No further communications signals detected. Appraisal continues.

[Alarm Lvl 111: Heat Vent Malfunction Detected in Unit001_101110110. Mission Success Probability Beneath Tolerable Thresholds.]

[Unit100_110010 Assigns a Mission to Unit001_101110110. Mission = Monitor UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca. Corollary1 = Defend UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca. No Further Instructions.]

Incoming Information Packet. Source = Unit100_1100010. Coordinates Enclosed. Image enclosed.

No further communications signals detected. Appraisal continues.

You turn away and initiate flight to given coordinates. Unit100_1100010 shifts behind you.

[-6:16:52]​

Terrans Detected. Initiate Visual Scan. UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca identified.

You lower yourself behind a visual obstruction to avoid detection. Your mission has begun.

“Something wrong?” UnitDesignate_Unknown queries UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca.

“Nothing, just… I feel something nearby. Another psychic, I think.”

Alarm Lvl 100: Unit001_101110110 Has Been Detected by UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca.

Options:
[] Evasive Maneuvers
[] Initiate Ramming
[] No Action

Initiate Ramming is the Correct Option in 87.3% of cases. Initiate Ramming Damages UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca. Corollary1 = DefendUnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca. Initiate Ramming Prohibited.

Evasive Maneuvers Negates Surveillance. Inefficient.

[X] No Action

“Like an elgyem?” UnitDesignate_Unknown queries.

“Maybe.” Your exact position has remained undetected. Surveillance continues. “Hey, Pix, can you sniff it out and scare it off?”

Alarm Lvl 110: UnitDesignate_Pix Will Initiate Hostilities Imminently.

[X] Initiate Ramming

You rise up and rocket out from your hiding place, catching a strange white quadruped (UnitDesignate_Pix ?) off guard with a proper Ramming attack. You pivot around in midair and accelerate to Reinitiate Ramming.

Alarm Lvl ?: Attack Incoming

Alarm Lvl ?: Attack Connected. Assessing Damage…

Alarm Lvl 111: Heat Vent Malfunctioning.

The ice clatters to the ground around you with no damage done.

UnitDesignate_Pix Assigned Threat Level 0.

Ramming Unnecessary.

Initiate Ramming?

[X] Initiate Ramming

UnitDesignate_Pix yelps in pain as another attack connects.

“What’s happening?” UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca queries. Query suggests an inability to obtain the information herself. Electromagnetic analysis detects no external scans. Visual analysis detects a possible impairment in her ocular scanning devices. You freeze in place so that any non-visual scanning devices have minimal chance of detecting you.

“There’s a beldum. Just floating there.”

Alarm Lvl 111: Reference to 001 Class Unit Detected. Identity exposed.

Options
[] Initiate Ramming
[] Evasive Maneuvers
[] Do Nothing

Before SelfQuery can proceed UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca initiates communication: “Hi. What’s your name?”

The speech carries a strange program with it. You sequester and analyze. A packet of information is attached contextualizing her communication. The program would then search your databanks for relevant context and translate. Result: “Acknowledgement. Query: Identity?”

Extremely efficient.

Information filed. Will continue to surveil. Must engage in communication to continue to surveil.

[Acknowledgement. SelfIdentity = Unit001_101110110.]

UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca changes the angle of its processing segment. “That’s a strange name.”

[Negation. Efficient.]

No electromagnetic emissions detected from UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca or UnitDesignate_Unknown. Inefficient.

[Query UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca: How are messages from Unit001_101110110 received and processed?]

“Oh, um, I’m psychic. Like you.”

QueryProgram Meaning: Psychic?

The ability to send and receive messages directly between central processing units.

Efficient. Similar to Unit001, Unit010, and Unit100 abilities. Information filed. Will continue to surveil.

“Cuicatl Ichtaca, girl, you, uh, you aren’t catching a damn beldum, okay?” UnitDesignate_Unknown orders UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca. Hierarchy established. Information filed. Will continue to surveil.

“Kekoa…” No auditory signals detected. No verbal signals detected. Psychic communication possible. UnitDesignate_Unknown established as UnitDesignate_Kekoa. Information filed. Will continue to surveil. UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca turns back towards you. “What are you doing over here tonight?”

Options
[] Relay Orders
[] Relay False Orders
[] Do Nothing
[] Initiate Ramming

Initiate Ramming violates Corrolary1. Relay Orders may reduce receptiveness of UnitDesignate_Cuciatl_Ichtaca and its commander. Do Nothing may end communication and hinder surveillance.

[X] Relay False Orders

[Unit001_101110110 Was Patrolling Territory. Potential Threat Encountered. Potential Threat Investigated. UnitDesignate_Pix Assigned Threat Lvl 0. UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca initiated communication with Unit001_101110110. Present moment reached. Debriefing concluded.]

UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca begins emitting short, high-pitched verbal signals. “Threat Level Zero, you say?”

[Affirmative.]

A pure psychic signal is received. [It’s okay. I won’t tell her.]

Even with proper definitions you struggle to decipher the context. What is okay? Why would it not be okay? Who will it not tell? Terran communication codes are extremely inefficient.

“Well, good to meet you Unit1_374. Have a good night.”

QueryProgram Meaning “Have a good night”

Meaning: UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca assigns a mission to Unit001_101110110: Be successful until direct light from the nearest star is visible.

Alarm Lvl 10: UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca does not have clearance to give orders to Class 001 Units.

[Unit001_101110110 Alerts UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca of Alarm Lvl 10]

Its mouth shifts and one fang clamps down on the lower edge’s exterior. Fascinating. What is the purpose of that motion?

“It’s just an expression. I wasn’t actually trying to order you to have a good night. You can leave if you don’t have anything else to do here. That’s all I meant.”

The statement implies the capacity to give orders. The implicit meaning is incorrect. The not-order still presents a dilemma.

Options
[] Initiate Ramming
[] Evasive Maneuvers
[] Do Nothing

Initiate Ramming prohibited by Corollary1. Evasive Maneuvers ends surveillance mission. UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca can detect Class 001 Units with no detectable signals. Reestablishing surveillance would be difficult. Doing nothing appears to agitate the present Terrans.

Further analysis required. Terrans, including UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca have subordinate energy beings. Subordinate energy beings are granted near-constant access to their commander. Near-constant access would make surveillance efforts efficient.

[X] Grant UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca command privileges pursuant to Unit100 and Unit010 directives.

[Request: Entrust UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca with command privileges over Unit001_101110110]

It ceases to send out auditory, electromagnetic, or psychic signals.

“Kekoa,” it finally messages, “I promise to only evolve them once.”

“You’ve got to be ****ing kidding me.”

UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca forcefully vents air through its mouth. It may be overheating due to processing strain. Why? What problem is it solving? Nothing? Are terran heat vents less efficient than yours? Is it simply damaged? “They asked. Not me.”

“That’s, what, your third apex predator? Fourth if you get your hands on mommy’s hydreigon?”

Not all of the codes are familiar. [Query UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca: Meaning: “Apex predator.” Meaning: “Mommy.” Meaning: “Hydreigon.”]

“Apex predator, mommy, hydreigon,” it quietly says. The program does its work.

UnitDesignate_Pix is the top predator of the mountain to the south. Information filed. All organisms on the mountain assigned Threat Lvl 0.

Human reproduction is bizarre. Information filed. Efficiency to be assessed at a later time.

Hydreigon are large reptiles with elemental affinity and raw power that could potential rival a Class 100 Unit. Information filed.

“What?” UnitDesignate_Kekoa queries.

“Just saying stuff for the beldum. They can use my power to understand words. Think that’s why they want to tag along with me.”

UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca has invented its own reasons and projected them onto you. Correcting it would hinder the mission.

[X] Do Nothing

The two Terrans gaze at each other in silence. No communication signals are detected.

“And Pix is okay with this?”

Comment suggests that UnitDesignate_Pix is a potential superior to both Terrans. Curious. Prior briefing suggested bound energy beings are traditionally in a subordinate role. Is that information incorrect?

“Pix and I came to an understanding. This is allowed.”

UnitDesignate_Pix makes no attempt to give orders. It glares up at you from the ground as waves of cool air radiate away from its body.

“Plus metang are big fliers. Could carry gear without using the pack ‘mon trails.”

“Already thinking about exploiting your pokémon, huh?” UnitDesignate_Kekoa’s teeth are bared. This is traditionally a sign of aggression on Terra. Are you witnessing a hierarchy dispute? “That’s unlike you.”

UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca rolls its shoulders in response. “I use what I have. And you’re the one who always complains about the gear.”

“Uh huh.” UnitDesignate_Kekoa folds its arms and places them over its chest. “Look, I’m just gonna be blunt: I’ve heard you talk about giant ****off monsters and I don’t trust you not to evolve that thing twice.”

UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca vents more air. Conflict apparently places a great strain on its processing organs. Inefficiency apparent. Information filed. “I told Mara that I like predators because they remind you not to upset them. Now…” it trails off. UnitDesignate_Kekoa’s reactions suggest that the conversation is finished telepathically. Efficient. Inconvenient.

Both Terrans slowly lower themselves and sit on the ground. With a motion of its hand UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca summons UnitDesignate_Pix over. UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca removes a binding orb from its mobile storage compartment and raises it into the air. “Touch the ball if you want to be caught.”

Being “caught” would reduce chances for surveillance and risk successful withdrawal at the conclusion of the mission. Not being “caught” would decrease trust from Terrans. Inefficient. Necessary.

[X] Initiate Ramming

Alarm Lvl 10111: Corporeal Integrity Lost

Alarm Lvl 10111: Corporeal Integrity Lost

Alarm Lvl 10111: Corporeal Integ

Alarm Lvl 111: Heat Vent Malfunctioning

A quick rotation and optic scan detect no changes in your surroundings.

“Aside from your number do you have a name?” UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca queries.

[Negation]

“Do you want one?”

Terran names are inefficient. Serial numbers and class designations are efficient. An inefficient name might build trust with Terrans and advance mission objectives.

[Affirmation]

“Cool.” It pauses and bites the edges of its mouth again. “Nocitlālin?”

QueryProgram Meaning: Nocitlālin

Meaning: My star.

Alarm Lvl 1011: UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca claims dominion over the solar system.

Information filed. Will continue to surveil.

“And is there a gender you’d prefer? For pronouns.”

QueryProgram: Gender, Pronouns.

Terran reproduction is bizarre. Only two units are required. Efficient. Units must be each from a distinct subgroup. Inefficient. Units are not consumed by reproduction. Efficient.

Class 001 Units have no anatomical subgroups. [Gender inapplicable.]

“So… they/them?”

QueryProgram: They/them.

Terran reproduction is more bizarre and inefficient than previously believed. It is not always apparent what subgroup a unit belongs to. What purpose does this serve?

[Gender inapplicable.]

UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca clears its optic screens with the lids. Why? Optical sensors are severely impaired.

“Do you mind if I call you a girl? I don’t really want to call you it. And Pix and Coco are girls. And me. I’m female.”

Information filed. Will continue to surveil.

“Not how any of that works,” UnitDesignate_Kekoa states.

“Again, not calling her an it.”

Gender being inapplicable to Class 001 Units seems to cause distress to UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca. Potential violation of Corollary1.

[Gender = Female]

“Thank you, Nocitlālin.”

“Still not how it works.”

UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca rotates its optical sensors and holds out a hand. “Can I touch you, Nocitlālin? To know what you feel like?”

Speculation: UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca compensates for optical inefficiency with tactile sensory. Inefficient. Requires contact. Contact requires exposure to potential threats before they can be evaluated. Information filed. Will continue to surveil.

You slowly float over and gently lower the main segment of your body onto her hand. “Huh,” it says. “You’re warmer than I was expecting.

[Alarm Lvl 111: Heat Vent Malfunction Detected in Unit001_101110110. Unit001_101110110 is inefficient.]

“I can get a vet to look at that.”

[Negation. Terran Civilization Insufficiently Advanced. Mission Success Probability Beneath Tolerable Thresholds.]

“If you’re sure…” it’s hand slips off you. “Can I hug you? It’s okay to say no.”

QueryProgram: Hug.

Meaning: Embrace with upper appendages. Purpose: Sensory Evaluation, Processing Support. Non-violent.

Bizarre. Inefficient. How does contact help with processing capabilities? You oblige it. The act is harmless and may build trust. In turn it gently presses you further into its abdomen. “You’re just warm enough for great hugs, you know? That’s efficient.”

[Negation. Hugs = Inefficient.]

It gently pushes you up and away. “Do you get warmer when you fight?”

[Affirmation.]

“So once you’ve been fighting long enough you start to burn the stuff that touches you? That’s useful.”

“You giving therapy to a gods damned beldum?” UnitDesignate_Kekoa queries.

“Part of my training style,” UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca vocalizes. In the meantime UnitDesignate_Pix jumps onto its subordinate’s lower appendages and stands on its hind legs, pushing its upper appendages into its subordinate’s abdomen.

UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca hugs UnitDesignate_Pix.

[She gets jealous.]

QueryProgram: Jealous.

Meaning: Unit seeks to mimic or steal a trait from another unit.

[Query UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca: What trait does UnitDesignate_Pix seek to mimic or steal?]

[The hug. If someone else is getting hugs, she wants a hug as well.]

Inefficient. Hugs are inefficient. UnitDesignate_Pix should prioritize acquisition of efficient attributes.

“Anyways, the combat thing. That’s efficient, right?”

[High System Temperatures result in slower processing. Inefficient.]

“Sure. But it’s a trainer’s job to come up with strategies in battle. I can help with the thinking. Be–“ It begins to noisily inhale and then exhale a great volume of air. “—sides, you’re a beldum. You’re very smart.” After a gentle shake of its processing section UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca begins to raise itself. UnitDesignate_Pix jumps off with a noise that sounds like a complaint. “And I’m very tired. Continue in the morning?”

Is that the role Terrans hold over subordinate(?) energy beings? Fascinating. Sometimes efficient. Terrans are smarter than many energy beings. Sometimes inefficient. A properly functioning Class001, 010, or 100 unit has far faster processing speeds. The efficiency she claims is only a result of your own inefficiency.

“You can sleep under the rain fly or in your ball. I’d let you in the tent but I’d probably hit my head getting up in the night.”

After querying enough terms to understand the statement you relay your desire to stay under the rain fly. You leave unstated that it maximizes surveillance opportunities.

The night passes with two incidents.

UnitDesignate_Kekoa leaves the tent and becomes aggressive when you try to surveil its fluid release.

UnitDesignate_??? leaves the tent and seems confused by your presence before waking UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca who gives a sparse and inefficient debriefing before UnitDesignate_Genesis vents her fluids. You surveil it at a greater distance than before and agitation seems to be greatly reduced.

You repeat the process when UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca comes to vent her fluids followed by UnitDesignate_Pix and a strange biped with a mix of red and white feathers. An apex predator. UnitDesignate_Pix is also an apex predator. UnitDesignate_Pix has a threat level of zero.

When it sees you the biped’s eyes narrow and it slowly lowers its body to the ground, tail sticking straight out behind it. With a few shakes of its hips in warning it leaps surprisingly high into the air, cold air rushing from its vocalization cavity. You float out of the way and it misses, crashing down to the ground a second later before getting up and staring back at you in less than a second, its tail moving horizontally.

“Coco!” UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca vocalizes. “It’s not playtime now.”

Your ‘trainer’ steps further away from the tent while you keep your ocular scanner pinned on UnitDesignate_Coco. It lets out a few grunts in an apparent attempt to initiate communication.

[Query UnitDesignate_Cuicatl_Ichtaca: Can UnitDesignate_Coco receive or send psychic messages?]

“Sort of,” it answers while draining fluid waste. “I let them talk to each other. Can you figure out how to add yourself?”

[Negation. Class001 Units possesses insufficient psychic capabilities.]

“Hmm. I’ll translate then. Later. In the morning.” It starts walking back to the tent and UnitDesignate_Pix finishes draining fluids to walk alongside its subordinate. UnitDesignate_Coco drains fluids right on top of UnitDesignate_Pix’s waste disposal site and then runs off after the other two.

Curious. Does stacking waste fluid have an additive effect? You take a small chemical sample and perform basic analysis as the Terrans and energy beings enter a resting state. The two chemicals do not appear to interact. Deliberately stacking them is inefficient.

You compile a quick report of your initial observations, encrypt it, and cast it out to Unit100_110010.

Twenty-six-point-four seconds later you receive your response.

[Acknowledgement. Continue Mission.]

Directive filed. Will continue to surveil.
 

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Electric 2.8: The Lessons Not Learned
Kekoa

[-00:03:21]​

You meet up with Cuicatl right as she walks away from the nurse’s counter. She’s facing away from you so you can’t read her expression. Win? Loss? Are ties possible? You tap her shoulder and she jumps a little. Shouldn’t have done it.

At least, you should’ve been standing so that you could see her face when it happened.

“How’d it go?” you ask. She smirks and flips open her crystal case by way of answer. A yellow gem sits next to her white one. Good for her. “Wanna talk about it or…?”

She shrugs. “If you really need my help, I guess I can give it.”

“Like you wouldn’t be begging for info if I went first.”

With a gentle shake of her head Cuicatl pivots away from the counter and slowly begins walking towards the door, cane swishing in front of her. “Talk outside?”

“Sure.”

As soon as you’re both out the door Cuicatl stows her cane and sends out her (apparently unscathed) beldum. You shudder involuntarily. She told you that the difference between tyrantrum and metagross is that the former gives lots of warning before biting back and the latter attacks unprovoked with no warning at all. The difference between driving on a busy freeway and driving into traffic on the same road. You’re still unsure why she uses driving metaphors. You want to trust her not to evolve the damn thing twice, really, but you’ve seen her entirely-too-cheerful smile when talking about tyrantrum and hydreigon and you really aren’t sure if you can trust her.

The monster-in-the-making makes for a surprisingly good guide, though. Cuicatl gently places her hand around the eye-guard spike (or whatever it’s called) and the steel-type floats in the direction she’s supposed to go. Seems more natural than using Pixie. Not that anyone should tell Pixie that.

“You end up using them?” Emphasis on ‘them.’ Still aren’t comfortable with her using ‘she’ for a genderless creature.

“No.” She hesitates as the beldum changes angles as you take a fork in the path. “Sophocles used an older trial. Something involving sounds. Grubbin and charjabug as the warmups. Coco took care of both.” You shudder as you imagine that thing’s fire fang closing in around your grubbin, Makani. “Crabrawler couldn’t take down the totem. Had to have Pixie confuse him, withdraw her, and then finish with Coco.”

Risky, forfeiting a round like that. Not that the vulpix was going to do too much against a steel-type. She already had her chance to take down a beldum and it didn’t go well for her. Steel-type. Huh. “Did Coco break her teeth biting actual needles or?”

“Some of them.” She’s pretty nonchalant about that considering that she lost her ****ing **** when you preemptively kicked the hellion. Apparently it’s okay when she orders it, though? “They’ll regrow. Tyrunt are like sharpedo: lose teeth all the time.”

“What set did you face?” Not sure if that information matters. Is the totem more inclined to use a set it just ran? Less? The internet is fiercely divided on the question.

“Defensive. Wish and spiky shield. Had to use confuse ray just to get any damage in at all.”

That’s a nasty combination to make a newbie face. Relative newbie, at least. You could easily see it shutting down your crabrawler, although limited offensive moves might let Hekeli stay in without getting blasted down. Makani definitely couldn’t outpace it. At least it’s only a togedemaru. Easiest totem you’ll fight in the entire challenge and it shouldn’t have backup. Probably why VStar sent you this way so early. Easy trial if the road there doesn’t kill you.

You finally make it to where you wanted to go. Cuicatl slows down and feels for the guardrail. Lanakila looms in the distance. You can just make out the stadium on top. The throne. The place where some haole military brat pretends to be the true queen because some professor said so. A kanaka professor at that. Someone who should’ve known better and still went on TV to say that your culture’s backwards traditions are so much worse than the ‘modern’ way. The American way. Then he built a damn sports stadium on the holiest mountain. You clench your fists and take a moment to bask in the fury. This is why you left home. This is what you’ll be fighting for.

“Lot going through your head,” Cuicatl says. “Want to talk?”

Psychic. Duh. You’ll never quite remember and never quite forget that she’s an actual mind reader. “What all did you pick up?”

“Lot of cursing. Something about a queen and a throne? I don’t try to look but you were thinking pretty loud.”

She says it like it’s your fault that you don’t know how to think quietly.



Doesn’t matter.

Don’t need to go down that path right now. Just focus on the fury. “During the kingdom you could go through the trials and beat all four kahunas in a row. Then you could fight the queen for the right to rule. They brought something like it back a few years ago. Beat the kahunas or their stand ins, fight a champion who sits on a throne. ‘cept we’re not independent and the champ didn’t even live here a whole week before she started her challenge. Whole thing’s a joke. One I’m going to end.”

Your friend drums her fingers on the guardrail for a few seconds before answering. “Why end it? You could be king and do what you will.”

“Not king.” You sigh. “Champ doesn’t actually have power. Just a throne.”

“Then why does it matter?”

“You wouldn’t get it.”

She raises her hand and the beldum floats back to her from over the guardrail. “Yeah. Don’t think I do.”

[-00:02:44]​

Makani, Hekeli, and the unnamed crabrawler materialize on the court. Hekeli the trumbeak hops up and lifts herself into the air. Makani the grubbin doesn’t do anything at all. Least he didn’t use string shot everywhere. Progress. The crabrawler shuffles uneasily and taps his claws together.

“Our second trial is soon. Time to warm up.”

You let Hekeli fly laps around the court for a bit while you focus on the crabrawler. Getting Makani to do much of anything without Cuicatl around is a lost cause. Even if you had her translations there’s nothing useful a grubbin could do to warm up. You throw some punches into the air and the crabrawler follows. He understands punching. Understood the basics of what trainers were and what he was expected to do even before you caught him. Punching things out is what he’s built to do and this isn’t too far out of the ordinary for him.

Still won’t keep him, of course. You have your final team pretty well mapped out.

By the time Hekeli lands back on your shoulder, you’ve started to break a sweat despite the cool mountaintop air.

[-00:01:51]​

There’s a plaque in front of the observatory. The plaque itself isn’t eye-catching: a graph with a jagged upward curve. Carbon Dioxide going up, years going forward. It used to be a warning about what humanity was doing to itself. No. What capitalism was doing to humanity. Doesn’t matter anymore. No one did anything.

Then two spectacularly dumb, spectacularly evil ****ers in Hoenn decided to wake some gods up and kick all the frozen methane off the ocean floor. At the top of the observatory’s steps you glance over your shoulder at the faint outline of Lusamine’s island. People didn’t learn from that lesson either.

You like the plaque. In a hundred years when the world drowns and some assholes try to insist that no one could have done anything about it, well, there will be a little graph in Alola to show that there’s lots of blame to go around.

The cool air of the observatory’s lobby rushes out at you when you open the door. There’s a small museum in the lobby. A few displays on space and telescopes. A few poster boards on the graph outside. You ignore it all and press through to the bored-looking receptionist.

She glances up at you and clicks a key, probably turning the computer back on after however long it had been idling. “Can I help you?”

“Here for the island trial.”

“Name?”

The name of the person who has been scheduled for this time slot for four ****ing days. That’s what your name is.

“Kekoa Mahi’ai.” Thanks to Kanoa for getting your name changed before her trial. You owe her a call when this is over.

A few more keystrokes. “Alright. Go through the door behind me and take a seat. Sophocles will be out shortly.”

“Thank you.”

“Good luck,” she half-mutters as you walk away.

Yeah. Fine. She can be a little crabby. You’re making her work the day before the solstice. Sophocles is, anyway. You asked for a time and this is what he gave you.

There’s not really a bench or couch or normal furniture in the waiting room. Just metal fold-up chairs. Cost-saving? Part of the aesthetic? Not what you would’ve gone with for an electric trial. Least they could’ve done was tape some glow sticks on the frame and pretend it’s cyberpunk.

You haven’t even sat down when Sophocles walks in. He’s a little bit taller than you. Fair bit chubbier. Hair’s an absolute mess. Some of the captains like to lean in to celebrity. Kanoa said as much before her trial. Then again, she’d been the most dramatic person you’d known as a kid. Sophocles is either just a teenager who can’t be bothered to play up the image or someone who wants you to think that of him.

Still an asshole, whatever the case is. He gets an ancient mantle, one that was never supposed to belong to people like him, and then won’t show it any dignity.

You’re so going to enjoy this victory.

“Hey.” He doesn’t extend his hand or anything. “Wanna come back?”

Of course you do. That’s why you made the damn appointment. You just nod and follow him back to a room that does look properly cyberpunk. Big table contraption in the center with electric-types loafing about at the edges. You spot a couple grubbin and the decoy totem.

“Alright. First order of business is summoning the totem. For that we need to power up,” he motions at a strange laser gun-looking device behind him, “this summoning device. And to do that we’ll need to…”

You tune him out. The next part is easy enough. You move some charjabug around on a table. Summon an electrike. Defeat the electrike. Get lots of string on the ground with Makani. Another puzzle. Summon a dedenne (European togedemaru). Defeat the dedenne, get more string out. Makani is looking far more worn than you’d like so you withdraw him after the dedenne is down. There’s string all over the field; he’s done his job.

There’s a final little play with a ‘misfiring’ ray gun, a normal togedemaru, and, finally, the totem.

The totem’s surprisingly small. Looks like she only comes up to mid-thigh. Shouldn’t be too hard to overpower. Time to get this show on the road.

“Crabrawler, leer.”

Your pokémon comes out and starts glaring, bombarding the togedemaru with the energy in the air and making her spines more brittle. The totem… she does nothing. Just stands there for a bit. Afraid to cross the webbing? No—she starts applauding. Trying to applaud. Her tiny little hands don’t quite reach so she ends up beating her chest. You know what this is.

Encore.

It’s not the worst thing that could happen. You don’t think the totem can set up. And wearing down defense is good. Gives you time to think. And the totem doesn’t seem to be moving. No. She moves, daintily hopping around the worst of the webbing before gently kissing the tip of crabrawler’s head. Your pokémon doesn’t react at all as sparks fly out and race all over his body. Too busy leering.

Alright, so the togedemaru can navigate string shot—duh, Cuicatl said that her warmups were grubbin and charjabug but you were too stupid to put two and two together—and your pokémon’s paralyzed. Speed advantage decidedly on the totem’s side now.

Only good news is that crabrawler stops glaring and starts looking around the arena in a daze wondering where the time went. You snap your fingers. “Advance and rock smash.” He gets that much and starts slowly marching forward, claws smacking into each other as he prepares for a good punch. The totem… giggles(?) as sparks fly through her fur. Zing zap, probably. It’ll just get her wrapped up in string like the electrike.

Right before crabrawler reaches the edge of the string field togedemaru jumps to the side, yellow sparks obscuring her form as she hits the table and bounces right into your crabrawler, knocking him off balance and into the string. The totem bounces back, first to the table and then right in front of your downed pokémon.

She sticks her tongue out.

Crabrawler hits her in the face.

The totem leaps up and zing zaps him back to the ground again. Still almost no string on her body.

Come on, Kekoa. Be a trainer. Think. If you can’t get up there’s still one option… bubble. Except having water everywhere hurts you more than the totem. What else is there? Leer, no, that just means taking hits. Rock smash won’t land often enough. Pursuit—****, maybe?

“Pursuit,” you call out as the totem goes for her third zing zap. Crabrawler takes the hit on the chin again. Then darkness starts spiraling around him and with strength he should not have he rushes forward, string falling off behind him. He lands a solid hit on the totem right as she lands.

Hell yeah. Another point for elemental bullshit.

Needles scatter onto the floor as the togedemaru rolls back before stopping herself. Great. The leer’s working. The totem looks almost nervous, none of her earlier confidence remaining. Could be a bluff. Togedemaru aren’t strong or tough but they’re tricky.

“Advancing rock smash,” before you can finish the order the togedemaru starts clapping again. Why? That’s a bad move to be facing if her only move is zing zap. Unless… nuzzle, zing zap, encore. Totems always use four moves a match. What’s her final attack? Iron head? Maybe. Probably.

After a quick false start where crabrawler trips and sparks fly out around him—earning another razzberry from the totem—he lands another quick, shadowy punch. And another. And another. And another. Why? What’s she planning? Wish? You didn’t see one. Spiky Shield? Would’ve been thrown up already. Besides, there are enough needles littering the floor that it can’t be as effective as it was early on.

The totem glows red just as crawbrawler steps back and stumbles around, dizzy from the encore’s end. Oh no. Oh ****.

The totem lunges forward with more force than you’ve ever seen any pokémon use in person. Crabrawler’s sent flying across the floor, through tons of needles and string, before you can even give a pointless order. ****. There’s blue blood everywhere and crabrawler isn’t getting up.

You withdraw him and start tossing your final pokéball into the air as you calm your nerves. Reversal. ****ing reversal. Toss. The totem’s taken a bunch of hits. Catch. Plus rock smash and leer had to have hurt. Toss. But reversal. Catch. Hekeli ain’t taking that **** and getting back up. Toss—a blur shoots out from the floor and stops right on your shoulder as the totem appears and flicks the pokéball to the side with her tail before jumping back and completing the zing zap. Damnit. Now your hair’s sticking up and the surprisingly heavy little monster knocked you over. You can’t see the match from the floor but you know what you need to do.

“Rock Smash!” You shout it like the words can add any power to the attack. You can hear Hekeli give her best warcry in response and see her as she zooms down, brown aura trailing from her beak—you hear the hit. See the aftermath. Hekeli rocketing back up towards the ceiling, red scratches all over her chest from the needles and one wing slightly bent in a way it shouldn’t be. She does her best with her remaining wing to control her descent after she cracks against the ceiling and somehow you manage to get up and lunge to catch her before she hits the ground. Is that disqualifying? Screw it, don’t care if that’s how you get disqualified.

You glance over, fully expecting to see the totem sticking her damn tongue out again in a little victory pose only to find her collapsed on the ground, static coursing through her needles and eyes closed.

Is that it? Who won?

The totem disappears in a flash of red light and you remember that, hey dumbass, you still have makani. You gently set Hekeli down on the table and withdraw her. Two pokémon badly hurt. Victory or not it doesn’t feel much like one.

“Don’t think I should use reversal again in early trials,” Sophocles says. You’d honestly forgotten he was here. And when did he get behind you? He holds out a hand. “I can send over your pokémon if you want. We have an instant transporter to the Center in the room.” You quickly put all three pokéballs onto the table and he picks them up and brings them over to the wall. A quick flash later and they’re probably off being healed. “Don’t think it was too serious by the way. I’ve seen a lot of trumbeak and crabrawler over the years and neither looked hurt beyond repair.”

“I also don’t think you should use reversal,” you say, temporarily too ashamed to be furious. “And I hope you’re right.” For his sake. You got warned about excessive force for just pecking too hard. Then he goes and starts shooting ****ing togedemaru-shaped cannonballs at low-level pokémon. Heh. Now you’re angry again. Welcome back, rage, my old friend.

He pulls some stuff out of the wall and walks back before handing over a crystal with one hand. “Here’s your Z-crystal. Congrats.” He doesn’t sound overly enthusiastic. Or ashamed. Bastard. “And something to make up for the whole ‘reversal’ thing.” This time he extends a bracelet with a sparkling stone attached. Z-Ring. Something to let you use your crystals. Make them more than little trophies.

On one hand you’re pissed that some haole slob is the one to let you use your own country’s powers. But, hey, that’s the whole story of the journey, isn’t it? You take the ring without comment.

“They can resize that for you at the Pokémon Center.”

“Thanks,” you mutter before turning around and walking away.


[-00:00:17]​

“Kekoa?” you perk up at the call and start moving towards the counter. The nurse doesn’t look too concerned. News can’t be all bad. She gives you a slight smile once you reach the desk and cross your arms. “Your grubbin’s been restored to full health. We’ll need to watch the other two overnight. Then you’ll have to keep your trumbeak’s wing in a splint for a week.”

Could have been much work. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” Her smile broadens. Was probably worried you’d get angry at her for Sophocles’ mistake. She’s kanaka too. Probably gets all the trainer rage. “Any questions?”

You shake your head and take Makani’s pokéball off the table. “No. Thank you again.”

“You’re welcome. Come back tomorrow morning for your other pokémon.”

It reminds you of the old meme of a clearly exhausted nurse saying, “We hope to see you again.” Whatever happened to her? Did she quit? Get fired? Maybe you should look it up later.

You walk back over to The Gage Heiress and Cuicatl. The Gage Heiress is ranting about something or other and Cuicatl’s patiently listening. The former at least shuts up for a second when you approach. “No permanent injuries. Ice cream’s on.”

The Gage Heiress had really wanted ice cream. Bugs you about it in almost every city but now, when all three of you passed your trials in two days, it was particularly insistent. And if the boss herself is telling you to be nice to it, well, this is the least you can do.

Cuicatl smiles and slowly gets to her feet while The Gage Heiress jumps right up. Your friend gently picks up Pix’s leash and follows your footsteps and The Gage Heiress’s voice as you walk out the door. The air’s cool, the sunlight’s faded a bit, and there’s a nice breeze. Almost wish you wore a jacket. Not that the ice cream place is too far. Probably caters to people who had the same idea as the blabbering idiot next to you.

The line and all the seating’s outside. The Heiress goes first. Gets leppa like a weirdo. Pays for itself but won’t cover for its poor ‘friends’ like a normal person would if they had literal swimming pools of cash. Then Cuicatl gets a Castelia Cone (her mom’s Unovan so maybe there’s some nostalgia there) and a small pet cup of vanilla for Pixie. A satisfied blast of cold air hits your legs after that’s ordered and paid for.

Honestly you want to go for Chocolate Caramel Cookie Cake but you know that Cuicatl would never, ever let you hear the end of it. You settle for mint chocolate. There’d been a running joke at The Aether House that mint chocolate was the flavor elementary schools used to convince kids that ice cream wasn’t actually good. Never got the joke yourself. Their loss. More for you.

Your traveling partners are sitting at the edge of the porch, legs dangling over the side. The Heiress is too distracted scarfing its ice cream down (isn’t it at all worried about brain freeze? ‘course not, it doesn’t have a brain) to talk and Cuicatl has been quiet around you since this morning. You didn’t even say anything mean to her. Just got upset about someone else. Pix, of course, stops eating her portion in huge bites and starts daintily licking the edges once you start looking at her. You’ll pretend that you don’t see her little ice cream moustache.

You put your cup down and start to lower yourself to the

[00:00:00]​

wooden planks at the edge of the porch.​

A distant light starts shining over… Poni? Yeah, Poni. Then it starts moving down. Like a funnel cloud. A tornado of light. Except the patterns are all wrong. Almost like… wormhole. Except it definitely shouldn’t look so big from this far away.

Bright “cracks” start racing from the hole in all directions like the sky itself is breaking. Before you can say anything an ear-splitting boom rushes past you. The shockwave—shockwave!—stirs up dust and you have to close your eyes and cover your ringing ears until it dies down. When you open your eyes again the cracks are still there, bigger now, with one directly above you. That’s not the worst part. All over the horizon you can see little drops of twisted light dipping down from the cracks.

Then things get darker. Literally. At first you think it’s the dust from the shockwave but it comes way too suddenly. The sunlight goes first. The nighttime lights of the shop come on for a moment before they go off as well. No. Not entirely. You can still make out a faint glow around them, but it’s swallowed up almost immediately. Only the cracks still provide light but it’s strange. You can see them easily but the light doesn’t bleed out to illuminate anything else.

Giant wormhole. Shockwave. Stolen light.

This feels like…

No.

No.

When the sirens come on it seems like an afterthought. How could anyone not know that this was an emergency? That…

No.

No.

No no no no no no no no no no no no, NO.

Someone let out another god.

The small part of your brain that’s still functioning is glad that no one can see you hug yourself and rock gently back and forth. No one can see the tears that make what little light there is even blurrier.

Someone let out another god.

“Nearest shelter location’s the observatory.” Because of course you looked, you always look. You don’t tell them that it’s not rated for **** like this because in the year two thousand and nineteen there are still ****ing towns without a god-tier shelter because no one ever learns their damn lesson. They’ll have to evac you to Malie when it’s safe. But with the wormholes—

****.

****.

**** **** **** **** ****.

You didn’t survive Kyogre and Groudon and **********ing Lusamine just to die now.

But…

It’s dark.

Which way is the observatory? What happens to your pokémon in the Center?

From the sounds of panicked screams and people tripping all over themselves it doesn’t seem like anyone else has answers, either.
 
Last edited:

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Mission Three: Fighting

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, o make you everybody else- that means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
-e. e. cummings



Fighting 3.1: Blacklight
Selene

[-00:00:21]​

“Hello?” you sleepily mutter into the phone, still mostly enthralled by your afternoon nap.

“It’s here almast. Just a few minuteses out.”

The accent and wording are unmistakable. As is the meaning. You hop out of bed and throw on your belt and the first pair of shoes you can find (slippers with little vulpix ears on the side, as it turns out). “Thought we had months!” you half-shout half-whisper into the phone as you rush past Mom and out the door.

“As did me. It found a worm’s hole.”

You open Nebby’s pokéball and hastily slip onto her back, trusting her telepathy to fill her in on what’s going on and where you need to go. As soon as you’re gripping her shoulders she takes off fast enough that your arms would be ripped off without her telekinesis holding you down. Melemele slips by in a blur as Poni grows closer and closer.

{You’re scared,} Nebby messages, an aura of comfort around the words.

{You’re not?}

She doesn’t answer until you’re nearly on Poni.

{How does it help?} she asks.

{Hmm?}

{Fear.}

You groan but don’t give a proper answer. Fine. It doesn’t help. But things weren’t supposed to be like this. You were supposed to have other trainers, other legendary pokémon, the best science in this world and others. Instead it’s just you and Nebby. That will have to be enough.

Nebby casts you off and your ankles let out a flare of pain as you unexpectedly hit rock, only held upright by Nebby’s abilities. A quick glance confirms that you’re on top of the Altar where she’d evolved for the second time, Vast Poni Canyon stretching out for miles behind you.

“Alright, Nebby, start by keeping your distance. I’ll keep an eye on things. See if it has patterns, openings…”

You wish there was more you could do, but you’re at a big disadvantage here. There’s no archival footage to watch of the thing battling. Nothing more than a few drawings and the scattered tales of survivors. It has claws, supposedly. Nebby doesn’t. Best to keep things to a distance. And if she’s faster, she could dodge attacks and wear it down at range.

{Can do.}

She’s still too damn calm. You’re drowning in unknowns and it’s almost like she doesn’t care. The plan only works if the necrozma isn’t even stronger than her at a distance. If a creature that feeds on light is harmed by moongeist beams, shadow balls, psyshocks, hyper beams… her Z-move if you must. The feedback is brutal for you but Nebby will be taking worse. It’s the least you can do.

Nebby descends lower and wraps a wing around you. {I am scared. For you. For Lillie.} You flinch at your ex’s name but she carries on without mentioning it. {I am not scared for me. I am strong.}

Fine. Fine. She should be terrified but if it hasn’t got through her giant, adorable skull maybe it never will.

You unleash Incineroar without a word. He looks between you, Nebby, and the Altar with a questioning gaze. “Don’t engage the thing unless I tell you to. Just keep me shielded with protects. Don’t get hit yourself, either. We don’t know how strong this thing is.”

That’s a partial lie. The Ultra Recon Squad had lots of numbers on how strong a necrozma can be if it’s given time to drain light. Strong enough that you’d have to pray to every creator god on Earth and hope they’re as strong as their believers say. Without time to charge it’s probably closer to Nebby’s power.

That’s not at all reassuring.

[00:00:00]​

A blinding light shines high above you.

Years fighting Ultra Beasts have given Incineroar the instincts to immediately throw up a shield at the first sign of trouble. For the best. The wormhole opens with a sonic boom and a strong pulse of air. If you hadn’t been protected you would’ve been violently thrown to the hard ground.

Incineroar drops the shield and you look up at the slowly descending figure. “Black” doesn’t do it justice. The creature absorbs all the light that touches it. You can only really make it out as the absence of any color at all.

“Nebby, begin—”

It screams directly into your brain. Your hands fly uselessly to your ears. Darkness overtakes you before you hit the ground.

[???]​

Incineroar is purring nervously above you, crouched down on all fours and guarding your body with his. You try to ignore the headache and gently push his side to get him to move. He complies and gives you a better view of the ongoing fight. As you slowly get to your feet your realize that one of your slippers fell off and is nowhere to be found. Whatever. You awkwardly stand with one foot on the smooth, dusty stone and one in your slipper as you take stock of the situation.

Nebby fires off a moongeist beam and the necrozma stands still and takes it. A moment later the same beam is shot back out and strikes Nebby directly on the forehead. The bat cries in shock and floats herself back instinctively.

“Dodge it!”

She startles and looks down towards you. What she doesn’t see is the necrozma racing forward faster than anything that looks so un-aerodynamic has the right to move. Before Nebby can react one of the Ultra Beast’s spiked hands grabs Nebby’s head and they both plummet down. Incineroar’s shield protects you from the fallout but blocks your view. When it fades a second later you’re treated to the sight of Nebby held down by both of the monster’s hands as a strange… black… light? overtakes them both.

Another shield goes up. When it fades Nebby’s gone.

No, not gone.

Nebby has been consumed.

The necrozma floats in front of the Altar. The long wings of a luanla extend from either side of its body, radiating blue light. Nebby’s head is mostly the same pure black as the necrozma’s body, but now a mix of strange Z-crystal-like eyes adorn it. The dark claws of the necrozma stretch out from the pokémon’s midsection, flexing open and closed in the air.

You steadily get to your feet and stare at it. The creature, in turn, stares back at you.

A challenge, perhaps. You remember that Nebby looked much the same after you first got back from Ultra Space. When she wanted to see if you were a worthy trainer.

Is it really that simple?

You can’t take the chance. You send out all of your pokémon and start giving commands.

“Darkest Lariat, now.”

Incineroar doesn’t hesitate to charge forward, cloaked in shadows. It buys you time. “Tox, guard me. Kommo-o, stay back. All others attack.” The necrozma almost casually bats Incineroar aside with one of its hands just before all hell breaks loose. Vikavolt starts launching thunderbolts above you with Lycanroc joining in on the ground with accelrocks. Incineroar gets back up to breathe out more fire. Necrozma simply takes the flames and rocks with one wing and moves the other to block the thunderbolts.

“Flare Blitz.” The flames are useless. A full tackle might not be. You don’t bother watching, turning instead to kommo-o as you slot the proper Z-crystal invto your ring. “Clangorous Soulblaze.”

The necrozma lifts into the air with a few flaps of its glowing wings, narrowly dodging the flare blitz while continuing to tank accelrocks and thunderbolts. (Ground type? Dragon type? Maybe it doesn’t obey type rules at all.) You manage to put your hands over your ears (should’ve grabbed earplugs at home, dammit) right before Kommo-o gets loud.

The Soulblaze does seem to upset necrozma for the first time in the battle. Bad news is that the creature screams like Nebby. Almost like Nebby. There’s a terrible noise like a record scratch just below the surface. It distracts you and you almost don’t catch the streams of light start to trail towards the necrozma’s head as—Moongeist Beam. “Shields up!”

You see most of your team start to follow the order as you close your eyes to block the worst of the light. Even through your eyelids and the toxapex’s protect you can still see the light flare. Hear the sound of a barrier shattering and a kommo-o’s cries of pains. The light dims and you hesitantly open your eyes. Your kommo-o is breathing heavily, but a dim red aura has surrounded her. The Soulblaze worked. Now you can fight the monster on more equal footing.

You give the specific snap for her orders. “Outrage.” All across the field attacks resume as Kommo-o starts running faster and faster, preparing to jump. The necrozma screeches and the air distorts as a psionic attack flies at the dragon in midair. It doesn’t break her momentum. They collide and the necrozma is driven back, but your pokémon gracelessly falls to the ground and crumples in a heap. The pokéball withdraws her. Still alive.

Refocus on Incineroar. Necrozma’s flown too high for ranged attacks to do much. Dark Pulse? It’s not something you’ve put a lot of training into. But if fire can’t do it, maybe darkness can. It might at least disrupt psychic attacks.

Before you can give the order necrozma spreads its wings into an almost perfect circle and they start to glow brightly. Another Moongeist Beam. No. Not Moongeist. There isn’t any light spiraling in. “All but Tox, shields up!” You’ve done a lot of training with Toxapex. You trust him to get the barrier up in time and you need a look. Cracks, no, lines and concentric circles, start forming on the wings. A wormhole. Summoning something? Another UB?

You get your answer very, very quickly as clumps of rock and ice start blasting out at blinding speeds. One scores a glancing blow on Lycanroc’s shield and shatters it. Another sends her sprawling back with visibly cracked ribs by the time Tox has finished using Protect. Too quick. The attack was far too quick. You remember reading somewhere that a paperclip moving at the speeds of space junk could puncture steel. None of your pokémon are armored nearly well enough to take another barrage. You hear Incineroar let out a roar of pain before your body catches up with your mind and you withdraw everyone but Toxapex.

The sound of the projectiles stops.

“Shield down,” you mutter, reaching to your belt to grab the one last-ditch tool you’ve saved for years. As soon as you can see the alien, you reach back and throw it as hard as you can.

The master ball freezes in midair. That shouldn’t even be possible. The tech is too well safeguarded against attacks of all kinds. You’re still not entirely surprised when the master ball crumples inward in a flash of sparks before the metal drops uselessly to the ground beneath it. Another shimmer of air crosses the battlefield and knocks out toxapex.

You withdraw your last pokémon. It occurs to you that all of your pokémon—wait—you hit the withdraw button on Nebby’s pokéball—and nothing happens. Worth a try, at least.

It occurs to you that all of your pokémon but Nebby survived. That’s something. Maybe… no, there’s no healing your team under the necrozma’s watchful gaze. A shame. Its bleeding light in at least five places on its wings. Another round and maybe you could have won.

As if on cue light spirals in towards the alien and the sky around you grows ever darker. Once the streams of light are absorbed the damage is all healed. Never mind. It wouldn’t have mattered. You lost—Alola lost—the second Nebby did.

There’s almost relief there. Over four years of non-stop incursions and you went and blew it. Even if you lived to see another fight no one would plead with their words or tone or eyes for you to go out and save the world while the public sits back and watches.

If only you got a chance to say goodbye to Lillie. To Mom.

The necrozma floats ever closer. Even in the dim light you can see the pitch blackness of a claw lowering. You close your eyes and whimper just before it reaches you. Maybe it’s cowardly but no one else will ever know. Something cold and incredibly smooth touches your cheek and glides up to your hair, running through it before rising high enough that all of the strands fall back down.

You open your eyes again to see the tip of one claw lower back down towards you. The blinding blue light of a wormhole shines behind you before the alien gently pushes you backwards, through the hole and onto something soft.

It takes you almost a minute to process the fact that you’re still alive. It takes another twenty seconds to recognize the smell of your bedroom. Another ten to realize that your eyes are open and you still can’t see anything.

Another thirty to finally hear your phone ringing in your pocket. You answer it without checking who it is.

“You know why it’s dark all of a sudden?”

Nanu. He sounds bored, as usual. Like he’s discussing an inconvenient afternoon storm instead of a sudden, region-wide blackout.

“Yes.”

“It going away any time soon?”

“No.”

He sighs. You can imagine him shaking his head and pulling himself off the couch, maybe pushing a meowth aside in the process.

“Anything I can do?”

“You at home?”

“Yes.”

“Head out to Castleton. Make sure people are staying inside.”

“Anything else?”

“No.”

He hangs up.

The phone immediately rings again.

[00:01:38]​

It takes an hour and a half for someone to set up a conference call with the Kahunas, the military, the governor, and INTERPOL. Maybe a few others. You’re struggling to care, still weighed down by the shock of the loss.

It suddenly occurs to you that you’ll have to call Lillie later. Tell her about Nebby.

You’d rather fight the necrozma again.

“Miss Perry, can you give us your account of what happened?”

You can do this. Just. One. Call. “Two hours ago the Ultra Recon Squad contacted me. Said that the necrozma hit a wormhole and was only minutes away. I flew to the Altar of the Moone to meet it. There was a short battle. I got knocked out. The Ultra Beast merged with Lunala—”

“Merged?” Kukui asks beside you. He was generous enough to let you stay in his lab, under his protection while your team healed. Even helped get you there. It’s strange. Knowing and hearing that he’s three feet to your right but not being able to see him at all.

“There was bright light. Then Nebby was gone and the necrozma looked like a mix of itself and a lunala.”

Lunala, not Nebby. Bleh. Some of the kahunas don’t like it when you call their goddess by a pet name.

“How?” Olivia asks, like you would know that.

“Maybe Kukui knows?”

“I don’t.”

You don’t pick the topic back up. After a few seconds of silence you continue. “I fought it with the rest of my team and lost.”

“It let you walk away?” The governor sounds strangely hopeful. “Maybe it can be reasoned with.”

You’d gone through that thought earlier once the shock faded a little and you stopped taking calls long enough to get your pokémon to the Center. “I think some of Nebby survived. All of my pokémon lived and once they were all defeated, the necrozma opened a wormhole to my bed and knocked me through. I don’t know where it went after that.”

“The thing is still here?” Admiral Wilford asks. “Why the hell didn’t you lead with that?”

“The Ultra Recon Squad said that they usually sit in orbit or in another dimension entirely. But…” They never told you it could merge with lunala. Or that it might get some of her personality in the process. “It’s acting odd. Anything’s possible.”

“I’ll go the canyon and check,” Hapu says. “If you don’t hear back from me, assume it’s still there.”

No one says anything. Because what is there to say?

“Necrozma brought dozens if not hundreds of Ultra Beasts with it.” Olivia. Pleading, but resigned. “Can we afford a kahuna taking time off to go on a potential suicide mission?”

The chat erupts in people talking over each other before Hapu breaks through with a few half-shouts of “It’s fine!” Once everyone’s quieted she continues. “The Captain’s planning to take everyone in the village to sea until things calm down here. The Battle Tree is full of people who can handle it, and the park rangers have dealt with UBs before.”

“I’m not worried about Poni,” you interject before anyone else can. Too quickly to be tactful. “No offense, Hapu.” She grunts in acknowledgement. “And Melemele is small. Hala, Hau, Kukui and the other trainers here can respond quickly enough when there’s an attack. Ula’Ula and Akala have small towns far apart. Worried more about them.”

“Thanks for the thought, kid,” Nanu grumbles.

“Good luck, Hapu,” you add after realizing that you hadn’t done it. “Thank you for volunteering.”

You aren’t going to try to talk her out of it. You need to know if the necrozma is still there and she’s one of the only people you trust to navigate the canyon in the dark. It’s still a brave thing. You’ll make sure to do something special for her if she survives and the necrozma is defeated and you survive as well.

“No problem,” she answers. Implying that walking straight towards an alien god that could almost certainly defeat her entire team and kill her is not something she sees as a problem. Your gift will need to be really special. A hippowdon? Rhydon? Or one of those giant Galarian sand snakes. Maybe you can find the money for a recently thawed mamoswine. Helps that picking up any of those is an excuse for a vacation when this passes over. If it passes over.

Kukui’s ninetales barks outside. The professor swears under his breath and starts awkwardly hobbling towards the door. The man gave you and Nebby a run for your money. He can handle whatever Ultra Beast showed up.

You put the call on mute once the moonblasts start. Then immediately take it off mute and speaker when something occurs to you. “What are we doing with fallers? Lila and I can take care of ourselves. Others can’t.”

“I plan on going into the middle of nowhere to get the UBs away from cities,” Lila says. “We could move the others to Hau’oli or Malie. Stick a few powerful trainers near the city limits to deal with hostiles.”

“I can put a lot of battle-tested sailors into Hau’oli if given the okay,” Admiral Wilford adds.

“Do it,” the governor orders. “I’ve already activated the guard.”

You purse your lips in the dark. “Tell them to be careful.” As the cliffs of Rune City collapsed and Hoenn was under siege, your father chose to help the people of Japan until the very end. How many brave soldiers will die as he did before the necrozma is driven back?

Your sentiments are echoed by almost everyone in the chat. As they trail off, Gladion butts in. “I hate to be the one to bring it up, but if we do find Necrozma, how do we deal with it? Champ’s already lost. Lunala’s already lost. What else are we throwing at it? And what if it is in orbit or somewhere else entirely? How do we get to it? Does that even bring the light back?”

“It is an Ultra Beast. If you and Silvally can lend a hand…”

“Sure, fine, I’ll put my life on the line I guess. You really think it’d do any good, though?”

“I’m not sure.” It eats light. The Ultra Recon Squad think that the more light a necrozma absorbs, the hotter it gets. At some point it will be like fighting the sun. Maybe macargo or rhyfernal or a really strong or fire-type legendary could deal with it. Hard to imagine anything else getting close without vaporizing on the spot. “I’ll try calling other people in. Shirona is in in her villa on Ula’Ula, I think. Chris is...” Chris Foster is living on your ex-girlfriend’s childhood home when he can be bothered to be in the same country as his child labor abusing poaching business.

“And why didn’t you call for any help in the first place?” The governor asks.

“I had very limited time.”

“Couldn’t you have used some of that time to call for reinforcements? It seems irresponsible to…”

You stop listening as he drones on and on and on. He’s going to try and pin all this on you isn’t he? What can he actually do? You’re pretty sure you didn’t break any laws. He might try and make you pay for everything that happens. The last governor did that with Lusamine. Difference is you’ve got next to nothing compared to what she had. And the damage is only going to be worse.

That and you didn’t intentionally open up a few dozen portals and permanently weaken the barrier between Earth and untold worlds of monsters. You just failed to stop someone else from doing that.

Just like last time.

The ninetales hisses in pain outside before the wind picks up. Even inside the house you can feel the cold, especially as it slips through the bottom of the door and onto your single bare foot. Damn it. Forgot to put on real shoes, or even just another shoe at all, with everything else going on. At least no one can see it. Nanu clears his throat. “I might be missing something, but I don’t think we ever established how we’re getting off the planet with Lunala gone.”

“Maybe the Ultra Recon Squad have some idea. Or Professor Burnet.” Or Lusamine, if you get desperate. She opened up a portal when you first visited Aether Paradise. She might have a way to do it without Nebby. Unless the tech got dismantled after the auction.

“The Ultra Recon people are fallers, right?” Lila asks.

****.

That’s why they haven’t called.

The door opens and Kukui’s footsteps sound off behind you.

“What’d I miss?”

[00:04:15]​

“Rotom…” You sigh and cross your arms. Kukui’s outside with his pokémon. Giving you privacy. You’d better hurry up and make the damn call. “Call Lillie.”

She picks up on the second ring.

“Selene! Oh my god I was worried about you! Why haven’t you been picking up? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Just busy.” You take a moment to steel yourself. She immediately starts talking again but you ignore it. “Nebby’s gone.”

“What?”

“A really, really powerful Ultra Beast arrived. It fused with Nebby. I don’t know where it is now. I’m sorry.”

“I—are you alright?”

“What?”

“If it could… could do that—

Damn it. You’d forgotten that Lillie was like this. Break her heart into pieces and stomp on them in front of her and she’ll still be there for you in the morning. It’s why you had to break up in the first place.

“It let me live.” You pause, carefully considering the accuracy of what you’re about to say. “I think some of Nebby’s mind might still in there.”

“Then you can’t kill it,” she says. “Just knock it out. Make it unfuse. Like Mother and the nihilego.”

Mother. She still calls Lusamine “Mother.” You’d hoped that breaking up with her would get it through her skull that being with Lusamine was bad for her. Changed her. Guess she didn’t get the message.

But you already knew that.

“I’ll try. Really. I will.”

“Thank you.”

Neither of you talks for a long time. A few years ago you would’ve been more than fine with that. You’d find somewhere quiet to sit and call her and sometimes you’d just stay on the line in silence for hours, both of you just glad the other was there in spirit. Now the silence is cutting.

“You don’t want to talk about how things are going, do you?”

“No.”

“Can I tell you about things on my end, then?”

“Sure.”

“Well, Mother’s recovery is—”

You hang up.
 

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Fighting 3.2: The Truth
Cuicatl

[00:00:00]​

[HUNGER]

The Voice crashes into your skull like a cannonball. Everything else, all those tiny little thoughts and feelings and dreams, gets compressed and pressed out, bleeding through every square inch of skin. You hug your legs and arms to your chest and curl your fingers and toes but it still feels like you’re a human-shaped sieve.

[Alarm!]

Another Voice, much softer but no less fierce, joins The First. The roar shifts from pure hunger to a mix of desires.

[Refusal]

The denial is ignored. There are other voices around you. Smaller. Filtered through your ears. Irrelevant voices. Voices calling for someone who no longer—

*​

You wake up. Sort of. Sounds run at the edges and the heavy hand of sleep is trying to drag you back down.

The air is dry. A man is pacing, his heavy steps echoing off the walls of a large room.

“We found her out in Haina Desert. Going by her…” He says some science-sounding bullshit. Even if you weren’t halfway unconscious you might’ve fallen asleep.

You slip into sleep for a moment before coming back.

A second person is talking. He sounds like he doesn’t care. Doesn’t want to be there.

“And will he come for her, if he knew?”

“No.” The first man, sounding earnest and serious with a really thick accent speaks again. Accent. Ugh. Your gift isn’t filtering things. “I watched as his heart stopped. I watched as his body burned. I watched as his bones were buried. He’s dead. I made sure of it.”

“And the kid?”

Words blur together. And stop. And start again.

“She had six balls on her. Apricorn-derived, so no records. All broken. No pokémon to talk to. Can’t find her in any of our databases.”

The bored man scoffs. “No pokémon? Real lucky she survived then. Especially since she’s...****…ing…

…where…were…you…

…who…are…

“MRI showed that as a long-time injury. Maybe pre-natal. The rest will heal with a blissey and time.”

“And how long was she in there?”

“Almost three months.”

“****.” The man kicks something. It skids across the rock before coming to a stop. You want to get up and look. But you can’t move. Or see. Why can’t you see? Why would you…

What is…

…sight…

“…BASTARDS!”

A woman. Furious. Her words buzz and sting at the edge of your mind.

“Please, it’s all a misunderstanding. Just calm down…”

“I told you, I was the last person you made into your little doll.”

“Tapu Lele, can you knock them out?”

“Oh, **** you—” There’s a surge of something in the air. She shuts up. Her body falls to the ground.

“Thank you.”

“Think she told anyone where she was going?” The bored man asks.

“Her alakzam, maybe.”

{I can reason with him,} another voice projects in a way that doesn’t sound real. {Or wipe his memories.}

“Thank you. That would help.”

The bored man sighs and resumes pacing. “She makes some good points, y’know? There’s a reason she’s your boss and all.”

“There are unique circumstances.”

“There ever not been ‘unique circumstances?’”

“Are you going to tell?” The first man asks, a threat loaded just below the surface.

“No point. You’ll **** yourselves over in the end, anyway.”

“Thank you.”

“Out of curiosity, what are you going to do with the apricorns?”

“We were going to destroy them so that Lila wouldn’t find out.”

“No.” He stops pacing. “You should bury them. If it goes like last time, the kid will want some closure for her old life.”

“And there’s none to be had. Best if she just moves on and accepts what we’re giving her.”

“That’s her decision to make. Not yours.”

*​

When you wake up the screaming has stopped. There’s just whimpering in its place. From you. Oops. When you stop it continues. Not just you, then.

Where are you? None of your pokémon are touching you and you can’t sense Pixie or Coco through your links. You send out a thought to Nocitlālin but don’t receive an answer. Bad. Without them you’re just… no. You’re lying on hard concrete. No, not just concrete. Your head is on something warm and soft. A person? You start to move and they jolt.

“You awake?” Genesis whispers. Ah. Her, then.

You grumble out something that your gift can hopefully translate. She giggles. Guess you need to put more work in. Fifteen years and you’re still only figuring out how your brain works. After pressing yourself more or less upright (and discovering how much lying motionless on concrete for gods-know-how-long will hurt your hips), you work out a more coherent question. “Where’s Pix?” She was out when you were last awake, right?

“In her ball.” You can hear her shift nervously. “Do you remember what happened?”

“We were eating ice cream. There was an explosion? Then a really loud voice. Then… here?”

Judging by her silence and her mind’s rapidly shifting attempts to form words, that wasn’t the answer she expected. {Can we head-talk?} she asks.

You throw out your awareness again and make absolutely sure that there are no potential eavesdroppers. There’s nothing. Almost nothing. You can still feel The Voice’s distinct presence, but quiet and far in the background. That’s bad, but it’s a problem for later. And if there is anything you can do about it, Genesis probably won’t be the one to teach you. {Sure.}

{Okay, um, am I doing this right?}

{Yes.}

{A… voice?}

Could she not hear it? Why? Was it psychic? An omen?

{Yes. A Voice. Really, really loud. Tear-your-soul-out-of-your-body loud. I didn’t know that was possible.} Well, maybe for a god. Was it a god? If it was a god that would speak to you, but not her, it could explain it. And the gods have taken an active role on Earth in recent years. Tlaloc and Quetzlcoatl had to put Cipactli back to sleep when it stirred under Japan. The Split Gods clashed in Unova. And Metztli sent an avatar to guard these very islands.

Today (yesterday?) is (was?) Tecpatl-Tecpatl. Ruled by Chalchihuihtotolin and Mictlantecuhtli. The former is a god of sorcery and temptation, the latter the ruler of the dead. Combined they make for a day of life-changing challenges. A chance to soar or plummet, fate be damned. Putting a trial on that day, right before the solstice, was asking for something big to happen.

It didn’t. The battle went mostly according to plan. Nothing worthy of the day happened. At least, not when you expected it.

{I didn’t hear one.} Gen finally answers. {There was a big noise, probably the explosion you were talking about, and a bunch of wind. Then everything went dark. You collapsed and started talking in Aztec.} Nahuatl. You do your best to keep any annoyed feelings in your own mind. {Pix went nuts so we had to withdraw her. Everyone got moved to a shelter. We’re still there. My phone died a while ago. I don’t know how long it’s been. I’m hungry, but not really hungry. Have to pee, though. There is a bathroom but getting to it requires walking over a lot of people in the dark so I’m trying not to. Plus, I think Kekoa’s asleep, somehow, and I didn’t want to leave you alone. Still dark, by the way. Really dark.}

She thinks a lot. Not always coherently. It takes a bit for your gift to catch up and put everything into (Nahuatl) words for you. Even though you really should be thinking about the ‘everything is dark for everyone else’ stuff, you end up thinking about the smaller things. Pee? You don’t have to but—well, ****. You definitely pissed yourself while you were out. At least you were expecting your period anyway. Hasn’t come yet but it’s still (probably) too early to rule it out for the month. You’re hungry. That’s nothing new. You’re just at the border between stomach-rending, painful hunger and greater, painless hunger with lightheadedness and a building headache. Six to eight hours, maybe? But if you were unconscious then it could’ve been longer.

You’d offer to help her to the bathroom, but you didn’t bring your cane with you. Haven’t had much need in the last few days, with Nocitlālin eager to help and Pixie jealously competing with her.

“Kekoa awake?” you ask, aloud, so that if he is he’ll hear it.

“Someone woke a god up and you think I’d fall asleep?”

That prompts a few whispers around you. “A god?” You’d suspected as much, but he seems to know something you don’t.

“Yeah. Like Japan. Feels the same.”

His voice breaks on the last word. Feels the same? That could mean a few different things. Maybe it was just a bigger news story in America than Anahuac. Or something more personal.

{You want to talk about it?}

You can feel him steady his thoughts and compose his words. {I was in Hoenn when it happened. My parents died.}

Oh. That’s bad. Really bad. Living it a second time must be worse.

{I understand,} you say. {I’m sorry.}

{Do you understand, though?} He also hisses aloud, for emphasis.

{Maybe? My brother died a few months ago.}

You aren’t crying and even if you did no one can see you. It’s the perfect time to talk about this as long as you don’t sob.

A lot of thoughts rush through his mind when you tell him. After a few seconds they coalesce into a steady stream of “**** **** **** ****” that he probably doesn’t mean to send you.

{I talked **** about your brother in Paniola, didn’t I?}

A spike of resentment builds in your heart alongside the sadness. You do your best to push it down but don’t succeed entirely. {Yes. You did.}

His thoughts seem to split towards two different statements. You don’t look close enough to see what they are.

{I’m sorry,} finally wins out.

{Good.}

A door opens and you can hear someone awkwardly fumbling around. Probably just got out of the bathroom.

{I know that…} Kekoa’s message trails off. {I’m sorry. And this is a bad time and it would be weird in a good time but. Can you lean into me?}

“Sure.” Cuddles sound nice right now, when you’re not crying. Or crying just a little bit. Everything’s bad and now isn’t the time for that, even if it’s dark.

You can sort of hear his breathing, shallow and quick, and the conversation gave you a direction to his head. It takes a bit of fumbling (and you think you kick Genesis at one point) but you finally cuddle up to him. His chest, anyway. You immediately shift so you’re leaning on his side. His hand scrapes against you, hesitantly looking for yours. You meet it. His pulse is quick; a quick touch of your free hand to your neck shows that yours is too. Deep breaths.

There’s a lot of pain and panic and you aren’t sure what to do with any of it right now. You end up focusing on his pulse and trying in vain to meditate.

*​

The first attack comes about an hour later. It begins with a low whirring sound, slowly but steadily rising in pitch. Like an alarm. Except you can tell that something is speaking. What it is and what’s being said aren’t given to you and when you press you get a sharp headache, the mental equivalent of brushing your hand on a hot stove. An Ultra Beast, perhaps. Or a god. Fearful and confused words pop up in almost all the minds around you, along with a handful of hopeful ones.

Crashing noises sound outside and the noise resets back to a pitch you feel more than hear. It rises again, faster this time. Lightning sounds off. A lot of lightning and more crashing sounds, most crashes coinciding with another pitch reset.

“Xurkitree,” Kekoa mutters beside you. “I tried to learn the sounds. In case something happened. I think Sophocles is fighting it. Maybe Molayne.”

“They’re strong, right?” Genesis asks. “Sophocles and Molayne?”

“Yes.”

Kekoa still squeezes your hand a little tighter. You squeeze back.

*​

There’s another xurkitree sometime later. A few more battles after that. Water bottles and bags of some sort of strangely-textured chip get passed around at some point.

You eventually realize that the sweat under your arms and the shaking of your hand is because you’re scared. Of dying. Even with a free, dignified way out. It’s a strange thought. And one you don’t have time to process, since you’re on a toilet at the time.

Shortly afterwards a large door swings open and someone walks through, the hard steps of their boots conveying authority. A ripple of murmurs say that light is shining through behind the man. “There’s light outside,” a booming voice says before echoing around the room. “Gather your things; nothing more than you can carry. Meet at the convoy. We leave in a half hour.”

The light must not be too bright. There’s still chaos as people rush to leave the dusty, slightly metallic air of the shelter. Judging by the room’s echoes, you’re pretty close to the back. You start stretching, then realize in horror that both your legs are asleep. You rub your hands over them and try to move them as much as possible. By the time you have to get up it’s pretty tolerable, actually.

The temperature hits you as soon as you leave the building. The air is cool, but one side of you is warm anyway. Like a fire on a cold night. Kekoa swears under his breath once he gets out behind you. “Reshiram,” he whispers.

The Flame Giver. Right here. That definitely explains the light and heat. A god like that…

Alice will never believe you.

You don’t know when or how, but at some point you either stop freezing up or get dragged into your room in the Pokémon Center to pack things up. You can hear Genesis and Kekoa struggling, but for you it goes the same as always. Except you need Pix and Coco to check for scattered things by tracking your scent rather than just looking around.

Coco thinks it’s a fun game.

You have to withdraw Coco and Pix. The world’s chaotic and they’re small and easily stepped on in the crowds. Nocitlālin can fly and sense in the dark through electricity or whatever so you have her help Kekoa or Genesis, whoever’s struggling more. You take your things and head back out to the convoy before they’re ready. Once you’re back in Reshiram’s heat you drop your pack to the floor. There are curious and cautious whispers around, but no one dares address her. No one knows how.

You step forward closer and raise your head so that you’re probably kinda sorta making eye contact. Then you speak in Upper Draconic. “Blessed Flame Giver, I acknowledge your dominion.” Dragons do not bow or stoop or avert their gaze when addressing a stronger peer or asking for help. Instead they present everything they are and confess that they need help regardless.

Reshiram shifts in front of you, judging by the changing levels of heat on your face and the ground moaning in protest beneath her.

“Acknowledged, Little One,” she replies. In Upper Draconic. Your gift can’t or won’t translate the god’s words. “What would you have me do?”

You swallow and steel yourself again. You weren’t actually expecting a response. You just thought that she needed acknowledged, per ancient custom.

“I thank you for your protection and guidance.”

Thanks are traditionally given at the end of an exchange, when a request is granted or denied and ties are severed. You don’t know what else to say. Requesting anything from Reshiram feels wrong. She is not your kind’s god and you have nothing to offer her. It would also feel weird to ask her to do something she already seems to have made up her mind to do.

She chuffs. It sounds like a cross between laughter and an indignant huff. It’s also nothing that you’ve heard from a dragon before. Although Coco sometimes does something almost like it. “It was my duty as a goddess. Nothing more. Now, tell me: where did you learn to speak the old tongue?”

“I was taught by Alice, Dorothy, and Ilsa. A twice-split spirit from the Valley of Dragons.” You pause and she does not answer. “She,” for there is no good Upper Draconic equivalent to ellas, “was a companion of my mother’s and swore herself to be my protector and teacher.”

That earns a low rumble from the goddess. Consideration. “Is she here?”

You shake your head. “No.” Your voice breaks and you immediately clamp your mouth shut. You will not cry in front of a goddess. You will not cry in front of a goddess. You will not cry

The heat picks up. It’s still more warm than hot. Comforting and not burning. “Acknowledged.” The bark is a little shorter and softer than you would have expected. “It is rare for royalty to bond with a twice-split spirit. Your gifts are rendered useless by the shadows in their blood.”

“I’m not royalty,” you correct(?!) the goddess(?!). At least, that’s not something that your mother chose to tell you via either Renfield or Alice or passed down memories. And you’ve seen how Mom grew up. Comfortable at times, but never much more.

Another rumble of consideration. “Correct. You are not royalty. Whatever my counterpart’s chosen companion has declared, your line’s claim to the throne ended with the throne itself. But you have The Harbor Queen’s Gift and the mark of her bloodline.”

You’d privately doubted you were tied to N. He was important. Chosen by a god. And if your mother had any brothers or nephews, she never passed it down. You don’t even think she had any cousins. But if you’re more distantly related…

“There was a time not so long ago,” Reshiram muses, “that I believed your lineage to be extinct. It only survived through fortune. Centuries ago, a king found the strength to do what needed to be done. Nonetheless, he was a sentimental fool who could not live with himself afterwards. Another part of me, for we were one then, found it noble.” She growls. An actual, hostile growl. The fire roars up with her and you can hear swearing around you. You flinch back and avert your gaze, ancient rules forgotten. “Sometimes I am glad to be free of such foolishness now. But I was weaker then. I granted his request to leave the kingdom behind and live out his final days in exile on the other side of the Earth.” The heat dies back down to a low burn. “He was an old, broken man. It never occurred to me that he would beget more children.”

Footsteps approach. “Reshiram, it’s almost time to depart,” a female voice (Hilda?) says.

The pavement audibly groans as the goddess stretches. “I have duties to fulfill. We shall finish our conversation at a later time.”

You step back in silence and someone grabs hold of you. “What the ****,” Kekoa hisses in your ear, “was that about?”

“I was in her territory. I acknowledged her.”

“Isn’t she from Unova?”

“She’s a goddess: everything is her territory.”

He grunts, probably out of arguments. You pick up your surprisingly warm pack and follow Kekoa’s lead to the convoy.

“Excuse me, miss,” someone says. “No pokémon allowed in the vehicle.” Pokémon, but… Right. You reach down and withdraw Nocitlālin. She’s very well behaved when she isn’t trying to watch people pee, but you don’t want to argue about it now.

You end up sandwiched between Kekoa and Genesis with very little room to yourself. Which is fine, mostly. You don’t take up that much space. And you’re more than used to getting crowded out in the tent.

Most of the ride passes in silence beyond the tires on the road and Reshiram’s wingbeats above. Maybe a half hour later Reshiram lets out a deafening roar and the convoy grinds to a halt. You can feel the flames through the walls of the car. There’s some radio chatter, but it’s garbled and without your gift your English is only okay. There are only a few things you remember: The goddess’s roars. Her opponent’s begging (Home, home, home, home, I want to go home!), every word accompanied by a sharp pain in your temples. The sound of the explosion that marked the battle’s inevitable end. Whatever it was, it chose to fight a goddess. A dragon goddess. Its fate was sealed the second it approached with a challenge.

When the convoy moves again, you realize that Kekoa’s back to gripping your hand. Even though it’s probably light out. You squeeze his hand back but he doesn’t let go. That’s fine with you.

The rest of the trip is uneventful.

*​

You end up being one of the last ones out of the convoy. Most of the crowds have already cleared judging by the relative silence. That at least makes it easier to follow the noises of people flowing to wherever it is you’re supposed to go.

Something giant crashes down behind you, bathing your back in heat. You probably jump at least a half meter into the air. In spite of everything, you do your best to steady yourself before turning around to face the goddess. “Hello. I was...” You’re not sure what you wanted to say at the start of the sentence.

“Did you think we would not speak again?” She growls. “I am truth incarnate. My promises are prophecies.”

You swallow down the fear and shake your head. A human negation. Should’ve done the dragon one. Doesn’t matter, keep moving. “I meant no offense, Flame Giver.”

She chuffs and her heat dies down. “I understand. I, too, was concerned that our meeting would be delayed. But my companion needs rest and I shall oblige her.”

You finally calm down enough to realize that the air smells heavily of blood. Dragon blood. You don’t say anything. A goddess bled for you. That’s not right. It’s supposed to be the other way around.

“Now, then,” Reshiram continues, “it has been some time since I spoke to a human in my own tongue. Or at least something akin to it. Your pronunciation is terrible and your pitch is that of a newborn.”

Oh. You should have expected that. Known that. Why did you talk to her in the first place?

“But I suppose it is the best a human can do. Tell me, Daughter of the Harbor Queen, what are your ambitions?”

Ambitions? Like N? You’ve never really had any. You don’t want to say that outright. She’s spoken of duties before. Maybe...

“I seek to reclaim what was stolen from me. Then I will return home and fulfill my obligations there. I’m not the kind of person who should change society. I wouldn’t know what to do with it and there are much smarter people.” Priests, kings, scholars, warriors. Heroes. “I’m not a hero.”

Reshiram makes a particular bark. One of praise. Not praise of an equal, but that of a mother congratulating her daughter on killing a rodent for the first time. “You may be wiser than you know. Those who are certain that they must change the world often bring it to ruin. A few generations later another will rise, certain that they must undo what their forefathers shed blood to change. Dragons do not make these mistakes. We know our ancient roles and fulfill them. There are no grand attempts to upset the balance of nature. No wars of conquest or revolution. But humans always want more than they have. They will kill themselves and others for fictitious honors, a yard of barren dirt, and gold they will never spend. Every day they fall farther and farther from their rightful place.

“Survive and reclaim that which is rightly yours. Find a role in society and fill it well. That is heroic enough.”

No response comes to mind. You’re not sure you’d give it even if you could. Her words carry an air of finality, that there is nothing left to be said on the subject.

“I believe your companions need to speak with you. Go forth, Little One. Heed my words and you shall have my blessing.” She rockets off into the air before you can thank her or wish her well or find anything at all to say.

“You really do speak dragon, huh?” Kekoa remarks behind you.

“She said I’m not very good at it.”

“In dragon. And you understood it.”

“We need to talk,” Genesis says quickly and quietly. Kekoa sighs.

“Yeah, we do.”

Everyone is silent for a while, waiting on Genesis to speak again.

“My dad called. I’m going home. Now. There’s a teleporter here. I don’t think we’ll be able to speak again, but I will miss you. A lot. And,” she shoves a stack of bills down into your palm. How did she see your hand? Is Reshiram still around? Did she get lucky? All the questions that don’t matter come to mind. “This is some money that my brother gave me. It should help.” Her voice is unusually strained, quiet, and detached. Like she rehearsed this for once but doesn’t quite want to go through.

“Okay… but you don’t sound happy?” Which is strange. You thought that she really wanted to go back.

“I am. Really. Just, a lot just happened and there’s a conversation I’m not looking forward to and I haven’t had much time to prepare.”

“You shouldn’t go,” Kekoa says, voice firm and almost angry. Why? This is everything he wanted. Even if he’s calmed down a little in the last two weeks, he still clearly doesn’t like her. “Your parents aren’t good people, Gen. Nothing good comes from going back.”

“Kekoa,” Genesis says in an uncharacteristically hostile tone. She sighs and the anger breaks to dejected acceptance. “You don’t know them.”

“They kicked their daughter to the curb. I know enough about them.” He’s getting angry. That’s bad for him. If this turns into a shouting match, Genesis will feel attacked and he will lose. You don’t tell him this. If she wants to go to her parents in spite of everything, you understand. And Reshiram’s words about roles and duties loom large in your mind.

“They just made a mistake. Thought I did something I didn’t and were worried I’d corrupt my brother.

Kekoa actually snorts. “You? Corrupt someone? Either they don’t know you at all, or that’s not why they did it. And if they have realized, never mind, guess Jenny was good all along, why wouldn’t they let you talk to us?”

“Because you might corrupt me,” she says, exasperated, like this should really be obvious. You don’t think you’ve been corrupting, though? You asked her to stop being rude to Kekoa. And made her eat some gross **** once. That was pretty much it. And she deserved that potato salad.

“Really? What’s Cuicatl done?”

Drat. You were really hoping to stay out of this. So many people leaving in the last year, so few chances for decent goodbyes. And he’s dragging this one through the mud for gods-know-why.

“She’s in a human sacrifice cult.” She whisper-hisses it like you won’t hear it. Even though she probably also thinks you have super hearing.

You’ve only killed one person and you really, really didn’t mean to. That’s not the right answer, though. “We don’t convert,” you finally say. Because Kekoa dragged you into this and it would be awkward if you said nothing at all. “You can believe what you wish.” You don’t even sacrifice people without their permission anymore. Even American war criminals were declared off-limits in The False Tlatoani’s Peace.

“And if you want to talk cults,” Kekoa interjects, “only one of us seems to be obsessed with being perfect all the time. What happens when you slip up? Or your parents make another mistake? You’ll just end up back here, but with no friends.”

She doesn’t answer. Instead, Genesis wraps you in a really tight hug for a few seconds and walks away. Another pair of footsteps follows her. Before you can tell Kekoa off, you hear him huff beside you. “Dammit, why didn’t you back me up?”

“She has a duty to her family.”

He stamps a foot and starts pacing. “No! **** no! She doesn’t owe them ****. Just.” You can practically hear the scream on the tip of his tongue. “Damn it.”

You silently slip the money into your purse, release Nocitlālin and extend your cane. “Why do you care, anyway?”

“Because…” He sighs. “I don’t like her. At all. But she wasn’t supposed to do this. It’s bad.” He hesitates for a moment. “For her.” The inflection and wording are wrong. He’s worried, but you don’t think it’s for her. The loss of income? Her team was cheap to feed and she did bring in money from capture missions when she didn’t keep the target herself. That does sound about right. Genesis was annoying to him, but being one-third poorer is worse. With another bout of swearing, Kekoa finally stops pacing. “Come on. Let’s get to the Center. I need to charge my phone.”

*​

The Malie Center is overcrowded but you don’t dare leave it. Pixie and Coco are in their balls full time for the foreseeable future. They won’t have to eat or drink that way. Won’t have to go outside. It’s not safe outside.

That doesn’t make inside feel like less of a cage. Genesis is gone and Kekoa’s bitter, ending conversations with frustrated monosyllabic answers. No chance to really go deeper into what you talked about on the mountain. You’re not sure he wants to, though. You’re left with your beldum, who is being a very good, very warm cuddler tonight. Even letting you wrap an arm around her as you rest. Her questions have stopped, if only because she’s gathered that you have no answers to give.

Reshiram.

There were answers there, but more questions were raised. A goddess approves of your plan. Any of the last doubts tingling in the pit of your stomach or the corner of your mouth are gone. You will go home. You will face your father.

You have other family. N. He could be your first cousin or the descendant of your great-great-great-great-great grandparent’s sibling. He still exists. Shares your gift. Maybe he will come for you. Maybe he will not. You aren’t sure which to hope for. Understanding and family. A link to your mother’s world. But also a threat to your visa, a threat to Alice, and a reminder of someone you’ve lost.

Then… there’s something you forgot. Or maybe something you never remembered at all. People talking… about… your thoughts slide off it like water on a glass window. Something about The Voice, surely. But what? What could you know? And is it important? Dangerous?

You fall asleep, a warm steel-type pressed against you, before you come up with any answers.
 
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Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Fighting 3.3: Lies and Lyra
Genesis

“Excuse me, Genesis.”

Your eyes flick away from Reshiram—Reshiram!—to see the man behind you. There’s a human-like pokémon with yellow stripes beside him. Wait. “We met in Heahea, right?”

He nods. “We did.”

“You been following her?” Kekoa asks/growls.

“For her own safety.” You swear he’s glaring at Kekoa but can’t quite tell in in the dim light. “After all, you never know who might set their sights on someone like her.”

“Never saw you,” Kekoa adds, more defensive than anything.

“I didn’t want to be seen.” His attention shifts back to you. “Come with me. Your father wants to speak with you.”

Father.

Cuicatl’s still growling back and forth with Reshiram. When you start walking away, Kekoa following with a huff, she doesn’t even notice. Once you’re far enough from everyone else that the electabuzz’s light can’t reach them, the man hands you a phone. Oh. For a second you thought that he was here, but this makes a lot more sense. Kekoa tries to step closer, but he’s held back. Gently, but the message gets across loud and clear. Even to you.

There’s already a call started. No time to prepare. You raise the phone to your ear and cough. “Hello?”

“Hello, Genesis. Are you hurt?”

His question makes you smile; he does still care about you.

“I am not. Are you?”

“Good to hear. I am also unharmed. Security has only encountered one of the monsters here, and it was quickly dispatched. Which brings me to the reason for this call: it is time for you to come home. The world has become far too dangerous for you to be unprotected.”

“But you’ve sent protection, haven’t you?” He did. He was watching after you the entire time. Because he cares.

“Hector was the one who requested you be brought back to a more defensible location.”

“Okay.” You’re going home. It’s still a shock to hear, even after months of waiting and praying for it. Sure, it took the sun going out—but you’re going home! “I’ll come.”

“Excellent. I have a teleporter ready to bring you over. We will continue this conversation once you arrive.”

He hangs up. Teleporter? That’s—you were expecting a boat. You had a whole speech planned out for when you got back, but now it’s slipping out of reach as you try to find it. No time to prepare, everything on the line and—and you have to say goodbye, now. To Cuicatl. Someone who had always been nice to you. Well, almost always. But you usually deserved it when she wasn’t. And there’s no way at all that Mother ever lets you speak to her again.

You take a deep breath and turn back towards Reshiram. This is it. Your last impression with her. Better not screw it up.

*​

You screwed it up. No, Kekoa screwed it all up. Cuicatl even tried to help you! Wasn’t even mad you called the death cult she’s in a death cult. Uggggggh. She hates you now, doesn’t she? And you’ll never get a chance to correct it. That was all you were trying to avoid.

You’re still reflecting on that conversation when the time the teleporter’s alakazam makes the entire world stretch and stretch until there’s nothing but lines around you. The alakazam leaps away just as soon as the world starts to settle around you.

You’re home. It’s hard to see the edges of the room in the dark but the floor is familiar and you’re home! After the first footstep echoes around the parlor you remember that you’re wearing ragged hiking boots and shamefully slip them off. Fine. You’ll face your parents in socks. Maybe they won’t even notice.

It’s just two trips around the staircase to the second floor. To Father’s office. Hector and his pokémon stay at the bottom with your bag. More light, brighter than the electabuzz’s, flows down from the top.

A vikavolt’s light. The bug—you never learned the vikavolts’ names since they were usually at work with the spiders—floats behind you and gently presses you closer to the door. No one opens it when you approach, so with shaky hands you press down the handle and step inside.

The vikavolt stays behind, but there’s still light and a great deal of heat in the room itself. Red is lying down in her bed when you enter. That doesn’t last long, as the pyroar ambles over to you and sniffs you over. Then she nuzzles your shoulder. You used to be scared of the big cat, but now you’re just happy she’s here because it means you’re home. For a moment you ignore the other people in the room and hug her back, giving her a scratch on the chin. But it doesn’t last. Eventually Red walks back to her bed and you have to turn and face reality. Father is smiling, either at you or at his longtime pet. Your mother is not, legs and arms crossed and almost glaring at you.

Not good. Not good at all.

“You’re back,” she says after what feels like an hour of silent appraisal. “But have you changed?”

Fragments of what you wanted to say come back. You’re sorry. Time alone made you realize—what did it make you realize? She keeps staring at you in the dim light and you have to move on without figuring it out.

“A lot. I cared for my own pokémon. Saw the world in a different way. I’ve been away from—” do you say her name or not ahhhhhhh— “her for a few months and got away from her influence. I made new friends—”

“The pagan and the transsexual, yes?”

“I—I was trying to teach them.”

There’s fire in her eyes that can’t be blamed on the pyroar’s light. “’Trying,’ were you? Tell me, were they also trying to convert you?”

“Cuicatl said—”

“Because from where I’m sitting, I see a different explanation.” You turn to your father but his eyes are locked on his pet. He can’t see your pleading. “What happened on the roof—”

She kissed me!

She cuts you off, again, with a wave of her hand. “So you said. Does it matter, though? Something awoke within you. We cast you out and away from it and what do you do? You find another deviant to latch onto. Rather than fight the demons you seek out and embrace them, time and time again.”

It’s all too much. The loathing in her voice when she talks about your friends, the accusations, dad looking away… you want to yell but that would be childish and you want her to take you seriously so you can stay.

“Tell me, Genesis,” she practically purrs with hate right beneath the surface. “Can you look me in the eyes and tell me that girl never tempted you?”

“Of course she didn’t.”

Mother leans back into her chair, a very self-satisfied smile on her face.

“Genesis Elizabeth Gage, you have always been a terrible liar.”

2014​

The library door swings open and you look up from your homework. Stefan is standing in the doorway with an Asian child about your age beside him. Her eyes briefly settle on you before immediately flitting away to look at the rest of the room. Like you’re the least interesting thing in it. “You have a visitor, Miss Gage.”

The girl finally, almost unwillingly turns back towards you and walks forward. You stand up, rubbing some of the wrinkles out of your skirt, and extend a hand. “Hi. Who are you?” There’s a sharp cough in the corner and it takes all your willpower not to look at Agnes. “Hello. It is a pleasure to make your ack-wain-tens.” That word took you forever to get right. “My name is Genesis. What is yours?” You correct yourself, a little stiffer than you have to be out of spite. Agnes doesn’t disapprove, but that might have counted as ‘sass’ and earn you another manners lesson tonight.

Stefan breaks in before the girl can respond. “Oh, Agnes, you’re free to go for the day. Sarah and I will watch the children.” The old woman huffs (she mostly speaks in huffs, tuts, and scoldings) and gathers her things. The girl glances between you and Agnes with a sly smile that grows much wider once the only adults are behind her.

“I’m Lyra,” she finally says when the door is shut. “Or Kotone if you want to call me that. That was my name back home. But a new country means a new name. That’s what dad says.”

“Oh? So you’re from…?”

“Japan.”

Japan. Mother told you about that place recently. They don’t worship Xerneas there, so he couldn’t stop it when Yveltal sent monsters. A city was destroyed. A lot of people died. Now they’re all in a cocoon. That is why you believe in Xerneas. He can protect you. But if Mother let you speak to Lyra then she also believes and already knows all of that. You can ask about other stuff. “Your English sounds good.”

Lyra shrugs. You wince at the thought of Agnes seeing you do that. “I had someone to teach me.”

“Cool.” Like your Kalosian lessons. It’s one of your best subjects. You even managed to mostly speak in it when Father took you to Kalos last year. “What do you like to do? When you’re not seeing the world?”

“Be outside.” At some point her eyes had started wandering the room again. They snap back to you all at once. “Want to go out? It’s Winter in Japan, but it’s warm here. I want to enjoy it.”

You glance at Stefan, still standing by the doorway, and he nods back. “Okay. There’s a playground outside.”

There is. You don’t use it much. Not anymore. Exodus…left…and your parents don’t like letting you do anything with Levi where he could get hurt. Even though you’re nothing like your sister.

When Lyra first sees the playground her eyes widen and she just stands still and looks at it for long enough that you start fidgeting. “This is all yours?”

“My brother uses it sometimes.”

She shakes her head and finally looks away from it and back to you. With a quick flick of her wrist her finger presses into your heart. “Tag. You’re it.”

Lyra races off and it takes a moment for your thoughts to catch up with the present. Okay. You’re not really dressed for this. She isn’t either, but at least she has more comfortable shoes on. It’s fine, though; you can still play for a bit.

You chase her up the stairs and onto the bridge, up the spire, down the pole, turn around real fast (and almost wipe out), catch your balance and go to the second set, up the stairs when she decides to crawl up a slide—wait, she just ran back out the bottom of the slide—down the slide, towards the—your shoes catch on the ground and you fall flat on your face. Little flashes of pain shoot up your arms and legs. Your knee is sore where it hit the ground and you can imagine the pattern of woodchips plastered on it.

It’s fine. All fine. Nothing too bad. You press yourself up on your hands and sit down properly. Sarah’s running over with her comfey draped over her shoulder. It takes Lyra a bit to notice you aren’t following, but she starts jogging back when she does. The comfey wraps herself around your arm and you can feel the healing pouring into you. Sarah does a quick check on everything before standing up and starting to walk away. Comfey stays for a little bit as your cuts stop bleeding, become thin red lines, and then disappear altogether. Even the pains from your too-tight saddle shoes fade away.

Lyra plops down beside you right as the comfey starts to fly back after her trainer. “They really keep an eye on you, huh?”

“Yeah. They want to make sure I’m safe.”

She doesn’t look like she agrees. “I hate it. Haven’t been living with dad long but he always, always, always has someone watching me. Can’t do anything without him finding out. Have you always lived like that?”

“Yes, but it keeps me safe. There are bad people out there.”

Lyra scoffs. “I know. Still hate it.”

She glares at the merry-go-round like it’s responsible for everything and for once you know what to do.

You poke a finger into her heart, smile, and run away.

*​

“HEY!” You’re jolted out of your thoughts by someone yelling very loudly very close to you. Lyra. In what you’re pretty sure is the uniform of the school down the street. “You really don’t pay attention when you run.”

You flush in embarrassment and look away. “I was thinking.”

“What were you thinking about?”

There’s a book series about a group of knights. There are a lot of books and there’s sort of a bigger plot but mostly it’s just kids a little older than you hanging out with other kids and fighting bad guys with swords, bows, and pokémon. When you run around the track you get lost in that world, sort of, except you’re in it and have friends, a faerie rapidash, and a sword made of pure crystal. The sword also—doesn’t matter. The point is that you won’t tell anyone any of it. Ever. It’s not real. It doesn’t matter to them.

“Stuff.”

Lyra stares at you like you said something wrong. And maybe you did. Eventually she nods. “I did not see you at school today.”

“I don’t go. Agnes teaches me here.”

There is a local school run by priests of Xerneas but Mother has some issue with them that she’s never really explained. Or maybe she has and you just didn’t understand. That happens a lot with her explanations.

Now Lyra’s really looking at you funny. “Is that common here? It was not in Japan.”

“It’s not common, but it might be someday. More and more people are doing it.” Mother is working to ensure that. She’s often in Hau’oli or even on the mainland trying to get the government to make it easier.

“Are you not lonely, though?”

“I mean…” Yeah. Very. Sort of. You have your brother. And your parents. And Stefan, Sarah, Agnes… There are people around you almost all the time. And also Lucy. That’s enough.

Lyra grabs your hand. “Let me get changed. Then we can play.” She seems very determined. You aren’t sure what about.

*​

At first Lyra just uses you for the playground out back. Sometimes she’ll talk about school, but never for long. Later she starts coming inside, usually for snacks. Then she starts talking about whatever’s on her mind (snakes, cartoons, something or other that another friend told her) and listens when you say stuff that probably isn’t as interesting. Eventually you just expect her to show up almost every day at four on the dot and sometimes she doesn’t leave until it’s dark. Lyra shrugs it off whenever you ask: “I just like being here.”

2016​

“Do you want to marry me?”

You almost faceplant onto the bridge but you catch yourself just in time. Lyra’s right in front of you. Was that a plan to throw you off so she could win? You almost had her. But she doesn’t start running again and just shrugs it off when you poke her (on the shoulder, not the heart, because Mother says you can’t do that anymore).

“What?”

“A bunch of kids are getting married at recess. A boy asked me today and I told him I was already married. It was a lie, but we could maybe make it not a lie?”

“No.”

Her expression immediately falls. “Why not?”

“Because we’re both girls. Duh.”

She has her ‘you’re-wrong-and-I-want-to-say-it-but-probably-won’t’ look on.

“I mean, you’re nice. If you were a boy, yes. But you’re not, so…”

“Ah.”

And that’s the end of that.

2017​

Mother says you can go to school! On your first day Lyra comes over early and you help each other tidy up and make sure the uniforms are on right before you get in the car and ride over together.

Not ten steps in the door Lyra’s flagged over by some girls you don’t recognize and they start talking with only a quick introduction for you. Their discussion moves quickly with lots of gestures, hugs, and words you can barely make out over the dull roar of the children around you. But you aren’t a part of it. You aren’t wanted here. That’s fine. You knew she had other friends. Betrayal weighing heavy on your heart, you slip off into the crowd.

*​

Lyra finds you again at lunch.

“Where have you been?” She slams her tray down onto the table and stares at you, lips drawn back in a snarl.

“In class.”

“Not what I meant and you know it.”

She’s angry at you. You’ve seen her angry before but you’ve never been scared of her. Until now.

“You were talking to your friends and…” You sigh and look down, away from Lyra’s ferocious eyes. “They’re your friends. Not mine. I didn’t want to get in the way.”

Lyra huffs and half-laughs half-cries. “That it? Then get up. You’re coming to my table and I’m making them your friends.”

She tries. She really does. And you start to learn things about them and they learn some things about you. Three come over to your house in October, but Mother keeps two from coming back (one was a liar, the other too masculine) and the third stays away on principle. They let you keep sitting at the table (it’s not your fault your mom’s crazy, they explain, until you start to argue that, no, she isn’t, and one politely changes the topic). There are always jokes you don’t get and there’s a wall between them and you but it’s nice to have other people to talk to. And Lyra’s always there, glancing at you from time to time and making sure that you aren’t too far out of the loop.

2018​

Lyra storms into the library, all but slamming the door behind her. Stefan looks up and starts some snide rebuke or another before the young girl silences him with a vicious glare. “Gen, can we go somewhere private?” She says it like it is not a question.

“Sure.” You smooth your skirt and walk out of the library with her, taking a left to the staircase, up two flights of stairs, and down to the third door to the right. You hesitate before opening it. She seems really out of it and if she wanted something private… you brace yourself and open the door to your room. Fluffy looks up and chitters for a moment before going back to sleep on her web, strung up in the corner between four posts.

Lyra shuts the door, gently, behind you and looks at the room with the same curious eye she had when you first met her. “This is your bedroom, huh?”

“Yup.”

“Thought you’d never show me.”

You don’t respond, instead walking over to your bed and sitting down on the edge. Lyra casts a wary look at Fluffy before following and sitting beside you. And it’s true. You don’t like her here. This is your space. Yours. You make your own bed and do most of the chores just so fewer people come in. Having anyone in here feels invasive. Even if it’s Lyra.

It’s a boring room, anyway, since you barely spend time here. A few toys for Fluffy. A plush pyroar (almost as cute as the real thing). Plain blue wallpaper. A diary on the desk you stopped writing in years ago. Mother pretended she could read your mind and kept catching and punishing you for stuff you were pretty sure happened in the rare moments while no one was watching; you only figured out how she was doing it when you made up a little sin you didn’t actually commit and wrote it down. Sure enough, you were locked in the library for four hours of silent reflection over something that didn’t happen. She was upset when you stopped writing and keeps having a new diary put back on the desk whenever you hide or throw out the old one.

The diary sends you off into a thought hole that doesn’t matter; Lyra is upset now and she matters, not a stupid book.

“Guess I should tell you what’s going on, right?” She sounds resigned, like she’d really rather not. But why would she want privacy if she didn’t want to tell you?

“If you want. You don’t have to.”

“My idiot big brother is going back to Japan.”

“I… I’ve heard that parts of it have recovered?” You aren’t sure why this is bad as she makes it sound. She barely even talks about Ethan.

She shakes her head, sending waves through her long black hair. She must notice, too, because she tucks some behind her shoulder before turning to look at you. “Gen, how did my dad make his money?”

“Music? Or television?” You think it was music but you sort of remember her talking about being on set for a show filming once and you aren’t sure if that was through her dad’s work or not.

“Yeah. Officially. And maybe for real some of the time. But in Japan all the big businesses compete in the market and in the shadows.” She makes a point of looking directly into your eyes. “He worked for the Rockets and he was damn good at it.”

You flinch at the casual swear. She said ‘Rockets’ like it meant something. Should mean something.

“Who are the Rockets?” you nervously ask. If it’s important you should know.

“Mafia group.”

What? Her father… he seemed nice enough. A little strict. You had mistaken him for a security guard at first with the way he held himself. But you’d never thought he was a bad person. “I think he’s still in it,” she mutters. “Just a little bit. Makes sure that spider silk keeps flowing. Another company, another gang, makes it back home.”

That was too far. “Father doesn’t sell to criminals.” You meet her gaze with a glare of your own, doing your best to keep it up when her brown eyes soften considerably and she looks… sad? You suddenly feel stupid and maybe mean and decide that it’s time to inspect your socks.

“He sells to war criminals. Really, the yakuza are tame compared to his other clients.”

“I…”

She waves a hand—wait when did she start wearing nail polish?—and cuts off your thoughts. “My brother and I didn’t meet him until I was eight. Before that he was just the guy who left Mom and sometimes paid for stuff make up for it. Then he came back and Hibiki—I mean Ethan. No, screw it—Hibiki figured out what our Dad did pretty quick. And he took it hard. We’d both always liked pokémon since grandma was a breeder. Talked to each other about going on journeys and all that. And in Japan that all leads back to Red,” she says the word with a strange mix of awe and disdain. Like he wasn’t just garbage, he was the Mt. Everest of garbage. Which isn’t fair. Your father’s pyroar is lovely, if scary. But you don’t think she’s talking about the cat. “Some kid beat the Rocket Gang’s leader so bad he stepped down in disgrace. Then the Rocket Gang’s rival companies made TV shows, video games, and everything else they could to rub it in. Made the kid a saint in the process.”

You realize you have heard of him. “The guy with the pikachu?”

“Yeah, the guy with the pikachu.” If she’s impressed she doesn’t let it show before she plows on. “Hibiki practically worshipped Red. The night he found out what dad did he completely lost it in our room. Went on about how he had to redeem his family.” Lyra sighs. “Total drama queen. And now he’s going to go home and fight the Rocket Gang until they kill him.”

A lot of ideas whir through your mind but they range from stupid to rude. And most of them come back to one phrase: ‘I don’t know how to help you.’

Lyra abruptly leans over and wraps her arms around you in a big, tight hug. Out of all the things you should be focusing on, you end up thinking about how nice her blukberry-scented shampoo smells.

*​

A few months later Lyra comes to school with the gloom that had settled over her replaced by bright, shining happiness. The new semester had moved you to a different lunch period than hers so you don’t get a chance to ask her why until Emile drives you both to your home. She stays quiet but clearly excited between her almost-too-wide grin and her foot bouncing off the bottom of the car, replaced by almost skipping-steps as you move out back to the former playground.

When you’re both sitting down on one of the benches alongside the tennis court, Lyra finally breaks her silence. “My brother got arrested.”

“What?” And since when is that a good thing.

“Yup. Turns out it’s illegal to attack people and break their stuff, even if they’re also criminals. The cartoons lied.”

“But he’s in jail and that’s bad?” You’re pretty darn sure it is, anyway.

“For now. But Dad thinks he can get him home with a slap on the wrist and a promise to not come back for a few years. Win-win there. He’ll be safe back home and can’t return to risk his life.”

Oh. That’s why. Now you get it. “I’m happy for you.” Lyra smiles and gives you a quick side hug before pulling back up. She seems to sink down into the bench as her legs sprawl out further in front of her.

“And now I can finally think about my own journey without worrying about his.” Right. Her journey. She’d talked about it a lot with you at first but then she must have realized that you didn’t know what she was talking about so she moved onto discussing it with other friends. But you should care about the stuff she likes. Or at least pretend you do.

“Have you decided what pokémon you want?”

Her smile somehow grows wider. It almost hurts your lips just to look at it. “Well, I want to be able to explore places so I need pokémon that can help with that. And a fire-water-grass core is sort of tradition. The fire-type is salazzle, of course, because I like their mating dance.” She winks at you and you get the feeling that there’s a joke you were supposed to get but didn’t. Her smile thins a bit, but she doesn’t try to explain it. “As a kid I wanted a tangrowth since their vines could help me cross gaps and climb places, but you don’t have those here and I haven’t thought of a good replacement yet. Then lapras is obviously the go-to water-type for crossing oceans and lakes and rivers and stuff. But I might go with pyukumuku instead.”

“Pyukumuku? You know my dad pays people to get rid of those? Why would you want to own one?”

“Well, they’re super easy to care for and that’s good since some of my other pokémon might not be. Plus, most people underestimate them and they can be really tricky to fight.”

“I see.” You really don’t—why on earth would she pick the ball of slime over a gorgeous milotic, lapras, or primarina?

“Yup. Then something for deserts, something for the tundra, and a bird to fly on. Or maybe flygon for both the deserts and the flying…”

You don’t really understand half of what comes next. Something about a sled race that someone won with a sandslash, which apparently don’t live in sand at all. And there’s a lake in Japan that supposedly leads to another world entirely but only three people have gone, only two came back, and only one ever talks about it.

There are a few opportunities to ask a question that sounds like a good one or interject with something you’d heard somewhere but mostly you just let her talk. Lyra’s happy again. You hadn’t fully realized just how much you had missed that.

*​

“You’re going to homecoming, right?”

Lyra leans onto the locker next to you and looks at you expectantly.

“Wasn’t planning on it. Dances are…” full of bright lights and loud music and crowds of bodies and the smell of sweat and other terrible stuff. Helping out with prom as part of student government terrified you into swearing off both dances and student government forever. “Not my thing. But are you going?”

“I don’t have a date, no.” Her smile turns almost predatory. Was that the wrong question? Should you apologize. “But there’s nothing stopping us from going. As friends.”

“Um.”

“Janet,” the blonde from the lunch table (right?), “just found out that she’ll be on the mainland that weekend, so she gave her ticket to me.”

“I—”

“Please. For me?”

She looks terribly anxious and she just got happy and her hair looks very cute today and you just can’t find it in yourself to say no.

*​

You should have said no.

The night starts well enough. Lyra comes over to your place wearing a black knee-length dress and black opera gloves. The dress is silk and clearly fitted for her and it looks really good, but the gloves mean that there’s more fabric on her arms than her legs and it’s unbalanced and you can’t even imagine wearing that without immediately taking the gloves off. The dark fabric makes her look elegant enough that you can almost forget it.

Just after the car drives off Lyra notices something wrong with your hair, which is annoying because you spent so long sitting still and getting it styled earlier, so she steps over and fixes it. She’s surprisingly slow and has to get a lot closer to you than you would’ve expected. It isn’t unpleasant, though. She smells good and it at least takes your mind off the heart rate spike you’re experiencing as you get closer to the dance, even if it somehow makes your heart go even faster.

The dance is almost as bad as you remember it being. Less people seem to want to actually dance so there’s less sweat in the air. And if they aren’t dancing then they’re talking and the DJ has to turn up the music to be heard over the talking and then people have to talk louder to be heard over the music and there are dozens or maybe hundreds of conversations going on and your mind keeps grasping onto snippets of all of them and it’s too much to handle and you’d really rather be outside. But Lyra’s here and she’s happy and seeing her happy makes you happy enough that your face gets hot so you’ll stay. Lyra looks at you occasionally or nudges your elbow and asks if you’re fine and you lie and say you are and she hesitantly accepts it every time. Once in a while the conversation between her and her friends turns to something you actually know about and you talk too much until you get embarrassed and just stop talking for a while.

After what feels like days but may have been minutes a song plays that you know how to dance to. Lyra went to those lessons with you and she must remember because she grabs your wrist and moves her eyes to the dance floor. “It’s a guy-girl dance,” you mutter-shout.

“You’re tall. We can make it work.”

And you do. It’s surprisingly easy to tone everything out while the song is on and just focus on your movements and Lyra’s. But the song ends, and a loud, fast pop song takes its place and the moment is over.

*​

You try, you really do, but eventually everything is too much and you have to step out of the room to breathe. Lyra follows, looking equal parts guilty and concerned. She glances down at your hand, seeing it twitching and folding in on itself as it desperately wants something to fidget with even though you kicked that bad habit years ago.

“I messed up, didn’t I?”

“No.” You agreed to it. You freaked out. It isn’t her fault at all.

She takes a deep, dramatic sigh. “You don’t hate me, right?”

Of course you don’t. She’s closer to you than anyone is. Practically family.

“You know I love you, Lyra.”

She brightens up like her brother got arrested five times.

7/5/2019​

As of late your concentration has been even worse than usual. You’ve even caught yourself fidgeting with a coin a few times, staring off into the distance for minutes on end. It’s gotten bad enough that someone told Father and he talked to you for a few minutes before you convinced him that everything was fine and he could go back to his work. Levi, bless him, has done his best to cheer you up but it’s nothing he can do anything about, nothing that you’d want him to do anything about, and he gets the hint.

Lyra’s leaving soon. You don’t know how long she’ll be gone. Maybe for a long time. She does want to explore, after all, so there’s no reason for her to stop after she beats the island challenge. And she says she’d be happy if she never went home again.

You’ve met her starter, a stoic absol. He lets you pet him in long, gentle strokes down the back and he’s so, so soft.

The day Lyra leaves gets closer and closer and closer until its finally here.

“I’ve never been up on your roof,” she asks without asking.

You take her up there because it’s her last day and you aren’t denying her last request. The door is unlocked. You don’t know if you should be surprised since you’ve never even tried to open it before. On the roof you’re hit with the smell of salty air and the sounds of wingull down on the beach. The ocean stretches out almost to the horizon, only broken by the faint silhouette of Lanakila in the distance.

It’s a good view. Maybe you should’ve come here before. Lyra seems to think the same, leaning on the railing and letting the wind run through her hair without a care in the world. She’s wearing the same outfit she wore to the dance. It’ll make it easier to remember how she looks forever, even if she never comes back.

You walk over to the railing and stand by her in silence. You should say something. Time is running out fast and while she can text you on the trail she’ll have bigger things to worry about and new friends you’ll never meet. Someday she might forget to text altogether.

“I guess you’re never going to make a move, are you?” Lyra finally asks.

“What?” What is she talking about? Move on wha—

Her lips meet yours and your mind stops working. Then it starts up again going way too fast. You’ve never been kissed before and it feels good but it shouldn’t feel good but it’s Lyra and she’s pretty and you like it and you’re going to burn with Yveltal and no you aren’t you hate this hate this hate this but you still don’t pull away. Why don’t you pull away?

The door swings open. “Girls,” Stefan says. “You really shouldn’t… be… on… the…”

Lyra steps back and you stumble back from her and Stefan looks more confused than anything before he looks away from you, disappointment replacing the shock. You want to apologize, to beg to him that you didn’t mean it, she did it, you didn’t like it, please don’t tell Mother!

But you know he will and begging him to deceive her might just make it worse.

Now you can only pray that Mother will be merciful.

*​

You look into her eyes and see that there is no mercy to be found.

“I swear—”

“That’s enough, girls.” Father finally speaks, but he still won’t look at either of you. “Genesis, Stefan will take you to your room. You are not to leave it. Please spend the time reflecting on your mistakes.”

It’s not fair. You want to stamp your foot and shout it but it wouldn’t change their minds. A better argument might work but all of your ideas melt to nothing under Mother’s withering stare. Maybe… Maybe it is fair. You’re back. They’re keeping you safe. Keeping an eye on you. They’re just worried about your soul and when they realize that you’re still pure everything will go back to normal.

“What about my pokémon?”

Father waves towards the table. You remove your belt and for a long moment you simply hold it in your hand, unable or unwilling to put it on the table. Putting it down feels like you’re throwing the last few months away. Throwing your experiences away like they didn’t matter. All you’ll have left to show for it are the memories.



Maybe Mother was right. Maybe Lyra and Kekoa did wear you down. Make you rebellious and prideful and sinful to the point where you would defy your own parents in favor of a pagan and a transsexual. Maybe you can’t trust yourself with a tie to the past.

You set the belt down on the table and walk towards your room.
 

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
Fighting 3.4: Cognitive Test
Meredith

[09:18:40]​

It’s not even the afternoon and you’re already tired. You’re always tired. Doesn’t help that you spent the last week at the edge of Route 2 in ad hoc ten-hour shifts, paranoid that every non-existent shadow held an Ultra Beast. You didn’t even get paid for it. It was “volunteer work” that should look great on grad school apps that can get you off this alien-infested archipelago.

In the meantime, you need money to pay rent, utilities, food, student fees, and pokémon upkeep. VStar is at least promising to pay you better than waitressing. Even if you wanted to keep doing that the restaurant’s closed until everything goes back to normal. And apparently Congress made it so that businesses don’t have to pay unemployment during the apocalypse, but landlords can still charge rent.

The VStar job doesn’t look too bad, either. There’s a kid who wants a Class Five. You help her do that. She gets one and you get a nice payday. Still pays over minimum wage in the meantime. Sure, you’re not exactly thrilled to work for the pokémon capture-and-export trade (and your professors would throw a fit if they knew you were A Bad Person). But getting a kid their Class V isn’t bad for the native birds since none of them even need one. Can’t see the harm in it.

Wolsey lights the way beside you, every flap of her wings sending embers scattering behind her. Most fade quickly. There’s little risk of lighting fires while walking down an abandoned street in the middle of the rainy season. (This damn island has an entire season of rain.)

The Pokémon Center has guards positioned around it. No uniforms or anything. Just individual trainers like you, pokémon at their sides. Some don’t even seem that strong. You ask Wolsey to stay outside and help them for the time being. She’s a strong battler and she can cast some light. Also gives her more time out of her ball. She doesn’t get to spend much time breathing real air when you’re stuck in your apartment night in and night out. Too much risk of her burning down the place.

Inkay drift through the air of the lobby. Their light disappears quickly enough, but it still illuminates about a fifth of the room. One floats over to you when you enter. It’s weird watching them constrict and expand like they’re moving through water. Is that necessary? Psychological? You smile at the inkay once it is close enough to let you see the ground beneath you. A quick glance around the lobby shows the nurse and an obviously male teenager illuminated. Maybe your student isn’t here. Or maybe she prefers to rest in darkness.

“Cuicatl Ichtaca?” You do your best to ignore how badly you probably just mangled the name.

“Here,” she answers, about ten feet away. The inkay starts ‘swimming’ in her direction and you follow. Once you can finally see her you can tell why she was sitting in darkness. There’s a telltale white cane beside her. When the inkay’s a little closer you can see the cataracts in her eyes. She has dark skin and jade hair. Her garishly colored t-shirt has a hydreigon and a one-word slogan on it. Makes her look younger than she probably is.

More interesting are the two pokémon around her. There’s a vulpix on her lap, quietly judging you. A beldum floats above her shoulder. Ah. So that’s why she wants a five.

You sit down and smile, more for your own sanity than anything. “Hello, Cuicatl…”

“Cuicatl Ichtaca,” she says. Slowly and deliberately. So you don’t screw up the pronunciation in the future.

Poor kid. You probably will anyway.

“Hi, Cuicatl, I’m Meredith. I’m studying ornithology at U-Alola. VStar set me up to be your teacher?”

She almost certainly already knows all that but you aren’t sure where else to start.

“That’s bird science?” she asks.

Not what you were anticipating but, sure, you can roll with it. “Yes.”

“Oh.” She frowns. “I have a tyrunt. Birds are close.”

Metagross and a tyrantrum.

Sure, why not? Probably not the right reaction, but, again, you’re too tired for fright or concern or whatever.

“So, you got two ‘mons with Class V evos without getting the license first?”

“Well,” her frown deepens. “The tyrunt was a gift. And I won’t evolve Nocitlālin twice.”

The kid has at least a little sense. That’s good. Wouldn’t want her to get killed by her own metagross after you went and helped her evolve it. You’d feel guilty for a little bit, even if it was her own damn fault. Not that tyrantrum is that much better. Probably. You watched half a documentary on them once before falling asleep.

“I see. And you want the license to keep the tyrunt?”

“Yes.” Her mouth stays open a second longer before she snaps it shut. Something else, then. Probably none of your concern.

“Alright. Do you know how the licensing process works?” She shakes her head. “For a Class Four you’ve got to get me or someone else with a Five to vouch for you, tell the government that you won’t do anything really, dangerously stupid. You mess up, we both get punished.” There are other ways to get a Four as well, but vouching is by far the easiest. Plus, it doesn’t seem like she needs the Four itself as much as she needs it as a stepping-stone to Five.

“For the Five, you’ve got to get a majority of the Class Five-holders on the islands to vote to give you one. You’ll have to get their respect. That might be hard for you.” Certainly was for you, and you were just native and female. Both of those, from America’s old nemesis, and blind? You don’t envy her. “You’ll probably have to give them some research they’ll find useful. I did mine on sensu oricorio.”

You concluded that there was no ethical way to train one, but, hey, if you really wanted to try, ethics be damned, here’s how you would go about it. The researchers were fascinated by the husbandry parts and the battlers were grateful that you put a new toy in their chest. “Research on the trail can be hard, though. You might want to suspend your challenge.”

She shakes her head. “Can’t. Challenge Visa.”

Maybe she could apply for an academic one… but you aren’t even sure if that would work. And even if it was legal, she’d still have to get it through ICE in this administration. You’re honestly surprised she got a Challenge Visa in the first place given all the talk about closing the border. Unless she isn’t here legally. You’ll need to figure that out before she goes for the license, but it seems rude to ask right now.

“I guess you could type it out on the trail if you had to. You’d need a waterproof computer. And, um, you can type, right?”

“I can speak. Then the computer types for me.” She pauses. “But I don’t have a computer. Or enough money to get one.”

Text-to-speech isn’t great. At all. You’ve tried sending text messages with it before and, well, you’ve always had to go back and type it yourself, along with a clarification that, no, you didn’t mean ducking. And if she doesn’t have computer money… “How are you going to feed a tyrantrum?”

“I’ll figure it out later. Wild pokémon, maybe? It’s legal to hunt gumshoos. And she won’t get to full size soon.”

That’s a lot of gumshoos. And the revived tyrantrum are notorious divas. Might not like eating rodents all day every day. You don’t have to tell her that point blank. Don’t want to. Best case scenario is that you lead her on for a while and make some money before she accepts reality on her own. Or, better yet, she gets the Five, you get paid, and then she decides that caring for a tyrantrum while broke is a terrible idea. You can barely afford normal birds.

“Okay.” Time to move on. Learn more about her now. There will be time enough to think of the future later. “Any idea what you could research?”

“I speak Lower and Upper Draconic,” she says. “I could translate some of the myths.”

“Draconic? Like…”

“Dragon language.” You open your mouth but can’t find an intelligent response. “Although I’m told I’m not very good at upper draconic. Better at lower, but that has a lot of dialects. I’ve met druddigon and charizard and they talked different than hydreigon. Growls were longer, sometimes there were hisses when I would’ve expected a snort. I sort of got what they were saying and I think they understood me.” She tilts her head and a small smile replaces her frown. “I am very good at hydreigon’s dialect. And I can mostly understand tyrunt.” A frown again. She crosses her legs, earning a yowl of protest from her vulpix. “I think. I did not understand much of Jurassic Park the book, big words and the recording was fast, but I think it said that really smart pokémon might not know their language and culture when they came back. That’s why the pyroclaptors went bad. And tyrantrum are dragons, and dragons are smart. Maybe I should teach her dragon myths?”

You’re aware into work on parrot and corvid languages, helped along by some of those pokémon being bilingual themselves. But dragons? Hydreigon? You didn’t know anyone had bothered to try. Yet what interests you the most is none of those things.

“Dragon myths? As in, myths about dragons? Quetzlcoatl and stuff.”

She shakes her head and strands of hair fall onto her face. “No. Dragons have their own myths. Alice talked about The Split God, Reshiram and Zekrom. And Kyurem, sort of. Then Quetzlcoatl…or Rayquaza…they call him…” What she says is some sequence of growls that somehow still sounds like language. “He let dragons fly. Oh, and there’s the first dragon. Or the earth dragon. In Anahuac we have to offer him a lot of blood so he doesn’t wake up and kill all the humans. But the dragons like him.”

Oh, cool. She really believes in her country’s murder cult. Whatever. You can work with monsters as long as you’re getting paid.

“Then there’s…” the name is a hiss, a strange growl thing that you’re pretty sure comes from her mouth more than her throat, and another hiss. It sounds sort of like a reptile trying to say ‘Sagaris.’ “But Sagaris isn’t a god. More of a hero. Like… I’m sorry. I don’t know any local heroes. Ohserase? She’s Unovan but…”

“I know the story.” You’re a kanaka girl born under American rule. You’ve heard it. Your high school even put on the play before you got your GED and hit the trail. You always thought it was a silly story: if you just pray to the gods and politely ask the government to care about the people, it will all come to pass. But life isn’t a fairy tale. **** happens, people die, gods and kings can’t even be bothered to pay their serfs unemployment.

A glance to the side shows the teenage boy staring at you (or Cuicatl, hard to tell). Maybe you should move this conversation. She’s more interesting than you were expecting. “Want to come to my apartment?” you ask. “We can talk more there.”

She starts to stand and her vulpix jumps to the side, letting out a high-pitched whine as she does. Cuicatl’s hand falls to her cane before she collapses it and stows it on her belt. “Can you guide me?”

“Sure.”

Her hand’s a little cool. You grab it but she slides it up to your elbow and rises to her feet. Oh. Yeah, that is a little less awkward. She uses her free hand to withdraw her vulpix. The beldum trails after her, just above and behind her shoulder.

You meet up Wolsey on the way out, preening and pointedly ignoring a baile oricorio’s mating dance. Good girl. At your whistle she flaps up into the air and lights the way back home.

“I suppose I should say more about myself. I’m a third-year student at U-Alola.” Did you already say that? “I help run cognitive tests on birds. Puzzles, occasional speech mimicry. Wolsey here knows some words.”

“Hello,” Wolsey dutifully adds.

“It’s odd to hear about pokémon with religions. Testing them all day, they’re smart, sure, but not like that. Not human.” Honchkrow are smart, sure, but smart like a toddler. Maybe Ophelia is on adult human level. Maybe. Even then you’re never sure how much is her intelligence and how much is from her borrowed spirits.

Cuicatl frowns and turns towards Wolsey. “Do you have myths?” The firebird warbles something. “Stories about gods. Ancestors. The start of the earth.” Cuicatl gets a much happier warble. “Can you tell me? In your own words.” The firebird goes into a long song about… something. Cuicatl nods attentively at times and urges her to go on during breaks. Once you’re almost back to the apartment she thanks Wolsey and turns to you. “She does. A giant bird with one wing made of a rainbow and the other made of ash gave talonflame their fire.” She pauses and purses her lips. “It’s kind of similar to the Split God myth. Just with the Fire Bird.”

“Do, uh, birds also speak dragon? Sorry if that’s dumb but—”

{I’m psychic. I can understand most pokémon.}

“Ah.” The head of the Phantom Pokémon department is as well, but you aren’t sure if he’s ever paid a visit to the ornithology wing. He’s usually busy with… Mr. Mime? One of the psychic-types that tells biology to go **** itself. Anyway, explains how she learned draconic. You’d kind of just thought that was a thing over in Anahuac, and it might be because that place is an information black hole, but this makes more sense.

You have to withdraw Wosley in the apartment. Then getting up the stairs in the dark is a pain in the ass you don’t really talk much. She seems to manage just fine. Probably all old hat for her. It’s only when you’re right outside the door that you realize something you probably should’ve figured out at the very beginning if you weren’t exhausted: it was a terrible idea to bring Cuicatl to your apartment.

It’s fine. This is fine. You can just smooth things over with Ophelia before letting her in. “Can you stay outside for a bit? My sister hates surprises and I want her to know you’re coming in.”

She grunts her acceptance (you really need to tell her not to do that in front of Ophelia) and slip inside. Your sister appears in the corner, faintly illuminated by pale blue will-o-wisps. “Welcome home, Meredith. You are back sooner than expected.”

You curtsy, unsure if she can even see it. “Hello, Eve. The Pokémon Center was not a good place to talk. I invited her over for tea. Would you like tea?”

She grimaces but nods. “So long as she’s polite.”

“She’s blind and not from here. Can you give her a little grace? Please?”

Eve sighs and looks so very, very concerned. She never used to look like that.

“Perhaps.”

That’s as close to a ‘yes’ as you’re going to get from her.

You go back out and prepare to brief Cuicatl. “She says you can come in. Just be on your best behavior. Full sentences, curtsies, no nicknames, no interruptions. Nothing out of line.”

Maybe she nods, maybe she doesn’t. Or maybe she doesn’t react at all for a long while. “Okay. Is your sister…”

Alright? Bent in the head? An asshole? Definitely not, depends on how you see it, yes but don’t tell her that.

“Some bad stuff happened to her a while back. She hurt her head. Maybe don’t talk about the island challenge?”

That’s all a very polite way of saying that she got hit by a boulder a buzzwole had aimed at one of Selene’s pokémon. The incineroar dodged, of course, because it was very well trained. The champion said she was very, very sorry for ‘the accident’ but mostly she just looked too exhausted to fully care. It took you a long time, but you understand that now. Can’t even blame her.

“I’ll try.”

“Oh. Final thing? Can you—” She’s blind. Obviously, she can’t dance. “Sing?”

“I had classes. I did well in them.” There’s a hint of pride in her voice. Probably good enough.

“Alright. My sister likes music.”

**** it, you’re blocking the hall and Ophelia might be impatient. You open the door again, fumble for Cuicatl’s arm for a bit in the dark, and then bring her into the room. Your sister looks up as you enter and looks on expectantly. Yeah, you’re the mutual connection, you should give introductions.

You curtsy again. “Hello, Eve. This is Cuicatl Ichtaca, my student. Cuicatl Ichtaca,” please don’t correct the pronunciation please don’t correct the pronunciation hey I know you’re psychic please don’t correct the pronunciation, “This is Eve, my sister.”

She curtsies and Eve relaxes a little. Can she even see it?

“A pleasure to meet you, Miss Ichtaca.”

You take that as a sign to guide Cuicatl forward to the table. She sits down well enough. Eve’s expressionless. Good enough. “Sister, can you help me prepare the tea? Perhaps Cuicatl can sing to us in the meantime?”

Both get the hint. Eve follows you with sure footing, cold blue flames trailing after her. Cuicatl starts a song. It’s strange hearing her speak (or sing, as it were) in her own language. Very different sounds. Come to think of it her accent’s pretty good for someone who just got here recently. And she is a good singer. Probably not too much in the way of formal training, but a nice voice. And the song’s structure almost sounds like the oricorio songs that you set out to study years ago.

Back then you just wanted to preserve the old songs and dances and maybe relearn some of the old ones. The journey went fine. You did what you set out to do. Beat three islands and came close to beating Nanu on Poni. Pretty good, all things considered.

If you could have you would have given Eve some of your luck. Even if it meant a journey fifty times harder.

You come back with three cups of tea and one of nectar. The nectar is sat in front of Ophelia’s seat. The sensu oricorio is perched in the corner, preening in the dim light. Eve wordlessly nods when you place the cup down in front of her chair. Your sister can’t drink tea anymore but still wants to feel included.

Once you sit down and press a cup into Cuicatl’s hands she stops singing. “What was the song about?” Eve asks.

“A princess meeting her lover in the night.” Cuicatl takes a sip. “It is an old song.”

Eve’s face literally and figuratively lights up at the word ‘princess’ and damn it for a second she really does look like herself. “Perhaps you can teach me, sometime?”

Cuicatl nods. “I do not know how long I will be in the city. Maybe the next time I’m here?”

“I would like that.”

So far, so good. Leading with song was definitely the right way to go about it.

{Your sister is very… faint,} Cuicatl says. In your mind. {Is she a dark bloodline?}

{Something like that.}

{Okay.}

And that’s the end of that. Cool. You don’t like explaining it if you don’t have to. Not in front of Eve and Ophelia, at least.

“Meredith, you have a Class Five license, right?”

“I do.”

“Why did you get yours?”

“All the money in ornithology these days is in hawlucha care.”

The shadows on Cuicatl’s face seem to grow darker.

That was the wrong answer.

You should have known it was the wrong answer.

“What wars did you fight in, then? How did it feel when the tlatoani gifted you your hawlucha?”

Eve’s expression is no less severe than Cuicatl’s, but she says nothing for now. Your pleading look is ignored.

“Cuicatl—”

“What were your captives’ names, Meredith? Where did you grow up in Anahuac?”

“Back in the 80s the king,” or whatever he’s called, “gave some to America.”

“And he stopped being tlatoani when he did. The birds belong to Huitzilopochtli. Do you know what the crime is for stealing one?”

Yeah. The State Department sent you a whole brochure on it. You were looking at San Antonio for grad school but, hey, you might get kidnapped, dragged across the border in the dead of night, and publicly executed so Castelia started looking pretty good in comparison. Lot harder to kidnap you from there.

“I know. It’s not ideal. But I need the money to get off the island and—”

A young male’s voice starts roaring in Nahuatl, right next to you. To Cuicatl. “Ophelia, please stop.” She does, sort of, dropping the voice to a furious whisper. And Cuicatl’s gone still beside you, eyes wide and every muscle tensed up like she’s just heard a ghost.

Which, to be fair, she has.

You grab her hand, partially yank her up, and mostly drag her out the door. The whisper doesn’t stop completely until you’re a block away from the building. ****. ****. It was going so well then you ran your damn mouth and you never told her why she needed to be formal, hell, girl probably thought she was just making veiled threats at you in front of your autistic sister, and why the hell do you train channeler birds in the first place, dumbass?

Well, your potential paycheck vanished. Might as well not be soulless about it. You bring Cuicatl to a bench and let her sit and lean into you and sob for a bit because, damn it, Ophelia, what did you do?

She stops crying eventually and just leans into you and you have an armed wrapped around her like you didn’t kind of just maybe torture her and still have a right to comfort her. “Your sister is a ghost-speaker?” she finally asks.

“No. My oricorio is. I’m sorry. I should’ve told you that she’s… like that. Sometimes. I thought if you were just formal enough and sang—”

“I’m useless. I know.”

“You’re not. My fault. I’m sorry.”

She snort-sobs and gets some more snot on your shirt that you’re going to ignore. “My brother told me. I knew he must’ve hated me but hearing him say it was—” She breaks up and starts crying again.

Oh. Her brother. That’s. Yeah. You understand that. More than you want to. When Eve…

“It wasn’t him. Oricorio can just use the voices of the dead to speak. It’s… it’s a lot. I know. Trust me. But it wasn’t him, whatever it sounded like.”

She doesn’t answer you. Wolsey does. Sort of. It seems like a song or maybe a story. It doesn’t seem to help and eventually he stops altogether.

“’m fine.” Cuicatl says. Eventually. “I’ll have Nocitlālin take me back to the Center.”

“Noci—”

The beldum zooms into the light and towards its trainer. Oh. How long was it hovering around?

“You sure? It’s not really—”

“Yes.” She holds out her hand and the beldum slips into it. “Goodbye.”

*​

The door opens and you step through. Your sister is in the corner, Ophelia perched in front of her. They look proud, almost. “You’re welcome,” Eve says.

“For what?”

“She won’t threaten you again.”

“And she won’t teach you her song, either.”

There’s a flash of pain in her eyes and for once you can’t tell who it’s coming from.

“You’re safe,” she whispers. “That’s what matters.”

This is hopeless. You’ll sleep and then get back to it in the afternoon once she’s calmed down a bit. Or maybe you won’t. The kid was making death threats, even if she couldn’t or wouldn’t act on them. Is this the hill you want your sanity to die on? This wasn’t the first time she tortured someone with the voices of the dead. Won’t be the last. Might as well not be you.

Eve cuts you off before you can open the bedroom door.

“You said you’re leaving.”

Right. ****. Yeah. That’s what you get for having people over when you’re tired.

“I’ll take you. Don’t worry about it.”

Pale fire ripples across her body. “Where are you going to?”

“Florida? Unova? Alaska? Don’t know. Somewhere that doesn’t feel like an alien-infested graveyard.”

You close the bedroom door behind you without looking at her face. It’s rude and Ophelia will have words with you when you wake up, but now you just need to sleep. Or try. Truth is, you’re not a good person. You thought you were once. Might have been. Because a good person would’ve accepted the message in your thesis, that there isn’t an ethical way to raise a bird that terrorizes people with the ghosts of dead relatives. Except you’re willing to sit back and let a bunch of terrible **** happen to someone else if it means you get to see Eve’s face in the morning.

No. You’re a bad person and you know it. Most of the time you just wish you were even worse. The kind of monster who could look a sobbing girl in the eyes and feel nothing. Because monsters aren’t hounded by guilt at night.

A real monster wouldn’t be so damn tired all the time.
 
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