Bringing you new stories for the ages

Latest

Most Dangerous Game 22-02

You gain heretic powers after killing Heretics?

There’s no way that hasn’t been abused.

Heretical Edge

Previous Chapter

There was no question about what happened next. Even as Trice abandoned his own partner with a scream of the kind of bottomless rage I would’ve felt if anything happened to any of the people that I loved, Avalon left my side to meet him with a clash of an energy-blade summoned from her gauntlet against his pike.

And as much as I wanted to, I didn’t move to help her. That was part of our deal. Avalon wanted Trice. That much hadn’t been up for debate while we had been planning this. If all three of them had shown up, we’d had a slightly different plan that we would’ve gone with. But in this case, with two of them, the plan was clear. I was supposed to keep Doxer busy while she and Trice… had it out. That was my job. If things went wrong, there were…

View original post 3,244 more words

Most Dangerous Game 22-01

Technically they are invaders… though, how’d they get the ability to cross worlds in the first place?

Heretical Edge

Previous Chapter

“I’m sorry,” I announced later, “Our new hunt is gonna take place where, exactly?”

Yeah, it was time for the hunt. Which meant that the whole team was here. Not just the team, but Deveron as well, and Professor Dare. Which meant that, since finding out that Seosten couldn’t possess hybrids had cleared Vanessa and Tristan, there was about a ninety percent certainty that whoever that Seosten had possessed was actually in this room right now. Someone I trusted. It had to be someone I trusted, and there weren’t many candidates other than these people.

I just had to keep it together, knowing that one of the people around me was most likely plotting the murder of Avalon and enslavement of me and everyone I cared about. Right, no problem.

“Suarilia,” Professor Dare repeated, standing there with her hands behind her back in the portal room of…

View original post 3,607 more words

Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice) Movie Review

Kvasir 369's Anime & Manga Blog

Our Protagonists.

Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice) is a movie based off  the similarly named manga series that I discovered a month ago due to word of mouth and fell in love it. It’s a slice-of-life story, one of the few I’ve enjoyed without supernatural elements, and basically follows a small cast of characters with the central pair being a teenage boy and girl. It’s… hard to place it as a romance, despite the elements being there, but it mostly covers the themes of bullying, depression, disability, and friendship.

Fair warning, there will be spoilers from here on out, but I generally recommend it so if that’s what you’re here for now you know.

Story Premise

The premise of the story begins with our protagonist, Shoya Ishida, ripping his calendar in half before going out to quit his part-time job, sell his belongings, and withdraw all his money from the bank before…

View original post 1,277 more words

Rabbit of the Moon: Chapter 8 [DanMachi/Bloodborne]

Chapter 8: Outside of the Dream

Nmm….” Bell Cranel groaned as he woke up on his sofa, opposite of Hestia’s. He didn’t recall when he’d fallen asleep, but there was a sheet draped over his body and his goddess was missing. Rubbing his eyes, he peered through the darkness towards the clock and found it was Noon, meaning she’d left for work already.

“I don’t think I’ve slept this late in years,” he said to himself, rising to his feet. As he had been raised in the countryside, tending to a farm with his grandfather, he was used to rising at the crack of dawn. For him to wake up so late was abnormal…

Then again, nothing had been normal for Bell since yesterday. He’d delved deeper into the Dungeon than he did before and ran into a Minotaur, of all things. He’d… he’d died too. It wasn’t a dream either, even if he did wake in the Hunter’s Dream. He could still recall the brief moment of pain before his first death and the more drawn out deaths that followed.

As tempting as it was to brush off, he had to accept that it was something that happened. He had traversed the streets of Yharnam, channeled the Blood Echoes through the Doll, received the guidance of Gehrman, and had been encouraged by Eileen to get through the Hunt as quickly as possible. He’d hunted beasts for a time, before slaying a great Beast with the shade of an Old Hunter, Gascoigne.

Then he came back. Back to the moment of his first death. A second chance to do things right and survive. So he fought and prevailed over the Minotaur, fighting with everything he had gained over the brief time he’d spent in Yharnam. While he wasn’t fully lucid when he’d done it, he’d definitely ripped the magic stone out of the monster before noticing that Adventurer—Ais Wallenstein—had seen him and reacted in fear.

That bothered him the most. Seeing her raise her blade at him out of fear had been the same as when he’d done so to Eileen, after being lost and confused. Had he brought some part of Yharnam with him when he’d returned? The viciousness that the Hunt required of him to survive… had it bled over into him without Bell even realizing it?

He shuddered at the thought. Things left in Yharnam should remain there, while he remained here. He wanted nothing to do with that… that nightmare. That place wasn’t meant for him. He would gain nothing from going back there, while here he could remain by Hestia’s side.

Reassuring himself of that fact, Bell stood up and stretched his limbs to start a new day. Then he felt a slight parch in his throat and rumble in his stomach. He looked over to the table where he found a plate of potato snacks and a letter for him, the former of which he devoured as he inspected the contents of the latter.

It seemed that Hestia had left for work and would be back later than usual. She also wrote that he didn’t have to go to the Dungeon today and could just rest. It was probably because of everything that’d happened to him prior.

Bell frowned at thought. He came to Orario to be an Adventurer—to be a Hero like those his grandfather told him tales about, which meant he had to make a living that way. Even with the extra money from the Minotaur he slew, it wouldn’t be enough for them to last for long since Hestia still had to pay taxes, as he was still registered with the Guild, and he had to pay off the loans he’d taken on his starting gear. He couldn’t afford to just leave her to shelter the burden of everything because he was lazy or afraid after she’d taken him in despite the costs to herself.

So he gobbled down the potato snacks, grabbed a glass of water to quench his thirst, and then dressed himself in a set of clothes that hadn’t been tainted by the scent of the moon, as Hestia called it. He couldn’t smell anything, but it apparently clung to him and the belongings he’d brought with him through the Dream. Then he went up the stairs and into the main part of the church to get ready to go back into the Dungeon, just long enough to earn his keep.

It was there he found the Saw Cleaver and Hunter’s Pistol that he’d brought back with him from Yharnam. The scent of dried blood still niggled at the back of his throat when he looked at the Saw Cleaver, leaving him feeling uncomfortable when he recalled the weapons’ purpose—hunting down beasts. He made a mental note to wash the blade and change the wrapping before he stashed it away somewhere else, opting to stick with his knife as he walked out of the door.

[R-M]

Returning to the Dungeon only served to further prove that his stats had drastically improved in such a little time, actions speaking louder than words written on paper. Bell had entered with the intention of remaining on the Upper Floors, Levels One and Two specifically, in order to earn enough to at least pay off on the chest-piece he’d lost against the Beast on the bridge. Then he ran into a group of Kobolds.

There were eight of them that were birthed from the walls after he’d made it around the middle point of the path he normally took down to the lower floors. It was odd behavior, given that they normally hunted alone or in pairs. And according to the lessons Eina had driven into him beforehand, he should never face a group alone or he’d risk getting surrounded.

Yet… they were slower. They were much slower than they had been a day before. Slower than even some of the beasts he’d hunted in the streets of Yharnam, which he had to be more aggressive to deal with.

He could have easily escaped them, or at least he felt that he could if he wanted to. But he needed money and the fingernail-sized magic stone shards they had were still worth something, so he fought. While the twenty-celch long dagger had a shorter reach than the Saw Cleaver, meaning he’d had to get closer, he’d found it easier to slay them.

Most of the monsters on the first five floors proved to be little challenge after that. The Goblins were more like pests than anything else. Hard to believe that he was nearly killed by one in the past compared to the ease at which they died now. Either way, he pressed on until he stood at the entrance leading down to the Sixth Floor.

He contemplated long and hard if he wanted to press on further. The Minotaur was an irregularity, but there were still monsters he hadn’t seen before further in. The risk was that he’d find something down there strong enough to actually pose a serious threat.

But, his job was being an Adventurer and that meant delving further into the Dungeon to earn money. True, he’d managed to gain a plethora of magic stones shards, but compared to the worth of the Minotaur’s they weren’t even close to enough. And he was strong enough that the Kobolds and Goblins weren’t as much of a threat, so it was natural to progress from here, right?

Just a little further, he told himself. A vow that he wouldn’t go past the floor, and that he wouldn’t go in too deep. Just deep enough to where he’d find one or two new monsters to familiarize himself with. So he ventured down the staircase and into the corridors of the unfamiliar floor.

The first thing he noticed was that the floor looked different than before, slightly wider and the color of the walls now a greenish hue. But it was surprisingly barren as far as monsters went. The walls looked somewhat broken, indicating there were others born from them earlier.

Maybe they were slain by others who’d came into the Dungeon and then moved deeper? Bell concluded. He had woken up late and it was a city filled with Adventurers. First come, first serve.

On one hand, it meant he’d have to go slightly deeper inside to find a monster to test himself against. Just to see where he stood in terms of strength. On the other, it meant the way back would be clear and easy to get through.

So Bell walked until he heard a cracking sound. His feet stopped moving and he turned his head to where it was coming from, off to one side and down a narrower path. The cracking continued until the pieces of the wall clattered onto the floor. Then there was a crunching sound as something landed on the shards, out-of-sight.

His fingers tightened around the handle of his knife as he waited for whatever the monster was to emerge from around the corner. Anticipation built up in his chest, quickening his heart as the seconds passed. Then Bell saw a black claw grasp the wall before the monster peeked around the corner.

It stood tall, a humanoid shadow that stood on two legs and had a silver orb as an eye. Its head came to a point that branched out to both sides, reminding Bell of a trident he had seen in a weapon’s store not too long ago. Its shoulders were laxed and the limbs attached to it hung low, the forearms lengthened until they came to three long claws that were like the blades of a knife.

A War Shadow, Bell knew. Not because he’d seen it before, but because Miss Eina had listed it as a reason for why he shouldn’t have gone down so far before. They started spawning on the Sixth Floor and were known as Newbie Killers, butchers of the inexperienced.

It emerged from the behind wall and stared at him with its silver orb for an eye, knees bent and arms hanging down from its shoulders. Then its silver eye turned crimson and gone was the idleness it had been projecting. The bent legs sprung forward with deceptive grace and silence befitting a shadow-turned monster, and its left arm was thrust forward with its knife-like digits closed in to form the point of a spear.

Bell tilted his head to the side. The spear brushed past where it was, shaving a few strands off of his hair that were slow to follow his movements. Then he brought his rear leg forward and pushed off it to advance with knife in hand.

Its right arm moved to stop his advance silently. With the claws spread wide like sickles that Bell had used to cut grain on the farm, the War Shadow’s arm swooped around to meet him. It had every intention of using it to reap his head from his shoulders.

Bell fell forward and into a roll, allowing for the arm to sweep over his head. Then he came up into a crouch before the living shadow and swung the knife affixed in a reverse-grip around in a rising arc. The blade should have cut it from hip to opposite underarm, opening it up.

But the War Shadow bound backwards, avoiding the worst of it. A line was drawn by the knife’s point to mark the path it had traveled, and black blood tricked from the wound to tinge the air with its scent. The monster landed as silently as the night near the mouth of the corridor it’d spawned from, having escaped death.

Too shallow. If the knife had been longer, it could have cut deeper or even severed it in half. Bell regretted that he’d only now considered the fact, since the other monsters had been slower to the point where it didn’t matter. Yet the War Shadow was much faster than they were. And it proved so by thrusting its left arm out again to go for his head as he stood up.

In a single motion, Bell rolled the handle in his grasp, so that the sharpened edge of knife was facing him, and moved his right arm outwards so that it met the monster’s wrist, stopping that set of claws from taking off his head. It wasn’t stronger than him in terms of pure strength with the increase in his status, at least. That established, Bell then jerked his hand down and backwards, twisting his hips and forward leg behind him in the process.

The clawed hand was severed as a result, flopping onto the ground. The monster pulled back a stump while Bell had lined up with it to make it easier to avoid another attack. That proved to be correct as it attacked with even more vigor, lunging and swiping at his head horizontally with a primal sort of vigor, only to dart to the side as Bell retaliated with a stabbing lunge for its head.

I can do this. It was maybe on par with the beasts he’d seen on the bridge before the large one, and its nails were no doubt sharp enough to do some damage. But Bell felt he could definitely match it with little trouble as their exchange continued…

At least, that was what it allowed him to think for a time. Eina had said that these things were Newbie Killers, but that wasn’t based on strength alone.  The War Shadow wasn’t stupid or as simple-minded as the Kobolds.

Its cunning was revealed as it led him into the thrust when its back was against the wall, before twisting its body so that the blade of the knife met with the wall itself and was wedged deep within. Bell was quick to kick it as hard as he could before it could swing down its remaining claws with the force of axes and cleave off the limb. But that was when the wall in front of him burst open and something black shot out.

Bell abandoned his knife to hop back as a second War Shadow twisted its arm around to scythe his head from his shoulders. That was when his mind registered the cracking sound and the brief break in the constant light coming off the wall behind him as something to react to. Instinct drove him to fall to the side, making it into a full roll to carry himself further out. Not a breath later did a third War Shadow descend like a guillotine meant to execute him where he would have landed, if he hadn’t chosen to roll to the side instead of further back.

The one-armed War Shadow swiped at his knife still wedged deep into the wall. It snapped under the force, permanently depriving Bell of his weapon in exchange for the hand that Bell had lopped off. The other two took positions to the rear and side, forming a triangle to surround him.

Which one? Time seemingly stood still as a bead of sweat rolled down from Bell’s forehead to his cheek. His eyes see-sawed between them to determine which one would make the first move. If he could determine that much then he could break through the triangle. Which one?

The answer came with a blur of motion from his left side. The War Shadow leapt with claws extended to pin him down. That would allow for the other two to take him to pieces, turning him into a pile of shredded meat whose blood would soak the Dungeon’s floor—as many before him had.

Bell saw it as an opening and took it. He lunged towards the ebon monster with all the might he could muster and rammed into it, ignoring the stinging sensation of the claws scrapping against his shoulders and arms to bowl it over. They toppled over, but Bell was prepared for it and rolled off the monster before it could do anything.

Breaking through the triangle, he took off without looking back. He was heading back towards the entrance of the Dungeon’s floor without slowing down, lest the War Shadows would catch up to him. The only reason he broke his gait was because the sound of something tearing through the air reached his ears and his instincts told him to act to survive.

He slid to a stop and pulled his head back in time to watch as a black appendage speared through where it had been. The sinuous thing then snapped back as he ducked down when a second one tried to punch his skull in from behind. That one he traced back to some kind of frog monster emerging from the wall, just in time to see the one-armed War Shadow on his back.

Maybe it was faster than the others with only one arm missing. Or maybe it was more motivated. Either way, it was ahead of the others and lunging for him in mid-air.

Jerking his head to one side and twisting his body to avoid its swipe, Bell barely got off with only the sting of a nail slicing into his cheek as the monster passed by and tumbled onto the floor. A Frog Shooter lashed out to ensnare him before the ebon monster rose back up and the others made their move, spearing its tongue towards him again. Bell grabbed the appendage with his gloved hands and jerked it forward, pulling the bulb-eyed monster towards him. He then grabbed it by the head and tossed it towards the one-armed War Shadow’s single eye.

A wet sound was followed by black blood splashing out as the War Shadow cut through the lesser monster in an effort to catch Bell in the attack. But he had already ducked, fingers chambered as the rain of oozing black liquid covered his hair and bordered his red eyes.  He shot his arm out like a bullet for its core and his bolstered strength allowed for him to pierce past its smooth, black surface to the innards, breaking through everything its path until it found something solid: the magic stone.

Rrrrgaaahhh!” He shouted as he coiled his fingers around it and pulled back as hard as he could. The wound burst open in a glamorous spray as he pulled the magic stone free, followed by dust as the body disintegrated where it stood. But there was no time to hesitate as the second pointed tongue speared out for him from the other Frog Shooter.

Bell threw himself to the side while flinging the magic stone towards it as hard as he could. His effort was rewarded by the tongue going limp before it could spring back as the single-eye of the frog was punctured and it went limp. One-shot, one-kill.

Exhaling a breath he hadn’t even realized that he’d been holding in, Bell then turned towards where the other War Shadows were closing in faster.  He took a step back, gritting his teeth and clenching his fist as he heard the sound of the walls cracking further in the direction he was going. If he tried to run again, he’d have enemies waiting and his back would be exposed to the more dangerous of them.

A weapon. I need a weapon. That thought occupied his mind more than anything. He would be able to fend them all off if he had a weapon. It didn’t matter what kind. As long as he had something to deal with their reach and range. Without one, he’d be overwhelmed and he’d…

He’d die. He’d die again, having made the same mistake. He’d die again and return to the Dream. To the Hunt. The Hunter’s Mark, the rune burned into the back of his skull, came to mind at the thought.

An ideal followed. Bell focused on it, trying to pass on a message to the Little Ones who pulled him to and from the Dream. They’d taken the weapon from Yharnam to the Dream, didn’t they?

“Bring it to me,” he asked. Pleaded. Begged as the two War Shadows closed in to the point he could make out the points of their nails targeting him. “Please, bring me the weapon you took to the Hunter’s Dream!”

His fervent desire for his weapon reached as the sound of the Little Ones voices graced his ears. He looked up to see a pair of Little Ones emerging seamlessly from a portal of some kind in the ceiling above, Saw Spear in their frail-looking hands. One waved to him as though craving his acknowledgement, and the weapon fell from the other’s grip as it was too heavy to hold any longer.

“Thanks!” Bell’s reached up with his dominant hand. His fingers wrapped around the grip tight. It was just in time for him to bring it around to intercept the broad swipe of the War Shadow’s claws and stop it from taking off his head.

That was when he noticed that a shadow was being cast from above him. The War Shadow following the one in front of him had leapt over it and was now at his unprotected back. It promptly tried to gouge out his heart in a precision strike.

Bell pushed hard so that his blade rebuked the first War Shadow’s claw and sent it back a few steps, while pivoting around so that he avoided the killing thrust. It was still a close call. Instead of having his heart pierced, there was only a sharp pain as his clothes and flesh were sliced into by the nails as they raked across his unprotected back.

He gritted his teeth, a guttural growl slipping out brought his Saw Spear around with both hands. The thick metal cut through its torso diagonally from the hip to the opposite shoulder—sawing through the bone in the process through strength rather than the sharpness of the blade. Monster blood gushed out, but Bell paid it no mind as he then spun back around on that same foot in the opposite direction.

Rather than risk the Saw Spear being too slow to intercept the coming attack, he brought other foot around in an arc and the sole of his boot caught the second one in the head. The War Shadow was sent smashing against a wall with a sickening crunch before flopping down onto the floor. The Saw Spear descended and split its skull open afterwards, ensuring the kill.

The immediate threats dead, but more being born ahead, Bell exhaled and removed his glove to feel for how deep the cut had gotten on his back. His finger brushed through the tear in his shirt beneath it, but only found unblemished flesh.

He then looked back to the back-attacking War Shadow to find it lying in a pool of its own blood, tracing the patterns and location of the drops to see how far it had sprayed. There was no doubt about it. Its blood had healed the cut it made, meaning that it wasn’t just blood from Yharnam that could heal wounds and mend flesh.

A part of him felt it shouldn’t have been a surprise. His body’s reaction to having a drop of Hestia’s blood wash against him was sharp enough to give him a boost of energy that far outclassed any blood he’d been in contact with. While the War Shadow’s didn’t have much of a feeling to it, it did heal the minor wound.

That being said, he wasn’t all that eager to try tasting either one to see if drinking it was the same as Yharnam blood. Partly because he wanted nothing to do with it. The other part was because he was afraid that he’d end up associating his goddess as a source of blood, turning her into what amounted to a resource… or prey.

But it did bring a question to his mind on if the different kinds of blood had different effects. Was the blood of an average mortal different from an Adventurer? Was the blood of a monster affected by the magic stone’s size and quality? That line of thinking led him back to Blood Echoes and his increased Status, leaving him wondering on how they transitioned from what had been done to him by the Doll in the Hunter’s Dream.

Normally, an Adventurer gained excelia based on their actions and that led to an increase in certain attributes. But all he had to do was ask the Doll what he wanted to be strengthened and it was embolden by a substantial amount.  Was she pulling certain excelia from the Blood Echoes, binding their memories related to those attributes into his Falna? Or was there something else involved?

He didn’t have the answer. And he wouldn’t return to the Dream to find them. Really, was there even a point in pondering these things when he had no intention of returning to Yharnam and the Hunt at all?  The price of that power was just too steep for him.

Pushing it aside when he caught the sound of shuffling feet, Bell turned toward the direction of the exit. The resident monsters of the Sixth Floor were coming to greet him. The Dungeon’s welcome for an overambitious Adventurer’s first visit to the floor.

Bell tightened his grasp on the Saw Spear and charged in.

Interlude 21 – Roxa

I was getting Chapter 1 vibes when she walked in and started asking uncomfortable questions.

Heretical Edge

Previous Chapter

For as long as she could remember, Roxanne ‘Roxa’ Pittman had been accustomed to eyes following her whenever she entered a room. As a child, she had been judged by the other orphans. With her pretty blonde hair and bright blue eyes, there had been plenty of others in the foster system who saw her as a threat to their own ability to be adopted. And of course, there were the parents themselves, people who were basically auditioning kids to be part of their family. Everything she said, everything she did, everything she was had constantly been judged.

Once she’d run away from her last foster family at the age of nine (after stabbing the abusive father with a knife when he tried to touch her), people had started watching Roxa for a variety of other reasons. She was a blonde girl out on the street. Some people…

View original post 4,796 more words

(Pokemon Sun and Moon Fanfic) A Lily Blossoms In Kanto: Chapter 7

Chapter 7: Shocking Send-Off

Lilli…

Lillie heard someone calling for her in the midst of a deep slumber, a gentle pressure being applied to her shoulder to rouse her awake. She softly groaned as she opened her eyes and found herself staring into the seed-shaped pair of her mother’s Lilligant. Then she sat up in the bed, allowing the sheet covering her to slip down and reveal the T-shirt and sleeping pants that she’d worn to bed, and let out an unladylike yawn that she hid by covering her mouth.

“Lilligant, is it morning already?” she asked as she rubbed her eyes. The Flowering Pokémon pointed its leafy appendage towards the clock. A jolt ran through her body and woke her fully as she let out a surprised cry. “It’s almost 10!?”

The surprised shout roused her Pokémon from their slumbers as well. The Alolan Vulpix sleeping on the pillow next to her slowly opened her crystalline-blue eyes and let out a cute yawn before flicking her tails, chilling the air to a comfortable temperature as she stood up. The Shuckle that was resting on the nightstand poked his head out of one of the openings in his shell and swiveled it around to look upon them. The Rotom Dex’s screen turned on and it began to float in the air.

“We overslept!” Lillie said as she stumbled out of bed and went over to the bathroom to change into her traveling clothes. As Lillie got changed, her mother’s Lilligant took the liberty of setting out food for her Pokémon, allowing them to eat something light before she returned them into their balls left out of the room with the Flowering Pokémon. Down in the lobby they found Lusamine waiting for them in a seat.

Her mother stood up when she noticed them. “Thank you for waking them, Lilligant.”

“Lil.” The Flowering Pokémon gave her a nod in acceptance before returning to her ball.

Lusamine then addressed Lillie, the Rotom Dex resting in her hood. “You slept in awfully late. Are you feeling well?”

“I guess I was more tired than I realized,” Lillie said.

“Well, yesterday was unusually exciting, so it can’t be helped.” Lusamine looked at the clock on the wall. “Our train will still be departing within three hours, and Mister Bill has already left to have our belongings delivered to his place ahead of time. Just to be safe and save time, we’ll be taking a taxi to the Gym. But if the Gym has too many challengers, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until you begin your journey in earnest.”

“I understand,” Lillie said. They had already been delayed because of what happened in the Sevii Islands and her mother’s condition, so if she missed this chance that meant waiting until her mother had settled into her stay at Bill’s place before she left out on her journey. And that could be anywhere from a week to a month since Lillie didn’t intend to leave her mother without at least making sure that she was comfortable after all. “And how are you feeling this morning?”

“Better than yesterday,” Lusamine said. “You don’t need to worry about me. Just try to prepare yourself mentally for the challenge ahead.”

That being said, she followed her mother out to the taxi and they rode in it towards the Gym. Along the way, she recalled what she had been discussing with her Pokémon last night. Rotom had listed the various types of electric Pokémon found around the region, so she had an idea of what they could be facing. She could only hope that would be enough as they arrived and stepped through the entrance of the Gym.

“Welcome to the Vermillion Gym,” the Gym Guide, Miss Sendou, greeted them before recognition set in. They stood out after all. “Oh, you’re back. Are you here for the challenge today?”

“Yes,” Lillie said, presenting Koko’s Premier Ball and Shuckle’s Poké Ball. “I caught a Shuckle to be my second Pokemon. Are there a lot of challengers today?”

“Just one in front of you, but they’ll have another five minutes to solve the puzzle or they’ll be disqualified.” She gestured for Lillie to come over to the counter. “You can register for your challenge here. Your mother can wait in the viewing room if she wants to observe the match.”

“I’ll head off to do just that,” Lusamine said, before looking down at her daughter. “Remember, be elegant and confident. Do you best so that you’ll be able to hold your head up high, win or lose.”

Lillie nodded and then watched her mother depart into the viewing room. It left her feeling a bit like there were Cutieflies buzzing around in her stomach at the thought. She took a deep breath to try and calm herself before going over to register for the match.

“Now then, the registration process is simple,” Miss Sendou said as she pressed a button on her desk and caused a panel to slide back, revealing a slot for six balls. “You set the balls of the Pokémon you intend to use into here and it registers them to your I.D. You’ll only be able to use those Pokémon during the match, which will be recorded, so that means you won’t be able to use that Rotom acting as your Pokédex in battle. You can also request a code to have the battle video delivered wirelessly to your Pokégear or other devices capable of playing them back, just in case you want to show them to your friends or others.”

“Right…” Lillie set the balls into the slot and handed over her Trainer I.D. The information was registered and all that was left to do was wait…

[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]

“So, you managed to make it through the electric puzzle, did you?” were the words of the Vermillion City Gym Leader, Lieutenant Surge, as Lillie stepped through the sliding door that only opened upon successfully completing the puzzle he had set up.

He was a rather large and well-built man, wearing a sleeveless shirt, cargo pants, and boots. There were shades on the top of his head, resting on his spiky blond hair, and he had a grin as he looked upon the mess that had become her hair, the strands standing on their ends from one too many failures. “It was a shocker, wasn’t it?”

“Well, I’m glad I didn’t spend time on my hair this morning,” Lillie said in a disheartened tone as she tried to straighten out her hair. She only had moderate success. “Other than that, it was just a matter of figuring out the pattern.”

“Most kids your age don’t have the patience to figure out there is one on their first time, so I’ll give you that much. But just because this is your first time in a Gym and you don’t have a badge doesn’t mean I’ll go easy on you,” he warned. “A Gym is meant to be a serious test of a trainer’s skills, so I take every match seriously no matter what age my challengers are. If you don’t want your Pokémon to get zapped, you can still quit now.”

“I know we may not have done this before, but we’re still going to try our best,” Lillie said, her fist balled in determination. She wanted to be stronger, so him holding back to spare her feelings wouldn’t help either way.

“You’ve got spunk, I’ll give you that much.” Surge nodded in approval. “But no amount of talking will get you my Thunder Badge—you’ll have to beat me to get it.”

“We’ll just do our best,” Lillie said again.

“If you’re so sure, then let’s start the match.”

LEADER LT. SURGE would like to battle!

He snapped his fingers. The monitor in the back of the gym flared to life and displayed her image on the screen, taken from her Trainer I.D. with two balls icons next to it on one side. The other side mirrored the same for him, with a counter on the center of the screen that began to count down to zero.

“The battle continues until one side is unable to battle,” Surge explained while pulling one of his Poké Balls from his belt. “You’re allowed to swap between your two, while I won’t. On zero we both throw out our first Pokémon.”

Three.

Lillie’s grasp on Koko’s Premier Ball tightened as she watched the countdown. It would be her first battle as a trainer since… well, ever. Not counting how her first wild battle had gone, it was against a Gym Leader at that.

Two.

But she wouldn’t give up. She wanted to become stronger so that she could stand on her own two feet. This was her rite of passage, her island trial to stand alongside Nebby, Elio, and Hau.

One.

Her heart hammered in her chest as she stared at the grinning Gym Leader. He noticed her nervousness for certain. She could only guess what Pokémon he would lead with to face her, but they had done all they could to prepare… right?

Zero.

Then there was no more time to doubt as the signal alarm to start the match rang out.

MATCH START!

LEADER LT. SURGE sent out Pikachu!

“Stand at attention, Pikachu!” the Lieutenant ordered as he threw his ball over the field. It burst open and light speared down to take the form of the electric Mouse Pokémon.

“Koko, it’s time!” Lillie announced as she threw out the Premier Ball that contained her Starter Pokémon from Professor Burnet. The Alolan Vulpix landed on the field opposite of the Pikachu. Both the Electric Mouse and Fox Pokémon stood on all fours as they faced one another and tried to take into account their opponent.

That Pikachu is slightly shorter than the average size, zzt, Rotom pointed out. It is young and most likely only recently evolved.

“That’s right,” Surge said. “Figured he could use the combat experience for when he goes against a real challenge.”

The male Pikachu’s brown eyes fell onto the Alolan Vulpix’s three tails when his trainer said that. A smug smile formed on his face as he waved the young Fox Pokémon off immaturely. “Chu-chu.”

In turn, Koko’s crystalline-blue eyes narrowed slightly as her hackles rose with a low growl. A pale aura wrapped her and then rippled outwards, causing the formation of a small, greyish cloud beneath the ceiling that sprinkled down glittering flecks of ice particles.

Koko activated Snow Warning.

Once more the temperature dropped. Lillie decided to make getting those leg and arm warmers a priority after the match. But now her focus on was on the Gym Leader as their battle began. “Koko, Powder Snow!”

The Fox Pokémon led with a frosty gale from deep within. The electric Mouse Pokémon wasted no time in dodging it by darting to the side as the attack washed over the ground where it stood, leaving a thin layer of ice as it petered out. Then he rushed forward on all fours.

“Pikachu, Thunder Wave!” Surge ordered. His Pokémon’s electric pouches sparked before releasing a series of yellow rings of electricity that slammed into the Alolan Vulpix. On impact they created a dome that sent electric streamers from all angles coursing through her body, leaving them to worm over her small figure. “Atta boy, now follow it up with an offense!”

Pikachu used Thunder Shock!

“Chuuuu!!” The electric Mouse Pokémon shouted at as electricity flowed from its cheeks and shot forward, uniting into a single electric bolt that smacked into the Alolan Vulpix. The moment it struck her, Koko let out a slight yelp as the electricity surged through her body and caused her legs to buckle in pain until the attack ended.

“Are you okay, Koko?” Lillie asked.

Koko used Powder Snow!

The Fox Pokémon’s response was to counter-attack. She let loose another Powder Snow attack towards Surge’s Pikachu before he could get out of his stance from the discharge of electricity. The cold gust of wind swept over the Pikachu, battering him with the freezing temperature as the ice particles that fell from above began to scrape away at his yellow fur and slowly gain purchase to freeze him.

“Don’t just sit there and take it!” Surge demanded. “Shock and Awe!!”

Pikachu used Quick Attack!

Pikachu opened his closed eyes and parted his gritted teeth as a white shroud covered him. He shot out of the ice stream to the side with a quick bound, barely touching the ground before shooting forward for a blinding assault. Ramming into her at full speed, the male Pikachu nailed Koko from the side faster than she could stop exhaling and caught her off-guard.

Koko let out a pained cry as she hit the metal floor, whimpering a bit from the lingering pain of the blow, and then forced herself to get back on all fours to fire another Powder Snow attack. The Pikachu repeated his previous Quick Attack, darting to the side and preparing to ram into her again, but she was ready this time. She swept her head around as she continued to exhale in an attempt to catch him.

However, the attempt missed as the Pikachu jumped upwards with his momentum and then bounced off the wall to get above her. A series of sparks blossomed from his cheeks and the air was filled with the scent of ozone as Lillie’s hair began to rise again. Then they combined to form a single bolt that speared towards Koko.

Koko threw herself backwards at an angle this time, getting off the ground just as the Thunder Shock hit where she had been standing. The bolt dispersed as it hit the ground into stray streamers before fizzling out. However, that’s when the paralysis kicked in as the electricity in her body seized up her muscles.

“Finish it off while it can’t move,” Surge ordered, seeking to capitalize on the opening.

“Pika!” his Pokémon shouted as he landed and prepared to do so, cheeks sparking. But the ice covering where he landed from the Powder Snow cost him his balance. He ended up flailing about, trying to regain it as the flare-up of the paralysis ceased.

Koko was then wrapped in a pink aura that gathered in front of her mouth as a spiraling pink orb that she let loose. It sailed through the air towards the off-balance Pikachu, whose brown-eyes widened moments before he let loose his building Thunder Shock attack to intercept it. The pink orb ruptured with a same-colored explosion prematurely, but the force of it knocked the electric Mouse Pokémon back through the air.

Koko then began to pant as the aura around her faded. “Vulll…pix….

Lillie looked confused by the turn of events. “What was that?”

That’s Moonblast, zzt! Rotom stated. It’s a powerful Fairy-type technique! Zzzhe must’ve inherited it as an egg move!

Powerful was an understatement given that Surge’s Pikachu got back up looking as worse for wear as Koko when he barely took any damage before. “Chuu…”

“Koko, can you do it again?” Lillie asked. The Alolan Vulpix nodded as she righted herself and prepared to fire another Moonblast. The pink orb swelled in front of her mouth as her three tails wavered in place.

“Pikachu, no more playing around!” Surge ordered. “It’s an Ice-Type, so you know what to do!”

The Pikachu growled before light wreathed him and he speared forward for a Quick Attack. Koko fired the Moonblast before he could fully charge in order to catch him, but the Pikachu sprung upwards and let the orb pass beneath him. The attack crashed against the wall as the electric Mouse Pokémon landed in front of the Alolan Vulpix and brought his tail around that shone with a metallic hue. “Pikachuuuu!!

Pikachu used Iron Tail!

It’s Super-Effective!

The Iron Tail struck home. Koko was knocked violently off her feet and sent rocketing backwards. She hit the ground next to Lillie with a thud.

Lillie crouched down to find that she was in no condition to fight. “Koko, are you okay?”

Vul…” Koko still tried to rise up again, her legs and body trembling. But they buckled under the pain and she collapsed, left gritting her teeth and scrunching her eyes up in pain.

“That’s enough,” Lillie told her before she tried to push herself further. She scooped the Fox Pokémon up and held her close to her chest as she reached for the Premier Ball to return her. “We’ll get you back to the Pokémon Center and—”

Koko shook her head and began to struggle. “Pix! Vulpix!”

She wants to keep fighting, zzt, Rotom translated for her as she continued to struggle.

“It’s a fighter for a baby,” Surge said, watching as his Pikachu went back over to his side of the room. “It doesn’t want to surrender, but it’s reached the limit of what it can do. Any further and the damage will go beyond what it’d be capable of handling.”

Lillie… agreed with him. She didn’t want to see Koko get hurt worse than she was, and it was only by chance that the first Moonblast hit. There wouldn’t be a second time as things stood. “I’m sorry, Koko. I’ll let you watch the next match, but you can’t go back out there.”

Koko out a whine as she looked miserably into Lillie’s firm, but also sad, eyes. The Fox Pokémon settled down, her tails going limp as she looked away from her trainer. One ball icon on the screen darkened on Lillie’s side of the screen as Koko was determined unfit to battle any further.

“If you’re going to continue, send out your next Pokémon,” the Lieutenant said.

Lillie shifted her grasp on Koko and reached into her pocket for her second ball. “Shuckle, your turn. Do your best.”

The ball popped open and Shuckle appeared on the field. He looked around until he found Surge’s Pikachu waiting and tried to appear menacing by frowning. It only served to make the electric Mouse Pokémon chuckle, despite his injuries.

“One of those, huh?” Surge mused before looking down to his Pikachu. “First things first. Break its Ability by using Thunder Shock.”

Electricity surged through the Mold Pokémon as the Pikachu immediately let loose another bolt that struck him. Shuckle let out a cry at the abrupt shock, even though it probably didn’t do significant damage. He was still unused to battle and thus followed his instinct to retreat into his shell.

“Now, finish it with an Iron Tail!” Surge ordered as the previous attack ended. His Pokémon fell on all fours in response, tail taking on a metallic hue again, and charged forward to do so.

“Shuckle, don’t let it hit you with that!” Lillie shouted as the Mouse Pokémon closed the distance. “Try to stop it from getting close!”

Shuckle used Sticky Web!

Without sticking his head out, Shuckle spat out a greyish glob from a hole that sped towards the Pikachu. He tried to do the same thing he did with the Moonblast from before, jumping over it, only for the air friction to expand the glob into a small web that caught on his tail. The moment the electric Mouse Pokémon touched down on the ground, the adhesive webbing left him stuck in place and struggling to pull his tail free.

Seeing the Pikachu struggling, Shuckle stuck his head out and blinked in surprise that it actually worked.

“Good job,” Lillie praised him, causing him to crane his head around towards her. “Now, attack while it can’t move!”

“Kle.” He nodded to her before jettisoning his arms forward. The appendages stretched out until they reached the Pikachu, wrapping around his midsection and neck. Then Shuckle squeezed.

Shuckle used Constrict!

Surge’s Pikachu let loose a strangled shriek as he tried in vain to free himself with his tiny paws as the hold Shuckle had on him grew steadily tighter. ”Ch-Chaa…

Looking at the Pikachu as his expression went from strained to terrified soon enough, Lillie found it hard to watch. Sure, she was supposed to win the battle to get the badge. But it felt wrong strangling him until he passed out. She looked to Surge to see if he was willing to at least entertain the thought of recalling it or forfeiting his Pikachu’s right to battle, but he just looked sternly at the scene as it went on.

Ch…chu…” Pikachu’s voice was a low rasp that could barely be heard at that point. A tinge of blue appeared on his face. He was really suffocating now.

“That’s enough, Shuckle.” Lillie said, unable to watch anymore. “Let it go.”

Shuckle did as told, loosening his grasp and pulling his elongated arms back into his shell. Pikachu took a deep breath as he collapsed onto the ground, panting. The Mold Pokémon then looked back at his trainer. “Shuckle?”

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Lillie told him, after Rotom translated the question.

“You should have had it continue until Pikachu had fainted,” Surge said, a frown on his face. “A battle continues until one side has been ruled unable to battle. Use whatever advantage you have to win, because if you show your enemy mercy on the battlefield, it’ll cost you.”

Lillie pursed her lips. She already knew that. But she didn’t like seeing the Pikachu being strangled like that. “I just didn’t want to win that way.”

“…Hmph. Either way, Pikachu isn’t in any condition to free himself from that webbing, and by the rules I set, returning him means that he’s registered as being unable to battle. That brings the score to one-one,” Surge said as he returned his Pikachu. Then he pulled a second ball from his belt and tossed it forward. “Magnemite, ten-hut!”

LEADER LT. SURGE sent out Magnemite!

The ball burst open and out floated a Magnemite. The Magnet Pokémon hovered just off the ground with its two magnets slowly spinning on its sides. Its eye never left the Shuckle in front of it, attention fixed on the opponent it had to face.

“Shuckle, try to web it down like before,” Lillie ordered. “We’ll think of something else afterwards!”

Shuckle’s cheeks swelled as he spat out another glob of bug adhesive that expanded as it flew through the air. The Magnamite spun its magnets faster, increasing the amount of antigravity energy it produced in order to get higher and avoid the attack entirely. It floated up to near the ceiling as Shuckle tried firing a few more globs that got stuck there, making a mess.

“That’s going to be a pain to clean,” the Lieutenant said as he scratched his head. “Magnemite, finish this before it gets worse.”

Magnemite used Magnet Bomb!

Magnaaamittteee.” Its magnets spun faster, until argent sparks were generated from the ends. The sparks gathered and swelled until they formed half-a-dozen metallic spheres that loitered in the air around it. Once they were fully formed, all at once they flew forward towards Shuckle.

Shuckle used Withdraw!

Shuckle ducked his appendages and head into his shell, which was shrouded in a pale light that strengthened its defense. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. The Magnet Bombs detonated as they hit their target and ruptured all at once, generating a series of explosions that sent Shuckle sailing through the air until he hit the wall and then bounced off it to hit the floor.

“Shuckle, are you okay?” Lillie asked.

Shuuuuccckkklllleeee…” came from within the shell.

That would be a ‘No,’ zzt, Rotom translated.

“You did well,” Lillie told the Mold Pokémon before she returned him into his ball. “Thanks for that.”

MATCH END!

“You haven’t been at this for very long, judging by how you acted during the battle,” Surge said as he returned his Magnemite to its ball. He then approached her. “If you’re going to be a trainer, your Pokémon and your opponent’s Pokémon are going to get hurt in a lot of different ways, but that’s the only way to toughen them up. If you don’t like that, then find a battle-style that works for you, understand?”

Lillie merely nodded her head, accepting the loss silently.

“Still, you did better than most of the tykes around here and put some thought into it.” He gave her a pat on the head. “You’re free to come back and challenge my Gym after you’ve gained some real experience, yeah?”

“Okay….” Even as she said that, she couldn’t bring herself to be feel happy at her first loss as she turned and left the room. Once she was through the door and within the disabled puzzle room, she held Koko tight in her arms and apologized. “I’m sorry, Koko.”

Koko tilted her head at that. “Vulpix?”

“Even though he switched out and gave us that point, by not letting Shuckle finish off Pikachu I made all your efforts pointless, didn’t I?” If Surge really wanted to rub salt into the wounds, he could have had the Pikachu shock Shuckle too after that, but he didn’t. “All I did was get you both hurt for nothing by stopping him when I did, but I just couldn’t watch it suffer like that.”

Koko shook her head as Rotom hovered next to her and flailed its arms. Cheer up, Lillie, zzt. Next time we’ll come up with a better plan and things will be better!

Despite their best efforts, she couldn’t bring herself to feel otherwise as she tightened her grasp on the Fox Pokémon and made her way towards the waiting room, eyes downcast.

[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]

Lusamine paced outside the door that connected to the puzzle, having seen the match for herself through the tinted panes of the viewing room. She was waiting for Lillie to return, running over what she would say in light of her defeat. It was… expected, given that she hadn’t been a trainer for more than a few days against a Gym Leader.

But, more troubling, she felt a slight flutter of emotion that she wasn’t proud of buried in her chest. If Lillie had prevailed here, Lusamine feared it would have only spurred her into setting off on her journey sooner with the confidence she gained. That would shorten the time they had together, which was already dwindling.

At the same time, Lusamine still didn’t like seeing her fail. More so when she tried her hardest. She had no desire to shatter Lillie’s confidence as she did before, crushing down on her until she lost that spark she had regained while away from her mother’s eyes that made her so radiant.

She still hadn’t figured out what to say moment the door to the lobby opened and Lillie entered, so she just went with, “You did the best you could.”.

“I didn’t expect to win,” Lillie told her. “I just couldn’t stand to see that Pikachu be strangled like that.”

“You don’t like to see Pokémon getting hurt, and that’s fine.” Lusamine reached out to brush her hair down where the strands still stuck up from the electricity. “But you already know that sometimes force will be needed to defend yourself or protect someone else. You’ll have to find a way to make them both work… I’ll help you when we get to Cerulean City.”

Lillie was about to respond when the door to the Gym opened and a familiar face entered. “Astra?”

“Lillie! Miss Lusamine!” Astra grabbed hold of the older gentleman next to her and pointed to them from the entrance. “Oh, Grandpa its them! They’re the ones I told you about.”

“So, you’re the two who found my Granddaughter?” The well-aged man with gray eyes dipped his head towards the pair in a show of courtesy. “You have my thanks for that and watching over her until she awoke. She’s still getting used to the region and the dangers that entails at times.”

“It wasn’t a problem,” Lusamine said. “We could relate to that, being new to the region ourselves, and she’s a very sweet girl. Should I assume she managed to catch her second Pokémon and intends to challenge the Gym Leader?”

“Yep!” Astra bobbed on her feet and pulled out her two Poké Balls. “Jet and I found that same Drowzee from before and made him one of our friends.”

“…You’ll want to be careful with it then,” Lusamine warned her. “Being wild for so long means that it likely will have some trouble adapting to eating standard Pokémon food rather than dreams, and you don’t want it to have trouble distinguishing that you’re its Trainer and not a source of food.”

The aged-gentleman nodded his head in agreement. “I had my Dusclops have a long talk with it and made sure it understands that her dreams are not food.”

Astra then turned to Lillie, leaned forward as she looked at Koko, and asked, “Did you just have a match?”

“Y-Yeah.” Lillie’s shoulders sagged. “We lost pretty badly though after I messed up.”

“Then I’ll beat him for you,” Astra said, pumping her fists in the air with an innocent joy. “You’ll watch me, won’t you?”

“Sure, if that’s what you want.”

“If you want to challenge the gym, there is an opening at present,” Miss Sendou said from her desk, having watched the exchange long enough and waited for a moment to speak. “If you’re not from this region, do you need me to explain how the Gym system works?”

Astra shook her head. “Nope. Miss Karen told me how in Lavender City when Grandpa took me to her Gym. I need to register Jet and Blysen, right?”

“That’s right.” The Gym Guide then looked to Lillie. “We have a healing machine here in the Gym for the Gym Leader and Gym Trainers to use. I’ll be happy to let you heal your Pokémon so that you can watch her in the viewing room though.”

“Oh, thank you very much,” Lillie told the woman, accepting her offer. She pulled out Koko’s Premier Ball and held it close to her Starter Pokémon. “Back in your ball for now, okay? I’ll let you out when you’re better.”

The Alolan Vulpix nodded once. Then she tapped the ball with her nose and returned herself.

Lillie then looked to her mother. “I’ll be in the room when Koko and Shuckle have finished healing.”

“Very well. I’ll see you there,” Lusamine said. As she turned towards the viewing room again, the well-aged gentlemen joined her in walking towards it.

“It’s hard, isn’t it?” he asked, igniting a conversation as they entered. “To let them grow-up, knowing that the time you’ve spent with them will be cut short. You just want to do what you can to keep them close.”

“That’s true,” she admitted. “These moments won’t come again, which makes them all the more important. You just want to preserve them for eternity, if possible.”

“That’s one way to put it.” He sighed a bit at that as he took a seat and pulled out his pocket-watch, looking at the interior of the cover. “But there’s always a price to pay for it.”

Casting a quick glance, Lusamine spotted a picture of a woman. From how his tone turned somewhat melancholy and what she’d learned last night, she quickly guessed the reason why. “You mean that child’s parents, don’t you?”

“…I tried to keep them under my wing, refusing to let them go free and trying to tie them into what I felt was best for them,” he explained. “But in doing so, I drove them to run from me. At first I thought that they would return of their own accord. Then, I decided to search for them once I’d settled my business and spent years looking. By the time that I thought I had caught up to them, they had left this world behind to elude me once more.”

His words resonated with her, as Lusamine had done the very same thing after losing Mohn. It led to Type-Null’s creation, driving off her son. When she tried even harder to make up for the loss with Lillie, she had left her too. In the final moments of her madness, she had nearly… with her own hands…

“I didn’t even know I had a granddaughter until I laid eyes on her,” he continued, closing the pocket-watch. “A sweet child with her mother’s looks and her father’s eyes. Looking at her, I can’t help but feel as though I was looking at them once again. But I’m afraid that if I try to cling to her too tightly she’ll end up leaving me behind like them.”

Lusamine nodded her head slowly, completely understanding his feeling. “…It’s a bitter feeling, knowing that if you try to hold onto something too long and too tightly, it’ll end up slipping through your fingers and you’ll only have yourself to blame. But, at the same time, you don’t want to miss anything or let go because every moment is precious.”

“Indeed.” He replaced the watch in his pocket with a TM disc and held it out to her. “Please, take this as a token of my appreciation for your daughter befriending my little Astra.”

“Are you sure you want to give her something like this?” Lusamine asked as she looked over the TM and found it was labeled ‘Protect’.

“For a new trainer, it should be a fairly important skill until she can manage to take care of herself.” He gave her a slight wink. “And she’ll need someone to teach her to use it, no?”

“…Then I’ll be sure to teach her how to use it well,” Lusamine said, putting it away as she caught the underlying mean. Every moment was precious after all, and if she could help her daughter then she would. “You have my thanks.”

The private conversation between two parents came to a close as the door opened and Lillie entered with her fully-healed Alolan Vulpix. She took a seat next to her mother and the Fox Pokémon jumped up into her lap. Lillie patted the young Pokémon on the head, looking more cheerful than before as they awaited Astra’s arrival in the Gym Leader’s chamber.

“Oh my,” Lusamine said when Astra finally did, minutes later. The girl’s dark hair was basically akin to a Jumpluff’s cotton puffs from how all the strands were all standing on end.

Even the Gym Leader looked surprised as he scratched his head. “Err… do you want to take a minute to fix your hair?”

“It’s fine,” Astra said, absolutely unbothered by her own appearance. “I’m used to it because all the Pichu I played with on the island couldn’t control their electricity too well. It’ll go back to normal eventually.”

“Okay then.” He cleared his throat and went back to his normal demeanor. “Anyway, welcome to the Vermillion Gym. You’re a bit on the short size, but to make it this far means you’ve got some nerves on you. The rules are two Pokémon each, with the challenger able to switch out while I can’t, and if you win you get my Thunder Badge. Are you ready?”

The child bobbed her head up and down. “Yep!”

“Alright then. On zero, send out your first Pokémon.” Surge snapped his fingers and the board flared to life as it did with Lillie, beginning a countdown. He then reached down for one of the balls on his belt and waited for the timer to hit zero.

MATCH START!

LEADER LT. SURGE sent out Mareep!

“Ten-hut, Mareep!” Lt. Surge said as the signal blared and he threw the ball out. The Poké Ball burst open and out popped his Pokémon. It stood maybe under two feet tall, deliciously cream-colored wool covering its body. Its black eyes were fixed on Astra’s side of the field, legs slightly out as if readying to move.

In the viewing room, Lillie looked over her shoulder from the pane and said, “Rotom, what’s that Pokémon?”

A moment pleazzze, the Living Pokédex said as it floated out of her hood and turned its camera to face the pane, snapping a picture while displaying the image of the Pokémon on its screen. Mareep, the Wool Pokémon. Its fluffy coat swells to double its size when static electricity builds up, and the more static electricity that is charged, the more brightly the bulb at the tip of its tail glows, zzt.

“It’s not native to Kanto though,” Lillie said as she read the data.

“Kanto and Johto share the same Pokémon League, so many of the Pokémon between them are shared between all of the Gyms,” Astra’s Grandfather explained. “Since there’s only one Electric-Type Gym, it’s unsurprising that he’d be the one who is in charge of training it.”

Astra sent out Blysen!

“Come on out, Blysen!” Astra threw her ball out and her newest Pokémon, a Drowzee, appeared onto the field. In contrast to the Mareep, the Hypnosis Pokémon looked nervous as he faced his opponent. His eyes shone for a brief moment as he drummed his fingers against one another timidly.

Drowzee’s Forewarn activated.

It was alerted to Mareep’s Thunder Shock.

“Do your best!” Astra encouraged him, despite it being clear he was unused to battle. Blysen looked back at her and nodded slowly before moving his legs apart and holding his hands out in front of him, palms first. Then he began moving his hands in an alluring pattern.

Blysen used Hypnosis!

As he did so he released hypnotic waves. His intention was to lull the Mareep to sleep and go from there. It was a practice he was fond of in contrast to open combat.

“Mareep, you know what to do!” Surge said in response to the incoming attack.

The Wool Pokémon stuck its tail up and electricity began building up within it. Yellow tendrils danced over the bulb until it glowed. Mareep then slammed it down into the ground and a shockwave of lightning spread out to encompass the field, permeating the ground.

Mareep used Electric Terrain!

An electric current runs across the field!

“Ah, so that’s how he intends to deal with it,” Lusamine mused as electricity saturated the entire area and dyed it a yellowish hue while the Mareep’s wool coat grew even more fluffy.

It drew her daughter’s attention. “What do you mean?”

Lusamine was about to explain when Rotom took it upon itself to do so in her stead, much to her ire. Electric Terrain prevents Pokémon from falling asleep while boosting the power of Electric-Type moves, zzt.

“Oh, so that means her Drowzee won’t be able to put the Mareep to sleep then?” Lillie guessed.

Lusamine nodded. “Yes, but it also means that the Mareep will now have an easier time affecting the Drowzee, despite their line being somewhat resilient against non-physical attacks.”

“Atta girl!” Surge said as the female Mareep weathered the bombardment of hypnotic waves, still awake and alert. “Now, advance and Tackle it!”

“Don’t let it touch you!” Astra shouted as the Mareep started running towards Blysen. “Some electric Pokémon can paralyze you with a touch! It’s not fun!”

Blysen used Confusion!

Switching tactics, Blysen centered the rushing Mareep between his outstretched palms. Then his hands shone as they launched a bundle of telekinetic waves out like a cannonball. The Confusion attack hit the Mareep like a physical object and stopped her Tackle in its tracks, instead leaving her to take several steps back and reorient herself. Having more confidence in himself after that success, Blysen prepared to release a second Confusion attack even stronger than before.

Mareep used Thunder Shock!

Then he noticed the Mareep’s entire body seemed to crackle with electricity that she began to pull from the Electric Terrain. He abandoned the attack and jumped off to the side clumsily, falling over as all the electricity that she had absorbed into her horns was launched as a bolt blue-and-yellow lightning. The attack struck where he had been moments before, arcing up from the Electric Terrain before sinking in again.

Sweat dripped from his brow at the sight. It was a close-call.

“Lillie,” Lusamine said, grabbing her daughter’s attention briefly. “Since you’re aiming to be a Trainer, you need to observe and learn from others. Can you guess why that Drowzee was able to avoid that attack?”

Lillie’s brows crinkled and folded in as she watched Blysen get back up while in thought. “Umm…he doesn’t look like he has much experience in battling and Astra didn’t tell him to. But he’s a Psychic-Type, so I guess that he saw it coming somehow. I remember reading on the island that their species had an Ability related to that.”

“That’s correct,” she said. “His Ability, Forewarn, activated the moment he sensed he was about to face an opponent and instinctively foresaw an attack that the Mareep was capable of it. That allowed for him to dodge easier since he could recognize it, but he can only use it before the battle begins in earnest because the fighting is taking the rest of his concentration. It’s a survival mechanism, you could say.”

“Good job, Blysen!” Astra praised him. “Keep it up!”

“Mareep, it’s time!” Surge said as he pulled the shades on his head over his eyes. “Flash and Tag!”

Mareep used Flash!

On command, Mareep stuck her tail up and channeled as much electricity as she could into it. The bulb flared into a brilliant and blinding blaze that radiated out for a single moment like the flash of a camera. It still left both Astra and Drowzee seeing spots, eyes stinging.

Astra rubbed her eyes and blinked away the tears she felt before looking towards the battlefield. There she saw the Mareep moving in for a Tackle. “Blysen, look out!”

Mareep used Tackle!

A Critical Hit!

The warning came too late. Mareep managed to land the attack, connecting with a vicious blow as the Wool Pokémon body-checked the Hypnosis Pokémon. The net result was that Blysen was knocked backwards and down to the ground by a good distance.

Z-Zee…” Blysen struggled to get back up only for tendrils of electricity to dance along his body. The contact with her had activated her Ability, Static, and paralysis had set in.

“Now finish it off while it can’t move!” the Gym Leader ordered, fist clenched and arm held out.

Mareeee!!” With a battle-cry, Mareep unleashed another Thunder Shock. The bolt drew from the Electric Terrain as it crossed the distance towards the downed Drowzee.

The bolt hit home and illuminated Blysen, stricken wide-eyed as electricity covered every inch of his body and left him crying out in pain. When the attack ended, he was smoking as he laid splayed out on the ground. “Dro-Drowzee…

“Blysen, are you okay?” Astra asked. The Drowzee only twitched in response. He was in no condition to battle further, so the system monitoring the battle darkened his image on Astra’s side of the screen as she returned him to his ball. “Aww well, you still did good so I’ll give you a snack later.”

“That’s one down for the count,” Surge said as he put his shades back over his head. “Bring out the next one.”

“Okay, Jet! It’s your turn now!” Astra threw the next ball into the air and out popped her Sableye. In contrast to his lounging nature within the room last night, he stood ready for battle with claws tensed as he stared down at the female Mareep,  who had already gone through one battle and was panting from the last attack.

“Feisty little thing, isn’t it?” Surge grinned as he gave the next order. “Mareep, use Thunder Shock on it while the Electric Terrain is still up!”

“Stop it, Jet!” Astra said as the Mareep began to ready another attack. “That’ll hurt if it hits!”

Jet used Torment!

Jet’s eyes glowed an ominous hue before he stomped his foot on the ground and yelled. A dark veil briefly overlapped the Mareep as she charged the electricity into her horns and the electricity dispersed. The Darkness Pokémon smiled in a way that bared his teeth.

“What happened to it?” Lillie asked as she watched the Mareep look around in confusion, head shaking left and right as she failed to follow her orders. Every time she tried, the dark veil would appear to restrict her.

“Torment,” Astra’s Grandfather said. “It’s a technique that places a curse on the opponent that suppresses their ability to use the same technique twice. The fact that Jet has Prankster as an Ability means that it won’t fire that Thunder Shock before Torment could take root.”

Ohhh, that’s rare, zzt, Rotom noted, before noticing the curiosity in Lillie’s eyes. It’s an Ability that makes it so that the Pokémon is capable of using moves that affect their status faster than the opponent, zzt.

“Indeed, it’s troublesome to deal with if the user is experienced.” Lusamine turned to Astra’s Grandfather. “Out of curiosity, where did you obtain a Sableye as her Starter Pokémon? I didn’t believe they were native to this region.”

“It was only recently discovered that they did have an unbothered habitat here, inside of the Lavender Tunnels,” he said. “Astra had just arrived in the Lavender City and had a bit of wanderlust to her, so she wanted to explore the cave system that was discovered when they excavated a path through the mountains around the city, to make room for the port there. I accompanied her and Jet came across us, with one thing leading to another. Once the Joy in the Pokémon Center informed us of his Ability, I had one my Pokémon practice with him using a TM I had lying around.”

“Now, attack it from a distance to be safe,” Astra told her Starter Pokémon. “Getting paralyzed will slow you down too much.”

Saaaableyeee!” Jet shouted, a battle-cry as he reared his head back and then threw it forward. Dark beam flew from his eyes as he fired the Night Shade attack, and the beams sailed through the empty space towards Mareep.

The Wool Pokémon bleated in pain as the attack connected with her, adding to the pain of the previous Confusion attack. Her legs gave out and she collapsed onto the electricity-soaked ground, no longer able to fight. “Marreeep…”

“You did it!” Astra had nothing but praise for her Sableye’s performance. “Good job!”

“You still got one more to beat before you get my badge, girlie,” Lt. Surge warned as he recalled Mareep into her ball and then tossed out another. “Shock them into surrender, Voltorb!”

LEADER LT. SURGE sent out Voltorb!

The ball burst open and from it emerged the Ball Pokémon itself, which looked like a larger Poké Ball with eyes that were narrowed as it faced the Sableye. “Voltorb.”

Without hesitation, the Gym Leader gave his Pokémon the order to attack. “Voltorb, Spark!”

Immediately, yellow electricity shrouded the Ball Pokémon’s body, pulled from within and from the Electric Terrain around it. Covered in electricity that it wore like armor, it rocketed forward like a comet and slammed into the Darkness Pokémon with surprising speed. Jet’s tiny body was swept up in the attack, electricity coursing through him as he cried out. Then the Voltorb halted and the momentum carried Jet further out until he tumbled to a stop shortly before his trainer.

“Jet, are you okay?” Astra asked. The Sableye growled as he got back onto his feet and stared down the Voltorb. She took that as good enough. “Use Torment to stop it from hitting you with that again!”

Jet stomped and yelled once more. The same inhibiting curse that had hindered the Mareep seeped into the Ball Pokémon. The Darkness Pokémon then followed up with a Night Shade, sending a pair of dark beams wreathed in a hue of deep red from his eyes to assail the Voltorb that closed its eyes as the attack struck.

“Voltorb, Charge and Fire!” the Lieutenant ordered.

Voltorb used Charge!

Vooolllllttttoooorbbb!” The Ball Pokémon’s eyes shot open and became wreathed in sparks as it pulled electricity from the Electric Terrain. Filled with electricity, Voltorb began to float upwards, eyes narrowed at the opposing Sableye.

“Get it, Jet!” Astra ordered.

Jet fired another Night Shade in response—

Voltorb used Shock Wave!

—and was won over as the Voltorb was wreathed in blue electricity that shot out in the form of a blistering, blue bolt snaked with yellow streamers from the Electric Terrain. The bolt punched through the Night Shade attack and struck Jet head-on faster than Astra’s eyes could track. Her Starter Pokémon was sent head over leg tumbling backwards until he ended up face-down on the ground.

“Are you okay?” Astra asked again, a little more concerned as she crouched down and set her hand over his gem-encrusted back to lightly shake him.

His only response was to twitch and groan softly. He was in no condition to fight further after that hit.

“Well, you did well too, so I’ll let you have some Rock Candy later today.” Astra lifted him up in both arms and held him against her chest. “You had fun though, right?”

Eye…” Jet said softly before she tapped him with his ball and sent him back into it. That wasn’t a ‘no’.

With that the match ended and the siren blared, signaling her loss as the Electric Terrain faded.

MATCH END!

“I’ll give you some credit, girlie,” the Gym Leader said as he recalled his Pokémon. “Both Mareep and Voltorb are meant to catch new trainers off-guard and paralyze them with their Ability for attacking recklessly, but you caught on and switched to a long-distance and harassment strategy. A little more experience will help you go a long way next time.”

“I was just copying something I saw Miss Karen do when she let me watch one of her Gym Matches,” Astra claimed. “But we learned a lot, so next time we’ll do better after we train more.”

Surge laughed good-heartedly. “You girls have made this morning a lot more interesting than the last few, so I’ll welcome the challenge.”

[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]

“Sorry I couldn’t beat him for you,” Astra told Lillie shortly after the match was over, with an enthusiastic smile unbefitting someone who had lost. Her Pokémon were also being treated at the on-site healing machine as a special service of the Gym Guide while they were in the lobby. Their guardians were over by the doors, discussing something else.

Lillie felt a little jealous of Astra’s smile, knowing that it was born from the fact that Astra had no regrets since she and her Pokémon had done their best in the end, whereas Lillie had hesitated. “It’s fine. I was just impressed by how well you did at that point.”

Astra’s smile grew brighter at the praise. “Thanks, but next time we’ll do even better. I’m going to have Grandpa teach me more on battling when we get back to Lavender City before we head out. We’ll come back here for our fourth badge to show him how much we’ve improved before the tournament I heard about starts.”

Lillie recalled the Nurse Joy mentioning that. She still had the flyer. “Will four months be enough for that?”

“Don’t know,” Astra admitted, before shrugging her shoulders. “But Jet likes to battle, so he’ll at least have fun, and I’ll get to travel around. I’ll even stop by to visit you first when I leave, since I want to see what Cerulean City will be like. It’s supposed to be really pretty, isn’t it?”

“I think so.” She’d have to ask Bill more on the details, but if she remembered what she’d read right, it was formerly a Gym City until the Gym Leader became a member of the Elite Four. But Astra’s words about Jet reminded her what Surge had said about Koko being a fighter.

If Koko was as much of a fighter as Nebby was after she evolved, would Lillie be able to make the Pokémon that Professor Burnet entrusted to her happy as she was? Leaving Nebby behind with Elio had been… painful. But Lillie knew that it was best for them both and she didn’t regret that.

But she didn’t want to experience that pain again with Koko if she could help it. She wanted to be a trainer who could face Elio and Hau and the others with pride, so she needed to do better. Even if she couldn’t see herself facing off against the Elite Four, would it just be enough to try and enter the tournament?

…No, first she needed to find her own battling-style. A way that worked for her, so she wouldn’t have regrets after a match.  A way that they could use to overcome the challenges they met along their way.

Still, it amazed Lillie at how casually Astra mentioned doing so many things because of how fun they were. “You’re as carefree as Hau, aren’t you?”

Astra tilted her head at the question. “Who’s that?”

“He’s a friend of mine from Alola,” Lillie explained. “He, Elio, and I traveled together for a short time. They became so strong that one’s the new Champion of the Alola Pokémon League, and the other will probably challenge him soon for the title, I’m sure. I want to be as strong as them.”

“They sound like they’d be fun to be around. I hope I get to meet them someday,” Astra said as her Grandfather approached. In his hands were the balls with her Sableye and Drowzee. “Are we leaving now?”

“Yes. Our train will be departing soon.” He smiled as Astra took her Pokémon back and then turned to Lillie. “You’ll be heading to Cerulean City next, won’t you?”

Lillie nodded. “We’re heading to the Cape north of Cerulean City and I’ll be there for a while before I set out on my journey.”

“That’s northwest of Lavender City,” he said. “If you ever find yourself coming that way pursuing a badge, feel free to stop by. Any friend of Astra’s will be welcomed.”

“That’s very kind of you. Thanks.”

“I’ll come to visit you first though,” Astra reminded her cheerfully. “Until then I’ll call you, so make sure you answer.”

“I will,” Lillie promised. Then she watched the two leave before her mother returned to her side and they did the same. Her defeat here had been brutal, but she learned a lot about what she needed to do to get stronger.

And the first thing she needed was to stop by a store to get some leg and arm warmers before they boarded the train to Cerulean City and the next stage of her journey.

 

Calling Card (Psyren x FSN -Nasuverse): Arc 3 – Chapter 15

Chapter 15

“You shouldn’t have read her mind like that, Shinji. It’s one thing to do that to a potential enemy, but some things are private.”

In the silence of the room only the two of us occupy, Ayako chides me while wrapping the splint around my arm after I explained what I had seen in the woman’s memories. Being lectured was not something I wanted to deal with, even under normal circumstances. But I tolerate it in silence with my back resting against the headboard of the surprisingly comfortable bed, which only needed a good dusting despite years of disuse.

Part of that tolerance is because it was Ayako doing it, who gets a pass for a variety of reasons—one of which being that she was significantly stronger than me. The other part is that she’s controlling the distribution of both the pain-killers and sleeping medicine. Both of which I need right about now. It just isn’t smart to get on her bad side there.

Well, at least Gai isn’t here to strain my tolerance. He’s stuck on babysitting the other survivors at the moment as they eat our food. In all honesty, I still think we should have minimized what we’d given them. Or at least reserved the majority for us, since we’re the ones who had to do the fighting.

But no. Ayako had him divvy it out to them all equally while I held my tongue for the reasons above. Hopefully Nemesis Q will pop up and declare the mission done before we starve.

“As for what happened, if I had to take a guess, the fact that you actually experienced her emotions is probably due to your abilities being amplified while in the future. Instead of overloading your senses like before, you probably ended up diving too deep before you knew what you were doing. Stick with what you’ve been doing for now, and we’ll test your limits when we get back, okay?”

“Fine.” I didn’t plan to experiment at all to begin with here. It was only because they had pressed me that I even used the Mind Jack in the first place. I have no desire to risk drowning in someone else’s misery when I have my own to contend with.

Ayako nods, both in satisfaction at my response and her own handiwork as she finishes tying off the splint. “As for your arm, Issei will have to see to it after we get back. If you had a few trips under your belt then your Rise might be balanced enough so that you’d heal faster. Then again, at least we have that option. The others won’t be so lucky if they get any serious injuries.”

“Speaking of them, what will we do with them? We can’t feasibly train them all with how far away they live in the past.”

Ayako brings her hand to her chin and closes her eyes as she mulls it over for a moment. “Makidera, Himuro, and Saegusa will work under us, but the others… most likely, we’ll see about having the Veteran who was helping Tatsumi’s group take over teaching them the basics. At least until Neko and the others set something up for them in the long-run.”

“If those guys and this Veteran are in contact, why didn’t he inform anyone of what happened before we got called back? We could have been walking into whatever killed the last group and had been clueless until it was too late.”

Her hair sways as shakes her head slowly and she opens her eyes. “He’s a far more distant teacher than Neko and the others, under the belief that holding their hands is pointless since everyone develops differently over time. I think they actually had a fight about that once, so he usually doesn’t contact us first. It may even be possible that he didn’t know that they were dead.”

That’s… going to complicate things in the long run. Ideally, it would be best if at least a third of them survived so we didn’t get called in to deal with another group’s mess like this. But if this guy is that neglectful, then I suppose our Veterans will have to manage somehow.

Ayako rises to her feet and stretches. Given that she’s removed her coat and torn her shirt for the makeshift splint, it displays more of her lower abdomen than proper.  “You know, you weren’t actually all that far off on what you told Tatsumi’s sister.”

I look off to the side before she accuses me of sneaking a peek like before. “How so?”

“He was in the camp of people who believed they were doing something grand to save the world. That we were chosen and given this power to do so. It was oddly optimistic coming from a guy near his thirties, but considering the circumstances he was reliable.”

He sounds more annoying than anything, but there must be something to it if Ayako speaks highly of him and he had more than a few trips under his belt. “What exactly was he capable of?”

“He created bird constructs out of either Trance or Burst Energy depending on the situation. The ones that were Trance-made could pass through solid objects and be used as scouts by looking through their eyes. The ones made of Burst could take on different properties to attack Taboo, like becoming fire or electricity, or made big enough to be ridden on. He was also capable of paralyzing people and Taboo with a glance to a certain extent, but his ability with Rise was horrible.”

In order words, he basically creates familiars to fight and spy for him. Between that, the paralysis that was likely similar to a Mystic Eye of some kind, and his Rise being horrible, he likely fought at range or acted as support. “He sounds like he would have been useful to have around for gathering information.”

He was.” Her tone shifts, becoming softer as her fingers curl up into fists. “And yet, Nemesis Q didn’t go out of its way to help him. It deemed him useless, otherwise it would have called me in and I could have done something. But no—instead it sends us on a recruitment drive to replace the losses, not even considering that the last thing Tatsumi would have wanted was for his sister to be pulled into this after seeing him like that.”

I can’t really say anything to that. If someone dies here, my guess is that their soul doesn’t return to their body in the past. They simply drop dead to all those unaware. For his body to be in that condition meant that whatever did it closed the distance and tore him apart just as he was being called back.

The silence stretches as Ayako stews on the loss of a comrade until she releases the tension with a deep breath and walks over to the door. “I’m going to go check on the others now. Get some rest.”

“Just remember to cover up or you’ll give the wrong impression to those survivors.”

She looks down to see her exposed midriff in mild surprise. Had she actually forgotten about that in light of everything? Either way, a telekinetic hand grabs her jacket and pulls it to her as the door shuts after her.

And just like that, I’m alone with my thoughts in the room. The previous conversation drags them back to that woman whose mind I delved into and the flood of emotions from when she saw her brother in that state. It was a poignant sorrow that still ate at me, unlike the fear-tainted terror for oneself that came from witnessing or being the target of a human malevolence that wafted off the memories from the grail.

It felt… pure, in a way. Such a raw emotion that made my chest ache and sucked all the hope from me. She had truly loved her brother and his death had stricken her in a way that I really couldn’t relate in terms of grief.

My father was drunkard and my mother had been disposed of shortly after she’d given birth to me. As for the Old Worm, I had Gilgamesh put him down without a second thought after he refused to acknowledge me. None of their deaths moved me in the same way that her brother’s brutal death had sank her heart, and as tempting as it would be to just separate it as a woman being emotional, the question lingers in my mind for a moment too long and a stray thought comes up:

Would Sakura grieve for me like that if I died here?

…A whisper in the back of my head tells me that, as forgiving as Sakura was, our relationship was far too tainted for the sorts of depth they had. Even if a part of her did grieve for me out of misguided compassion, she would undoubtedly feel some sort of satisfaction in it. Even if she’d deny with all of her heart, she would feel some vindication or justification for my death.

After all, I’ve done her wrong in ways that literally haunt my nightmares now and Sakura was still human. Rational and irrational, all humans bore the seeds of evil within them. Even the kindest person.

If they didn’t then they couldn’t be considered human.

And, upon drawing that dreary conclusion, I down the pills and lay down on the bed.

******

Shinji! Wake up!’

“—ggh!?” I awake startled. The horrors clawing at the fringes of my fraying consciousness retreat as the world bleeds in unfocused. Tears run from the corners of my eyes, stinging as a blurred shape gains definition.

My first sight of the day is Ayako’s eyes intensely peering into mine. She’s bent over from next to me, her fingers digging into my shoulders from the bracing grip she had. Her lips are pressed thin as her voice touches my mind again. ‘Are you awake now?’

Yauu—” Pain claws at my throat when I try to speak. I switch to Telepathy as I sit upright. ‘How long was I screaming?’

“A while now.” The tension in her body slowly melts as she releases me and reaches over to the nightstand for the half-finished bottle of water that I had been drinking before I went to sleep. She hands it over and continues to talk. “You wouldn’t respond when we tried shaking you awake, and I had been calling for you telepathically for a while now. What was that about?”

I wait until the water eases my throat before I answer, since I didn’t think she’d let me screaming for that long go unanswered. “I suffer from night terrors on and off.”

A frown forms on her face. “Since when?”

“A few months ago, after I was hospitalized. There’s nothing anyone can do about it, so I just take sleeping medicine and move on.”

“Even if you say that, it’ll be a liability on any mission where we’ll be here long enough to need sleep,” Ayako points out as she flops down on the side of the bed next to me. “We may actually have to gag you in that case.”

“I’d prefer it if we just got back to our own time period f—” My words die as the building rattles. The walls and ground shake enough that we can feel it, with dust falling from the ceiling and sprinkling down upon us.

Gai asks the obvious question. “Was that an earthquake?”

Ayako rises to her feet and heads towards the door. “I’ll go check. You two stay here and keep an eye on the others. If they notice the shaking they might start panicking, but just assure them that they’ll be fine until I get in contact.”

I watch her leave and then sigh, knowing it wasn’t over. It’ll probably come up again, so now I have to think of an excuse for the nightmares. What did they have me hospitalized for again? I try to think of something when I notice Gai staring at me, hand on his chin in thought.

“What?”

“Does these nightmares have something to do with that freak-out you had on the mountain?”

“…Drop it, Gotou,” I warn him, crushing the now-empty bottle in my hand. “There’s nothing anyone can do to help me, so there’s no point in bringing it up.”

He shrugs but doesn’t say anything, so I guess he gets the point.

Then the walls start shaking again. It was more noticeable than before this time. If it gets worse then we’ll have to abandon this building or risk being buried if it collapses. But the shaking feels like its reminding me of something. I think I’m on the verge of remembering it when I feel Ayako’s voice touch my mind.

Gotou, Shinji, get out here now.’

Gai heads towards the door, catching from her tone that these aren’t just earthquakes.

I take my time since there’s not enough alarm or urgency to indicate we’re under attack. Still, it can’t be good and I don’t have the full use of my arm that got broken yesterday either. If it came down to a fight, I’d be at a disadvantage.

Well, my ability allows me to work without needing to be close either way. So I can babysit the survivors if need be while they handle the fighting. If whatever it is they’re dealing with is tough enough to kill them, we’re all dead anyway since nothing I can do would change the outcome.

Just to be safe, I grab what’s left of her naginata from the nightstand and slip it into my splint. The flat of the blade is angled so that it doesn’t cut the cloth or skin, but I can grab what’s left of the handle if needed and use it as a makeshift knife. That done, I head out the door after Gotou.

Inside of the corridor, I see that the shaking did wake the others up. Since there were only so many room and beds, it was easier to station those who knew each other into the rooms together and let them sort their own business out, though we made some exceptions. That Kitano woman who was the sister of the guy Ayako knew was instead paired off with the Nami girl.

Of the survivors who were in the corridor, one was that tough guy who caused problems, one of the three girls from the high-school group, and Himuro. The latter in particular stands with her arms crossed and the same stern face she normally has as she questions him, no doubt on behalf of Saegusa, whose head is sticking out of the opened door to their room.

I leave him to it as I open the door to the bar section. Given the number of people and the number of rooms, some of them had to sleep out here using the sofa. The three idiots were among them, along with the Salaryman, Red Hair, and the creepy guy.

Only the latter was awake though, laying on the bar counter with his head propped up by his elbow. He gives me a lazy wave before covering his mouth to yawn. Then he closes his eyes as though to just listen to his surroundings.

I brush it off as just being weird behavior on his part and head out the front entrance. The rubble blocking the entrance has already been pushed aside. I take a step forward only for the ground to shake again, costing me my balance and leaving me to brace the wall with my good hand until it stops and I can clear the corridor to reach the street-level.

Up here.’

Ayako’s mental voice guides my eyes upwards, to an adjacent building. She’s standing on the rooftop, her gaze set out in the distance. I can’t quite make out her expression without enhancing my vision with Rise-Sense, but when I do I find her lips fixed into a frown and eyes narrowed.

Gotou comes out of the building then and comes to a stop next to me. He doesn’t bother with using Telepathy and just shouts, “What’s going on?”

There’s a large Taboo here that’s knocking down the buildings. It’s taken out a good chunk of the city ruins already.’

Ah, that’s what I was forgetting. I knew something was knocking down buildings at the edge of the city, but not what. Since it wasn’t important at the time and I’d just gotten through having my arm broken, I pushed it aside.

Shinji, connect us and I’ll try to send a mental image of it.’

I create two Mind Jacks connected to the base of my skull and send them both out. They connect. Immediately, Ayako starts sending what she’s seeing through it to me and I pass that information to him.

Her vision is sharpened, as if she’d zoomed into the distance. A building is falling down, concrete and steel collapsing in a domino as something moves within a cloud of stone dust while upturned asphalt and earth marks a trail. A shrill, inhuman roar follows as her vision sharpens even more to focus on the figure in detail.

“It looks like a giant worm,” Gotou says aloud, as to not interrupt the information transfer from me to him.

Calling it a worm is something of an understatement. It’s long enough that each segment was the length of a train car, with round protrusions that leaked some kind of acid that allowed to eat through the ground easily. The head was bulky, with a helmeted front serving as the pilot that allowed it to plow through whatever was in its way and direct them over to the sides for the acid to dissolve.

I also notice that argent sand is left behind in its wake. The same kind that covered half of Fuyuki during the last trip. If it did work like a giant earthworm, was it decomposing solid materials and then leaving the sand out as excrement of some kind?

I don’t have long to think on it before my consciousness is abruptly ripped from my body. The next thing I know, I’m getting an aerial view of the worm tearing apart another block. Every single person we saved is floating around with us as well as Nemesis Q stands in the air above us and looks down on us.

“Send me back home!” yells the Salaryman towards Nemesis Q with a frantic look in his eyes. It sets off a chain reaction as the other start voicing their complaints and desires. I can even hear some threats towards the thing, which probably wasn’t all that smart considering we were currently out of our bodies by its power alone.

Though I don’t think it cares at all considering it remains unmoving with its arms folded behind its back. If that’s the case, could I float a Mind Jack towards it to see if I can understand it… no, it’s a stupid risk right now. Not worth it.

“It won’t respond to any of it, so don’t waste your breath,” Ayako tells the survivors. The pure disdain in her voice makes it clear that her hatred of it hasn’t quelled since the last time it appeared before us, at the end of the last mission. “Just wait for it to give us the mission.”

It takes them all a minute to settle down despite her telling them too. Understandable, given the source of their current problems was right in front of them. But once they do, Nemesis Q finally moves, pointing a long finger down to the ground.

Drifters—” its voice echoes in my mind as the Taboo continues to writhe around. “—destroy the Taboo to clear this round. Receive the power to change this future.

So it wasn’t meant to be a recruitment mission after all, but an extermination one. The recruitment was simply due to the loss of the other Drifters who were likely supposed to do this in the first place. Two birds, one stone.

“You can’t expect us to really fight that thing!” one of the high-school girls shouts.

“That’s right!” another one backs her. “We just want to go home!”

Nemesis Q continues to not care now that the mission has been given. It merely waves its hand and a falling sensation overcomes me. My consciousness rejoins my body back on the street not a second later and it takes a moment to get used to having weight again. Once I do, I start to think on the assignment.

The others who hadn’t been exposed to Nemesis Q outside of their dreams are likely even more disoriented. An opportunity to leave this nightmare behind was in front of them, but they couldn’t do anything about it while they were powerless. Really, only one person here could kill that thing.

I look upwards to where Ayako stands and send a simple question through our connection. ‘Can you kill it?’

Yeah, but not with the bolts. I’ll need to use an arrow, which means charging time and trading off my Rise and Trace. And since I can’t just guess how dense it is or where the core is, I’ll need to make it powerful enough to level enough of the surrounding area that the blast crater could pass as a lake—’

Her thoughts still as her attention turns to a silhouette in the dust cloud thrown up by the collapsing building. Her vision sharpens even more as the cold wind blows and thins the obscuring veil to reveal… no.

No, it can’t be.

Damn it, it’s a Soldier-class Taboo,’ Ayako sends through the line. ‘One of the weaker ones, but having one here means more are around too.’

She’s wrong. That’s not a Taboo. The moment I lay eyes on it, I know what it is.

I know because I’ve seen it before in the past.

It was months ago. At that castle, in that courtyard, I witnessed the hair that was as white as untouched snow in winter become heavy and dyed with the blood of its owner. I’ve seen those eyes that resemble rubies without any flaws become clouded as the head they were attached to fell onto the ground and stared up as the sword-propped corpse it was cut from. Gilgamesh had once said that humans would be naturally incapable of such features that were so pristine that they couldn’t have been left up to chances through genetics.

No, it was made through artificial means. A tool that was just a magic circuit sculpted into a human shape. It was a…

Homunculus.

A shuddering breath leaves my mouth as the forest comes into my view. Becomes my world as I run through it aimlessly. I’m not thinking about anything other than trying to reach the edge.

Not now.

I can’t feel my right arm.  It was such as small stab from Lancer’s weapon, yet it robbed me of an arm that dangles uselessly. Not only have my chances of becoming a magus have been lost, but my defective body has become crippled too.

Not now!

I can only laugh as the pain hurts like nothing before as I come to a stop against a tree, at the edge of clearing that spreads out in front of me. Then Gilgamesh appears before me, mocking me for taking an injury he should have been protecting me from. He has the still-beating heart of the albino brat in his hands and says the words I never wanted to hear again.

“There’s another Master right here who can serve as an anchor, correct?”

No. No! N—

Squelch. Splosh.

…A wet, piercing sound reaches my ears. I look down to see his arm is inside my stomach. The heart is inside of my body. “Ah…? Ahh… ghh?”

Then the agony of still-beating heart after violating my body blossoms anew. The black mud fills every cell with liquid curses—hatred distilled that cursed me for my very existence. It warps and stretches, swelling without breaking as it boils inside the decaying and expanding flesh.

It hurts, it hurts, it hurts!

Countless worms squirm, writhe, expand the flesh and blood vessels to become a lump of meat that grows from my center and back. They won’t stop spreading. They won’t stop violating me.

Ith—urts, ithu—rts, ithur—ts, ithurts!

They invade my chest, breaking open the rib cage with a crunching sound and swallowing my heart. They invade my throat and rob me of air to strangle me from the inside out. Only a garbled choking sound would leave my mouth as the world swirls black and red.

And then the visions come.

A woman being ██████ with a █████ in front of her child. A corpse being ███████ for all to see, ████ wretched between their teeth as the people watch in glee at the desecration.

██████████ shows me nothing but horrors.

██████████ shows me the horrors born of man.

The evils of man. Their sins. Their wretched desires. Their base nature.

██████████ basks in it as ██████████ straps me to the throne overseeing it and I’m ██████████████ unable to ████████████████ as ████████████████ laughs!

SLAP!!

HHAAAAAAHHH!!” I gasp as my vision clears. I’m staring into the ashen sky from the ground with Ayako’s face hovering above me a second time. She looks pale this time. “Haaaaahaaaa… hahaa…haaa…

“Are you back?” she asks.

I open my mouth to speak but words don’t come out. I try to send a message through the Mind Jack, but we’re no longer connected. I can only nod and make a croaking sound.

She closes her eyes and shudders before looking up towards Gai. “Take him inside and watch the others. I’ll go deal with everything.”

“Wait, didn’t you say you don’t know how many of those Soldier-class Taboo are around?”

“Yeah, I can’t be sure.” She rises to her feet and looks out to the distance. “They’re like roaches. If you see one then there’s more. But they’re weak enough and if I kill enough of them I should get a clear shot eventually.”

“Then I should go with you at least.”

She shakes her head. “These kinds are like scouts and are stronger than ordinary humans, but after a trip or two strength stops being the problem and their numbers do. Most of them don’t really speak or have personalities, but they’re capable of thought enough to plan tactics out and have access to the base-level PSI just like us. It doesn’t grow in strength, but pitting a newbie against them would just end up with you being overrun eventually… though there are exceptions, where one will be stronger than the others and stand out, I can handle one of those easily.”

“Even so, you need all of your energy for the shot, don’t you?” he asks. “Can you deal with them alone and have enough strength to do that?”

She glances back to me and then looks away. “It can’t be helped. Shinji isn’t the type to fight up close even if he wasn’t injured, and you haven’t had to kill something that looks so human before, so you might hesitate and these guys will take advantage of it. I’ll just have to try and conserve my energy until I find an opening and kill the worm.”

Then she leaves without another word while I can’t bring myself to move. But I caught that look in her eyes. The gleam within it that came from witnessing something so horrifying that you can’t forget it.

The reason the connection between us was severed was because she rejected. She saw something so horrifying that she instinctively severed it with all her might to try to get away from it. The fact that Gotou still has his and is mostly fine means it must’ve been something done on her part to see the memories, but that doesn’t matter—only the fact that she had seen something does.

But I can’t worry about even that now. My thoughts are on a single thing. A single question I can’t help but wonder the answer to:

Why is a Homunculus here?

The Third Degree 21-06

Find Pace, kick her teeth in, get the ring. Got it.

Heretical Edge

Previous Chapter

When I’d first met Namid, that time back when she and that one guy, Hue, had found Shiori and me talking (and just talking) in the storage room, I’d thought that she looked like the stereotypical thug. Now? Well, now I had pretty much the exact same impression.  

As she opened the door to let us in, I gave the older girl a quick once-over. She wore a white button-up shirt identical to any of the school uniforms, except hers had the sleeves cut off all the way to the shoulders. On her bare arms, I could see what looked like tribal tattoos running all the way down to her wrists. And instead of the normal uniform jacket, Namid wore a sleeveless denim vest with a bunch of patches of various bands that I didn’t recognize all over it.

“Oh,” she announced succinctly upon seeing us, “it’s…

View original post 3,433 more words

The Third Degree 21-05

That… honestly makes sense with the Edge. That was pure pragmatism more than anything.

Heretical Edge

Previous Chapter

“Oh, sure, the angel fuckwads. Those fuckknobs are sticking their noses into this thing?”

For a moment after Seth finished speaking, I simply sat there on Quint’s back, holding the phone to my ear while staring across the water at Shiori. From the look on her face, she’d heard.

It was a bit after the whole conversation with the other two girls. Avalon had gone inside to tell Gaia what was going on, while I stayed out with Shiori to call Seth. And yeah, I told the vampire about the Seosten being after Fahsteth. Which might have been a bad idea, but honestly, he was one of the very, very few people that I could be absolutely sure wasn’t possessed. After all, if he had been, the Seosten would’ve already known about the Fahsteth thing from the start. And I wanted him to know what he was dealing…

View original post 3,230 more words