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guidance (teen)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Rediamond, Mar 16, 2018.

  1. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    Discussion of animal and child abuse, although the actual acts will never be shown on page or gone into in detail. Occasional self harm, sometimes shown. Will be warned for in chapters where it appears.

    prologue: thawing

    They’re talking about you again.

    You don’t understand many of the words, but you know the tone. Talking more in breath than sound, trying to sound quieter than they really are. The same mock concern they take on the moment they turn away from your table, like they aren’t still in the same room.

    But you don’t care. You don’t really care about anything anymore, except maybe for Mother. You wonder if she’s thought of you in the last few… days? Weeks? Months? Between the capsule and the trailer you haven’t had many chances to be outside and count the changing skies and you aren’t sure if the humans work and leave once a day or not.

    No, as much as you’d like to believe it you can’t imagine she cares about you anymore. The nine-tails only keep two of their litters to train. It lets them keep the territories intact. When the unchosen become three-tails they set off on their own. Your body and mind and comfort are your problems.

    And, because you don’t care, those things are now the people in ice-colored-metal’s problems.

    They keep you alive. They try to coax you into eating things that help with the bruises and scars. You won’t, because it’s your mouth and you eat what you want. Which is nothing. They took a capsule out once and you bit them. They let you sleep on the table instead of in a cage like the others, and you’ve learned to sleep in the dark while the humans are away and rest on the table in daylight, keeping an eye open for more capsules.

    There’s a new human, this time, talking with the faux-ice humans. Young and female. Like you. You caught a glimpse of her mane when she walked in. Thick, curly and went a little past her shoulder-blades. Light-yellowish, like the fire-tails in the stories you’d been told as a kit.

    It had leaves in it, some dirt. Even from a distance it smelled unclean, although humans seemed to have a higher tolerance for that. It would be pretty if cared for and you want to run your paws and tongue through it to clean it up like you would for your own coat.

    You suppose you still care that you look like a fox should. But presentation is sort of like breathing, so you aren’t sure that counts.

    The human approaches you again, with the other humans behind her. She walks up to your table, glancing to the side at the cages as she does so as if this isn’t premeditated, and stops at the edge. You cast her the sort of wary, frigid look that only an ice-type can manage in response.

    “Hey,” she vocalizes. “Can I pet you?”

    You don’t understand the words, but she offers her paw, keeping it head-length away from your snout. She doesn’t smell nervous. Is this how humans communicate social receptiveness? You haven’t had much chance to see that behavior.

    It takes you a few seconds to decide, but you eventually do move to push your face against their paw, rubbing your scent glands against it. Her paw is warm, but not unpleasantly so. You sneeze and a burst of cold air radiates from your body as it compensates a little for the heat. The human recoils for a second, probably on reflex, but puts her paw back up to your head when you look at her expectantly.

    *
    She’s back the next time the ice-metal humans are.

    This time she opens up the door and looks at you.

    “You want to go outside?”

    The words are mostly unfamiliar, but you grasp the intent. Yes, you decide, sunlight heat and flower smell would be nice. Rising on your paws is painful as you feel the muscles and skin ripple around your scars and bruises, but it doesn’t feel like anything tears. One of the humans picks you up gently and cradles you in his arms, like Mother and Father would in their jaws when you were a kit. You are unsure how you misbehaved this time. Was it not a genuine offer? A trick?

    No. They set you down in the grass outside. Just a different way of communicating.

    The sun and air are much warmer on the surface, but your body quickly begins cooling itself and the air to adjust. At the end everything around you is still the same temperature, but you can feel the sunlight striking your fur. And smell the foliage. They’re different flowers than you have on the mountain and there are far more of them. You absent-mindedly walk up to one and wrap your jaws around it to get a better feel for its taste and texture. The young human pulls you away.

    “If you want food, they have more vulpix-friendly stuff in there.”

    Her tone is cheerful, but you recognize the pleading edge and the ‘food’ vocalization. You turn away and walk closer to the road, puffing up your tails behind you in a show of defiance. Before you reach it, a much larger pokemon cuts you off. He’s quadrupedal, red and black colored and you can feel radiated heat enter your personal blizzard. Fire-type. Big fire-type.

    He notes your reaction and adjusts quickly, holding his tail still and lowering himself to the ground before rolling on to his side.

    “Didn’t mean to scare you. Just want to play.”

    It’s a feline dialect. Close enough to your native vulpine to understand, even if you aren’t sure you got all the possible subtext.

    You tilt your head. “Play?”

    “Yes. Chase each other around or—” He stops short and rises to his paws before slowly walking towards you, head down. You allow him to brush his face against yours. “You’re sick?” He asks. “Hurt. You should get that fixed.”

    You slowly lay down and show him your stomach. “How do you heal this?”

    His eyes narrow. “Do you have a ball? Or have they tried potions? Those look old and improperly healed, but…” He shakes his head. “You’ll need to get those looked at before we can play. And eat. You look undernourished. Are they providing food or…?”

    You tuck your tails between your legs, turn around and head back inside. You don’t want to talk about it. What happened. What happened after. Why you don’t care. He seems well-meaning, and he shouts after you that he’ll be back to play later, but there are things that a healthy fire cat with a gentle (if poorly groomed) human mother won’t understand.

    Still. The human seems to like you, and she at least takes care of her cat. She’s not like… like they were. You wonder why she came back, why she cares about you, and you realize that maybe she wants to put you on your team. You’d leave the room. She’d put you in a capsule, sometimes.

    But it’s something to hope for. And you’ll take it.

    *​

    You eat that night. The food is dry and bland, but you get some down your throat before your stomach gets upset. Then you let them spray things on you (which sting and hurt) and put you into another capsule. They keep you in it until it’s bright out again.

    You stretch out with your front paws and feel your belly react. It hurts less than it did when you went in to the capsule. You roll onto your side and move to scout out the area with your tongue, but you’re met with a spray of water when you do so. On reflex you uncurl, climb to your paws and hiss blindly in the water’s direction, kicking up a frozen mist around you in the process.

    A human forepaw reaches down to your arched back and you bite the air around it before bothering to take in more information. It’s the young female human. She seems a bit startled, but not angry. You calm down a bit and let her stroke your back, but you won’t warm up the air for her while she does it.

    After a few strokes she reaches down to pick you up, doing so by wrapping her arms around your side and hugging you to her chest. Won’t touch your underside. But she’s less gentle when she drops you down on the table (you still land perfectly, of course) and you feel the bump less.

    “She’s doing much better,” one of the humans says. “We’re very thankful for your help in this.”

    The female laughs. You know that sound well enough, but it doesn’t seem to be threatening. The last times you heard it were followed by violence. This one is only followed by a chunk of delicious smelling food the size of your head being dumped in front of you.

    “Not all at once,” the female says. You can guess the meaning, and it’s unnecessary. You couldn’t possibly eat this in one go if you wanted to.

    You end up getting much closer than you would have thought in the end, but half of it’s still left. That goes to her cat, who devours in three bites a chunk that took you dozens. She talks to the other humans for a bit after while the fire cat tries to make conversation with you. But he’s very large and his voice is always approximating a growl, even when he seems to be happy.

    The human leaves you a while later with a thorough head scratching.

    *​

    They aren’t back the next day. Or the next week. Or the next month. You let them spray you with nasty liquids and put you in a capsule and cut you open (while you’re asleep, but still) but she never comes back.

    And with every day you sit on a table doing nothing in particular, watching the humans care for sicker creatures until they leave and their sunlight stops, you remember a little bit more why you stopped caring.

    Eventually your stomach is fine. They let you lick it again and everything, and you can only feel the scar if you really press your tongue down, doing your best to weave it between all the tufts of fur. And you still don’t know what comes next. You don’t know if you care.

    Maybe you would’ve sunk back into the cold darkness behind your eyes, the living death, if you hadn’t received another visitor one day. A very rigid, well-groomed human female. The age where you suspect even her chosen two kits are going on their own to start their litters. There’s another canine with her, but an odd one. Not in his body (brown with what seems to be a built in collar - you hate collars), but in his posture. Unmoving, unflinching. Standing guard for some unapparent threat at all times, only breaking to survey his surroundings with disinterest.

    Then the human tells him something and he moves. Deliberately, quickly and all at once. Practiced, formal. More machine than animal. He hops up on your table with an agility you wouldn’t expect from a non-vulpine canine, and you feel the shock wave ripple through it when he lands. But he’s up on his feet a second later, looking at you with the same passive disinterest as he did the walls. His eyes are unyieldingly staring into yours, and you have to break off eye contact first. He doesn’t try to rub his face against yours or get your scent. Instead he simply stands there. Waiting.

    Waiting for an order from his human. Waiting for words, more exactly. The human talks, the dog translates.

    They give you an offer, a purpose, a chance.

    You wonder if becoming one of their moving statues is any better than your apathy. But at least it’s something to do. Something you can do without caring, if you have to. And maybe it’s a future.

    You accept their invitation.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2018
  2. icomeanon6

    icomeanon6 It's "I Come Anon"

    I really liked this. You've done a great job of establishing your vulpix's perspective through word choice. My favorite little detail was how both vulpix and ninetales apparently categorize themselves by the number of tails they have, making a spectrum of one-to-nine instead of the simple two pokedex entries that we humans have for them. Another thing I liked was the attention Vulpix paid to the new human's "mane." It's so fitting that a vulpix would care that much about grooming, even in those rough circumstances.

    Vulpix is understandably bitter in this prologue, and the transition from total defiance to begrudging acceptance is convincing. I'm curious to see how the change to Vulpix's life is going to play out. Is it going to be an unambiguous, heartwarming improvement? Is Vulpix is going to lose a big part of herself (himself?) in the process? Whatever you have in mind, I'm looking forward to it.

    I noticed a typo that threw me off a bit at first:
    Believe that's supposed to be "her" in reference to the new human. I think there may be another instance or two of the same mistake, but I don't recall where.

    Anyway, very nice start with great use of voice. Looking forward to chapter 1!
     
  3. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Now this is intriguing. Presumably it's the story of that one vulpix from USUM – except this is a prologue and it already contains the entirety of what the games included, so clearly there's much more to come. And like – given the thematic territory you've demarcated here, what there is to come is definitely going to be something to watch. This looks like the start of a really promising response to some of the Alola games' more interesting themes, and I'm absolutely down to see more where that came from.

    One thing that really stands out here is the human-as-interpreted-by-vulpix thing; it works really well, I think, and the only thing I might change about it is the awkward use of the word “vocalize” for speech. I can see why you've used it, but given how fluent and stylish your prose is in general (side note: looking back through my notebook to see what I wrote down about this while I was reading it, I find that my only stylistic note was “hella stylish prose”) I feel like if there's a less awkward word you could use while still avoiding “say”, that would really do a lot to help out.

    A tiny little thing:

    Even if a line of dialogue ends with an exclamation or question mark, you don't begin the attribution with a capital letter. It just behaves as if it's part of the same sentence, as it would if the dialogue ended with a comma.

    Other than that! There's so much promise here, and it's still just a prologue. Definitely looking forward to more.
     
  4. gofishyfish

    gofishyfish ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    I really like what you have started here. I never see the second person used. And when I do, it's not used well. What you have here is a very rare and beautiful thing. A well written second person beginning to a fic. The way you describe the environment is nice too. I felt the emotions that the vulpix was feeling and saw the people that she saw. I'm looking forward to more of this
     
  5. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    I fixed the typos. Vulpix is female, but that's not specified in the prologue. The 'dex entries state that vulpix are born with one tail and then grow more as they age. Pokemon life stages in guidance are going to be a bit complicated, with some species having some equivalent to the flash of light and others (like vulpix) growing more slowly and gradually between forms, with no clear demarcation line.

    Ugh. I know about the dialogue ending rule. And it's one of those things that I sometimes purposefully forget about. I'll fix it here, I guess.

    Honestly I wanted to write this because of how well SM almost dealt with abuse and neglect. Until it turns out that mommy really does love you she's just literally split into the caring maternal figure and another nastier persona and it's ok for children to spend their emotional labor fixing the people who hurt them. And then USUM almost handled it worse by just not making Lusamine really have to reform at all to start getting her children back. So this kind of exists to play around with that from a different perspective.

    I suppose I can find more vulpine synonyms for vocalize. Thank you for catching that.

    The story proper is going to pick up about two years later, so it will serve as a sequel of sorts to Sun and Moon. I'm ignoring most of USUM except the updated 'dex and sidequests, since I found the story to be a big step down from the relatively simple narrative about a mother, her children and how cruel you can be when you stop caring about other living things.

    Thank you! Second person is tricky but I quite enjoy it. I find it to be less restrictive in narrative style and POV than first, while still being more involved and personal than third.
     
  6. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    Hey I guess I'm going to start a reading list since there's no real place to announce updates. Tell me if you want on the tagging list thing.

    Self Harm, implied parental neglect

    Episode 0: Alola

    The institute is training very young kits this week, so you get your food first.

    One of the humans (he’s very new and will probably be gone by season’s end, so you won’t bother to learn his name) lowers a hardpuddle of fresh berries and foodrocks down to the floor in front of you. The stonedogs around you whine and try to rush your bowl. You growl and flash-freeze the air, causing a pile of frost to fall around you in a neat circle. The pups back away. Another, more wide-ranged blast of cold sends them scurrying back to their places and you turn to the bowl to find the berries have been frozen, their insides ice rather than water.

    All the better.

    As you eat, an unfamiliar human walks in with Matriarch. One of the expeditioners they send out every year with the best canines. She is of dull colors, her hair and skin in the range of brown that is neither dark nor light enough to be eye-catching. Her falsefur is blue, but of a horribly middling and dull shade. You won’t regret it when she leaves you behind.

    The girl is bombarded by the kits, and the Matriarch and assistant do their best to send them away.

    “Sorry, new litter just came in. Have barely started training.”

    The girl laughs, and you reflexively stop to listen. It has the cadence of the windsinging metal that humans put in their gardens. But deeper and more grounded and alive.

    “It’s fine. They’re children.” She pauses, frowning. “Is there an ice-type in here? The temperature,” she breaks into a fast murmuring, quiet enough you doubt the humans can hear it, “como se dice—gradient. The gradient is off.”

    “There’s a vulpix,” the assistant says.

    “An ice vulpix?”

    “Yes. One of those,” Matriarch says. “We keep her to train the puppies.”

    “Is she trained? For guide work?”

    “Technically yes, but.”

    She’s interrupted by your very loud purring as you rub against the girl’s leg, pushing in with all of your strength and even warming the air a little bit by reversing your usual reaction.

    The human crouches down in response, so her upper leg is parallel to the ground. “Hey, girl—wait, is she a girl?”

    “Yes,” assistant says.

    “Then I’m sure she’s a very pretty girl. Fairy-type, right?”

    You lick her knee. It doesn’t mean yes, or really have any meaning at all. You just like to see how they interpret it it. The girl reaches down to some place near you, probably thinking you want pet. Which you do, of course. You press your head into her palm as confirmation.

    “I really think we should be going along now.” Matriarch has the same terse smile she always does when she has to deal with you. Unfortunately, Skysong (she deserves a name), recognizes the subtext and returns to her full height, but not before giving your chin a final scratch. You find yourself purring as she walks away, unconsciously vibrating the air and sending little ripples of cold and warm through the room. In your Moons here, she’s been one of your favorite humans. Maybe the most interesting since—

    You stop purring and glance back to your hardpuddle, only to find that the brown foodrocks gone and the hardpuddle itself licked clean. You huff and watch the tiny snowflakes scatter in front of you. With nothing better to do, you curl up on the ground and begin grooming, keeping an ear trained on Skysong and Matriarch as they head to the latter’s dayden.

    “—technically, yes, but she doesn’t have the temperament. She already had one owner and got turned back in within the month." You've learned that a month is about as long as a Moon, but not tied to anything at all.

    “What’d she do?” Skysong still sounds upbeat, and you catch the tone in her voice of a human who’s talking to teach, and not to learn.

    “She moved around her owner’s things when she was asleep (it had been hilarious), kept falling asleep during the day (the Sun is far too hot to be a Moonsleeper), kept making her master’s bed cold (your body is cold and the nest she gave you was unfit for sleeping in) and peed on their carpet, even though she’s been housebroken (she’d given you a bath).”

    Skysong laughs and your muscles unclench. Maybe the cadence is more like rivertalk than windsingers. But you’ve named her already, and you don’t change your names.

    “How often was she asleep during the day?”

    “About half the time, I think."

    “So, if I was going to hike for six hours a day, she could do that? Maybe eight in a city?"

    “Miss, we have much better behaved lillipup (youngfluffs), growlithe (stripepups), electrike (yellowkits) rockruff (stonedogs) and eevee (assholes) to pick from. The former are the most responsible guides. Growlithe can light fires and electrike can charge batteries. Rockruff are the most loyal. Eevee can evolve into an ice- or fairy-type, if that’s what you’re looking for.”

    You growl and startle some of the nearby kits. Is Matriarch challenging you?

    “Then why do you keep her around?”

    “Because she’s very intelligent and is wonderful at public access. And she’s bonded with humans before. Under other circumstances I might let you try, but you have to think of the optics here. Filming starts tomorrow. I’d be fine if you had to get a guide dog replaced mid-production; that’s a teaching moment, even if the producers wouldn’t be happy about it. But the last thing I want is for one of our clients to get stuck with a little hellion with the entire world watching. Sends the wrong impression, right?

    One of the kits jumps on you and breaks your focus. You try to shake her off, but she takes it as a sign that you’re willing to play with her. And it’s very hard to shake off a stonedog, even a young one, without getting your fur torn up.

    You must have missed something during that time, because Matriarch comes in shortly after. You courteously refrain from biting her. “Pixie,” she calls, before gesturing to the door. You rise to your paws and walk to her side, continuing to match her pace as she walks into the hall. Like a very good guide fox. When you reach the room where you and Hummy had first met, Matriarch looks down at you. “Behave yourself,” she whispers. The door opens and you slip in to properly meet Skysong.

    She’s sitting on a chair in front of a table when you enter. You pick up your pace and jump on to the table, purring to ensure she knows you’ve arrived. She smiles and extends her hand to let you press your head into it, after which she starts giving you headscratches. That persists for a while, with neither of you properly speaking, until she pulls her hand away before placing it claws up on the table.

    “I’m not sure if English is—if you understand English beyond the commands. If so, can you tap my hand twice.”

    You look at her for a second, trying to analyze the situation. Was she trying to really talk to you? It was a very crude system, if so, but it was more effort than any humans had ever put in.

    You press your paw into hers twice and she smiles.

    “Good. They told me Pixie was what you were called. If I call you that, is it fine?”

    Hummy had named you that. You had never earned a name from your mother. So whether you like it or not, you’re now stuck with Pixie, because names don’t change. You press your paw into hers.

    “Mine’s Valentina.”

    No. It’s Skysong. But you make a note of her human name so you’ll know when she’s being addressed.

    “Do you want to go with a human?”

    You hold up your paw, but then you stop. Instead, you lick her foreleg right above the paw. She interpreted that well last time.

    “You aren’t sure?”

    You tap her paw.

    “Do you want to stay here?”

    You hiss.

    “Do you want to go back to your mountain?”

    There is a very long pause. Long enough that you feel the need to make the table colder so she knows you’re still there. Eventually you make up your mind, and collapse onto your side on Skysong’s paw.

    “The mountain is wonderful and cold and beautiful but there are only memories there now,” you finally say, in your own vulpine tongue.

    “And having memories is worse than having nothing at all?”

    You freeze. Literally and metaphorically.

    “You… understood that?”

    Skysong laughs. She does that a lot, thankfully.

    “I’m good at languages, and one of the other villagers had a fox pet.”

    You have no idea how to respond to that.

    “Don’t tell anyone about it, please. I wouldn’t die to keep the secret, but I don’t want it to go public.”

    You aren’t sure what exactly “it” is. You don’t think it’s normal for humans to understand any of the pokemon dialects. Is it forbidden? How does she think you would tell another human, anyway? And if you could wouldn't they have the same gift? Are all the foxspeaking humans trying to hunt each other?

    Skysong makes harsh throat air (not really harsh though) and continues speaking.

    “You don’t know what you want, but you don’t want to stay where you are?” You tap her paw. “I relate to that.” You can almost feel the positive energy she’d been radiating dampen as bitterness takes its place. You recognize that feeling so well you flinch as you wonder if it’s coming from her or from you.

    “I’m sorry,” you say.

    “Yeah, well, it’s not your fault.”

    There’s another quiet moment. Good quiet. But you know your time with her before Matriarch comes back is limited so you get up and start rubbing against her foreleg on the table.

    “Why do you want me?”

    She smiles, faintly. The kind humans use to signal a feeling that isn’t there.

    “I’ve been this way a long time, and I could get by without help. But I need someone to be around to help with… and they didn’t seem to like you, so I figured that maybe you needed help. And I really like fairy-types,” the last part was muttered, loudly enough that she probably wanted you to hear it but think that she didn’t want you to.

    Human communication is weird.

    “I think, traditionally, I’m supposed to help you.”

    “I think traditions are wrong sometimes.”

    You decide to collapse onto her paw again, this time with your belly and legs wrapped around her foreleg as you encircle it.

    “I’m sorry, did that offend you?”

    “No. It was a good answer. If I go with you, what will happen?”

    “I will need you to help me get around cities and routes, when hiking. When I’m not doing that, you can do whatever you want. But I’d like to talk to you, sometimes, when you don’t need to be working. Because I feel alone here and you’re a, well, warm is the wrong word, but you’re another living, thinking thing that will be with me.”

    You stretch out and kick away from her with your back paws.

    “I can do that. Fair warning: I will not be nice.”

    She laughs, which seems very out of place. For the first time you wonder if this is a violent, Team Skull-type laugh.

    “That’s fine. Just be kind, ok?”

    Was there a difference in the subtext between the two words? You start to ask her when Matriarch opens the door and enters the room.

    “Have you come to a decision?” she asks.

    “Yes, I have, thank you.”

    The next quarter-day is mostly boring human stuff, although you tag along with Skysong. You don’t really need to guide her, since there’s always another human there and she was right about not needing much in the way of guidance. The humans tell her about your diet, health and what they understood about keeping you happy and healthy. Which was mostly incorrect, but you’ll fill her in on the real details later. The only important thing for you was receiving a blue leash and collar, the same shade as your wonderful eyes. You will love and cherish them until they are broken, and then you will pout and scream until you are given equally beautiful replacements.

    They tell her to come back the next Moonset for the start of filming. Probably with the human who took the stonedog a few Moons back. He had ignored you and just spent the brief moment you'd seen him staring down at his feet. It occurs to you that humans like other humans more than anything else and they might be together for several Moons. With luck you can convince Skysong to spend some time away from him and with you in the meantime.

    But at the very least, he didn't pick an eevee.

    When all that is done, you and Skysong step outside at Fullsun to head back to her cage in the traveler’s den.

    She holds the leash a little tight, but most of the sightless do when they first hold it. When she gets more comfortable with it, you expect she’ll loosen up. You imagine that her discomfort right now, thrust off into a loud and unfamiliar city with only a relative stranger to guide her, is a little greater than the discomfort caused by the grip on your back.

    Walking the sidewalks of the city is always irritating. Too many humans walking. Too many humans who expect everyone else to just step aside half-consciously, as part of a giant herdmind you can scarcely comprehend. The must vulpix you’ve ever seen at once was thirty-seven at a gathering of clans over a territory dispute. You suspect that there are far less than 1000 on all of The Mountain. And yet humans gather in groups so dense they almost trip over each other, like young kits scrambling for Mother’s lifewater.

    And your job here is to not get tripped over and to keep Skysong safe and unharmed on her way to her destination. They should have trained her. They trained Hummy. Maybe that was tomorrow? They might have mentioned “bonding time” or something like it in the boring human stuff.

    You shove that all aside. Focus. You move hard right to avoid an incoming human kit running far too fast to notice anything. Skysong takes the hint and follows, avoiding a high-speed collision. Then there are the normal walkers. Even with the monocolor leash and Skysong’s dark overeyes, people tend not to get out of your way. Sometimes they catch themselves at the last minute, and sometimes you have to jerk hard to the side. Which makes you glad that she’s holding the leash as tight as she is. If she wasn’t you aren’t sure she’d catch the hints.

    “Is there a bench?” Skysong asks. “I’d like to sit down for a minute.”

    You’re pretty sure you’ve barely been walking for a minute, but you happily make a beeline to the nearest unoccupied bench. Thankfully, they’re abundant in the city. When you arrive you hop up onto it and bark, so she has an idea what height she needs to sit down at. Skysong takes the hint well and eases down into the seat. You take the opportunity to curl up on the horizontal part of her hindlegs. She, in turn, moves her hand onto your back and starts to pet you.

    She’s a very good petter. Pushes close to the skin without messing up your fur or hurting you with the pressure. She would be an acceptable partner for that alone.

    “You’re stressed,” she says, several pets later. You reflexively curl tighter and pout, sending off a small wave of cold air. “You can talk to me about it.”

    “We probably shouldn’t have started training together on the city streets, unsupervised.”

    “Oh? I can put you into your ball, if you want.”

    “No.” Your response is quick, forceful and crisp, accentuated by a double-ripple of cold.

    “…then I can carry you in one arm and use my cane in the other. I’d just rather not see you get trampled.”

    No. You are her guide fox and you won’t let her cast aside your help like that. Not until it’s too late to replace you.

    She resumes petting you without a word. You stay there for what feels like ages, curled up in Skysong’s lap while she grooms your fur. It’s not something you’ve really experienced since The Mountain, and however conflicted you feel about her helping you, you won’t bring yourself to end it.

    “I’ve only been to one really big city before this. And this place smells and sounds very different from Tijuana. In a good way. Less crowded. Closer to the sea. And your food smells… ok, not as good. But still good. Do you get what I’m saying? No, well, I’m rambling…”

    She trails off and starts stroking your fur again. While you’re talking about odd and off topic things, you look up her mane. You don’t think humans can change their skin color. Not quickly, anyway. But you know they can change their fur color and there’s no excuse to have fur of such a middling, dull color. Things should be either light as the snow or dark as stone. Everything else is in the blurry and indistinct color range you never had to deal with on The Mountain.

    You realize she can’t see your look of disapproval, so you have to speak up. “You should change your fur. To black or the not-quite-white metal color.” The one that she had. On second thought, not that one. Just black.

    That gets a laugh out of her. Good or aggressive laugh? You wouldn’t be happy if someone insulted your fur out of the blue. Of course, there’s no real reason to insult your fur outside of jealousy.

    “I would, but the dye might damage it. And I like the texture.”

    You swat at her fur to inspect the texture. It hangs down a little past her shoulders, so you can just reach up and bat it around a little bit. Yes. It is soft fur. It is best not to break it.

    As you open your jaws to tell her as much, you see a smile start to form on her face. You reflexively wince at the sight of bared teeth that close to you, but calm down just as quickly. One of your first lessons after Team Skull was that humans bare their teeth as a sign of friendship. Perhaps it is a signal that, yes, I have sharp weapons at hand but I would happily let you disarm me if you wished. Or a reminder of how much they are not biting the other person?

    You gave up on really trying to understand that mystery over two paws worth of moons ago.

    “Actually, I think… I think I know something that could work.”

    The streets are less busy when you start out again. The rush of humans around Fullsun has declined to the busy but manageable flow of the city at rest. You suspect Skysong would be fine on her own, since you feel her on the other end of the leash reflexively moving away from people before you do. Skysong told you she can see a little, but you have to wonder how much. She could be using sound navigation, though.

    You aren’t entirely sure how human senses work after all this time. You know their sight is different – less sharp, but they are very adamant about colors that look the same not looking the same – and they can hear less. But some of the sightless humans seem to hear almost as much as you.

    They can’t smell as many things, though. None of the humans seem to. And none seem to think they’re missing out on anything. You wonder how they possibly keep track of all the humans they have to deal with without the benefit of scents. Or how they gauge how someone is really feeling. Do they have to be told? And can people just lie about that? What would be the benefit of lying there? A dominance display, perhaps. Appearing aloof and untouchable by rivals and bad luck.

    That must be so lonely.

    *

    You stop, and Skysong catches herself and stops a moment later in front of her cage’s door. She slips a card out of a little pouch in her falsefur and waves it around until something in the door clicks. You revise your estimate of her vision down a little based on how long that took.

    Once she gets inside, though, she seems to know her way around. The cage only has one nest, which is maybe three times as wide as Skysong and only a little longer. The cage has only just started to develop her scent, suggesting that she hasn’t been there long. Only one or two Moonrises.

    Skysong stumbles around until her paw runs into her bag, at which point she bends over and starts rummaging through it. “I’m going to be in the bathroom for a little bit. Make yourself comfortable on the bed.” Shortly after she pulls up a few pieces of falsefur and walks towards the bathroom. When the door is closed, you jump up onto her nest. The pelts are messy and, as you curl up, you notice that Skysong’s scent on them is… off. You sniff around more as the water starts to run in the bathroom. Your ears perk up. She wouldn’t give you a bath, right? You’d thought more of her than that.

    No. You hear her falsefur fall to the ground a moment later. She is bathing herself.

    You shudder. Humans.

    You resume smelling the pelts. They smell faintly like salt. And it smells like she had been stressed. Which is odd. You, for one, are at your least stressed when you’re in your nest preparing to sleep.

    The sound of a claw piercing skin and the scent of blood break you out of your investigation in a heartbeat. It’s coming from the bathroom. Your human has been attacked.

    You bolt to the door and start scratching it, barking loudly at whatever attacked Skysong and ensuring it that you will bring down the divine cold of the vulpix upon them—

    “Hey, hey, it’s ok,” Skysong calls out. “Everything’s fine in here.”

    “You’re bleeding.”

    “…that is also true. Just, one second.”

    The door lock clicks open and the barest of cracks forms between it and the wall. You take the opening and rush in, squeezing your body through and the door a little further open. When you get in, you find Skysong in the barest of her coverings, over the reproductive areas. You know that has some sort of religious symbolism for humans and they don’t let others see those coverings often. They never let anyone else see what’s beneath them.

    How they reproduce is anyone’s guess.

    Once you’ve entered, Skysong removes her paw from the door and moves her hindleg down to rest on the ground. You didn’t know they could use their backpaws like that; you’d always figured they were functionally like yours, just without claws.

    She’s resting on the barrier between the water and the cold, white rocks. You pause on the rocks, looking up at her. There’s blood streaming from the arm hanging over the bath as water continues to flow in to meet it.

    “Ok, I know this looks bad, but, just, hear me out.”

    There’s a large black claw beside her. Probably stone. It’s wrapped in a red-stained towel. You’re good with that color. Blood. Yours. Your prey’s. Life and death in liquid form.

    “I don’t know what you believe. About gods and that. If anything. But where I’m from, there are two sets of gods. Those of the Anahuac and those of the coyōtl. Long ago, um, actually, can we do this when I’m not bleeding?”

    You remain seated and looking up at her with concern and expectation.

    “Look, I kind of have powers. Things I can do that other humans can’t. One of those will let me heal up the cut,” she does the thing where her fingers move and crack like little lightning, “like that. But I need water. And I’d rather not get fully undressed with… I mean, it’s not like you’d do anything, or it would mean anything to you, but…”

    She doesn’t smell or sound like lies or fear. You will trust her, for now. You turn around and silence and push the door mostly closed behind you.

    You hear Skysong shed the rest of her falsefur a second later, before sinking into the water. The scents start to change in a way you don’t think you can describe easily, but the smell of blood diminishes quickly. She’s silent for a bit, beyond the splashing of water. Eventually new water stops coming in but she’s still splashing. You get the impression some of it isn’t strictly necessary for grooming and, while you can’t understand how anyone could play (much less in water) after taking an injury like that, you take it as a sign she’s recovered. Somehow. You know some ‘mons can do things like that, but humans can’t. They’re very breakable. So breakable, in fact, that other creatures need to do their fighting for them.

    “Where was I? The coyōtl?”

    You quietly bark in affirmation. You suspect that her neighbors may not be happy after your last barking fit. Even if it was entirely justified.

    “Right. Um. I’ll explain all that later, promise. Not terribly relevant now. What you need to know now is that my mom’s a water and fertility goddess and she gave me two gifts when I set out for Alola. First lets me change my body a little bit with water and blood. Thought I’d use it to change my hair color. And patch up the cut while I’m at it. The second one lets me know what people want most.” She laughs. “Except me. No idea what I want. I told you earlier that’s why I’m here. To figure that out.”

    You stay quiet for a while, unsure how to process that.

    “Um, you’re being quiet. I’m sure you have questions…”

    “Do you want to be worshipped or—”

    “Hell no.”

    There’s another pause.

    “Ok, what I mean is, basically, just treat me like you did before. Yeah, my mom’s Chalchiuhtlicue, but I’m not. I really don’t want you being afraid of me or anything, and I’m not even that powerful, either.”

    She starts to release water from the bath, and you hear her start to rise in it as water sloshes off of and around her. You turn around and jump back into her nest while you listen to the sounds of her getting dressed and cleaning off the claw.

    Eventually the door opens, and she steps out. Her falsefur is one white pelt that goes from her collarbone to her legjoints. There’s a scar on her arm, but it’s faint and only two paws long. You don’t think you would have noticed it unless you knew what you were looking for.

    The really interesting thing is her mane. It’s a little longer now, going down to about the midpoint of her upper legs. It seems to have two layers to it. The top is a vibrant, shiny green that collects and disperses the light in an almost crystalline way. The layer beneath it is a solid black. It’s an odd and interesting contrast, and you love it. And you very much want to stroke and groom it.

    She makes her way over to the nest with cautious steps before her leg gently collides with it. Then she turns around and lowers her body onto the nest. You instantly hop in her lap and start swatting at her mane, hoping she won’t notice.

    She does, but she just smiles and runs her own paw through it. “I’ll take that as a sign of your approval?”

    You swat it again, and nothing is said. You stay on the nest with her for a long while after, running your paws and face through her mane to get an idea of how to groom it. When you notice that Skysong’s a little less indulgent of the grooming, you curl up in her lap and feel the gentle pulse of her stomach as her breath goes in and out and the churning of blood in her legs with every heartbeat.

    The vulpix are messengers and assistants of the gods, keeping temples safe and laws upheld in the times of their absence. Maybe that obligates you to care for their children. But she feels just like an ordinary mammal, and she’s a warm body to curl up against. A warm body that picked you out in spite of all logic to the contrary.

    You start purring and Skysong reaches down to scratch your ears.
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2018
  7. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    A quick conclusion to the prologue, moving away from Pixie for a moment.

    Production Roundtable #1: March 31

    Participants

    Kenneth Weiss, Executive Producer and Host of Lanakila Dreams
    Asuka Mahi’ai, Director of the Alolan Service Pokémon Institute
    Dr. Eliza Freeman, Child Psychologist
    Haru Sasaki, Head of Wardrobe Department, longtime crew member
    Benjamin “Hawk” Evans, Host of Roughing It With Hawk Evans


    The screen flashes to life, slowly fading in and crystalizing until three profiles are clearly displayed. Three headshots, three little pokemon-shaped icons in the corner of each.

    Weiss: First up, Genesis Bauer. Autistic. Family are missionaries, but only because they have the money to live comfortably and spread the message. Kind of short. Most distinctive feature is her absolute mess of hair. Starting with a dratini. She’s done the best in our focus groups, but she’s also been the most polarizing. Evangelicals and Catholics love her, pagans hate her. Her starter is the rarest and has the most battle potential.

    Ordinarily, I’d be inclined to push her into the protagonist role, but I really don’t want to have our center fall apart in spectacular fashion midway through production. Dr. Freeman, your thoughts?”

    Freeman: Well, she started our session by saying that she didn’t believe in psychology.

    Evans and Sasaki laugh

    Freeman: She might be difficult to work with. If I had to make guesses, with only one two-hour argument to go off of, she marches to the beat of her own drum and hates being pushed off track. Incentives might do the trick, but you won’t be able to order her around or subtly influence her choices. I think she can handle pressure so long as you really try to understand what she wants and how she’s making her choices and try to work from there. She’ll snap quickly if you routinely override her desires.

    Weiss: She is highly devout, correct?

    Freeman: She told me she wanted to do the show to spread ‘the good news,’ and the rules and fixations she kept coming back to were often religious or moral in nature. To be clear, she also told me I was free to tell you about her agenda.

    Weiss: Then how are we going to handle that. Embrace the controversy it will create? Edit things down to a minimum? Keep her as a rival figure and background character?

    Evans: Not sure I’d want to get preached at when watching telly.

    Mahi’ai: If she wants things to go her way, I wouldn’t edit things too much. Either accept it or rule her out as a protagonist.

    Sasaki: If I may?

    Weiss: Go on.

    Sasaki: I think we can just make her a character on a show. Old-fashioned dress and hair, minimalist makeup, occasional monologues about the good old days or politeness or how society’s gone astray. She’d probably find it acceptable, or at least not quite realize that we’re editing out the evangelizing. The audience would just see her as a gender-flipped Theodore Cleaver with an tiny pet dragon.

    Evans: I don’t get the reference.

    Sasaki: Leave it to Beaver.

    Evans: Oh. Yeah. Sure.

    Mahi’ai: She might not notice, but her parents would.

    Weiss: They seemed like reasonable, or at least self-interested, people. I’m sure I could convince them that their daughter being a well-liked international media figure is better than getting off a sermon or two and being laughed back into obscurity. Any further thoughts on her, specifically?

    Evans: Yeah, Lea? I really don’t see what good a dratini does as a seeing-eye… snake?

    Mahi’ai: Her parents bought it. I trained it. And it’s an emotional support snake, not a guide snake.

    Evans: Christ, that’s a weird sentence.

    Mahi’ai: It helps her get used to touch. And dratini are highly intelligent and quite social.

    Weiss: We can return to her later. Next up: Kekoa Hale. One of the Aether House kids. Lost one parent in Sootopolis, the other shortly after. Comes from a military family and you can tell. The only one with any real acting experience, but it’s really just in Foundation PSAs and ads. Starter’s a rockruff that detects seizures in time for a drug to be administered. He’s had it for…

    Mahi’ai: About a year.

    Weiss: Right. Point is that it’s more trained than the other two’s starters, is what I’m saying. And rockruff poll quite well across demographics. Thoughts on his narrative?

    Evans: He looks like a lil’ edgelord.

    Freeman: He can be confrontational or withdrawn.

    Evans: That’s psych speak for “edgelord,” right?

    Freeman: I’m unsure how to answer that question.

    Sasaki: Aesthetically, though, what’s he like? Preferred clothing colors and styles?

    Weiss: Have I not given you the audition tapes?

    Sasaki: You gave me audio.

    Weiss: One second.

    Sasaki: Thank you. So… yeah. Run down clothes, dark colors, lots of scowling, little spikes in at least one video.

    Evans: Knew it.

    Sasaki: Dynamic-wise, he’s going to be the edge to Genesis’ everyman. A dark, brooding rival coming from nothing against a privileged religious kid. Odd balance. Usually audiences prefer wealthier characters or darker ones. Having them contrasting is going to make things interesting.

    Freeman: I could see him not getting along with Genesis. But his social skills are considerably more developed than hers when he chooses to use them. I’m not sure if that complicates the ‘dark’ narrative or not.

    Sasaki: We can work with that. Genesis doesn’t dress particularly well. If we lean in with the generic, older wardrobe on her and give Kekoa more money and nicer clothes to work with, having a dark, well-dressed and suave rival can still work.

    Evans: Are you suggesting we make him a vampire?

    Sasaki: Hmm. We could maybe go that way.

    Mahi’ai: I’m not in the industry, so forgive me if this is wildly off base, but he’s barely 14.

    Sasaki: And?

    Mahi’ai: No 14-year-old is suave.

    Sasaki: No unedited, uncoached 14-year-old is. Besides, if he’s not the primary POV than that won’t matter too often.

    Evans: What’s he want to evolve the rockruff into?

    Mahi’ai: I would generally recommend midday. Having a health-related service dog go through a very unruly phase is less than ideal.

    Sasaki: Midnight fits the vibe more.

    Mahi’ai: And midday is more useful for the kid’s epilepsy.

    Freeman: I agree pushing him to a midnight form evolution would be a safety risk.

    Evans: I could help manage the evolution angst. I’ve worked with lycanroc before. Half-dozen other wolf species as well. And if you’ve tamed mightyena and houndoom, a half-domesticated wolf isn’t a problem at all.

    Weiss: Is the rockruff at all close to evolution?

    Mahi’ai: I very much doubt it starts evolving until they reach Akala.

    Weiss: Then we’ll invite him to another roundtable on the subject, with a doctor and our consul present, later in the season. Next up: Valentina Cabello. Recent refugee from Mexico, been in Alola for less than 48 hours. Three-quarters Aztec. Has an Alolan Vulpix as a starter. She’s blind. Hasn’t done well in focus groups. To start with, she actually believes in the Aztec Pantheon, which is enough to sink her favorability rankings very quickly. Then a large portion of the focus groups have had serious doubts about her ability to travel and battle while blind. If we did it very quickly, we could probably pull one of the other applicants up and send her on her way if all of that’s insurmountable.

    Freeman: Before this gets started, I need to say that she asked that almost all of our session be kept in confidence. What I can say is that she has high emotional intelligence, but she is a very recent refugee. I wouldn’t put too much stress or focus on her while she’s getting her emotional bearings again.

    Weiss: Will she be able to handle the show?

    Freeman: Give her a month. You can occasionally film her or give her mild challenges until then. No big stressors.

    Weiss: If Genesis is going to be the protagonist, then, we should probably try and nudge her to either travel with Kekoa or on her own at the beginning.

    Mahi’ai: She’s blind and in a foreign country. I don’t think she should be on her own.

    Sasaki: We could have one of us tag along with her for a little while.

    Freeman: I think it would be better if she was with Kekoa.

    Mahi’ai: If that’s out of the way, I need to talk about that vulpix. Pixie’s been abused before and it’s tainted her view of humans. She’s spiteful at best, borderline feral at worst. She usually does fine with other pokémon, but I would support giving her a month out of focus just to reduce the risk of that interrupting the show.

    Sasaki: I actually think that could be quite the subplot.

    Mahi’ai: For you, maybe. I, for one, am trying to show the world how well pokémon can help people like her. If that blows up in her face then it makes me, and the entire assistive community, look bad.

    Evans: Has she ever been affectionate to a human before?

    Mahi’ai: One. She was then abandoned.

    Evans: Hmm. Does Pixie seem to like Valentina?

    Mahi’ai: She’s at least pretending to.

    Evans: Did she seem to like the previous trainers you’ve put her with?

    Mahi’ai: I think she wanted out of the institute more than she liked the trainer.

    Evans: Well, then she’s learned from that mistake. Foxes are very choosey about the humans they’ll associate with. If the fox is ok with Valentina and I can give her some tips, everything should be fine. Probably.

    Weiss: Can she travel with her condition?

    Mahi’ai: She’s been legally blind since birth. I suspect she’ll be able to get around fine between Pixie, a smartphone and some help from the production team or her traveling partner.

    Weiss: Ok. Sasaki, any ideas on how to spin her?

    Sasaki: If I may ask, Dr. Freeman, what exactly do you mean by emotional intelligence?

    Freeman: She can manage her own feelings well and recognize them in others.

    Sasaki: Is she a nice person?

    Freeman: I got the impression she was the nicest of the three.

    Sasaki: Then we can frame her as the heart.

    Evans snickers

    Sasaki: Not like— it doesn’t matter. The twist with her can be how gentle, supportive and normal she is. If we pair her with Kekoa then she could try and help blunt his edges. Allows for a fallback dynamic if Genesis really won’t play the sympathetic protagonist part. If nothing else, I suspect Genesis and Valentina aren’t going to get along very much. Lets Valentina either play either a secondary, female rival to Genesis or Genesis play a nasty, racist and theocratic rival to Valentina later on. Flip Val to the everyman and try to get people to relate while Kekoa is a foil and Genesis is all but a villain.

    Weiss: There’s a large group of people who really wouldn’t like that portrayal.

    Sasaki: Right. We can’t really moralize ourselves or anything, but if we just edit Genesis’ statements and interactions to be the kind of things her supporters will agree with and everyone else will be repulsed by, both groups can come away thinking that their side was the real hero.

    Weiss: Play both sides of the culture war?

    Sasaki: I think we could manage it.

    Weiss: I’ll think about it and run the idea by some former producers. Thank you all for coming. I look forward to working with you in the future.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2018
  8. The Walrein

    The Walrein Member

    This is quite the intriguing prologue! I really like Pokemon POV fics, but it's pretty rare to see any outside of PMD stuff. Especially not more 'xenofictiony' ones like this, where there's a lot of consideration taken as to how a different species would perceive and interact with the world. Pixie's unique vocabulary - 'hardpuddle', 'foodrocks', 'cage' for room, 'nest' for bed, 'rocks' for floor tiling, 'asshole' for eevee, etc., is really one of the stronger points here. I was going to say that the only thing that felt off was her referring to there being exactly thirty-seven vulpix at a gathering. There are human cultures that don't have words for 'thirty-seven', after all, so it seems odd that Pixie would be numerate. Then I considered that vulpix in particular might have a stronger sense of numeracy than most pokemon due to them paying attention to the number of tails they have.

    It's getting late, so I'm just going to leave a few random thoughts/syntax corrections.

    Should be 'growl', I assume.

    Needs a "to be".

    I don't watch reality shows myself, so I would've guessed that typical reality-show audiences preferred more 'relatable' middle class characters over wealthier ones. Wonder if I'm out of touch.

    One would hope that in a world where there are actual demigods with actual divinely granted powers walking about, everyone would have this 'which gods are real or not' thing figured out. Maybe the gods don't want people to know which of them are real and/or active in the world? I noticed that Valentina didn't want word getting out about her poke-talking ability, but that she 'wouldn't die' for it. Wonder if she'd die to keep her other powers secret?

    Why do I get this feeling that Mahi'ai's plan to use the reality show to promote the Service Pokémon Institute is going to backfire horribly?
     
  9. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    Hey @The Walrein

    Ninetales/Vulpix strike me as a little obsessed with numbers and math since it determines their society/snowflake fractals. To be fair, Pixie would probably use base nine. But that seems way too esoteric to bother with.

    Grammar mistakes accepted.

    Guidance!Alola's relationship to gods and pantheons is... complicated. I'll get into it more later.

    And there is absolutely nothing that could go wrong with the director's plan ;)

    Thank you for reviewing!
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2018
  10. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    Chapter One: Iki Town
    Pt 1: Alolan Service Pokemon Institute

    “Valentina.”

    You hadn’t realized you’d fallen asleep at Skysong’s backpaws. You open your eyes and slowly uncurl before kicking yourself up onto your paws (slowly, so no one notices your nap).

    “Hello.” Your trainer responds in the kind of tone that’s somewhere between a statement and a question. You almost have human communication patterns down by now, but that one still confuses you. Why don’t humans have a verbal question signifier? You can’t even imagine conversing with another vulpix without ever using the inquiry growl.

    You raise your head up to look at the new human and—oh. Their falsefur is very pretty. Nearly pure white. It doesn’t look fluffy but you can see that all the strands are woven very well and you want to touch it. But he’s standing up on his backpaws and the lower part of his falsefur is a not-as-pretty brown and you’ve also been told not to do it. It’s also not as good as real vulpix fur.

    “Hello, Valentina. Kenneth Weiss. It’s nice to finally meet you in person.”

    Skysong relaxes and uncrosses her legs. You have to move a little bit to avoid getting hit. Not that it would’ve hurt that much, but it would have been very undignified.

    “Oh! Yes. Thank you for letting me on to the show.” Your trainer stands and extends a forepaw. She doesn’t come close to striking the man and he intercepts, grabs it and… moves it up and down. In a way that can’t be for either combat or navigation. Huh. The humans taught you how to do it very early on but you didn’t think they did it to each other. Who is going to give treats to whom?

    There is no treat exchange, it turns out. Instead the man drops Skysong’s hand and takes a step back. “Can we move to my office? I can help you there or—” You make a point of stepping forward, tightening the leash. He is not her guide fox; you are her guide fox.

    “I think Pixie has get it. Thank you for the offer, though.”

    It turns out that his daycave isn’t that far away. Maybe fifty of your body lengths. The human probably could have handled it. But you’ll still walk Skysong back out on principle.

    “Please, sit.”

    Your trainer folds herself down into the seat and the leash goes slack. You take the opportunity to tuck your legs under your body and fluff out your fur to cover them, like you have no limbs but your six-point-one tails. It must confuse the humans, suddenly unsure where your legs went but too intimidated to ask.

    “I hate to get straight to business, but it’s going to be a busy day. You have read—reviewed the contract, correct?”

    “Most if it was read to me. Is it possible that I could get an audio copy of it? For future reference.”

    “Of course. That can be arranged. I’m only asking because there is a clause about seeking showrunner approval for body modifications, including haircuts and dyes.”

    Skysong gives off a distress scent and crosses her legs, moving them quickly enough you again have concerns about whether your need to move further away from her.

    “It’s not important, for now. We haven’t done the final photoshoots and introductory clips yet. You haven’t even set your wardrobe yet, which is one of our main concerns with that rule. Our wardrobe department will help you pick those quite shortly, actually.”

    “…so, I have not been punished yet?”

    The man laughs. It’s… different than Skysong’s. Hers is cold and sharp, one clear, flowing sound. His takes up more audiospace, lasts longer and hits you in many different ways rather than a single striking one. It’s not better or worse just… different. Still good. Name worthy? Yes. Snowfire. Cold falsefur and a warm voice.

    “No, no. Not getting punished. We don’t really do that. There are rules on us, you know. Now, inside of the game? There might be times when there will be challenges laid out, or times when there will be one winner or one loser between the three of you. But if you ever feel like you’ve been unfairly or excessively punished we would be happy to hear you out. There is a slight time delay between the filming of events and the release. Enough time to edit out things that shouldn’t be televised or resolve situations where the showrunners made a mistake.”

    There’s a pause as Skysong shifts in her seat. She taps a foot against the ground while keeping her legs crossed, which prompts you to finally get up and move.

    “I think I understand. Could you repeat it again? I’m sorry. English is a little new.”

    She seemed to understand you well enough. You don’t tend to speak in long winded speeches like that, though. What’s the point? Any idea can be explained by the right posture, growl and ten words.

    Snowfire repeats his ramble and Skysong absentmindedly uncrosses her legs and rests her backpaws on the floor. You still won’t go any closer. Not until you’ve given her your six words and a growl on proper paw swinging etiquette.

    “Ok. Thank you,” Skysong says.

    “Good. Now. I mostly brought you here to discuss the cameras. Filming starts today, but you can retreat to your room at the Pokémon Center if you want privacy. I think it would be a good idea to stay out with the cameras to get used to them before other stressors are added to the mix, but I understand that they unnerve some people.”

    “Oh. Can you, can you clarify about the cameras. When they’ll be on and where and, um, are there breaks?”

    You shift and push your front paws forward. Why will there be lightboxes? You love lightboxes because you look beautiful, but you weren’t under the impression most traveling humans had lightboxes following them.

    “Hmm. I suppose you didn’t thoroughly read the contract? It doesn’t matter. There will be cameras in your room at Iki Town, but not the bathroom. When cameras are on they’ll be virtually everywhere, all the time. But they’ll be off about as much as they’re on. We only follow one contestant at once, so if you want fewer cameras on you it’s a good idea to split up.

    “Split up in eleven days, anyway. We’re going to make you stay together that long, and then you can make decisions on your own.”

    …that’s a lot of lightboxes. Even you can’t be flawless every second of the day.

    “Even with Dr. Freeman?”

    “Oh. No. Never with her. That’s quite confidential, so long as you want it to be. And even if you do approve her sharing information with the showrunners we would never film it.”

    Doctor Freeman? There was attachment when she said that name. Who is this human? If she a threat to y—to Skysong?

    “And we don’t go out of the way to embarrass our contestants. Once again, there are rules and laws on us. We’ll do our best to cast you in the best light we can, and almost all of the footage we get will never see a television screen.”

    “I think I understand.”

    Snowfire smiles and you shudder reflexively. He shows a lot of his teeth and it’s unbearably large. Even if he’s talking to a human who can’t see it.

    “Good, good. Do you have any further questions?”

    “I, not at this time, no?”

    “Alright. I’ll hand you over to Mr. Susaki, then.” Snowfire stands and walks towards the door, putting a hand on Skysong’s shoulder on the way. He pulls the door open and another human steps through. An adult, probably a little bit past peak fertility. Short mane and a relatively short stature. His falsefur is a vibrant red with many smaller dark red patterns inside of it, like he’s wearing several different messily consumed kills he’s never cleaned out.

    When you are allowed to bark you will inform Skysong how disgusting this human—this Corpsefur—is.

    Corspefur bends down and extends his paw to Skysong’s upper foreleg. “Hello.”

    Skysong flinches at the touch, which winds up putting her paw close to Corpsefur’s. She tepidly extends hers and shakes paws with him. And no treats are exchanged.

    “My name’s Haru. I’m in charge of wardrobe. Walk with me?”

    “Oh. Um, sure.”

    Skysong stands and you step forward to pull the leash taut. Corsefur sticks his paws back into his pockets (gross) and walks towards the door briskly, leaving you and Skysong behind. You try and match his pace without ripping the leash out of Skysong’s paw, but he’s an annoyingly fast walker for a human.

    “Your hair. It’s different from the photos I was given.”

    Skysong stops and you trip over your paws when the leash unexpectedly snaps taut around your back.

    “I. I knew now that I wasn’t supposed to but I didn’t know then and—”

    Corpsefur waves his paw to dismiss her. Skysong can’t see it (obviously), so she continues her apology until the stupid, horrific man takes the hint.

    “It doesn’t matter. You plan on keeping it?”

    “For a while, at least, yes.”

    “Cool. Where’d you get it done? It would help keep it maintained if that same stylist could fix it. Rather complex dye job with the layers and all. Easy to botch, hard to fix.”

    “I—I don’t remember. Pixie found a place. She seems to think it’s very good. The hair, not the place. I don’t actually know how she found that but—”

    Corpsefur is frowning and his upper legs are drawn across his chest, together and tense. The human equivalent of fur puffed and teeth bared.

    “Fine. Tell me if you remember any details, alright? Otherwise we’ll just need to dye it something completely different later on when it starts to fade. Something like that won’t look very good when the colors have died down and it gets tangled and messy.”

    Like he would know a single thing about fur maintenance.

    He resumes walking and you try to pull a little bit more to get Skysong’s attention. It’s unnecessary; she hears his footsteps and follows on her own, leaving you to scramble a little bit to get the leash fully extended again.

    The room he leads you into is full of falsefurs on racks, accompanied by golden ice pieces and—wait. Are those false manes? Or real manes they ripped off of a head and put together for another human to wear? You will need to sniff them to be sure but that’s genuinely twisted. Did pulling off the manes produce the blood on his falsefur? You didn’t think it was real, just some poorly chosen pattern, but you’re starting to get very nervous about this entire situation.

    You puff yourself up and start chilling the air in your fur, just to be safe.

    “Now, your new hairstyle. It’s good for a few reasons. It makes you stand out automatically, compared to the other two. Marks you as a little bit different. Not fully in line with society’s expectations of a good, miniature adult. That describe you?”

    There’s a long pause as Skysong processes the rapidfire blurring of words that had just been spit at her.

    “I like following rules, if that’s what you’re asking?”

    “Hmm. No. But it’s good we established that out of the gate. Why did you get it, anyway? Wouldn’t expect a blind girl to spend whatever that cost on hair coloring.”

    Skysong’s face twitches for a moment, as if preparing for a verbal pounce. But she relents and puts one of her lower legs behind the other, leaning back on it a little bit while her face relaxes. A sign of deference to her current alpha.

    “My. I mainly worship Chalchuihtlicue. She’s a water goddess but her color is jade so. It was a, um, what’s the word? Gift is wrong, I think.”

    “Tribute.” Corpsefur closes the distance to Skysong and picks up some of her hair in his paw, causing your trainer to visibly flinch at the touch. It takes every ounce of your (considerable) strength not to bark at him. “I suppose we could play that angle. Have you explain it in the opening statements later today. Give you more traditional or exotic clothing. Robe-like dresses and the like. It would let you function as an ambassador for your people, play that role on the show.” He drops the hair he was holding and steps back. “I wouldn’t recommend that angle. The violent pantheons are out of fashion after Sootopolis. No. Something else. Nature? You like your fox, and I was led to believe she was near-unlikeable. Did you spend much time outdoors back home?”

    He wasn’t the sort of person you would like. That’s for sure.

    “Yes. I was on good terms with a pack of, you don’t have the species here, but they’re fox-like. I’m good with pokémon and animals. And I spent a lot of nights outside.”

    “That’s definitely something I can work with. Green as shorthand.” He starts moving his paws through the racks of falsefur to find something. He winds up pulling out a dress of a slightly paler green than Skysong’s hair. It’s not repulsive, which leads you to wonder why he dresses like an unhygienic monstrosity when he knows how to identify decent falsefur.

    He claps a paw onto Skysong’s back, leading to a much more noticeable flinch. Then he starts pushing as he walks to a door on the side of the room. Skysong awkwardly tries to match his pace and more or less succeeds by the time that Corpsefur stops abruptly at the door and thrusts the dress into her hands. “Would you try that on? I can get an assistant to help if you don’t know how to—”

    “I’m quite fine, thank you.” Skysong steps inside and, after a moment of searching for the handle, closes the door behind her, dropping the leash as she does so. You curl up outside and keep a watchful glare on Corpsefur as he sorts through a box, occasionally taking out overhoofs with either a glance or a dismissive toss.

    Skysong reenters the room before he’s finished. You pick up the leash in your mouth in case she needs it, but Corpsefur is already standing next to her by the time you’re ready to offer it. He moves around her, looking down and frowning, occasionally stopping to pull on or move part of the falsefur.

    The encounter progresses like that for a long while, with Corpsefur bringing Skysong pieces of falsefur and having her try them on. His touches produce progressively smaller flinches, but Skysong’s scent keeps getting more distressed. You aren’t sure if you’re supposed to freeze the man or not. You want to do it, but if you weren’t supposed to it would be awkward. Maybe awkward enough to lead to your rejection. You keep curled up on the sidelines.

    There’s only one piece of falsefur that the humans argue about. It’s a pair of legsheathes. They’re a pretty, faded blue but the main feature is that they’re covered in rips, tears and grass stains. The bottom third is ripped off altogether a little bit haphazardly, like another canine was allowed to play with them aggressively for an afternoon.

    Which sounds like a lot of fun.

    Skysong runs a paw over them, getting a sense of the texture. “They’re already damaged?”

    “Yes; it fits with the aesthetic I’ve been going for. Loose, airy clothing. A lot of green, some reds and pale blues. Fits with the nature vibe.”

    “But all the other clothing was… good?”

    “This will look good, too, with some modifications. It’s about making things that seem bad or worn but are actually quite functional and visually appealing.”

    “Then, can I wear my old boots?”

    Corpsefur snorts.

    “See, those are actually destroyed. Those jeans? Breathable fabric, symmetric messes, surprisingly functional. The old stuff you sent pictures of? It’s actual trash. Trust me, it’s not the impression you want to send.”

    Skysong holds her mouth open and twitches a finger, like there’s something she wants to say in response. But she closes her mouth, still visibly unhappy, and picks up the falsefur.

    “You don’t need to actually try it on. That was meant for another contestant, but we decided to go in a different direction. It’d be way too big on you. Too masculine, too.”

    “I… ok.”

    “I’ll get you the rest of the clothing tomorrow, before we leave up to Iki. Going to try and find some sort of a jade or emerald trinket, too, to give you something iconic. In the meantime,” he thrusts a small stack of falsefur into Skysong’s chest, causing her to reflexively step back and grab it. “I want you to put this on. When you’re done another staffer will apply your makeup for the day. When you’re on camera, it’s best to have at least something on to adjust for the lighting.”

    “I can do my own makeup,” Skysong asserts.

    “Yeah, well, it would look like a blind girl did it. Trust me on this one, you don’t want the audience to see you as a punchline.”

    Skysong takes a long, deliberate breath before turning around to enter the side room one final time. When she emerges, you dutifully hand her the leash and her old overhoofs. She pointedly leaves the latter behind, leaving Corpsefur to clean up the mess.

    Once you get out of the room, your trainer orders you to find a bathroom. You do so by scent and take her to it. She leaves you outside of a smaller privacy cage again, this time on a rather disgusting white stone surface. You head over to furniture in the room and curl up on it. The cloth still smells bad, but not horrifically so.

    Two other humans walk in and out before Skysong finally comes out of her cage. You don’t think she actually urinated or defecated in that time.

    You reach Skysong as she’s washing her paws. When she’s finished you brush the leash against her leg, reminding her you’re there. She doesn’t take it. Instead she reaches down and picks you up instead. She repeatedly clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth and walks towards the exit. Right before she reaches the door, Skysong stops and turns towards the furniture you’d been resting on. “That a couch?” she asks.

    You affirm and she sits down. You earn some absentminded strokes, a little less high quality than the ones from yesterday. “Is something wrong?”

    She doesn’t answer beyond a slow shake of her head. Without saying a word, she picks up the leash and leaves the cage.

    You find your way to the cage she was told to go to. Your trainer sits in a chair and gets powder and liquid put onto her face while she continues to sit in silence, offering only a single word of thanks at the very end. Then she tells you to head for the training room.

    You ask her again if anything’s wrong. This time she responds.

    “Nothing happened. He just reminds me of someone. That’s all.” She slows down briefly and you turn to look at her. She shakes her head and repeats, “That’s all.”

    You highly doubt that she’s told you it all. And that bothers you because what you don't know could be anything. Could be hate. But you don’t want to push her out of her comfort zone. Don’t want to push her away. Not unless you're sure she doesn't love you.

    You keep walking.

    *

    She talks to Snowfire again. There are many stretched smiles and bared teeth and laughs that don’t sound quite like her real one. Yet her glands slowly stop begging for help. And by the end her laughter sounds like her name.

    *

    “I’m terribly sorry about that. Just, with the show starting, it’s been a lot going on.”

    “It’s fine.” Skysong laughs. “I just want some practice with her before I leave the city.”

    Matriarch glances at you. You keep to grooming your fur, and you find yourself radiating more cold than usual. Matriarch admitted a mistake and now she has to watch you with a trainer who isn’t allowed to abandon you.

    “Of course. That can be arranged for a while today. And more over the coming days, until you feel you’re comfortable with her. You’ve never had a seeing eye dog, right?”

    “No, ma’am.”

    “Hmm. For some reason I thought you had… well, that’s a reminder to double check everything, I suppose. Follow me, I’ll find someone to help you.”

    *

    There’s an obstacle course after that. The same one you went through with Hummy and have gone through with many of the humans in the facility as a training run, either for yourself or the younger pups watching. You find that it’s much easier when she can hear your verbal commands, and you can use short breaks to explain to her what different tightnesses on the leash mean, or what a quick tug to the side indicates. She stares off into the distance, not reacting except to offer her hand, like your mewing simply indicated you wanted pet.

    Which you do, of course. Even if that’s not the main thing you’re trying to communicate.

    *

    It’s not something you’d really noticed until she tried to ignore you, but her posture is uncannily controlled for a human. She sits bolt upright, head facing forward with her legs tightly folded against each other and either the floor or her lap, almost never moving anything beyond the small signs of breath.

    It seems rather draining for a resting state. You mix yours up between sitting on your legs, splaying yourself out on the ground, curling up, lying on your side and holding your feet together and curling up with your head on top of your body. And you move a lot to stretch or check the environment. Unless you’re being focused upon. Come to think of it, Skysong has no idea whether or not anyone’s paying attention to her. Ever.

    You make a mental note to discuss a cue with her so she’ll know when she’s being watched or there are lighboxes around. Which there are now. Have been through the entire course. You don’t know if she knows, so you tell her. You don’t expect her to respond, but she whispers under her breath, “Of course there are,” so low that only you can hear it. The tone is the closest thing she’s ever given you to a rebuke.

    You stifle a whimper and avert your gaze until the end of the break.

    *

    It takes the remainder of the morning and the bulk of the afternoon to finish Skysong’s training. There are a few breaks (with progressively less tension as your trainer’s mood lifts). One break had food; you got a cheri berry with your foodrocks. It was very good.

    When Skysong has learned what she wants to you leave the institute with her. No lightboxes follow.

    “There a beach we could go to?” Skysong asks.

    You can hear the waves and smell the salt from the institute. You can sense them throughout most of the city, in fact. The humans are land creatures but they prefer to mark their territory as close to the water as they can.

    It is a quick walk, albeit a crowded and busy one for a rather small fox guiding a somewhat small human.

    *

    Skysong removes her overhoofs at the edge of the water and tosses them back a bodylength or two.

    “Watch those, will you?”

    You take a moment to walk over to them and organize them in the sand before you return to her and begin your sentry duty on her lap. There’s a long period of quiet after as your trainer seems to absorb the sound of the waves and the brush of the seawater against her body. The sea sometimes brushes up into her falsefur as it breaks down and forms a thin skin against the sand before slowly receding into the earth and sea once more. It’s never high enough to reach you.

    As time wears on and the noises on the beach begin to quiet as humans go indoors for their evening meal, Skysong finally speaks.

    “I said I would explain things. My mother. The gods. I’ll try, but I’m very new to all of this. I’ve spoken to my mother once and after that, well, things started happening really quickly and I haven’t had much time to really think about everything. Maybe that’s for the best…”

    You shift and look up to her. She can’t see it, but you think it’s considered polite to look at humans when you’re listening to them. It feels right, anyway.

    “Um. So. There used to be the Anahuac gods. They’re a little bit violent. And they ask for things from people to keep providing harvests and sunlight. I think it’s fair; other people don’t think so. Some of those people came over with guns and unknown types of pokémon. They tried to poison the water. Unite the other, smaller tribes around the Anahuac. The tribes that the Anahuac had fought for—for blood to offer the gods so that there kept being food and sunlight.

    “The invaders, the coyōtl, they and their gods tried to take over all of Mexico. And the Anahuac gods wanted more blood to fight them off. But we had to. The coyōtl,” she pauses and her face scrunches up, “they did very bad things. Killed for the fun of killing and conquest. Hurt people because they could…

    “My father was a sailor. Half Anahuac. He met my mother and she gave him a child. He moves inland to take care of me. For over a decade. Then my mother came back a week ago. She took me here and gave me my gifts and arranged for me to be in the show so I would have money and people looking after me. I’m grateful to her. Grateful for you. Does that answer your questions?”

    No. It doesn’t. Not all of them.

    “You really don’t need to be worshipped? Or, am I supposed to protect you?”

    A tiny wave crests high and hits you right in the face. You grimace and try to shake some of it off.

    Skysong giggles. It almost makes the whole thing worth it.

    “No. I’m not a goddess. But I would like protecting. Not because of her,” she motions towards the sea, “but because you’re my guide fox.”

    “And is your father still in Mexico?”

    Skysong’s heart skips half a beat. It takes her another dozen dozens of beats for her to answer.

    “He’s not here.”

    She slowly pulls herself up and runs a hand through her falsefur, driving some of the sand out. The dampness seems to fade from it a moment later.

    You open your mouth to apologize, only to stop as the wind twists into a quiet voice.

    Leave her be.


    ***
    To be continued on May 8, 2018
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2018
  11. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    Chapter One: Iki Town
    Part 2: Lanakila Dreams Set

    Sometimes, in the midst of a wonderful sleep, something will call you out. Something moving in the environment, a sound on the horizon, unbearable heat: the kind of thing that scares your body into asking your mind for answers. But you’re not fully awake. Just alert enough to decide what the thing is.

    You remember a night on the mountain when you were only a two-tails. There was a great stirring in the earth as the entire mountain vibrated. You were pulled out of sleep for the briefest of moments, head still on the ground even as your eyes flickered open. You decided that you were in the midst of an avalanche and, satisfied with the answer, your body allowed you to sleep once more.

    After the fact, you’ve wondered why. How you came to that conclusion in the first place. Why your body didn’t think it was serious. But at the time it felt natural and commonplace, while urgency felt like the most alien of things.

    There is something now that feels like that. A part of you knows what’s happening, but you don’t want to ask. Everything is overwhelmingly comfortable, like being covered in mother’s tails in the midst of a bitter, windy night. There’s a world out there, somewhere, but it’s impossible to care about such a miserable place.

    You don’t feel time passing; you barely understand what time even is.

    *
    The world becomes real again millennia and milliseconds later.

    You shake your tails and puff your fur, as if rising from an unwanted swim. You aren’t wet, but you were drowning. Confined in eternity.

    You catch Skysong’s scent and turn to glare at her. She’s placing your capsule into a band on her waist. A man hands her your leash shortly after. There are massive horned creatures behind her being led away by other humans.

    Oh.

    She had been riding one.

    You hadn’t wanted to.

    The ball was your request.

    Not her fault.

    You walk over to her paws as she bends down, doing your best to notify her that you’re there and you want to help, to the extent you can, in the application of your wonderful blue leash. The proximity gives you a chance to examine Skysong. She smells like those horrific monsters and she will need a thorough licking later to reassert your ownership. Her mane has been reshaped by the wind and her falsefur is covered in terrible bovine hair. They’re old falsefurs, the ones that already smell like her and bear the rips and stains of life upon them. And you don’t think there’s powder on her face, although her skin is in the uninteresting middle ground where you can’t really notice the subtle difference that ceremonial markings make.

    Almost as soon as you have the leash on, a new human approaches. Female. Older than Skysong and younger than Corpsefur.

    “Valentina?”

    Skysong looks towards the voice, her jaw slightly open in confusion or shock.

    “My name is Haley. I’m in charge of makeup and hair around here. Sorry we couldn’t meet yesterday; I was rather busy with another contestant.”

    “It’s fine, really.”

    “Good, Good. Can I walk you to the base?”

    You step forwards and whip your tails out.

    “Oh, um, I guess your dog has it?”

    Skysong laughs. “I think she does, yeah.”

    You are not a mere dog. But you do “have it.”

    *
    She takes Skysong to a stone cave on the other side of the settlement. Which is odd, because most of the caves here are carved from tree corpses. Once inside, your leash is dropped and powder human and Skysong do boring stuff. By the end, Skysong’s markings are applied, her mane is frozen into place and she’s wearing the green dress from yesterday, with a strange shiny rock suspended from a metal rope around her neck. Your trainer flinches a little at the touches, but she doesn’t smell as distressed as she did yesterday. Before you can ask why, you are ushered along to the next cave.

    *
    There are three humans. One is Snowfire. The other two, one male and one female, are roughly Skysong’s age. The female is near adult-size and has rather well-developed leg muscles for a human of her age and gender. For a moment you second guess the scent cues and wonder if she really is an adult. But, no, her milk glands are still apparently undeveloped and her facial features are too soft and young-coded to be fully mature.

    The other male has darker, rougher skin with small scars littering his legs. His mane is short, even for a male. The female’s mane is an emulation of a single, light brown tail.

    Snowfire makes harsh throat air and speaks. “Good to meet all of you at once. I’m going to run through the rules of the first period, and then I’ll leave to let you talk things out, ok?”

    As the other humans react, you catch a scent and immediately wonder how you’d missed it. There’s a stonepup in the room. You scoot forward a little on your belly to get a better vantage point under the table until you catch a glimpse of him. She’s curled up beside the male human’s legs. You recognize her, vaguely, from when she was a pup at the institute. You had never bothered nicknaming her. She sticks her tongue out and wags her tail when she sees you. For your part, you bare your teeth. There is room for exactly one very good girl in this group. And that is you. You are the very good girl.

    The humans have kept talking, but you don’t pay them any mind until another scent appears. Your eyes widen and you rapidly scoot backwards to Skysong’s side at the edge of the table. Then you see that your nose wasn’t deceiving you. Curled up on the female human’s shoulder is a long, tender snake. It turns to you and shudders while you keep staring at it, just barely catching yourself before a drop of saliva could fall from your mouth. Reptiles are the easiest prey; they just shrivel up and stop moving when they’re cold. And they’re also some of the tastiest.

    You’re only pulled out of your fantasies by a human walking very close to you and placing Skysong’s cane against the table. Which is weird. She definitely doesn’t need it, both because she’s sitting and down and because you are present. But its presence seems to please snowfire, who makes another harsh air.

    “Everyone ready to continue?” There is a pause. “Well, then. Let’s begin.”

    He shifts again. The next time he talks, it’s with a warped voice.

    “Good morning to all of you. It’s the start of Day 2 and things are finally going to get going today. I’ll leave you to get to know each other in a moment, but first I need to lay out the rules of Round One. This is Day 2. Round One will end at sundown on Day Eleven. For this round and this round only, you will not be allowed to go your separate ways. You will only be allowed to leave Iki Town with the unanimous consent of the group.

    “At the end of Round One, as with every round in the future, one of you will win and one of you will lose. The winner of this round will be chosen by an online poll after episode one airs on Day Seven. The remaining two contestants will have a battle at dusk to avoid a loss. The winner will receive,” he reaches down beneath the table and pulls something from a box in his lap. It’s a strange crystal at the end of a thin loop of rope, “this Z-Bracelet. It should be an immense help on your quest.

    “And the loser,” he pauses inexplicably. “The loser will receive no bonuses until they can redeem themselves. The money they get from island challenges and the prizes they get from successful obstacles will be held in trust indefinitely.

    “Oh, and speaking of those prizes,” the door opens and three young adult female humans step through, each carrying a box. They place them on the table and leave. Snowfire laughs a little inexplicably. “Go ahead and open them. I think you’ll like what you see.”

    There’s a rustling sound and you hear the male inhale sharply. But he doesn’t sound or smell afraid, and his muscles aren’t tensed. There does not appear to have been a threat in the box.

    “Those are the pokégear you’ll be using for the rest of the quest. Each of your numbers, as well as mine, are already stored on it. It will also keep track of your money, so make sure not to lose it. For now, it’s loaded with four hundred dollars. We’ll give you three hundred more for every trial you win in Round One.”

    Snowfire stands up.

    “And with that, I’ll leave you to meet each other and figure out what comes next on your island adventure.”

    Snowfire sits back down and spreads his legs out a little bit under the table.

    “Ok. That’s the scripted start. Any questions before I leave for real?”

    “Yeah. You said that there are going to be obstacles in this? Do they still loss block?” the young male asks.

    “I think you’re getting ahead of yourself, Kekoa,” Snowfire responds. “All of that will be explained in a few days.”

    The young female speaks up. “Can we start buying gear now?”

    “That will also be explained in a few days. Valentina, you have any questions?”

    “No, sir. Just… It was a lot of money, isn’t it?”

    “I think you’ll be surprised how little it really is once you start having to buy equipment. Especially if you can’t win any more prizes from the game after this round.”

    There are other questions and other answers. You’ve already decided that you don’t—and won’t—really understand what game the humans are talking about. You like games. But this sounds way too complicated. You go back to staring at the wonderfully uncomplicated snake until Snowfire leaves for real.

    *
    “I’m Kekoa,” the boy says. The words kill a long silence that had settled in after Snowfire’s departure.

    “Genesis.”

    “I’m called Valentina.”

    There’s another silence. These humans aren’t very good at talking.

    “I think we should head up Route 3 as early as they’ll let us,” the boy says. “Head to Kala’e Bay, then keep rushing trials until Round One ends. Important to get as much money as we can before someone gets cut off.”

    “That’s the wrong way to do it. People traditionally go into Hau’oli, and then Route Two and so on,” the girl replies.

    “And by ‘people’ you mean Luna, right?”

    You bristle. Why did they have to bring her into this discussion?

    “It worked well then. I don’t see a reason to change it. And they’re literally named Route ‘One,’ ‘Two,’ and ‘Three.’ Do I have to spell it out?”

    They bicker. It gets fast and irritated and you aren’t even really sure what it’s about. You curl up and nestle yourself against one of Skysong’s legs, keeping your head in a place where you can still watch the snake. For her part, the snake has coiled herself around her trainer so that she’s facing away from you. It doesn’t work; you’re still there, even if she can’t see you.

    “Valentina, what do you think?”

    Your trainer flinches at the boy’s hostile tone and you stretch out to glare at his stonepup.

    “I just arrived here. I don’t know the land. When you two agree, I will follow.”

    “Wait, how new are you?” the girl asks.

    ‘I got here on… four days ago?”

    “And I’m guessing from your accent that ‘here’ means Alola, right?”

    “Yes.”

    “Wow. Then we’re definitely getting you a malasada when we get to a real city. And, um, can we talk about this whole thing later? I kind of want to show her some stuff. Introduce the region. And it’s so beautiful outside,” the girl says, incorrectly. It is not beautiful outside. It is unbearably hot. The cave is far more comfortable.

    “That sounds nice.”

    You exhale a pulse of air directly into Skysong’s leg, letting a puff of it hit the stonepup while you’re at it.

    Your trainer gets the hint and changes course.

    “I mean, I would love to. But I promised Dr. Freeman I would talk to her when this ended. I don’t want to keep her waiting and I don’t have much to say.”

    “You can go,” the boy says.

    “Thank you.” She reaches down to pick up your leash. When it’s secure in her paw, you start leading her to the door. Skysong stops when she touches it and drops the leash. “Actually, Pixie, can you stay here? Dr. Freeman said she would walk me to her office and back and…”

    And she doesn’t want you listening in. You whine and walk back to the chair she had been sitting in. If she wants to talk to someone without you than there is only one good explanation.

    She is going to say some very mean things about you. Probably doesn’t like you at all.

    Or Dr. Freeman is allergic to foxes.

    But deep in your heart, you agonize over whether it is the first possibility, if you’ve been setting yourself up for your fifth abandonment.

    Skysong opens and closes the door

    *
    Skysong comes back later on. When she approaches you dutifully walk closer and hand off the leash. She bends down to scratch and hug you before taking it, like you didn’t suspect what she had just been doing. Her ceremonial markings are distorted and she smells vaguely of salt. Skysong stands and you pull the leash taut. You don’t want to learn what happens when you pee on a demigoddess. Especially if she hasn’t committed to leaving you yet.

    When the adult human walks away, the other two humans her age walk towards you and your trainer.

    “So, offer to show you some stuff still stands. This isn’t a big place, but there are still probably trainers and some wild pokémon I can teach you about.”

    “Once again, I would love to, but it’s very hot right now and,” the leash waves a little as she gestures towards you.

    “Oh! Does she not like the heat?”

    “It won’t kill her, I think, but I don’t want to keep her outside and moving in an afternoon if I don’t have to. And, um, I’m tired. Can I take a rest?”

    “Of course,” the girl says, “I can take you to the room, if you want.”

    “Has Pixie been there?”

    “That’s a very cute name.” The girl bends down to stroke your fur, but she pushes a little bit to hard.

    “She came with the name.”

    “It’s still cute,” The girl stops petting you and holds her hand awkwardly in the air right above your back. “Oh. Wait. I’m not supposed to pet her, am I, while she’s on the job?”

    “No,” Skysong says. “But it didn’t hurt anyone. If it’s fine, can I…”

    “Go,” the boy tells her.

    You take it as your cue to start walking across the field at the center of the town. If it wasn’t for the too-hot sun, it would have been a near perfect place. It smelled of a dozen different types of trees and scent trails from multiple prey species crisscrossed the clearing. There was even a marvelous, gentle breeze.

    Skysong doesn’t talk to you on the way.

    You lead her right up to the cave’s door. She slows down on her own as she approaches, without you having to warn her. She runs her hand through the air in front of the door, keeping one finger tracing the wood. She finds the knob and wraps her hand around it. Then she abruptly loosens her grip.

    “Are there cameras around?”

    You glance over your shoulder. There were some following at first, but it seems like the lightbox carriers lost interest. You tell her there aren’t.

    “Then… I...”

    She sighs. For a moment she hangs her head and holds her mouth partially open. But no words come for seconds on end. When they do, it’s a single half-formed mutter as the doorknob turns.

    “Nevermind.”

    There are things you want to ask her: What did she talk to Dr. Freeman about? Why couldn’t you come? What did you do wrong? Is she going to leave you?

    Before you can ask anything she orders you to show her which bed is hers. You do and she collapses down on it before rolling on to her side, facing away from the aisle. You aren’t sure what to do, so you jump up and sit by her hindpaws. When she feels you jump, she reaches out with a backpaw and you brace for her to kick you off the bed. But she doesn’t. She just hooks it around you and pushes you closer to her midsection, where she wraps you in her arms.

    It feels good. And close. But Hummy gave you a wonderful hug the night before she brought you back. And the girl before that took you on a long walk outside the trailer before she left forever.

    You can’t bring yourself to ask any of your questions. You don’t want to know the answers. If the snuggling only lasts for a few minutes and then you lose Skysong forever, you don’t want to waste the minutes fighting with her.

    *
    To be continued on May 15, 2017.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2018
  12. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    Chapter One: Iki Town
    Part 3: Genesis

    You wake up and it takes you a moment to place exactly where you are as a bright green dreamscape fades away to a pale grey room.

    The room itself isn’t pale grey. It’s actually several rich shades of brown that only look subtly black and white because of rods and… coves? You think it’s coves. Should have paid more attention in biology class.

    Speaking of biology, you have to pee. You descend the latter to do so. A quick glance confirms that Valentina somehow didn’t wake up; her vulpix is staring at you, though, his pale blue eyes almost glowing in the night. He makes no moves to awaken his trainer or pursue you, so you go into the bathroom undisturbed.

    And use it undisturbed, with the added mental bonus of being free from cameras for a few minutes.

    When you reenter the room, someone’s waiting. Valentina’s asleep, even if her fox is still wide awake, but Kekoa is dangling his legs over the side of his bunk and looking at you. Unwilling to say anything and wake up your traveling companion, you do your best to stealthily and slowly ascend to the bed above hers.

    As soon as you swing your legs up on to the mattress, Kekoa begins to speak. Err, whisper. You’re only, like, six feet apart from each other.

    “We should talk.”

    “She’s asleep,” you hiss back.

    “I’ll keep an eye on her.”

    You don’t like how conspiratorial the whole thing is coming off as and you just want to sleep. But there’s a small part of you that does like how gossipy the whole thing is, like something out of a television sleepover party. You settle in and pull a blanket over yourself like a cape.

    “Ok.”

    “We can’t leave until we all agree on where we’re going.”

    You frown. Does he think you’re stupid? You’re not stupid.

    “I know that.”

    “Yes. But, consider some things. It’s the end of Day 3. Episode 1 airs on Day 7, meaning it’ll probably be stuff that occurs in the next three days. That episode has a poll that determines prizes. If all that happens in the first six days is you blocking things from happening, audience won’t like you much.”

    “You’ll also be responsible.”

    “But I’m basing things on practical reasons. I don’t even get your logic. And when the producers have to pick a good guy and a bad guy, easier to make the practical one the good.”

    “Have they told you that?”

    Kekoa shakes his head.

    “No, but I’ve watched a lot of this show.” His eyes narrow and he tilts his head a tiny bit. “Have you?”

    No, you really haven’t. You tried to watch it but you kept getting bored and falling asleep. Television is too passive to really keep you engaged. Even if you want to be.

    “A little,” you technically-not-lie.

    “Good. I won’t back down from my idea, since I won’t lose the challenge. I’m confident I could take you on in battle, and Diana certainly isn’t losing to an ice-type.”

    There’s a low growl beneath your bunk. You see Kekoa’s rockruff stir across from you and your breath catches in your throat. There’s movement beneath you, but it’s brief. You wait in silence for another minute but you don’t hear Valentina move again.

    Not that you’re even sure why she isn’t allowed to listen, but you think that was implied in the... situation.. was it? Kekoa didn’t wake her up and made it sound like he was going to make sure you cut off the conversation if she was awake, but nothing has been said that she couldn’t hear.

    It hits you that if you and Kekoa both knew sign language you could talk without her possibly eavesdropping. You only really know how to sign “bathroom” from a lesson way back in first grade.

    Funny the kind of things you hold on to.

    “Then why do you care if we leave?” you ask.

    “Because the prizes are really high this round and I want another 400 if I can get it. Before the values change and probably go down. They do that to get people to speed up a bit.”

    “…I think I see your point.”

    There’s something off about his offer that you can feel in your mind’s orbit, casting a shadow on your brain without a real collision. But it’s two in the morning and you aren’t quite alert enough to reach out and grasp it.

    “It shouldn’t really matter to you, I guess.”

    You reopen your eyes (which you barely noticed closing in the first place) and look… not at him, but at his dog two or three feet to the left.

    “Beg pardon?”

    “What? You’re rich. You can just get gift from the parents whenever the funds run low. Valentina and I can’t. This penalty right out the gate was tailor-made for you. If you lose, it doesn’t matter. But if one of your opponents loses they could literally starve.”

    “They couldn’t allow that.”

    “Dying? No. But suffering, heh, you don’t get how little people care if you **** over a poor kid. Even a poor kid on television. Especially if they can spin it as their fault.”

    That’s not fair. At all. And he seems serious about it. Or not dishonest enough you’d catch it. Truth be told you only really got a handle on sarcasm last year so he could lie to your face and get away with it. You know that, but you can’t know when it’s happening. That’s the infuriating part.

    Outside of the whole ‘starving people’ thing.

    “I can promise not to get outside help,” you whisper. “It’s not right to cheat. Even if it’s legal cheating.”

    You think Kekoa smiles across the bunk, but he shifted into shadow right beforehand.

    “Well. Then you’ll need money, and soon. Night.”

    He collapses into bed with more force than was strictly necessary. You hear Valentina mutter something in Spanish a moment later.

    *

    As soon as you step outside the building you ate breakfast in, Valentina’s vulpix starts pawing at her leg.

    “Hmm?”

    The vulpix steps forwards, pulling the leash taut.

    “Oh. I think she wants a walk. Kekoa, do you want to come?”

    He shrugs. “Nah. Diana and I took one this morning.”

    For her part, Diana is sitting on her back legs with her tail wagging furiously and her tongue hanging out at a 45 degree angle to her jaw.

    “I think she wants a walk,” you say.

    Diana thumps her tail on the ground and starts panting faster.

    “Later,” Kekoa says.

    “Ok, then. Good bye.”

    A camera man follows her off.

    “Why didn’t you go with her?”

    “Can’t encourage Diana to beg like that. If she’d stayed calm, she would have gotten to go.”

    “Valentina’s fox was begging.”

    “No. She was getting her trainer’s attention to ask for something. There’s a difference.”

    You don’t see one.

    “Look, I’m going to—”

    “Why couldn’t Valentina listen to us last night?”

    Kekoa turns to you and glares. Viciously.

    “There were cameras there. No point in hiding it.”

    He closes his eyes and shakes his head.

    “Ok. Fine. Whatever. She just doesn’t matter, ok?”

    It’s your turn to glare, with a quick glance at the camera.

    “No, not like that. Just… you’ve seen her when we talked about this stuff before. She doesn’t care. She’s new, she’s quiet and her English weren’t going to be so good, y’know? We’re the only serious contenders and I think it’s better for us in the long term if we just get her to accept that she’ll be told what we’re going to do and she can go along or not.”

    “So… you’re training her, too?”

    He nods.

    “Rude.”

    “Yup.”

    *

    At noon you’re directed to an old garage at the edge of town. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside… well, inside it’s well-lit, wood-lined, warm and surprisingly dry-feeling. Shelves line the side of the barn holding bags or tarps or boxes. The labels and packaging suggests it’s mostly camping supplies, with some pokémon training essentials thrown into the mix.

    There’s a table in the center of the room, with some metal/plastic chairs around it. Mr. Weiss is in one. You can guess who the other three are for.

    When everyone’s seated, Mr. Weiss takes three notecards and pens out from under the table.

    “Valentina, can you write?”

    “Yes.”

    “In English?”

    “They have the same alphabet.”

    "Uh, good. Now. We’re going to buy your gear for the first round. How much you can get depends on how much you’re willing to put into the communal pool. I want you each to write down a number between zero and four hundred. That number will be the amount of your starting money that you put into the pool. When you’re done, flip the card over and hand it to me.”

    “How do we split it up if we break apart?” Valentina asks.

    “There will be a challenge tomorrow. Winner of that gets to keep everything.

    You turn to your card and your face scrunches up. If there’s a one-in-three chance you win, then it makes sense to give one-third of your money. You write 133 down, because you don’t think you can put in decimals.

    You turn your card in. Kekoa’s already done and Valentina finishes about thirty seconds later.

    “Alright. And the contributions are…” he pauses for far too long, keeping his face in the exact same position. Then he starts to laugh, until eventually he’s cracking himself up and pounding his fist on the table for apparently no reason at all. “S—sorry, just. Oh boy. They wanted me to emphasize that and, ah, nevermind. Uh, everyone ready to start again?”

    He doesn’t get a reaction, and puts on a sheepish smile to cover up the silence.

    “Alright. 1, 2, 3. And the contributions are… Genesis: One hundred and thirty-three dollars. Kekoa: Zero dollars. Valentina: Three hundred dollars.”

    He pauses again for a few seconds.

    “Just making sure they caught that. That’s, uh, a lot of confidence there, Val. Bet 75% of your money on things you might not keep, with the looming threat of not keeping anything?”

    “One hundred dollars is a lot of money. And if there’s nothing… I can live on that.”

    “Things go a lot less far than you’d think on an island, kid.”

    “I didn’t know that.”

    “It’s also a lot of gear. You can get a near-full set for that.”

    “I could guess that. I’ve bought things before. In pesos, but I know the conversation rate.”

    “It’s ‘conversion,’” you say.

    You glance towards Kekoa. He meets your eyes and smiles. You turn away quickly.

    Mr. Evans reaches under the table and pulls out two pieces of laminated paper which he hands to you and Kekoa. It’s a menu of sorts, but for gear, with descriptions and prices listed.

    “Do you read Braille?” he asks.

    “What language is it?”

    “…there’s a difference?”

    “The alphabet is mostly the same. I just thought if you wrote it in Braille it might also be…”

    “No. I just gave the institute something to transcribe and they did it.”

    “Do you know if it’s Grade I or II?”

    “Uh…”

    “I can read it. Thank you.”

    Mr. Evans hands her a sheet on a clipboard and she starts running her fingertips along it. You glance at her when you finish reading and see that her fingers are only 2/3 down the page.

    “How fast can you read?”

    Wait. No. That was rude.

    “Not as fast as a sighted person with Grade I. As fast or faster with II.”

    “What’s the difference?” you ask

    She doesn’t answer and things get awkward. Did you offend her? Or—

    “I’m sorry, you said something? I was busy reading and didn’t understand.”

    “Just forget I said anything.”

    She looks in your direction.

    “I don’t know how to… I say that I heard you, but shorter and no meaning.”

    “Ok, fine, whatever, yeah, sure,” Kekoa says.

    “That’s not fewer words.”

    “I meant you should just pick one.”

    Valentina finishes running her fingers along the board and sets it down.

    “Ok.”

    Mr. Evans takes that as his cue to reinsert himself into the conversation.

    “Four hundred and thirty-three dollars to spend. How would you like to go about it?”

    “Three personal hammocks with rain and bug proofing,” Valentina says.

    Weird. You really hadn’t expected her to take charge like that.

    “And I guess we need a tent,” you say.

    “Maybe for gear. But tents are stuffy. Hammocks are better,” she responds.

    “That could work,” Mr. Evans says. “You wouldn’t need a big tent, then. Just enough for your packs and the gear that didn’t have to be hoisted.”

    “Packs?” you ask.

    “Yeah. Backpacks. You’ll usually have to carry your stuff around with you, unless you can get a pokémon willing and able to do it. We’ll have a mudsdale carry some of it on the first leg so you can finish breaking your boots in and getting used to the feel of the pack. You’ll know who’s keeping it by then, so they’ll be the one getting used to it.”

    “We have the budget for three cheap packs,” Valentina… says? Asks?

    “I suppose. Your supply budget would be dipping a little low for pokéballs, potions and food. But your teams are still young so you’ll at least save some money there. Now, feeding a tyrantrum or dragonite,” he glances at you, “well, they’d better be getting you their money’s worth from prize battles.”

    “I think it is good to have three of the one-person things. That way everyone will keep one, no matter who wins.”

    Kekoa leans back in his chair. “I have no stake in this. But that does sound like a way to keep each other on speaking terms.”

    Or keep each other on speaking terms with him if he won while risking nothing. You suppose Valentina might feel the exact same way about you, though.

    “Then, three basics packs will run you…”

    That’s about when you zone out. Valentina clearly has a plan for this, and you’ve barely ever even been camping. Plus, she has a controlling share in the decision.

    You think they get a stove, some rope, food, and some pokémon supplies.

    *

    The next afternoon, around the same time that the gear-picking had ended, the three of you are brought together again. The rest of the day had just been spent on solo activities, like practicing your ball-throwing with Mr. Evan’s electrode. You could barely track the thing with your eyes, let alone hit it, but it made for a good puzzle. And you will figure out how to solve it.

    You’re gathered in a small clearing on Route 1. There’s a circle of stones in the center, with a pipe sticking out of the ground at the corner. Just at the edge of your vision is a shack that smelled absolutely awful when you passed by it.

    Mr. Evans clears his throat. “A trailer’s going to bring in your gear in a second. I’m going to give you a chance to set up everything to make sure you’re comfortable. And you’ll be sleeping here tonight to make sure you’re comfortable with your decisions. Pyjamas and toothbrushes will be brought with the gear…”

    You think there was another sentence after that but you saw a red pickup coming on a road on the opposite side of a thin tree grove and your attention pivoted to that.

    He told you to set up the hammocks first and they’re… surprisingly small. Just three pouches a little bigger than your fist linked together with a bundle of rope beside them.

    “I’ve picked out some spots for you…”

    He leads you each to a set of trees on the edge of the clearing. Then he takes out a pole and some rope and demonstrates the knot. Which you think you kinda sorta get. No one has any questions, anyway.

    “Valentina, I can start by showing you—”

    “I understand how to put up a hammock. Thank you.”

    “Ok. Do you know the order to put things up in?”

    “…base, then insect, then rain?”

    “Correct. Now, can you tell which hammock is which?”

    “They should feel different.”

    “Well, then. I’ll leave you to it. Kekoa…”

    Mr. Evans steps off to help him and you turn your attention to the rope and the trunk he’d pointed out to you during the knot demo. Ok. Now. You were supposed to wrap it twice around the tree and then… tie it around itself? Was that once or twice? And in which direction…

    You take the rope in your hand and just start trying to tie knots until something looks sturdy or Mr. Evans comes and corrects you.

    He doesn’t. Instead Valentina comes over.

    “Do you need help?”

    That startles you. Why would she— Oh. You glance over and see that she already has hers up, with a bug net wrapped around it and a rain tarp suspended overhead.

    How did the blind girl with no instructions beat you? And beat you that badly, too? It looks a little bit sloppy but… no. You have to give her credit.

    “I… yes, I think I do.

    “What do you have done?”

    “…nothing.”

    She relaxes a little. “Then can I start from the beginning?”

    You nod, and then catch yourself. “Yes.”

    “Ok. Can you hand me the hammock?”

    You do so and she runs her hand along it until she reaches the rope at the end. Then she does something with a loop and… what. She repeats it on the other side and you still have no idea what just happened.

    “What was that?”

    “A… I don’t know the English name. It is… it works well. Mr. Evans can explain it better than I can. I have never taught anyone else before and I do not know how to tie it by sight.”

    “That’s fine. Do you need help finding the trees?”

    “Yes. And… you are taller than me?”

    By a lot. You’re both at the awkward age where you’re taller than most women and some men, but she still has the approximate size and build of an elementary schooler. Her face, some blend of cute and pretty that has no right to work but absolutely does, is really the only sign she’s started puberty at all. And you guess that she has some growth on her chest, um, maybe proportionally more than yours… huh. Maybe she’s just naturally short?

    “I’m about a foot taller.”

    She looks in your direction.

    “That’s about thirty centimeters, right?”

    “I think so.”

    Valentina adjusts her gaze upwards, actually slightly overshooting your head; it’s adorable.

    “You’re very tall.”

    “I know.”

    “Can you reach up with the rope and then…” she explains the knot. It still takes you about three tries, but you get it in the end. Puzzle solved. When you walk over to the other end, you see that Kekoa is working on the rain tarp, with Mr. Weiss mostly sitting back and watching him do it. They finish around the time you finish securing the hammock proper (it only takes you two tries this time).

    Mr. Evans walks over and inspects the knots. He’s bigger than you, a little bit in height and a lot bit and width (a lot of muscle, but not the bulging build of a weightlifter).

    “Not the knot I would’ve used,” he says.

    “I’m sorry—”

    “—but it absolutely works. You can keep doing this if it’s what you’re used to.”

    Valentina visibly relaxes beside you and grips one of her wrists with the other hand, pushing both down as far as they can go. When her muscles are tensed you can see they’re more toned than you would have expected. Probably not an athlete, but she’s fit.

    Mr. Evans walks over to Valentina’s hammock and checks everything over. He messes with one of the trunk knots and pushes it further up the tree, and then he unstakes part of the rain tarp and pulls it further out.

    “How did you put up the tarp?”

    “I had Pixie pull one end as far as she could while I pulled mine. I put in the stake, then I put in one near her.”

    “Tell her to pull a little tighter, then.”

    There’s a bark from inside of the hammock.

    “She could rip that up, y’know?”

    Valentina keeps her hands pushed down but tilts her head and kicks one of her legs back a little. You figure it’s the blind equivalent of puppy dog eyes. And it’s scarily effective.

    “I told her not to.”

    You can’t argue with cuteness like that. It’s flat out impossible. Mr. Evans struggles against it for a second before walking back over to your hammock.

    “Val, you can take a break for a second…”

    “Thank you.”

    “Now, Genesis…”

    *

    You learn a lot of things about camping that night. To list a few: how to pitch a tent, fires are comforting even when Alola should be way too hot for that, bug spray isn’t actually effective, rehydrated meals are awful, you have to eat as much as possible of awful meals on the trail because you have to carry the rest out, Mr. Evans is a softy and will give out pity granola instead, hammocks are nice but hard to sleep in, and folding a tent up in the morning is actually kinda hard (not the folding, per se, but fitting it all back in to the bag it came from).

    *

    That morning, you find yourself standing in a big square the central field of Iki Town with Kekoa, Valentina, Mr. Weiss. Some camera people circle around the field like scavengers at a kill. The sun is annoyingly bright and you’re nursing a headache from lack of sleep and hunger, and you know that your legs are covered in little pink bumps. The makeup people at least tried to smooth out the bits on your face, but now they just kinda look like skin-colored lumps.

    Mr. Wiess clears his throat and looks at a camera.

    “Now, to determine who keeps ownership of the gear you selected and tested yesterday, we’re going to have our first and only obstacle of the round. Win, and you’ll retain ownership of the gear. But, if you win this game and still lose the round, instead of losing your ability to earn prizes you will simply forfeit the gear to the round winner. That clear? Good.

    “To start with, I thought we’d turn to a classic Alolan tradition: the battle royale. Each of you will use your starter to—”

    “Ok, what the **** is going on here.”

    A young woman walks in, flanked by two Team Skull thugs doing the weird hand-dance-thing they do. The woman has degenerate hair dyed pink and black. Not like Valentina’s hair which, ok, you guess that’s degenerate but hers is shiny and pretty. Like stained glass. No, it’s not translucen. Colored obsidian, maybe.

    Mr. Weiss turns around to face her, so you can’t see his facial expression. But he sounds oddly… happy?

    “We were about to have ourselves a battle royale. Care to join us?”

    “**** no. Look, after the Aether and Wormhole business we just wanted to get back on with our lives but then people like you come the **** out of nowhere bringing even more rich mainlanders to buy up all the…”

    She keeps going on, angry and profane but oddly nuanced.

    Mr. Weiss glances back at you and interrupts her solid minute of impassioned cursing without a pause for breath.

    “You want to stop her?”

    “Go to ****, *******. The kids did nothing wrong. It’s you I’m pissed at.”

    Mr. Weiss starts to walk off to the side and removes a pokéball from his belt.

    “Well, I guess we can settle this ourselves, the old fashioned way. That’s the point of your organization, right?”

    The woman just glares and unleashes a salazzle about as tall as you are. Mr. Weiss responds with a greninja and the battle starts without anyone calling for it. The rest of you watch the flames and water shurikens collide with each other for a while until the remaining Skull flunkies speak up and get your attention.

    “Uh, I think that means that you’re about to get boned by Team Skull, homies!”

    His partner whispers something to him and the grunt who spoke appears to go pale in the face.

    “Yo, I meant the righteous fury kind of boning. Why would— Forget it. Mareanie, crush them."

    Dratini slithers down from your arm to your chest to your leg and then coils up in front of you. As he descends you can feel his muscles moving right over your skin and the thin layer of slime he keeps on his body leaving a residue on yours. The other two are lucky; they just have their dogs step forward.

    “Sand Attack!” Kekoa starts off the match, and his rockruff begins to paw into the dirt. You think that means you should do something to give him cover.

    “Thunder Wave.”

    Joshua begins to tense up before unclenching all at once, flopping a little on the ground as an arc of static forms between him and his opponent. Mareanie’s tentacles all clench in around it for a second, only for her head to pop out and spit a purple barb into the air, only for it to get crushed under a barrage of dirt and sand. But by the time the earth wave hits mareanie, it’s once more tucked inside of its tentacles. A wad of slush harmlessly splatters against it a moment later.

    Vulpix won’t be useful in this fight. Rockruff is at a type disadvantage. That means you’re going to have to take the initiative. Please, God, let this work.

    “Let’s wrap this up!” You’re surprised by how confident you sound, and Joshua definitely believes in you as he slowly slithers through the grass, leaving flattened trails behind him.

    “Poison sting everywhere, yo!”

    The mareanie sticks out one of its feet and prepares to spin around like a ballerina or something before it abruptly spasms to the side and falls over to the ground. You giggle; even if this is a serious battle, that was funny.

    “Get in there,” Kekoa says.

    His rockruff begins to run towards the mareanie as an arc of ice and water shoots overhead, dropping down some of it on to him. It’s a powder snow from a weak vulpix under Alolan sunshine; it might as well be a water gun.

    The tackle strikes right when mareanie is steadied on its two feet and one of its tentacles. The hit knocks it right back onto its face. As the rockruff takes a step back to avoid a retaliatory peck, Joshua finally reaches his target and begins to form a lazy ring around it. The water-type pushes itself up with two tentacles lashes out with a point-blank poison sting, but that only lets Joshua get under it and start tightening his embrace. You can see the stinger lodged in his hide, but he just flexes his serpentine muscles and pushes it out.

    You watch as the two begin continue their dance, with mareanie slowly gaining balance and trying to hit something, anything with its beak and poisons while Joshua does his best to stay on. You get so caught up in watching that you don’t hear the attack order that leads to a bombardment of mud and pebbles hitting your snake in the face.

    “Hey! Watch what you’re hitting,” you say.

    “I was! But you’re blocking all of my shots right now.”

    “What’s happening?” Valentina asks.

    “Mareanie’s paralyzed. My dratini’s constricting it, Kekoa’s having his rockruff attack them both.”

    “That was hardly an attack,” Kekoa says.

    You hear the Skull guy ordering a peck. Mareanie tries to shake Joshua free to land it, but doesn’t have much luck. Instead it defies orders and hobbles around a bit before spitting a poison sting at vulpix. It hits while she (and everyone else) is distracted, and the stinger gets lost in the fox’s fur.

    The ice-type’s pale blue eyes swell up to almost cartoonish size and she fluffs her coat all the way out.

    “And your vulpix just got poisoned,” you tell Valentina.

    She huffs.

    “Tail whip, then.”

    “Hold,” Kekoa says.

    Rockruff retreats as the vulpix advances, while Joshua and mareanie continue to try and subdue the other.

    When Pixie gets close, she jumps over the two interlocked pokémon and wags her tails over them in midair. You have absolutely no idea what purpose it had, but when she lands on the other side, Joshua’s coils have loosened and mareanie has clamped its tentacles against its body.

    “Collar slam.”

    Before you can even ask what that means, the rockruff hits vulpix from the side with a tackle, doing his best to dig in the stones on his collar as he does so. Vulpix appears too stunned to react until the rockruff knocks into her again, this time sending her crashing into mareanie (and Joshua) and sending them all to the ground.

    The slamming continues while the vulpix’s tails flail wildly and out of sync, but they just seems to bounce off the rock-type’s skin and leave the fox worse off than the dog. After two more absolutely brutal tackles that dug pointed rocks into the fox’s skin, you can see the ice-type’s coat stained brown and red while she has difficulties even standing up.

    You walk over to touch Valentina’s shoulder.

    “You should withdraw your vulpix now.”

    She does so, and… what you wouldn’t give to understand her face. There’s emotion there, and a lot of it, but what that emotion is eludes you.

    When you look back at the field, Kekoa’s had his rockruff move on to slamming into Joshua while also trying to keep the mareanie flat on the ground and staying that way. You think about ordering a thunder wave, but there isn’t a point. That would just let the bad guy win, and good guys aren’t supposed to do that. Which leaves you with the option of withdrawing Joshua and letting Kekoa finish things on his own, or trying to deal a little more damage before Joshua faints.

    The snake unravels and falls limp to the ground before you make a decision.

    You don’t bother to watch the rest. Or much of anything. Your eyes are open and recording, but your mind won’t listen. Eventually it registers that both salazzle and mareanie are unconscious on the ground.

    *

    The rest of the day is lonely and bitter; Valentina stays curled up in her bunk and won’t talk to anyone and you have no desire whatsoever to talk to Kekoa after that stunt. The people at the center tell you to pick up Joshua around sundown and you manage to kill the time in between with a nap, some reading and some pokéball practice. Mr. Evans tries to talk to you during it, but you never respond and he eventually lets you carry on with only a few words of instruction here or there.

    When sundown comes, you pick up Joshua and vulpix. The nurse tells you to give them a full day before battling again. You were supposed to head back to your room to hand over the fox but… she won’t die without her pet. The weather’s cooling off into something wonderful and you find yourself stepping forward with progressively more speed until your steps are more like leaps and you break into a full run across the carpet of grass. The wind on your face feels like autumn in the middle of spring and you can’t help but smile.

    Your parents and siblings and friends don’t get it, but you never found running to be work. It sometimes hurts in the moment, but it’s also wonderfully freeing. You don’t think or worry; you just are. And Alola is mostly a safe region. You don’t run alone in bewear territory or bother anything, especially baby pokémon, but other than that the tapus and the police keep everything calm.

    Someone flags you down when you start to loop back into town after spending… well, you don’t know how long but it’s really dark now… on Route 1. You ordinarily wouldn’t stop, but he’s wearing a uniform and knows your name so you dig your feet in to the ground and start putting your steps closer and closer together until you’re not flying anymore.

    “Yes?”

    “Good to meet you, Genesis. My name is Robert and I’m with Alolan Security, Incorporated. We’re here to keep you safe after today’s incident.”

    He’s looking right into your eyes and you know you should meet it, but you avert your gaze.

    “Is that all?”

    “Not quite. What were you doing there?”

    Exactly what it looked like—oh no, You said that out loud.

    “Well, I wouldn’t advise any solo jogging in the dark so long as skull’s around. Especially not without a pokémon out.”

    “I’ll keep that in mind. Can I go back to my room now?”

    Crap, that was rude. Especially after your last statement. You weren’t trying to be, necessarily—

    “That’s fine. Mind if I walk you there?”

    You send out Joshua instead and lift him up into your arms. He starts slithering on to your shoulder as soon as he gets his bearings. You think that’s good; he certainly doesn’t seem to be too hurt to move.

    “I can guide myself. Thank you.”

    So you do.

    *

    End of Chapter 1
    Next time: Route 3
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2018
  13. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Nice to see you back again! I've been meaning to get to this for ages, and it was a real treat once I finally got my butt in gear and checked it out. I'm a sucker for pokémon POV, and you execute it wonderfully. Pixie has a distinctly vulpix-y way of looking at the world, and you do a good job of having the lacunae between the things she understands about humans and the things she doesn't make sense, rather than falling down where a lot of fics do, in having their POV characters talk about things like humans' "head-fur" but then having them refer to "computers" a sentence later. Yours is a much more consistent portrayal of how a pokémon might actually think, and I especially like how things like temperature, grooming, and numbers are particularly important to Pixie, and those priorities are consistent throughout the chapter. It makes things a little difficult to follow in places, but I think that's a good thing; it enhances the feel that this is an alien consciousness talking, one that understands the world differently, but it's never enough to make it actually hard to understand what's going on at the macro level.

    Not sure what's up with this sentence. Part of it is that there's at least the "after while" typo in here, but I also don't know who "He" is at the beginning of the sentence. From context it should be the torracat/incineroar, but that interpretation doesn't make sense with the rest of the sentence whether "after" or "while" is the correct choice.

    I'm curious about what happened to Pixie that led to her being taken in by (presumably) the Aether Foundation. She obviously took a physical beating from somebody, and ordinarily I would guess it would be a human abusing her in some way, but she has enough difficulty understanding humans that I would guess she hadn't really worked with one before, or only had for a very brief period of time. Maybe it was just a case of her having a bad run-in with a human(s) rather than a more prolonged abusive trainer/pokémon relationship, or her trainer basically never let her out except to fight/get beat up and so she didn't really learn much about human behavior or something, idk.

    Random "fa" here?

    NICE

    Probs want a question mark there.

    What a vulpix!

    *need to know, I'd guess

    Once again Pixie's POV is great here, and I like the clear evolution from the prologue to this chapter; Pixie's spent more time around humans, so she has a better grasp of their behavior, and as a result the narration is easier to follow. Pixie's also feeling a bit better, and we get more of her personality, which is delightfully vain and opinionated. Valentina's more of a cypher, because she hasn't had near as much screentime, Pixie naturally doesn't understand her all that well yet, and she doesn't seem like a very demonstrative person. I think Pixie will be fun to follow in any case, but I look forward to seeing how the dynamic between those two develops.

    Ordinarily I'd be a bit put out by the sudden appearance of an Aztec goddess-heir in what was up until then a neat pokémon POV about an abused vulpix learning to be a guide-mon, but, well, I've read your other stories, so it's not unexpected. Too early to say how it's going to work with the rest of the story, but central American cultures are cool, so you have my attention.

    Question mark here.

    Yeah, that's gonna go well.

    This is a nice, breezy interlude that gets across a lot of information without it feeling overwhelming. It's also a really cool twist on the usual journey setup; from what I understand, this is basically going to be a reality TV series focusing on trainers taking Alola's Island Challenge, and from what Kekoa says later I take it it's a pretty popular and long-running one. Having a cast of disabled characters is probably intended as a gimmick to attract new viewers, where the showrunners can also claim that they're being philanthropic, creating positive representation, etc. I thought you did a good job of the casually sleazy, cynical attitude that the showrunners take towards the contestants, where they're talking about various ways of manipulating them to create the outcomes they want, the dehumanizing way they're essentially being treated as pawns for various execs' agendas, noble or otherwise. They don't mean any of the contestants ill, but at the same time they don't have their best interests at heart, and there's a nice, subtle creepiness about the fact that this is just business, that they can so blandly discuss this kind of stuff without any twinge of conscience because it's so totally normal and expected.

    I am a bit surprised that they've picked their candidates and are only now discussing the character dynamics they think they want to shoot for. Given how essential it is to their show that they get a group that's going to gel and create constant drama interesting character dynamics, I would have expected this stuff to be addressed before they'd actually, like, settled on who they wanted on the program and actually flown them out to Alola and whatnot. Like, rather than, "here are our three participants, which one should be the protagonist?" I'd expect something more like, "Here are our top ten candidates, which ones do we think might have protagonist potential? Which ones might work well with them?"

    I'm sure it'll be fun to see further roundtable installments degenerate into "EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE WHAT DO WE DO," haha. I feel bad for the person who's hoping the series can raise awareness about the benefits of guide/therapy pokémon, because although I'm sure the pokémon will be helpful, I'm also sure that this saga isn't going to turn into the type to generate a lot of positive press...

    Random slip into past tense.

    Seems kinda weird that Vulpix has been around humans enough to think she has their verbal patterns down quite well, but she's never witnessed anybody shaking hands.

    I'm guessing you meant "I think Pixie has it."

    Very cute that Pixie thinks the humans find the loaf posture confusing. I guess vulpix don't have a great sense of object permanence?

    Um. Mom clearly doesn't have a good idea of how reality shows work...

    Nice to get a bit more of Valentina's backstory. It only has as many holes as Swiss cheese, but hey, Valentina clearly isn't someone who feels comfortable opening up to people, and it's clear there's been some rough stuff in her past. As the other contestants probably do as well, and I'm definitely excited to properly meet them and see how they all get on. I have a feeling that offhand comment about the "violent pantheons" having something to do with "what happened in Sootopolis," and that other kid losing a parent in Sootopolis, speak ill for Valentina's relationship with him, and of course the difficulties Genesis would have with Valentina's background are clear.

    We also get to see a bit of Valentina actually running into the unpleasant mechanics of reality showdom, where she really gets to experience that dehumanization and see the kind of "guidance" she'll be receiving from the showrunners. Poor girl really had no idea what she was getting into. Obviously there's some unpleasant past experience making it even worse for her here, from the way she responds to the wardrobe guy. It's her "I like following rules" thing that gives me real pause, though. You might have meant it as an innocuous comment, just her response to being kind of bewildered by the wardrobe guy and giving a knee-jerk reaction to what he said, but it makes me wonder if she's developed that attitude because in the past not following the rules went very, very badly for her, or if she's lived somewhere chaotic so she really kind of clings to structure and rules because she's afraid of that kind of uncertainty. Or perhaps that's just the bias of someone who doesn't like following rules messing with me. XD

    I actually forgot about it until rereading a bit, but Valentina's ability to tell what people want most... I wonder how much that influences how she responds to people? Like, the wardrobe guy would definitely make a person uncomfortable just from how he acted, but is Valentina also possibly getting the indication that what he wants most is something pretty off-putting or creepy, kind of like a "bad vibe" made more concrete? Being able to sense that off people adds a weird and uncomfortably intimate extra layer to interaction with them, and Valentina's actually only had it for quite a brief period of time, right? Hasn't had much opportunity to adjust, and now she's getting thrust into an environment where she's going to have to meet a bunch of new people and have it shoved in her face again and again, what fun.

    I do wonder whether her ability to sense what someone wants most is about what they want most in that moment, or whether it's more about their overall desires, what drives the course they take in life? Like, would Valentina be able to tell that I could kill for a sandwich right now, or would she be getting something more abstract like a desire for power, wealth, etc.? Of course, even those big-picture sort of wants are liable to change many times over the course of a person's lifetime, so it'd be more a question of time scale rather than "current thing person's thinking" and "invariant quality of person's character."

    This is all moot if it's an ability she actively has to call up like with her transformation ablities, rather than a passive "always on" kind of thing. No indication which it migt be yet, I think, but it's fun to speculate about how that ability would change the way someone would interact with people.

    *bear

    I would have thought Vulpix would find grooming really interesting!

    *She's

    Hand off?

    And we finally meet the other contestants! Genesis seems a lot less uptight than I was expecting; Kekoa's the one who seems the most troublesome so far. He's also basically me, although I hope I'd be a bit less of a dick about things. :p The little pokémon dynamics we get here are neat, too; hopefully Pixie will remember that other domestic pokémon are friends, not food. (As ever, having sapient pokémon that eat each other makes for some uncomfortable questions...) This is also the first time we get to see Pixie's fear of abandonment come into play. There's going to be a reckoning over that at some point in the future, I'm sure.

    Kind of strange, but I don't really have much to say about this chapter. It's solid and interesting, but it is pretty short, although all of them have been. A bit of info on the game, a little introduction to the characters but not enough time for more than a first impression... Yeah, that's pretty much all I've got.

    I think what you're getting at more like "wait in silence for another minute but don't hear Valentina move again."

    Missing the opening quotation mark.

    She'd be able to tell just by listening to where Genesis' voice was coming from, no?

    I think you still need to make some word choice decisions in this part. :p

    Question mark here.

    It's interesting how much of a nonentity Joshua is in this chapter relative to how central Pixie is to Valentina's experience. Genesis pretty much never thinks of him unless she actively needs him to do something. Of course, Pixie is much more immediately useful to Valentina and by the nature of the help she provides giving a lot more feedback to her trainer, but still. Genesis really doesn't seem at all interested in the "Pokémon" aspect of this challenge. Of course, based on the showrunners' comments she's really here for the opportunity to spread the word to a huge TV audience, although that hasn't really come up yet, either. She's as much of a cipher as Valentina or Kekoa, despite the fact that we've now gotten to spend a whole chapter in her head.

    Given that Valentina's the daughter of a goddess and all the roundtable's talk about Genesis' evangelical background, I was thinking Genesis might secretly be an angel or angel-relative or something else similarly supernatural, and Kekoa also, but if that's the case there's been no whiff of it yet. Past experience with your stories suggests that she's going to turn out to be more than "just" an autistic, sheltered kid, but who knows, maybe she's going to be the unpowered foil to Valentina and possibly Kekoa.

    Not that you really need to have more stuff going on with this group, haha. There's already plenty of indication of rough waters ahead for Genesis even aside from having to deal with the challenges themselves. Start that countdown timer until she realizes she has a crush on Valentina and goes from zero to full-on internalized-homophobia meltdown!

    As usual, you've thrown a ton of plates up in the air, and with so much still unknown about the characters and their situation I can only imagine things are going to get more complicated yet. I'm really intrigued to see how the gods/religion aspect of things comes into play here and also how the Gen VII storyline will interact with everything. With the powder keg character dynamics you've set up, you don't really need any serious external force to provide drama and interest, but I'm excited by the prospect of interdimensional shenanigans, monstrosities from beyond the stars, and basically cataclysmic action and spectacle.

    I really like all of our main characters, even Kekoa, who's thus far been acting like a right douche. I look forward to learning more about all the weakness and insecurity that must be festering under that sociopathic power-gamer shell. >:D Pixie is definitely my favorite POV, although obviously there hasn't been a lot of competition there yet. You certainly seem to have a thing for horrifically dysfunctional protagonist groups, and I look forward to seeing this lot raise hell for each other while at the same time wrestling their various personal demons.

    All in all I think this is the cast I like best out of the stories I've read from you thus far, and overall my favorite of your fics. I definitely only intended to read up through the third chapter, but ended up going along and bingeing everything you'd posted so far anyway. I'm really excited to see where you go with this; like all your other stories, there are loads of cool ideas here, and I really hope you get to bring things through to the big climax where all those ideas start colliding and the character arcs really pay off. Best of luck with this one, I really look forward to following it.

    Also, FYI, everything after the roundtable episode is in black text.
     
    Rediamond likes this.
  14. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    Squeeee~~~~~~~~

    Really nice to have a very long and detailed review and I'm very glad you put the work in to this. I'm also glad to be back on serebii. Real life stuff flared up for reasons I don't wanna talk about in public on forums, but that's maybe subsiding? Anyway, n to the review...

    Luna was originally male. Will fix.

    Follows an event in USUM. She was briefly in the "care" of some Skull grunts. It didn't work out well for anyone involved.

    This was originally a spinoff from the very-magic-heavy Iterations. Unsure I'd keep the element if I rebooted, but it's woven pretty deeply into the concept so... yeah, it's here. Valentina's powers aren't that high caliber. They're more force-multipliers than anything, giving her the tools to make social situations work out better without actually doing that themselves.

    Genesis is Entirely Normal and I don't understand how you could ever think differently...

    I have no response to this. You're write. I'll leave the scene in with no revisions because I think it serves a literary purpose, but in-universe it makes absolutely no sense.

    The institute director didn't think this through very far. "Oh, it's just an island challenge run but television. Sounds great." And I don't know why you'd ever think this would end with everything on fire. Pixie's style is more to leave everything coated in three feet of snow, with a little canine snow angel on top of it.

    Rule of Funny.

    Valentina's new to full-time English. She makes mistakes and anything in her dialogue should be assumed to be intentional.

    Pixie doesn't think much of humans' cognitive abilities. The gag also assumes that humans know the legs aren't really gone but also can't figure out where she put them.

    My guess is that the slow drip of Valentina opening up won't fully stop until some point on Akala. She's been through a lot and really just needs a vacation and a hug.

    I'm annoyed that the games never actually allow for permanent consequences. But I imagine two literal gods fighting in a populated area with erratic weather effects throughout a highly populated island would have consequences. And those consequences would have consequences. Especially if it was followed up by, say, a terrorist almost overthrew the U.S. and established an independent state in New York City with the help of an old god, a madman almost literally ripping apart the universe, and a small nuclear bomb going off near Paris.

    You're on the right track.

    Once again, you're on the right track here. The power's on by default and mostly gives Big Wants. Which can and do change over time.

    ...ok yeah, you're right. I'll expand this when I do some rewrites next month.

    Pixie is too well trained to actually eat that dratini. But she'd really love to and personally doesn't see why that would be wrong. And she's not domesticated; most 'mons in this story are "tame" at best.

    The producers' thoughts on Genesis say as much about them as her. Nothing in their interlude is guaranteed to be accurate.

    The question mark was more to signify a lack of confidence and a tiny bit of fear than a real question. And also to get Genesis to give her an answer, where a statement wouldn't require one. She was aware that Genesis was taller than her (Valentina's ~4'9" so most people are), but just wasn't aware of the sheer magnitude of the difference.

    I imagine that Genesis/Joshua is about how most very new people/pokemon partnerships would go where one party isn't a literal empath and the other has severe attachment issues (and is also a guide fox). I wanted to delve more in to her backstory but the chapter was getting quite long and I have four islands to draw that out. In general, I'm going to try and establish the basics of the humans early and the details slowly.

    ;)

    There are villains here (Team Skull), but they aren't the antagonists. The real biggest challenge for the main characters will be their own issues and each other. Religion, abuse and all the other wonderful themes of Gen VII will all come up and be explored in time. And I think that journey fics necessarily imply neglect, and given that kids are willing to leave their home for weeks or months at a time at an early age I think it's logical to conclude that home was never somewhere they wanted to be. This just turns the subtext of the genera into text.

    Unsure when Kekoa's going to get a proper interlude. But I'll say that Genesis really doesn't like him, he wasn't trying to get Genesis to like him, and that colored the impression of him in that chapter. He's a nicer guy when he wants to be. And if that's what you want, you won't be dissapointed.

    Thank you! New chapter should hopefully come this weekend, depending on how quickly I can finish up the second part.

    ...

    Ok, so I use the white background/black text interface on serebii (and similar colors on FFN and Bulba) so this isn't the first time I've made that mistake and missed it. Thank you for pointing it out.
     
  15. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    Chapter Three
    Part 1: Iolana Rookery


    The sky had opened up around moonset and, even though it was nearly the height of the sun’s arc now, the day had brought only clouds and misting and the soil was still somewhere between dirt and mud.

    Skysong rolls her shoulders to set her pack down and the old dirt stains on it blend with the new. The other humans do likewise, and even the mudbeasts are slowly lowering themselves down to rest. The only exceptions are the humans with lightboxes; they continue to stand vigilant.

    The-big-human-who-needs-a-name opens his pack and draws out clear baggies of food.

    “Come over and get lunch.”

    Earthseer and Snaketree get there before Skysong has picked back up your leash. When Skysong finally gets her bag of food, she asks you to find her a tree to stand under. You do so, making sure it is away from the other two humans. They watched something on a screen last night and there was a good deal of voice-raising (the human equivalent of a roar), the scent of anger and, ultimately, Skysong storming out to cry by a bridge for a while. You hated that bridge, too; your fur started standing on end and it took you most of the night to get everything properly tucked away.

    You aren’t entirely sure what was on the screen; you had been napping at the start and it’s so hard to keep track of those moving images in bright electric colors.

    The adult human takes out two hardpuddles and pours food into them. You feel four of your tails independently tense and see Dirtface perk up as well. As soon as you hear the invitation, you rush over and begin chowing down on the hardpuddle closest to Dirtface, just so she has to take a few steps around you to get her food. You make sure to accidentally smack one of your tails into her in the process.

    When your snout is starting to brush against the bottom of the hardpuddle with every bite, you see Earthseer stand up in your peripheral vision and begin to walk towards Skysong. He crouches down beside her, sitting as low as possible to the dirt without anything but his overhoofs actually touching it. (It’s a sensible strategy. You’ve written your paws off as a loss today but are trying your best to keep your tails hoisted in the air so you have less to clean off tonight.)

    “I have some leftover almonds if you want them.”

    “I don’t.”

    “I won’t eat them.”

    “Same for I.”

    You pick up your hardpuddle by the rim and walk it over to Skysong’s paws. She’s tensed and you can smell the fight scent starting to drift outside of her skin. Earthseer doesn’t seem to notice, but he does bring his words down to breathspeech.

    “I didn’t mean those things. It was just part of some dumb strategy.”

    Skysong picks a metal can out of her bag and starts to run her digits along it.

    “I can help with that if you—”

    She pops the can open and picks up her plastic longpaw.

    “It’s done."

    “What I meant was that in a way, you’re—”

    You bark and start pressing your cheek in to Skysong’s legs, letting your tails whip in to her. She flinches and almost drops the can, but adjusts her paw and saves it at the last second. You see her smile, and aren’t sure whether you helped or hurt.

    “Would you like some, Pixie?”

    You bark again and she bends down to fish some meat out of the disk and in to her paw. She holds it out to you and you start licking it a little more aggressively than is strictly necessary until everything’s gone.

    Snaketree has walked over to the other two by that point. You didn’t even notice her coming with the scent of food in front of your snout.

    “Kekoa, can I talk to Valentina alone?”

    He stiffens and slowly turns away.

    “Yeah, sure. She’s all yours.”

    *​

    Skysong takes the shiny page and runs her paw over it, letting only the tips of her claws touch it. She’s sitting in her leafswing, her hindpaws dangling over the edge.

    “First trial you’ve picked is bug-themed. Kekoa, you’ve got a rock-type so you have a bit of an advantage. You don’t have a good answer to ‘em, Valentina, and you don’t have much experience under your belt. Route 3’s home to the Iolana Rookery, so you’ll have a chance to pick up a bird to help you on the trial. And unless you plan on evolving your dratini twice in three days, Genesis, I’d suggest you join her.

    That snake also becomes a bird? That’s maybe the best discovery you’ve ever made in your short life. And… another pokémon? Skysong’s already getting another pokémon? You were dimly aware that trainers sometimes got up to five more on a team, but you’d sort of figured that you were more than enough for her. Or, at least, that she would wait until you were irreplaceable. And why does she even want help here? You’re more than strong enough to crush a puny bug.

    You swat a mosquito dead with a flick of a tail to prove the point.

    *​

    When you finally emerge from the forest and on to mercifully clean rock, you are expecting to be greeted by a bright Alolan sun. For better or worse, you are not. The skies are a dull, lumpy grey and the distant ocean is about the same. You think you can hear it roaring against the land far below you, but it’s mostly drowned out by the sound of an untold number of birds. You recognize some of them (beachbegger, colorbeaks, even an giftmessenger or two). But an equally large (larger?) portion you don’t. It’s not easy to sort the sounds out either as hundreds of members of a dozen species yell over each other and the waves to be heard. Your ears are built for the sparse, quiet sounds of a mountaintop. This sends a pulsing between them, back and forth, rising and falling, until it feels like your head is just a massive seed being pecked at from all directions by a flock of heartless birds.

    Somehow, Skysong hears your whimpering and reaches down to pick you up.

    “Want your ball?” she asks.

    You do. You say no. You are her guide fox and there’s no way she can possibly navigate by sound here. And if she walks off of the cliffs she definitely will not keep you because dead humans don’t train pokémon.

    Two more humans walk up to the group, although you almost miss them in the cacophony. Snowfire and… and Matriarch. She looks at you, curled up in Skysong’s limbs like a pup pressed into her mother’s tails during a blizzard. You press your paws down through the cracks until Skysong gets the hint and puts you back on to the ground. The sounds are getting easier to manage the longer you stay here. Besides, they’re birds. Hearing them should just make you hungry.

    Focusing on the lies keeps a part of your mind off the noise.

    Snowfire and the large human, er, Foresthuman. Wait that’s, ah, too late. You’re going with it.

    Snowfire and Foresthuman (such a terrible name…) talk to each other and everyone. And eventually the humans split up into adult-child pairs, each trailed by a lightbox wielder. Snowfire and Earthseer and Dirtface go somewhere down the trail. Foresthuman and Snaketree start trying to descend the rocks. And then Matriarch breaks off to take Skysong’s hand and lead her back in to the forest.

    You have mixed feelings on that. You don’t want to be around Matriarch, especially not at one of your rare moments of imperfection. But the trees absorb or reflect or block the sound, and just a three-or-four nines of humanlengths into the forest things are already tolerable again.

    “You aren’t interested in birdcatching?” Matriarch says.

    “Not now. I, just. After the battle I decided that I can’t battle like—”

    “—that’s absolutely untrue—”

    “—battle like a normal trainer. I need to prepare differently. Train Pixie differently. I can’t follow things as they happen, but she’s smart, so I can teach her how to battle mostly on her own.”

    Matriarch looks at her blankly for several seconds before finally cracking a smile.

    “It takes most people a lot longer to figure that out.”

    “I’m sorry?”

    “No two trainers are alike, so there isn’t a ‘normal’ training method. But most people just try and stick to what they think is normal until everything’s crashing down around them. Glad you caught yourself very early.”

    “It’s already…”

    Matriarch steps forward and puts a paw on Skysong’s shoulder.

    “Kid. You had one big loss. One loss in less-than-fair circumstances. You haven’t even fought a totem yet, and you’re already learning from your mistakes. That’s important. Because the losses? They happen. It matters what you do after them.”

    Skysong stands unmoving afterwards.

    “I don’t know you, but…”

    “Hmm?”

    “This is. Can I have a hug?”

    “Sure.”

    Skysong steps forward and the humans wrap their paws around each other. It looks warm and fun but you’re also pretty sure you aren’t allowed to join.

    Eventually your trainer steps back. She looks calm, but her voice cracks a little bit when she speaks.

    “Training?”

    Matriarch smiles.

    “Training. Let’s just start by running through some situations. You’re facing an opponent who is best hitting up close. It’s slower than Pixie. What do you have her do?”

    “Powder snow from a distance, run away when they get close. Tail whip and run if they get too close?”

    “Good. Weaker, ranged opponent?”

    “…just keep using powder snow?”

    “Faster melee opponent?”

    “Can you rephrase?”

    “Faster opponent. Hits up close.”

    Skysong doesn’t readily produce an answer.

    “Mind if we try it, then?”

    “Pixie?”

    You bark. You’re ready.

    Matriarch drops her ball and an ironhair emerges in the earth. You have them on the mountain and while they look really weak and edible, the fur on top of their head is really sharp and the wounds keep stinging for days. You made a mistake as a pup, all pups make the mistake, and you’ll never, ever try to eat one again.

    “Ready to start?”

    “Yes. Powder snow!”

    “Scratch.”

    You’d already started forming the snowball and as soon as the order is given it sails out of your mouth. The rockface moves faster than your eye can even track it and it sails far to the side. Suddenly its hair is tearing into your side, opening up several long, thin cuts. Before you can even whip your tails around to repel it, the creature’s retreated a safe distance away. You start forming another pulse of cold and—

    “—wait, is that a zorua?”

    You falter and the cold seeps out into a small wave you immediately absorb into your tails. A what?

    Matriarch smiles.

    “Well, no need for trickery any more. Zorua, come out.”

    There’s a blur of light around the rockface and then there’s not even a rockface anymore. There’s a fox that looks a lot like you, but black and red instead of white and blue, standing there instead. And his coat is pretty wonderful. As are his claws. So, no, you aren’t allowed to like him.

    “How’d you tell?”

    “They’re native to my hometown. The only big thing about it. They were friendly to locals and the zoroark sometimes took care of me when I got lost.”

    “Interesting. Different subspecies. This one’s an Olympic zorua. Live in cooler climates. Mainland institute gave me a litter to try and train up. Would’ve loved a desert zorua, but they’re endangered and,” she shrugs, “nothing I can do about that.”

    “…they sound the same?”

    “Maybe.”

    You continue to size up the zorua while he sizes up you. He’s definitely fast, and his cut hurts a lot more than you want to show in front of Matriarch and Skysong. And then he has a trick that you think is weak and cowardly but can’t stop yourself from thinking of all the ways you’d use it. The zorua, for his part, seems entirely unreadable. Not necessarily unimpressed, just unreadable.

    “Tell you what: you’re clearly used to tame zorua. Enough to know that they’re mischievous little foxes. And you’ve already got one of those to like you. I’d be happy to give you this one if you can give me advice on how to train them. Perhaps Pixie could teach her public access and guide work? She is very good at those things, when she tries.”

    One of your tails puffs up involuntarily and you promptly blow air through it to calm it down. Matriarch compliments are rare and wonderful and something you absolutely don’t care about one way or the other.

    You notice that the zorua’s moved from looking at you to looking at Skysong, expectantly. And then it hits you just what was proposed before the sneaky old woman threw in a compliment to distract you. She’s trying to get this dumb, ugly, unremarkable fox to replace you. And since Skysong has a history with them and this one just beat you in a short… no. Hasn’t beat you.

    You puff out a powder snow into the zorua’s face, watching as it strikes dead on and drips down while the fox tries to blink and shake it out, and you hiss. He wants your trainer, he’s going through you.

    You barely even see the ripple of light around the zorua. But one moment you’re hissing and preparing for your glorious last stand and the next your entire snout hurts and you’re in midair looking at the ground. And then a lot more than just your snout hurts. And then you hear laughter. It’s not even a particularly vulpine sound, but it’s clearly not aimed at you.

    It’s aimed at her.

    “I think that’s another lesson, there. On what you do against an opponent with more powerful ranged attacks.”

    As you flip yourself off of your back and on to your paws, you catch a glimpse of your trainer. Standing transfixed in the exact same position, with the exact same tilt of her head, as she had been in before your stunt.

    “…is the zorua still fire-type?”

    Matriarch shakes her head.

    “No. Officially pure dark. Some dispute among breeders over whether or not they should have a secondary-typing.”

    “Not very useful against bug- or fighting-types, then?”

    “He wouldn’t be useful immediately, but I think he’d start pulling his weight very shortly after that.”

    Skysong continues to be still. You’d suspect she’d been flash-frozen, all the water in her body locked into crystalline form, but she’s far too warm for that.

    “I don’t think Pixie would like to have a partner yet.”

    “Eventually you’ll have to ignore that if you want to keep winning.”

    “…I want to try the first trial. And if it is another loss, then we can talk again about this.”

    *​

    The next day’s hike sticks close to the coastline. You imagine that without a breeze and perfect cloud cover it would be unmanageable. But the birds start to thin out and the heat isn’t as bad as it could be, even if the stone hurts your paws a little bit.

    As the roar of the birds subsides, another sound slowly builds: a dull roar in front of you, like the sound of water filling a… a bath, except far in the distance. Which means it has to be very loud. Is it a bath for a dragon? You hope so. There might be large prey species not expecting a sudden fierce attack from a snow fox. They thought they would be safe just because they moved islands and hid in your least favorite spot, but no. The snakes are never safe from ice foxes. Ever.

    Despite a morning’s worth of fantasizing, you’re utterly unprepared for the sound’s source when you see it.

    There’s a massive chasm in the stone and you can hear water running through the bottom. At the start of the chasm is a cliff face, and in the cliff face is the dark hole of a cave entrance. That would be impressive enough, but there’s a stream of water akin to eighty-one hydro pumps being fired off at once flowing from it and then cascading down in a vertical river.

    It is pretty much like the water flow into a bath, but so much larger than you would have ever imagined. A god could bathe under it and nothing in the world could bother them.

    …and then you notice the bridge leading over the chasm. It's maybe two human lengths across, at most, and the edges are maybe human height and they’re just metal cords so something your size could easily fall off if there was a strong gust of wind or a push from a predator. There are two humans coming across it now—are they going to make you go across it? You want to ask for your ball if so, but Skysong’s mad and you need to be on your best behavior so—

    —the approaching humans shout.

    “Yo, homies, I thought Big Sis told you to cut it out?”

    There are murmurings among the humans on your side of the bridge as the newcomers approach. It takes you a moment to place them but oh—oh no. It’s the skull people. You shiver and it feels like the movement rips your side open again and leaves bruises halfway down your body. Your ears fold back and every individual hair on your back begins to stick up like needles. Predators. The predators are back.

    “Now, who’s getting crushed under the bone hard boots of—”

    “Cinccino, come.”

    One of the men who always hangs out around the lightboxes steps forwards and opens up a pokéball. It materializes on the ground into—gods of the peak it’s gorgeous. Ok, the base color isn’t actually that great, just a dark stone grey, which, you guess you can appreciate the minimalism, but then—the fur. Gods, the fur. It has what looks like a long, thick tail of white fur wrapped around it that’s thicker than a ninetales’ tail and looks finer and somehow purer and none of that should even be possible, especially not for a biped that definitely isn’t a ninetales but—

    “Bullet seed.”

    The humans sent out their own pokémon, a common rat and an awful biped with a weird nose, but the wonderful pokémon on your side just puffs up their cheeks and then—boom, boom, boom—there’s this barrage of little hail going really fast and you can hear the hits and even see them ripple across the other opponents skin and then they’re collapsed and the really, really pretty fur mon has won and—

    “Pixie!”

    You turn around to face your trainer. At some point you had apparently wound up cowering behind your wonderful savior, your side pressed into her fur.

    “Where did Pixie go?”

    Her voice is higher than usual and, when you focus, you can hear her heart thrashing madly against her ribcage. You walk back over to her, tails tucked between your legs, and nuzzle her.

    “Pix, you, you can’t just do that when people like that are around. You could get hurt… I could get hurt, you—”

    “They’re Team Skull. Think you might be worrying a little too much,” Earthseer says in a voice that sounds low and droll even for a human.

    “**** you! You’re the one that decided to dick around in front of a ****ing gang, not caring if anyone got killed when—”

    “Woah. We’re Team Skull. We don’t go that hard…”

    Skysong’s heart quiets and her breathing picks up. More than it had been. When she speaks again it isn’t in the harsh, breathy screech she’d broken into but a quiet, stammering babble of words nearly drowned out by a sudden barking fit from Dirtface.

    “They’re still here? You—they. They’re… they’re still…”

    You watch from up close as the leg muscles beneath her skin buckle up and then abruptly relax as her body begins to sway.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2018
  16. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Well, I'm glad that things have calmed down enough for you to come back to the forums, for sure! Hope things take a turn for the better in your RL. Just a couple replies to your replies, and then on to the newest chapter...

    Ah, gotcha. Haven't played USUM, so I didn't realize Pixie might be based on a game character.

    Huh, that's an interesting take on it! I don't think I've really seen anyone go that route before. So is the idea that only children with poor home situations do the journey thing, or the journey thing is so ritualized that basically all kids do it, and parents kind of push them into leaving by neglecting them "so they develop independence," etc.?

    And the latest chapter...

    Not sure if you meant for this paragraph to be in past tense.

    "Snaketree" is a great name for Genesis, and I'm side-eyeing Earthseer, here. Does Pixie know something about him that we don't?

    Just wanted to say that "hardpuddle" is a fantastic name for plate/bowl. As well as "longpaw" for utensils!

    Think that's supposed to be "her" paw.

    Hmmm. A little of that supernatural empathy kicking in, or just Valentina being naturally perceptive?

    Pixie seemed to have the concept of "bridge" down earlier in the chapter.

    I love Team Skull.

    Well, it's looking as though at least part of Valentina's past trauma probably has something to do with a gang, whether an "evil team" or some other organized or semi-organized crime organization. I'd guess not a canon gang, since we haven't really had any regions based on Central or even South America, but seeing as Valentina's mom's a goddess I could see some group having designs on her, thinking that kidnapping her/sacrificing her/whatever would summon her mother or something along those lines. And Valentina's mom's a goddess... Are all the gods pokémon, or are there some other great forces at work in the world? I was going to say, "Oh, goddess + pokémon + South/Central America, that says Mew, doesn't it? And Valentina can transform a bit!" But: the ocean? Empathy? It's freaking manaphy, isn't it? (Latias as a second guess. Or Mew! Though Jirachi would also kind of work with the heart's desire thing.)

    I enjoyed seeing Valentina start to work out how to strategize and battle despite her blindness, although I don't know how much she actually ended up learning from the zorua fight, haha. Interesting that she could tell she was actually dealing with a zorua from the sound of it; I guess the illusion would be totally ineffective against her, because obvs. she can't see it, but also she isn't primed to expect anything in particular; Matriarch didn't even give a nickname when she sent the pokémon out. There's no reason for Valentina to think it might be anything but a zorua.

    Lots of great stuff with Pixie definitely not being jealous of that zorua, and also her abandonment issues coming out in various repressed/denied ways. Her reaction to the cinccino was great, too, and I'm happy that Valentina got a hug. :)

    Got no clue what a rockface is supposed to be, though. Fire-type but, well, "rock face," and found in Alola? I've got nothing.

    These chapters are so short! Not that longer ones would necessarily be better, narrative-wise, and obviously you have to account for your own ability to get them out in a reasonable amount of time. It just feels like as soon as I've settled in with a good one, it's over, haha. Looking forward to the next!
     
    Rediamond likes this.
  17. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    Chapter Two: Route 3
    Part 2: Kala'e Bay


    The door opens again and a new human enters the cave. She’s an adolescent with pale skin and near-white hair. Your attention immediately pivots to the door Skysong’s behind.

    “So, I heard you’re here for… the… did I miss something?”

    One of the (many) humans staring at her makes harsh throat air and starts to explain the situation. Earthseer and Snaketree are fine, Skysong collapsed. Yes, she’s awake now and doing better. It’s probably fine. We don’t know if she’ll be up for it tomorrow, no. The other two will be.

    “Ordinarily I’d ask to battle, to see if you’re up to it, but given, y’know, it just feels a little wrong. Can you just tell me what you have?”

    Snowfire answers.

    “Kekoa has a rockruff, Genesis has a dratini, Valentina has a vulpix, if she’s up to it.”

    He glances at you during the last part. You barely notice and don’t react. Can they stop talking? The door is very thick and it’s hard to hear things on the other side of it.

    “Is that all? Is this their first challenge?”

    “It is.”

    “Did they just get their starters and make a bee-line here? Because, y’know, the bug girl is a ****ing push over? Christ, the routes are even numbered. You’d think people would stop and wonder if they’re supposed to go to route three first or—or. I’m sorry. Just, I get this a lot.”

    She sighs, forcefully, apparently drawing air from her backpaws all the way up to her mouth.

    “Ordinarily I’d kick your asses and send you back around the island before you so much as stepped foot in the meadow, but given the circumstances… I’ll let anyone who’s up to do it tomorrow morning do it together. All pokémon out at once.”

    “I appreciate it, Miss Boyega…”

    *

    The door opens and the healer steps out. The room quickly quiets.

    “I have concerns about how long she was under. I’m going to allow her to go on her way tomorrow morning, but she will need a more thorough examination before I’m willing to ok her leaving Melemele. And I am going to keep her in the medical wing under observation for the rest of the night.”

    “Thank you—”

    “I have other concerns.”

    She glares to Snowfire in a way you frankly didn’t know a human being could glare.

    “I have serious concerns about her mental fitness and some of the things she told me are deeply unsettling. She said she had a counselor she was meeting with. I would like to speak with her.”

    “I think that can be arranged. Let me just…”

    Human stuff. Doesn’t matter. The door is ajar and you jump down from your perch at the edge of a chair and rush towards the opening. But the healer catches you midway and sticks her leg in your path. As you slow down to try and reroute, her death glare turns to you.

    “She would like to be alone right now. That includes pokémon.”

    You stop abruptly. Maybe too abruptly. What you mean is, you crash into the wall in shock. That draws a more analytical glance from her before she shrugs and turns back to the humans. She shoots them a final glare, opens the door and steps back in to Skysong’s quarters. Without you.

    *

    At some point around moonrise, when all the humans go elsewhere to sleep, you move from the chair to the pawrest beside it. It offers less height than the chair’s ridge and isn’t as protected as the chair’s interior, but you have a clear view of Skysong’s door and can stretch out a little bit. You sit there, wide awake, until a little after moonpeak. Then you glance out the window and have to use the tray provided for relieving yourself (the healer tried to put you in your ball, you tried to bite her, a compromise was worked out). And then you go back to your station, limbs sprawled and tails spread out and pressed down.

    Eventually, something happens. Not from Skysong’s door, though. Instead there’s a whimpering from across the room. You turn to look and… and there’s a vulpix. You. Same eye color and mane pattern. Except you’re an absolute mess with your mane hanging limp, your side fur roughed up and tangled with dirt mixed in and two of your tails in a knot. The other tails look incredibly greasy, like they hadn’t been maintained in multiple moon cycles. You flinch and turn to look at your real body, which is perfectly clean, and then there’s giggling. Your giggling. You turn back to other-you and they jump off of their pawrest to walk over. You turn back to the door and try to ignore them until they jump up and sprawl out less than half a body length from you. Your tails are touching.

    You give the inquiry growl. They’re very lucky you didn’t give a threat or curse growl instead, but at this point you can’t follow what’s happening. Other-you shakes and rematerializes into a black and red fox. You reflexively extend your claws and listen as they rip into the furniture’s skin. The fox giggles, once again in your voice.

    “What are you doing?” you hiss.

    “Waiting for our human.”

    It takes you several breaths worth of time to process exactly what he had said and run through every possible meaning of the growls.

    “My human. Not yours.”

    The other fox whips his tail around, running it over several of yours.

    “My human soon.”

    Could you attack him? Yes. But then he’d turn invisible and quiet and hide and you’d get in trouble, again. And the humans are already going to be angry about the puncture wounds in the pawrest. You resort to simply shooting out waves of progressively colder air until the pawrest starts to frost over. This eventually causes the fox to ripple the air around him and take up your form before jumping into the chair proper and curling up.

    You keep pumping out cold, but eventually it makes you tired and you must stay awake. You stop, even if surrender hurts deep down in your stomach. The other fox eventually falls asleep on his own. Because he doesn’t deserve Skysong.

    *

    Just before moonset, you hear noise from the other side of the door. Your tails perk up and you glance to other fox. He’s still asleep, so you make sure to rise to your paws slowly, deliberately and quietly. And then you wait to see if Skysong will come out or not.

    She does, eventually, with her cane in hand. She walks across the room, clicking the cane on the floor occasionally, and puts her hand on the opposite wall. You hear other fox stir beside you, so you take the opportunity to jump down regardless of noise and rush over to your human. You brush your tails against her ankle and purr.

    She flinches and then keeps walking, her paw against the wall, like you aren’t even there. You don’t need to turn around to imagine other fox smirking at you, with an added taunt thrown in about your shared human. Eventually Skysong touches the door and, after a moment spent locating the handle, she opens it and steps outside. You follow.

    Once the door is shut, Skysong leans back against the building. You notice that her overeyes are off and, in her real eyes, you can see little lines and streaks of red that you don’t think are supposed to be there in humans. And her skin is very cool to the touch and she looks paler than usual. And then she smells… off. It’s hard to place, but given the rest of your observations you suspect she’s sick.

    She doesn’t say anything. You don’t either. But you do curl up beside her, making sure that one of your tails touches her leg right above the paw.

    “It’s close to sunrise?”

    You tense when you hear her voice and accidentally run your tail quickly against her leg before carefully putting it back.

    “Yes.”

    She doesn’t speak for a long enough time that you re-relax.

    “You know I’m never going to leave you.”

    You don’t know that. And her saying it doesn’t quite assuage you. Oaths are a very human thing. Vulpix rely on threats and self-interest. A ninetales will take what territory she can with the power she has. You know that about her and every other fox on the planet, and will keep that in mind when picking your territory. You will hunt what you can when you are hungry and you, your family and your prey understand this. There is no reason to pretend you will do something outside of your own interest because you obviously won’t.

    Yet humans make and break oaths and other humans keep accepting them.

    You bark agreement. It’s still a nice gesture, even if it isn’t in her interest and might not be in her power to keep it.

    “I won’t leave you, but I think I need more security if there’s a cartel opposed to the show.”

    You aren’t quite sure what the c-word means but you also aren’t sure if you want to ask her at this very moment. You understand her sentiment, though. Just when you think she has nothing more to say, she pushes off of the building and opens up the door again.

    “There’s a trial in a few hours. Be ready.”

    *

    The trial is equal parts boring and irritating. The humans just get some tiny lightboxes and start using them to capture the pictures of various bugs throughout the meadow. That’s the boring and inexplicable part (bugs aren’t photogenic so why do they get the pictures). Sometimes the ungrateful bugs even attack you for taking their picture, because they know they aren’t beautiful, but you take them all down easily. Dirtface and the snake occasionally help a little bit.

    No, the irritating part is the meadow itself. All of the plants tower above you and some nearly reach over Skysong. And they’re all filled with bright yellow and very sticky fluff. The worst part is that however much gets stuck in your fur, there’s absolutely no point in taking the time to get it out. More would almost instantly take its place. So here you are, prancing around in the coat of an electric-type, trying to sniff out insects for no good reason.

    The best thing about the trial is that it ends. They go back to the bug-loving human and show her the lightbox. She flicks her finger over it and eventually seems to be satisfied by the results. She pockets the brick and speaks:

    “Come with me.”

    You really, really like the place she takes the humans to. It’s a cave, which you never really liked exploring before because they’re dark, but this one is really, really cold (nearly Mountain cold) and it’s even wet-cold, which you think is better than dry-cold, and you can hear the bats moving in the side tunnels. You love bats. As a very young vulpix who could barely form a powder snow, you hung out by cave exits with your siblings and when the bats came out around moonrise you’d just fire cold pulses into the swarm until something got their wings locked up and froze and you could pounce them.

    There is no time for pouncing bats today. Even if you think that would have made for a much better trial with actual skill involved.

    Skysong doesn’t seem to like the wet-cold. She’s doing the thing that mammals do when you freeze and pounce them, where they start shivering and their body slows down (prey’s breath and heart rate typically shoot up when you pounce, but then they go down until they stop altogether and you can eat). You aren’t sure how to help her with that because you are a cold fox. Well, ok, you could reverse the chilling process and warm things. But it would be a very small warm in this cold and it would be very exhausting and you would need to eat at least a whole bat to recover.

    If you walk back up through the cave, you might do it. Just for her. She might not abandon her portable warming fox.

    Eventually the wet-cold gets less cold and more wet and salty, to the point where you can feel salt crystals mixing in with the pollen in your coat and… and you’re going to do your best not to think about that until you’ve earned a proper bath.

    Gods of the peak, “a proper bath” is the good outcome here.

    The bug-human stops and holds her arm out. You bark quietly and tell Skysong to stop, which she does. In front of you is a hole in the wall with horribly bright and warm sunshine radiating in. The smell and sound and feel of seawater also drifts in.

    “The Kala’e Bay trial site is beyond this exit. Once outside, the use of pokéballs for capture is strictly forbidden. I can’t guarantee you’ll get any breaks to patch your pokémon up. Step outside when you’re ready, and be prepared to battle the meanest **********er you’ve fought so far.”

    Earthseer steps forward and looks back at the other humans.

    “You ready?”

    “I guess so, yeah…” Snaketree says.

    “Yes.”

    Earthseer shrugs. “Well, let’s go meet a mean **********er.”

    *

    You step outside and there are no incestuous opponents to be seen. Not that you understand the expression. If a cub procreated with his mother, the offspring would probably be sickly and deformed. A species with a tradition of mother-child pairings would likely be very easy to defeat.

    There’s only a small strip of land jutting out into the ocean and a small stone column right at the edge of the sea. You step forward and you feel something radiating from the column. It’s… it feels like the Shrine of the Peak. The gathering place of the ninetales where territory is decided and new alphas are created. Your tails droop and you bow your head; you think this is sacred ground and you are not worthy to be here with your coat in disarray. If you would ever be worthy to stand here at all.

    Dirtface makes no effort to humble or sanctify himself. Instead he just walks over and places a paw on the pillar, only to immediately withdraw it like it had stung him.

    “The hell?”

    You hear a buzzing noise far above you. At first it just sounds like a swarm of bees or flies, but then it gets louder than any swarm you’ve ever heard before. You look up and see a shadow descending from the heavens to protect the holy turf Dirtface disgraced. As it settles into view, you finally get a look at its form.

    The creature is larger than Skysong and nearly as large as Snaketree. It’s shaped like a bee, sort of, but with smoother and more enlongated features and two proportionally tiny wings behind it that shouldn’t keep it aloft, but somehow manage. The buzzing becomes unbearable as it reaches the top of the pillar, the bottom of its paws resting upon it. You can feel the rippling of its wings move the air and see it beat new ripples into the water behind it. The agent of the gods gives one final shriek before leaping off of the pedestal and beginning the fight.

    "Totem's a ribombee," Snaketree loud-whispers.

    …no. Not beginning the fight. Instead it simply zooms back upwards to a crack in the stone. You’re supposed to fight this thing? Really? You think Mother would struggle against it, and she’s an empowered messenger of the Night Queen. Before you can decide whether to fight or play dead, the bee zips back down with a red orb in its hand. Snake, somehow, is the fastest to react and spits out a thin bolt of thunder that causes your fur to stand on end due to proximity alone. That’s what finally gets you to snap out of it, drills into your head that this fight is real and your coat and pride are on the line.

    The bee just adjusts its course a fraction of a degree and the bolt sails wide. Before you or any of the other pokémon can react and compensate, the bee is right above Dirtface and drops the orb down upon her. You thought it would be a blunt force attack, a way to deal lots of physical damage for a creature that couldn’t physically throw a punch or land a meaningful bite. No. Instead the orb instantly shatters like the thinnest of ice spheres upon contact and flames pour out, engulfing Dirtface in a burst of light brighter than the reflection of mid-day sunlight off of pure white snow. The light fades shortly after, but it leaves black marks running across the dog’s skin. You see her try to move and instantly cry out in pain.

    Maybe she can still fight, but she’s not going to be able to subject herself to the full-body tackles she used to take you out of the fight. And if Snaketree can’t fly up to constrict the bee and Dirtface is useless… that leaves you.

    "Diana's burned. Flame orb trickery," Earthseer says.

    Before Skysong can get her bearings well-enough established to give a command, you draw upon the frost and moisture you’d absorbed into your pelt in the cave and spit it out through your mouth. The slushball flies through the air and, through some lucky stroke, hits the bee right in the face.

    And it plummets. For a second. Then it shakes the slush off and turns to face you. Insect emotions are hard to read, but you’re pretty sure it’s furious. Just before you can face its wrath, another bolt arcs out and strikes the stationary bee dead on. It freezes, seizes up and falls into the strongest tackle Dirtface can give in her condition. You’re pretty sure it hurts the dog more than the bug, though.

    You launch another slushball, not particularly caring that some of it hits your “ally” along with your enemy. Who knows, the cold water might help with her burn.

    That seems to stir the bee from shock to anger. The buzzing picks up in intensity as the creature rises up out of tackle-reach again. Then the winds follow in a burst of air and music that flips Dirtface over and stings you far more than normal air should.

    You recognize the aura behind the sting. Lunar energy. The blessing of the Night Queen. Are you supposed to fight her? If she’s been blessed… you find yourself staring off at the water, in part because of a wandering mind and in part because the wind stings and you don’t want your eyes facing it directly.

    Water. You’re fighting this creature because Skysong, the daughter of a water goddess who had spoken to you personally (let’s ignore the content of that message), is asking you to slay this monster. And it is your duty as her guide fox and the daughter of a messenger of the gods to comply.

    You spit another snowball into the wind and most of it blows back on to you and Skysong.

    The wind stops. You turn your eyes to the bee and see that it’s struggling in midair as little sparks dance across its body. As another slush ball forms in your mouth, the bee gives off a cry so high-pitched that you immediately drop the attempt and lay flat on the ground, ears pressed against your head and tails covering yourself as much as possible. You see Dirtface do much the same in your peripheral vision, but her trainer seems entirely unbothered. Is he deaf? Because—

    A pulse of seawater hits right above your muzzle and flattens your headfur.

    You hear Dirtface and the snake re-engage while you shake yourself off and try to get the water off of your face before you open your eyes again. And then you shake yourself off again to verify what you’re seeing. There’s another pokémon on the bee’s side, this one being some sort of sea mammal with ridiculous fangs. It’s shooting out rings of water at Dirtface while she tries to avoid them, clearly hurting herself with the movements, while the snake has somehow gotten onto the bee and is doing his best to constrict the insect’s movements.

    You consider which battle to engage in. Snowballs might knock out the snake, and right now that snake is in the best place it can be for doing damage. And the marine mammal’s blubber looks rather thick so there’s not much you can do there. Maybe join Dirtface and try to tail whip your opponent into humiliation?

    You wind up sitting down on your haunches and doing nothing out of indecision. It’s definitely not going to endear you to Skysong but now you’re here and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to protect her or vanquish her enemies and, and maybe she’s right. Maybe the fox—

    An impact rattles throughout the battlefield and you turn to look. The bee is dancing through the air quickly and erratically and then—

    —and then she hits the cliff walls again in a full on tackle. This time the snake falls off.

    Well. There’s your answer. You spit out another powder snow and nail it right in the thorax, but then the buzzing intensifies and the wind follows a second later. You bunker down and brace yourself, shifting your tails in front of your head so that the fur blocks some of the stinging solid moonlight from hitting your face, where it would hurt the most.

    Well, second most, but that area’s protected by the base of your tails and the rest of your body.

    All the stance really serves to do is get pollen and sea salt lodged inside your nose, forcing you to cough and stir up more pollen and eventually you have to whip your tails away just so you can breathe. You can’t attack through it. You have no idea how the marine mammal skirmish is going, but you know you can’t hurt the seal and you can’t imagine a rock-type is doing well against constant water pulses. There’s nothing you can do to hurt the bee and this wind and. You hear a giggle. Right beside you.

    “You do our human proud…”

    Something deep inside your stomach twists and breaks. You scream. And then you hear the cliffs and the ocean repeat your scream back and you scream louder, the high-pitch shriek filling your ears to the exclusion of all else. Time barely seems to matter and the pain goes away until the only thing you’re aware of is the vibration of your own voice.

    You aren’t sure when you stop, just that one moment you’re screaming and the next you’re panting and shaking out your tails.

    “What just happened?” Skysong asks.

    “Your vulpix learned roar,” Snaketree answers.

    “…did we win?”

    You look up. Neither the water-type nor the bug are anywhere to be seen. Did you do it? Did you—no. You can hear buzzing in the distance as the bee rushes through the air over the water… only to spark up and fall in. It doesn’t sink, but its wings get stuck in the sea, beating furiously and helplessly as the insect’s body spreads out on the water’s surface and twitches. Then it starts moving, horizontally, as if the currents had just shifted in its favor. You spit out a powder snow but it goes wide. Before you or Dirtface can prepare another attack, the bee is pushed up on to land and the seal follows a moment later, spitting out a burst of white light in your direction. You roll to the side and the ball keeps moving until it hits the cliff, sputtering apart in a burst of sparks that cause your entire mane to puff up.

    Forget the bug, you hate the seal. But there’s nothing you can do to hurt it and, you realize as the bee starts getting airborne again, there’s nothing Dirtface can do about the insect. That fight is hers, and this is yours. You spit out a pulse of snow and the bug just tanks it, unflinching. Its wings beat and you brace yourself for a wind that doesn’t come. Instead a shower of pollen shoots out and, despite your noblest attempts to run away, some of it gets stuck on your fur. And some of the spores get into your mouth. You tense up and trip as your muscles stop working.

    With a great deal of effort, you reach your feet and your muscles lock up again. But this time it’s in a way that leaves you standing, but unable to do anything but stand. When you finally fight through it and move your head, the situation looks bleak. The seal is nowhere to be seen, hopefully unconscious or licking its wounds on the ocean floor, but Dirtface is coated in the same awful spores. You see the bug beat its wings again as the breeze start picking up and.

    Only one option. Whether its bad or not.

    You reach deep inside of you, feel your organs, and twist. The scream comes out again as you collapse to the ground from muscle spasms, but thankfully your voice is unaffected. As are your eyes. This time as the scream reaches its crescendo, you watch as the bee gets spooked and, in a moment of fear, bolts in the opposite direction. Into a cavewall. Just as you have to close your eyes to let the noise consume you, you see the bee tumble from the air.

    When the world quiets, Dirtface is lying underneath the insect, both unmoving.

    *

    Next time... Bittern Peak
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2018 at 5:20 PM
  18. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    Probably will calm. Of course, grad school's soon and people keep telling me that's much, much harder...

    Very loosely based. The prologue covered her entire arc in the games and then some.

    Pretty much. It's a mix of a tradition that originated when most children died so it wasn't worth getting attached and something people do when they only have bad options. And then it got romanticized.

    I didn't.

    Unsure what you're implying re:Kekoa. Genesis' only value to Pixie is her wonderful snek.

    Thanks!

    It is.

    Yes.

    Yup! That's a mistake on my part.

    I figured that Team Skull would be both flattered and horrified by being compared to a mainland cartel.

    Gods are complicated in guidance, as in real world pantheons. She is the daughter of the real world Aztec goddess of water and fertility. But other gods with very similar domains might see her as a stranger, an abomination or even a daughter. Manaphy is probably the closest equivalent from the Japanese pantheons. She might appear later in the story. Tapu Fini definitely will, as she's the closest Alolan equivalent.

    A lot of things will be covered in zorua's entry in The Alola Dex in the next few months. In short, a very young zorua isn't quite a master of auditory illusions yet.

    Why would she be jealous of a zorua?

    Alolan diglett. I'll try and find a way to make that clearer since no one got it.

    Part of this is due to it being part of a chapter. I put out either a roundtable or a chapter every month, but some chapters are split up because sometimes people really don't like reading more than 5k words at a time. So this was my compromise.
     

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