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Calling Card (Psyren x FSN -Nasuverse): Arc 3 – Mid-Interlude – Ayako Mitsuzuri

Mid-Interlude – Ayako Mitsuzuri

A few months ago…

The pub was empty. Silent, save the crackle of the furnace. It had been closed for the night early at the behest of Otoko, a rare occurrence in the history of the Copenhagen as the regulars of the tavern would attest, so she could talk to Ayako without interruption or the fear of being overheard in a relatively safe spot.

The normally lively young woman was just staring into the half-empty glass in front of her. Watching as the ice floated in the alcohol with eyes that lacked life. Her first mission without Issei backing her, now that he had become a Veteran, had been less than two hours ago. She’d come back alive.

Her friend hadn’t.

Aika. The surface of the shochu rippled as a tear fell into it glass, knocked loose as she trembled from the memory playing in her head. She’d frozen. She’d frozen in fear and the one to pay the price wasn’t her, but her friend.

Aika was from Western High, not the school she went to. Ayako had met her in the Game Center at the Verde, and their friendship had been born from a competition at a shooting game that lasted longer than it should have. Now she was dead.

A shuddering breath left of her mouth as her grasp on the glass tightened. She lifted it to her mouth and tilted her head back, leaving the clacking of ice on glass ringing in her ears as the alcohol passed through her lips. The cocktail taste teased her tongue sliding down her throat in three audible gulps before it caught and she started coughing, having taken in air in her haste to drink away the bloody memory.

Otoko sighed, softly and dejectedly, as she watched the younger girl huddle over with the drink slipping through the hand she used to cover her mouth. “You’re not used to drinking, so don’t try chugging away at it.”

It was true. Before now she would have never considered so much as touching a bottle of alcohol. After all, her body was a temple—honed through a variety of sports and exercises that she’d experimented with over the years. Anything that dulled the mind and would hinder her was something she avoided, if only so that she would be able to put forth her best without any doubts.

She couldn’t care less about that at the moment as she set the empty glass down and wiped her hand on her jacket. She just wanted something to dull the pain in her chest. Anything was welcomed at this point.

Otoko refilled the glass and wiped the mess away before taking a seat next to her at the counter, a glass in her own hands. Silence followed as they both sat there and took a sip from their respective drinks. Then Otoko exhaled softly to the side before she faced Ayako. “It’s not your fault.”

It is. Ayako opened her mouth to speak those two words that summed up her shattered heart, crushed under the weight of her guilt and displayed in her eyes that had gone red from the last two hours she spent crying after Issei had brought her here. But only a hoarse and strained breath left out, tinged with the scent of the shochu.

The words, the admission itself, were caught in her throat and threatened to choke her. She reached for the rest of her drink and knocked it down all at once again. Another coughing fit followed, leaving Otoko to pat her on the back as her she laid her head down on her arm resting on the counter and cried anew. Aika died because of me.

Though the scenario differed each time, it was a common tale among the Drifters at this point. How a mission would leave friends and allies dead. How mistakes became chains that dragged them down to the abysmal void of self-loathing and misery.

In Ayako’s case, it came down to more bad luck than anything. How could they have known there would have been a sentry hidden in the snow, observing the location just out of their view? That she’d run into a Soldier Taboo for the first time and freeze up at the thought of killing something that looked so human?

It seemed like just another mission to her at first when she answered the call of Nemesis Q under the threat of death. Issei was watching her body in the Temple, so she figured it would be in good hands. She’d already been on the receiving end of his healing after her first blunder and knew what he was capable of, so anything short of death would be healed as long as she completed the mission and returned alive.

The moment she arrived, Aika already being there, Ayako noted the air was even colder than her first two trips into that frigid and barren world that was supposed to be the future—their future at some point. It was borderline freezing, with grey snow blanketing the scraggy, dark stones surrounding them. It took her a moment to realize they were in a mountain range, standing on a precipice that overlooked what she presumed was the target.

In what looked to be a crater, nestled at the base of a mountain, was a structure erected around it that resembled a circular arena to Ayako. Similar to one where they’d held the Archery Competition last year. But there was a cavity within the center that went down further than she could see with her Sense-enhanced sight, delving deep into the earth.

As expected, there were Taboo around it. Quadruped Taboo with bulky bodies that lumbered about on muscular forearms tipped with claws. She could make out a core on what would be their foreheads, the point she had been told to always target for a kill, and on their backs was what looked to be an organic pouch, filled with what looked to be stones of some kind.

It was a new Taboo for certain, at least to her. A strange sight, but not unexpected. What was unexpected was the fact they were being treated as beasts of burden by what looked to be people there.

They were all similar in appearance. White hair and red eyes, while dressed in some manner of fur-lined uniform and carrying polearms. They didn’t seem bothered by the cold in the slightest as they went about standing guard, with a few also pulling off the organic pouches and tossing them into a pod that the Carriers take off with once they were filled.

As other Drifters appeared, Ayako came to realize that she and Aika were the only Fuyuki Drifters. The rest were people she hadn’t met before, with only two others from Japan. Tatsumi was one of them.

Nemesis Q had waited until they had all gathered before announcing the mission: destroy the Illumina Mine.

Whatever Nemesis Q was, it was apparently omnilingual since everyone understood it. But they weren’t. That made coordinating much harder—borderline impossible, if not for the fact that one of Foreign Drifters was fluent in Japanese too.

Of the entire group, Ayako and Aika were among the most inexperienced. The others had more trips under their belts and a stronger foundation with their PSI. So the obvious reason that they were chosen to participate in the extermination mission was because their PSI happened to be among the most destructive available despite their inexperience.

Ayako’s Burst wasn’t as strong as it would become and had a limited range, but she could still do a lot of damage with it. Easy to see why that would be useful. And Aika had the ability to generate shockwaves strong enough to cause a localized earthquake.

Taking those facts into account, they came up with a simple plan. Tatsumi would fly them around the other side of the mountain where the mine was stationed beneath, and they’d use their PSI to cause an avalanche. That would bury the mine and everything in it under tons of ice and snow, accomplishing the task with no losses on their end.

However, no plan survives unscathed.

The howling, frigid winds obscured their hearing and sight as they flew. But not the Taboo. After all, there was no reason artificial creatures that were constructed to work in that terrain would have a need for ordinary eyes and ears. They were spotted by one that was nestled within the mountain and that alerted one of the Soldiers.

The next thing they knew, things had come to a boil in a hurry. Tatsumi’s construct bird was shot down near the mountainside, the man himself knocked out on impact with the snow-laden ground. That left Ayako to carry him on her back as she and Aika tried to salvage things while the others bought them time.

Ayako didn’t see the attack coming. Not until it was nearly too late. Her first encounter with a Soldier Taboo was when it tried to behead her with the blade of a halberd from the side, having managed to catch up to them despite the cover-fire being laid out by the others. She unleashed her PSI in fear and self-preservation, releasing it from her outstretched palm at a relatively close-range as strongly as she could.

In truth, she had been worried about her PSI since she first got it. She was afraid of what it could do to a person if she unleashed it. It was fine against ordinary Taboo, since they turned into ashes when killed and died with a good hit to their Illumina Cores. It was different with the Soldiers, who didn’t have cores to begin with.

The body burst as the explosion ripped through it. Like a watermelon exploding from the inside out, crimson blood and viscera painted the snow and Ayako’s body. Covered in the warm, viscous fluids, she found herself shaking on her knees in stunned silence as she stared at the mess of meat and cloth, feeling nauseous from the scent of the blood covering her.

That’s when the next attack came. Spearing out of the white veil of snow, something cut through the air with a whistling sound that was partially drowned out by weather. Another halberd thrown like a spear with superhuman strength that would have taken her head off if Aika hadn’t managed to push her aside in time, knocking her and Tatsumi onto the biting cold snow that robbed her of warmth.

A wet thump followed after another layer of blood was splayed onto both the snow and Ayako. She turned her head towards the sound to see that Aika was on the ground several feet from them. A pool of crimson spreading out beneath her and…

And the halberd was sticking out of her chest, the sharpened point running her through.

When she recalled that moment, Ayako couldn’t help but feel choked up as tears fell from her eyes as she remembered scurrying towards her fallen friend to see blood frothing out of her mouth as she struggled to take strained wheezes. A fatal wound that would claim her life in less than minute.

Her trembling lips moved to form words without being able to voice the words she wanted to properly. “Lu… ou…”

Ayako didn’t even realize It was a warning she didn’t recognize until the shadow was cast over her. The Soldier responsible was standing behind her, a knife raised and ready to descend for her skull as she looked up to him with tears trailing down her face. Then he froze in place.

It was Tatsumi, on his hands and knees in the snow. The stinging cold had roused him from unconsciousness and he’d fixed his gaze upon the Soldier, a single eye shining like a burning star. His Burst energy shrouded him before lunging forward in the form a massive bird the size of a delivery truck, pinning the Soldier to the ground with its legs before taking the head into its beak and pulling ruthlessly.

Ayako closed her eyes as a wet, meaty sound followed, only to feel the ground beneath her shake. It was Aika, using her PSI before she died. She was going to complete the mission so that Ayako could get back alive, sending shockwaves surging through the mountainside with the intent of bringing it all down as she drew her last breath. The rumbling of the mountain reached the point where ice, stone, and snow were wrench loose and started rolling down the mountainside, triggering an avalanche.

Tatsumi’s bird pulled Ayako and him away, leaving her to watch as the snow entombed her friend’s body before collapsing the mines, completing the mission.

I-if I ha-hadn’t frozen up, s-s-she wouldn’t have died.” Ayako insisted in grief as she raised her head off the counter. Otoko’s expression softened as she gently guided Ayako to lean against her, offering her a shoulder to rest her head and keep crying on.  From there it was a matter of waiting until Ayako simply had no more tears to shed before the conversation continued.

“It’s… it’s never easy the first time,” Otoko said in a measured tone. “Losing friends or killing something that looks human. But it does get easier, which is the worst part because one day you’ll see someone else forced into the same position. Then you realize just how much you’ve changed—what doing this has taken from you in order for you to survive, and that hurts you because it’s not something you would have chosen on your own.

“Yet, if you don’t, you’ll die,” she continued in a disheartened tone, grasp tightening as if clinging to her. “You’ll die and leave behind people who will miss you. That knowledge leaves you feeling the weight of their lives on your shoulders. So you kill to stay alive, pieces of who you were breaking off and leaving only sharp edges that serve as a weapon to Nemesis Q’s ends for one reason or another.”

Ayako sniffled as she listened and then pulled away slowly, trying to get a hold of herself. She wiped away the tears and spoke in a hoarse voice. “I just… want everything to be normal.”

“Hold on to that feeling,” she said. “Because the moment you give up everything that makes you normal, is the moment you’ve really lost it all. All that’s left is another living weapon for Nemesis Q to throw at its problems in the name of saving the future.”

They weren’t people to whatever Nemesis Q claimed to be. They were assets. Weapons. Resources. Some more valuable than others, but all ultimately expendable once they were broken or useless.

After a moment of silent contemplation, Ayako asked, “…Is a future where we have to send people to die worth saving?”

It was almost blasphemous to say, given that it was the future of their world. Not dealing with it would be the equivalent of leaving their descendants in that unknown year to suffer for their inaction. However, after losing her friend to that cold future, Ayako didn’t see the merit in a future that threatened to take everything from her in the present—including her life.

“Any future where I have to sit down with a girl like you and justify why you shouldn’t feel bad about needing to kill isn’t one that’s worth saving,” Otoko said as she traced the rim of her own glass. “All I care about is that all of you make it out of there alive, so that maybe when it’s all over you can at least try to put it past you.”

[-Break-]

In the Present…

With a mechanical coldness, Ayako partitioned a pinch of the energy within her body and moved it to the gauntlet on her arm. The string pulled back and a bolt was forged, ready to fire. With her eyes sharpened, she kept her breathing leveled as she lined up a shot towards the Soldier Taboo that was combing through the streets.

Aiming wasn’t exactly necessary. Not when the shots were forged from her Burst and the amount of energy was minimal. Her ability to control the way it moved and hone it in on a target depended on just how much power was behind the shot, sacrificing power for precision.

With a thought, the string on the gauntlet on her arm thrummed as it was released. The bolt flew towards the albino head of a Taboo that looked human. Its head burst as the force of the silent explosion ripped it apart on impact.

That’s six. She exhaled and then moved again before another came to investigate that death. Once thing she’d learned though the different trips was that they had some kind of hivemind that allowed them to share information, so she had been careful to not be spotted as she executed them one after another. They probably already knew what she looked like from past trips, but because of how versatile Burst could be they didn’t know exactly what killed them—and wouldn’t unless she went all out since a full-powered shot was distinct.

As she leapt from the rooftop of one building to the derelict husk of another, she ignored the rumble of crashing earth as the giant Taboo continued its work. It was far enough away from where they had taken refuge that she felt comfortable killing it last and with the remainder of her power—but only after she’d made sure to have killed the Soldiers that would get in her way, since she’d only get one shot.

With any luck, they’d go back to the past and after that… well, there was no good way to handle it. Leaving aside the fact that this would probably be the largest party of survivors, she didn’t expect most of them to come back and try to survive. Maybe half. And those that weren’t killed on whatever mission they had next would be less.

She’d ensure that Himuro, Makidera, and Saegusa survived at the very least. And Tatsumi’s sister. She owed him that much for everything he’d done.

…Neko had been right, Ayako realized after a moment of thought. Even when she thought of Tatsumi’s death it only gave her a feeling of cold anger in her chest now, a pittance compared to the grief that overwhelmed her when Aika died. Seeing others die was common, killing others was easy here.

Her fist clenched as she thought about what would happen next. The trio from the Track Team were ordinary girls. One studious and responsible, one excitable and proud, and one sweetly nurturing and innocent. Even if she could protect their lives, this world would break them in different ways soon enough and there was nothing she could do.

That was part of why she had been furious with Shinji for following her into the future. Not just because he was risking his life for her sake. But because no matter what happened, he would come out changed in the worst of ways.

She watched him struggle to change over the last few months after their talk in the hospital and that had been a source of pride for her. Shinji was a difficult person to get along with given his confidence that bordered on arrogance, born from how naturally he seemed to grasp difficult things. But he was trying to change after whatever put him in the hospital and she had been proud of him for that.

Then she got involved with all of this sometime later and it began to take its toll on her. She slipped up and let her frustration and exhaustion of what this world did to her bleed over to one of the few bastions of normalcy she had. Shinji noticed and tried to do something despite whatever his own problems were, given his falling grades that had Taiga mention he would likely be forced to leave the club if he didn’t straighten them out at some point.

Ayako… couldn’t have really cared all that much at the time. Not since whatever his problems were couldn’t compare to what she was going through. It was just a matter of priorities—and she couldn’t put his ahead of hers when it involved her life.

Besides, Shinji was smart enough to pull himself together and she knew he hated people prying into his life, so she left his problems up to him to solve and focused on surviving. Even if he did get kicked out of the club, he’d been grooming Sakura to take their place as she should have at the start of the year. So, she thought it was fine for the most part.

How could she have known what was going on in his head?

She felt the warmth sucked out of her body as she recalled that momentary decision. Ayako knew what it was like to go through a waking nightmare at times. Having memories, traumatic moments of her past, intruding in her daily life by reminding her of her failures and the deaths that accompanied her.

People she couldn’t save.

Allies who died in her place.

Enemies who often tried to take her life.

Things that other people didn’t go through as they lived their lives day-to-day. Something she felt envious about at times. She knew that Shinji was going through something the moment he first stepped foot on the mountain temple the day after he’d gained his PSI, but said nothing since she couldn’t figure out what triggered him.

That morning was the second time, definitely worrying since it meant his issues followed him while he was sleeping. It would get them killed if he woke one morning like that and Taboo were around. She had planned on trying to coax him into giving them more details when they had time, in the safety of the present. No matter how stubborn she knew he’d be, she would have made him give her a satisfactory answer for his own safety.

Him having a moment right then and there, in the middle of the street, was the last straw. Ignoring a problem that actively interfered with him in the middle of talking, when he was acting as their means of private communication, was just asking for trouble. So she took a gamble and tried to read his mind since they were connected, despite the fact that she’d told him not to do so and that she trusted him not to do that to one of them.

Ayako expected him to be furious in the aftermath. But dealing with his temperament was better than letting him have another moment like that when they were getting ready to deal with a threat and cost all of them their lives. And maybe, just maybe, in helping him deal with his problem she’d find some measure of comfort in the fact that he was involved in this because of her.

She understood how the Mind Jack worked in principle. It was useful enough that, in the worst-case scenario, she wanted to be able to pass that knowledge along for the future. So she tried to manipulate the Mind Jack with her own energy to read his thoughts (pulling them, rather than pushing) and see what it was that was haunting him.

She regretted it.

Her mind came under assault by visions. Things that made her feel horrible in ways that were difficult to put into words. That she didn’t want to, even if she could recall any of it clearly beyond faint impressions and phantom sensations that would likely slip into the back of her mind and fade from her short-term memory in the matter of a day. But the fact was that she was terrified enough that her mind instinctively reacted by severing the connection between them just to escape it in less than a second.

After everything she’d gone through. After everything she’d lost. After everything this abysmal future had to offer. After all of that, what on earth was so terrifying in Shinji’s head that it caused her to reject it on every level as a human being?

In all honesty, she was afraid to give it too much thought. Just on the off-chance she would end up transferring it into her long-term memory and recall whatever it was her mind was so desperate to make her forget. It actually left her afraid of him using that Mind Jack of his on her again, which was part of why she left him behind.

The irony wasn’t lost on her either. She told him not to go around reading minds as it was an invasion of privacy. Yet she tried to look into his mind to see what it was that left him panicking like that, just to understand it so that she could help him. And now she was terrified of something she had no understanding of.

An issue for later. Taking a deep breath, she continued her hunt with as much focus and mechanical precision as before. That was one positive that came from doing this. By putting all of her effort into it, she didn’t have to think about anything else beyond completing the mission.

Making an apology, getting an answer—everything else could come later once she killed the damn worm.

Lost in her own thoughts, she never noticed the Mind Jack slithering her way in the air from behind before it abruptly faded from existence.

 

 


Fanfic Recommendation 57

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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.


(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?


Fanfic Recommendation 56

My Fanfics :

 

Vim & Vigor 8

A Lily Blossoms in Kanto 6

 

 

 


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Devil’s Advocate 23

A Naruto Fanfiction

Summary: Character study. An accidental meeting brings Zetsu into Naruto’s life as his tutor. With Zetsu trying to sway Naruto to his own philosophy of “the only one you can rely on is yourself”, Naruto discovers that the world isn’t as black and white as his tutor is, that there are at least two sides to every story, and that he has a lot to learn. Hinted NaruIno and NaruTen; grey!Naruto

Intrepid:  15.08 Taylor – 15.A Foil

A Worm Fanfiction

Summary: In the wake of the Locker Incident, Taylor goes comatose. Wracked with guilt, Emma and Madison trigger. Things spiral from there as they quickly go different routes, both seeking redemption in a different way.

A Cloudy Path Seeker 23.5 – Warrior 24.3

A Worm / Supreme Commander Fanfiction

Summary: Frustrated with her school life, Taylor Hebert dons an unfinished costume and goes off into the night to fight crime as a superhero. She stumbles across an infamous crime lord, Lung, talking about killing some kids. Taylor decides she has no choice but to act……and Lung kicks her ass.Not because she’s weak. Far from it. Taylor Hebert is hamstrung by being a moral person with an exceptionally lethal power set, one with horrifying and even potentially global implications.

Seven Days Survivor: The Golden V2 005

A Devil Survivor / Persona 3 / Persona 4 Fanfiction

Summary: Midori Komaki from Devil Survivor 1 moves to Tatsumi Port Island to finish out her school year after her home school got wrecked in the Tokyo Lockdown. Less than a week later, she is drawn into the Dark Hour, and joins SEES in response with Black Frost as her Persona. Now, a year later, becomes involved with the events of Persona 4.

With the Ring: Falling Actions 2 – Vega, Baby 3   (Tv Tropes Page)

A Young Justice Fanfic

Summary: An SI with an Orange Ring ends up in the Young Justice Universe and seeks to advance humanity through advance technology and magic.


Vim & Vigor 8 (A Worm/Bioshock Fanfic)

Vim & Vigor 8


 

Hours later, near-evening, I’m stuck at home. The painkillers are mostly working, but I was still feeling a dull throb where I’d been stabbed. Not to mention I feel like crap after everything was said and done.

I had gotten in touch with Taylor once I arrived at the hospital that Cienna took me to. I told her I survived because Circus left me for dead after I passed out. It was a lie, but I felt it was the best that I could come up with that kept the promise I made with Cienna and didn’t want Taylor to know that I got exposed.

She didn’t exactly question it, but she did tell me my parents called her. She stuck with the excuse I gave her, that she didn’t know what happened to me after we parted ways. That gave me some relief, right up until I called home.

Mom had sounded frantic when she picked up the phone. Her voice rasp and cracking like glass on the verge of shattering. And, when I told her that I was at the hospital because I was attacked by a bunch of ABB members who thought I was a member of the Empire Eighty-Eight because of how I looked, it was as if the glass itself shattered along with her heart.

I wasn’t proud of it. I wish that I was smart enough to come up with a better excuse. But I couldn’t at the time, so I had to listen to her crying over the line after telling her they stabbed me in the hand and stole my wallet before leaving in an alley somewhere.

I think she would have had a heart-attack of I’d revealed the full extent of it. That I had been nearly shot, crushed, and literally set on fire, while being chased by an apparently murderous villain.

A police report was filed for obvious reasons, but all I could do was tell them that I couldn’t really describe the attackers outside of being Asian. Again, I wasn’t proud of it and sincerely hoped that they chalk it up to being a random crime and didn’t bring anyone in. If they did, I’d feel even worse about getting someone else arrested for the lie I told.

Dad ended up leaving work afterwards to pick me up from the hospital, since knowing I was safe was enough for Mom to finally get some sleep after she had been up all night worrying about me. The conversation with him was just as awkward, what with me having to lie to his face about it. They thought it was just bad luck that I had ended up being targeted, but if they knew I had gone out specifically looking for trouble I got the feeling that all of that worrying would turn to anger.

Still, I needed to find some way to make it up to them. Not sure what I could do exactly about it, but hopefully I’d think of something by the time my hand could fully heal. The pain flared every now and again, but thankfully there wasn’t any nerve-damage.

While Mom was still sleeping and Dad was at work, I checked online for information to pass the time. Circus had been known as a burglar, but not a murderer. But like Taylor stated, they simply never found a body—and I imagine that a corpse would be easy to hide with her hammerspace power. That might be why Nemean and Heimal go after her so much.

Bzzz! Bzzz! My burner phone ringing in the desk takes my eyes off the computer and onto it. The number on the screen is probably Cienna’s, after she made me give her it on the way to the hospital to cash in those favors I owed her. Giving her my actual number wasn’t happening, and a dummy number was pointless since she knows my name and where I live.

It’s Cienna,’ was the first thing she said when I picked it up.

“I know.” After all, there were only two people who knew this number aside from me. “So I’m guess you want a favor now?”

What, I can’t call just to check up on you?

“Did you?”

Partially.’

“And the other part is a favor, right?” The line went dead at that, leaving me to wonder if I pissed her off or something.  That could be a problem since she knew one of my secrets and I couldn’t really do anything to silence her. Leaving aside the fact that she did save my life, she actually had powers unlike me.

Tck. Tck.

Then I heard knocking on my window. The timing couldn’t be a coincided, could it? I found myself sincerely hoping so, considering the implications.

Tck. Tck. Tck.

Unable to ignore the fact that the volume increased that time, I got out of my swiveling chair and pulled open my blinds. She’s standing outside of my widow with a duffle bag slung over her shoulders. Crap.

“What are you doing here?” I asked as I opened the window and stuck my head out to look around. A lot of the homes in the neighborhood were landscaped to have natural barriers or fences. So while I don’t think someone spotted her, she really sticks out in this neighborhood and the last thing I needed right now someone calling the cops.

“I’m just calling in one of my favors,” she said, unslinging her bag from her shoulder and pushing it through the window. “Now let me in before someone spots me.”

I tried to get in a word against her coming into my room, but she pulls herself in through the window before I can. Just like that I have a girl in my room… while my mother is sleeping a room over and could wake up any second and find her!!! My mouth opened and closed as I looked between her and the door and tried to figure out what to do.

Do I kick her out? No, that’s a bad idea when I thought about it for more than a second. She had powers, I was currently powerless, and pissing her off while she had my secret identity and address will end up endangering my folks. That’s out, along with calling the police or anything else.

Okay, approach this carefully. I took a deep breath to calm down and looked over to her. She’s looking around my room where she’s standing, eyes wandering over the posters and books and stuff. I might not be the best at reading people, but I’d like to think I could at least recognize when someone’s about to kill me. She doesn’t look the part, and she’s been mostly reasonable, so violence wasn’t the immediate threat as long as things stayed as they were.

I walked over to the door and locked it to keep it that way. If Cienna went any further into the house, she could possibly wake my mom. Mom needed her sleep after last night and there was no way I could explain this so that it ended without the cops being called, yelling, and disappointment—or the house being torn down.

The sound of the lock clicking into the place caused her to turn her attention me. She frowned. “I’m not going to go steal anything, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

I shook my head and held both my hands up. “That’s not it. My mom is asleep after being worried sick about me going missing last night. I already went with the story about getting mugged by the ABB, so if she finds you here…”

“A lot of secrets come out that no one wants,” she finished, nodding her head. “Saves everyone trouble if they stayed a secret.”

Good, she at least understood why I did it instead of jumping to the telekinesis and tearing my room apart. I breathed a little easier at that and asked, “Okay, now what favor is it that you needed that was so bad that you tracked me home?”

She pointed to her duffle bag. “I want you to do my laundry for me.”

…What? “You came all the way here for laundry?”

“I did tell you this morning I’d need to use your washing machine and stuff.” She brought a hand to the collar of her shirt and pulled it open. “And I’ll want to use your shower, and some food.”

They weren’t unreasonable requests exactly. Simple things really. The kind that you would offer a friend, like if Taylor came over and spent the night. The only real worry would have been the twenty-questions Mom would put her through… at least before last night.

But I barely knew Cienna and having her here was just asking for trouble. “Can’t I just pay for a motel room or something?”

Her back straightened and she crossed her arms, giving me a sharp look. “Look, Kid. I’m not asking for much this time. Just do these little things for me and everyone comes out ahead.”

I noted the ‘this time’ part and the implication that there would be more requests in the future, but I don’t argue with her further. She held all the cards right now and, aside from the fact that I didn’t like being blackmailed, they weren’t that big of demands. But I was going to have to think of something eventually to cut things if she got to the unreasonable requests.

“Fine, but you can’t leave my room and you need to be gone before Dad gets back tonight,” I tell her, pointing a finger to the door opposite of my closet. “You can use my shower there.”

“Sounds good.” She nodded in approval and then turned her attention to her duffle bag, unzipping it and pulling out a smaller bag. She sat it on my bed before tossing over the larger bag. “Go ahead and put those in. I’ll leave the clothes I’m wearing in the smaller bag for you to dump in with them while I get into my clean ones.”

I caught it and cringed as the scent coming from inside of it catches me off-guard. That distillery smell from when I first spotted her was strong enough that the bag itself was probably in need of a wash. I hold it out at an arms-length by the straps as I opened the door and went out into the hall behind the Living Room to where the washer and dryer were.

I turned the bag upside down and dumped her clothes into the washing machine without sorting colors from whites, or really looking at it all since I didn’t want to ruin the illusion I’ve built up of what women should be like. Sure, I’ve handled Mom’s laundry at times, but your own mother doesn’t count as a woman—they’re different. Once the last of the clothes were in the wash, I poured in the detergent and left the machine to fill up with water.

That out of the way, I took the duffle bag back into my room. Leaving it around for my parents to find or smell was asking for trouble. I flipped it inside out to let it air and then hung it outside of my window as the door to my bathroom opened just a crack and the smaller bag was tossed out haphazardly onto my carpet.

“Greg?” Cienna stuck her bare arm out of the door with my bottle of body wash in her hand. “Why do you have a woman’s brand of body wash in here?”

“I like the smell after I take a shower since it helps me relax.” Plus, that brand doesn’t aggravate my skin the way the normal stuff does.

“Hmm… I’ll give it a try then.” Deciding that on her own, she pulled her arm back in through the gap and shut the door.

There’s nothing saying men can’t use it,” I mumbled as I picked the smaller bag up. Just like before, I dumped the contents into the washing machine without looking, and shut it so that it could start. That just left me needing to fill the time until she got out of the shower.

Mom cooked last night so I checked the fridge for leftovers. It’s her favorite from the look of it, but it was almost untouched. Did… did she even eat while she was waiting for me?

…Tears sting my eyes as I took a deep, shuddering breath. I was careless and Mom had been worried herself to the point of starving. If she knew what I was doing, she’d definitely have a heart-attack or something.

But, at the same time, I owed Taylor for screwing up her leg. And she’s happy that I’m helping her. Or she appreciated my effort at making up for that. We’re on better terms than before at the very least.

And I was doing something meaningful for once, even if it was a little dangerous. I think I could deal with myself being at risk. But if this was what happened after a close call, how would Mom act if I ended up being killed?

…It was frustrating.

I wanted to keep helping Taylor. I had to, if only to make things right. But I couldn’t put Mom through this sort of thing again. I couldn’t let myself get caught like I did before, screwing up from the moment that can got crushed and turning my back on Circus before I put her down.

But first things first, I had to deal with Cienna’s demands until I could get her out of here.

 

 


(Pokemon Sun and Moon Fanfic) A Lily Blossoms In Kanto: Chapter 6

Chapter 6: Back in Alola 2

Morning light speared through the open roof of the cavernous grove that was known as Verdant Cavern, where rushing water carved out the stone into paths and left the moist cavern rich in moss. Ilima and Hau, with their Smeargle and Incineroar respectively, entered in the wee hours of the morning, just after sunrise. In each of their arms were baskets of berries, two in the case of Incineroar, gifted from the nearby berry field to feed the Pokémon there.

“Just set them down in front of those dens,” Ilima said, pointing towards the entrance of three large rocks hollowed out by powerful fangs as his Smeargle went off towards a different one. “Those are the dens where the Yungoos live. I’ll set the one by the entrance to the Totem Den.”

“You got it, Captain.” Hau turned to his starter pokémon and gestured his head towards the other two dens in the back. “Can you get those for me?”

The Incineroar nodded and lumbered towards the dens, leaving the Kahuna’s grandson to head towards the remaining one. Once he set it down, Ilima whistled loud enough that the piercing and shrill sound resounded throughout Verdant Cavern. A breath later, out came the hungry hordes of Loitering Pokémon to swarm the baskets for berries.

“These little guys weren’t around when I did my trial,” Hau said as he watched them go at it. Some ravenously bit into the berries with their sharp teeth, tearing open the skin to devour the ripe interior in a frenzy that left their cheeks and noses covered in juices. Others, older ones, seemed to take the berries and bring them inside of their den. “What happened to the Rattata?”

“They’re in the dens that we’re leaving alone for now,” the Trial Captain explained. “My trial is the only one on this island since it serves as two instead of one, depending on the time of day. It also means that I’m responsible for keeping both the Rattata and the Yungoos in check. If I don’t feed the Yungoos during the day and the Rattata at night, they’ll start attacking each other and the Totem Pokémon will get involved.”

And when that happened, he was also the one in charge of quelling their violence. It was the duty of the Trial Captain, appointed by the Kahuna, to oversee the Totem Pokémon. It wouldn’t do to have them go on a rampage.

“Wow, so you have to do the work of two Trial Captains, huh?” Hau whistled as the Yungoos continued taking their fill until a pair began to threateningly chitter at one another over an Oran berry. It then turned to squabbling as they howled at one another, and finally violence as they began to nip and scratch at each other as an entangled mass of fur and teeth. “Whoa! Calm down guys, there’s enough to share!”

Hau managed to snatch them both up and hold them apart by the scruffs of their necks as they continued to flail about until a larger one came out and screeched at them. They immediately stopped struggling and instead sulked as best Hau could tell. To be safe, he set them down on opposite ends. They began to hiss at one another again, but the larger one hissed at them in warning and that settled them down for good.

“I admire your dedication to keeping the peace, but that was somewhat risky,” Ilima warned him. “Those teeth can do some real damage, even though the ones around here have been semi-domesticated so that they know better than to attack humans. It would have been better to have one of your pokémon calm them down.”

“Good point.” To his credit, Hau looked somewhat abashed as his gaze shifted to his starter Pokémon.

The male Incineroar, Kamala, was watching curiously as some of the Yungoos carted their berries into the Totem Den, while the basket in front of it was already empty. Then his ears twitched and his head wheeled around towards the large moss rock. The Heel Pokémon began to lumber over until the Yungoos, all of them, stopped what they were doing and began to threateningly hiss towards him.

“Ah, what’s got them all riled up?” Hau wondered as they began to leap forward, just enough to try and drive the Heel Pokémon away. If that didn’t work, they would begin to attack. “Kamala, come back over here. We’re not here to pick a fight.”

Kamala let out a low, guttural sound that bubbled up in his throat as he gave the rock a piercing glance with its emerald eyes. As chill as he was as a Litten, he could get vicious in a serious fight.

“C’mon, buddy,” Hau called again. “They’re not going to be much of a match for you. You really want to pick on a couple of Pokémon that don’t even come up to your knees when we’re getting ready to face Elio and the Elite Four?”

Kamala huffed, not at all intrigued by the prospect. He sought challenge after he’d evolved. So he turned his back on the Yungoos and made his way over to his trainer.

Ilima watched the scenario unfold with his hand on his chin, observing their behavior. “How strange. I could understand if they were being territorial with the Rattata, but this is a first.”

“Maybe they’re just antsy because they’re hungry and this is the first time we’ve been around in the morning?” Hau suggested, patting his starter on the back. “Kamala can be kind of menacing since he got so tall.”

“…Perhaps so,” Ilima conceded, though with a hint of uncertainty in his voice. “Very well. For now, we’ll head back to the city and give them a chance to settle down before I return later on to check on them. If they’re still aggressive then, I’ll have to take action before the Rattata get involved as well. In the meantime, I’ll treat you both to malasadas as thanks for your help before we begin training again.”

“Whoo-hoo!” Hau cheered, a bright grin on his face. The Incineroar’s demeanor also changed, with the Heel Pokémon licking his lips at the thought. Hau had shared many malasadas since they’d been partners and the Incineroar had gained a mighty need for them.

They all made for the exit of the cavern, feeling the eyes of the Yungoos on them the entire way. Once they were outside of it, Ilima set the barricade down in front of the entrance to the cavern to stop anyone else from wandering in. Then they proceeded to walk back to Hau’oli City.

[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]

Watching the trainers and their pokémon disappear down the hill leading towards the city, a male Yungoos huffed as he darted back into Verdant Cavern and towards the large, mossy rock. Climbing behind it revealed the youngest of the group of strange pokémon that had settled into the cavern, the very same one he had basically been relegated into babysitting to keep out of trouble…which was a challenge, given that it kept sneaking out to explore the island. The Yungoos believed that it was a female, since their group as a whole gave off a scent that made a lot of the younger male Yungoos try and curry favor with them—hence that fight earlier between the brothers.

With them gone, she rose to her full height and ran her digits over her antenna nervously. She had gotten curious at the arriving trainers and slipped out of the Totem Den, where she should have remained with the others, and nearly gotten caught. Since one of the orders they had received was to keep the trainers, including the Trial Captain, unaware of their presence, they had turned on the hands that fed them.

It was risky, but at least it ended with no conflict.

Standing on top of the rock, he chittered at her for being so reckless. He understood that she was young and curious, many of their young were after all, but all of the constant running and keeping her out of trouble was tiring. The only reason he did it was because he was ordered to by their leader, the Totem Gumshoos, after her older siblings came in like a pair of Tsareena and stomped both the Totem Pokémon, while their progenitor managed to sway the rest with her scent.

She dipped her head in response, eyes and antenna drooping as she mumbled an apology. That sole act caused another uproar from the other Yungoos around them, directed at him for making her look sad. Many flung sand at him, knocking him about until he curled up to shield himself.

His charge quickly snatched him up and held him close as she released her own pheromones. While it was weaker than her siblings, due to only molting once, it served to calm and render them docile long enough for her to use her long legs to walk over them. She apologized again as she headed back to the Totem Den, gently trying to brush the sand out of his fur.

He only let a rumble leave his throat as they passed through the threshold and into the Totem Den. The Yungoos found it unpleasant since the chamber felt weird, but apparently it felt similar to the strange group’s home. They could absorb the same energy in it that made the Totem Pokémon stronger and store it for when they entered a battle.

Inside of the den, they found her siblings getting ready to spar with one another. Both had their arms out in front and legs in a readying stance as they synced their breathing together. The youngest of the group sat with the Yungoos in her arms and watched as they began.

The middle-aged one opened with a fearsome and blinding kick, bringing her rear leg around and twisting her hips to strike the oldest’s head faster than the Yungoos could track with his eyes. The impact was hard enough that it kicked up a breeze, yet it was blocked as the oldest brought her arm up for a Quick Guard. The defensive aura wrapping around her arm shielded her from the impact of the strike beautifully.

Undeterred, the middling pulled her leg back and thrust it forward twice with a Double Kick. The first of which passed by the eldest as she tilted her shoulder to avoid being kicked in the chest, and the second one she dipped her head so that it passed through empty space. Before the middling could angle her leg down for a Stomp, the eldest snapped her own rear leg around for a Low Kick and knocked her leg from beneath her.

Letting out a minor hiss of pain as she fell backwards, the middling rolled backwards to avoid the impending counter Stomp that was hard enough to leave a small crater despite how lithe their kind’s feet were. Then she snapped back up to see that the eldest was still in a defensive stance, waiting for her.

The middling then began swaying to her side as she bounced from feet-to-feet in a rhythmic manner. Her body slowly glowed with sparkles coming off her, empowered by the mystifying Quiver Dance. She then rocketed off the ground with a Jump Kick.

Bringing up another Quick Guard, the eldest intercepted the strike, only for the middling to bring her other leg around for a Feint-empowered strike that shattered the defensive shield and allowed for the attack to connect. The blow made the eldest take a few steps back, shaking her head to clear it as she tried to ignore the stinging of the blow until she saw another Jump Kick flying towards. Then the oldest sibling was gone, leaving the white blur that was the middling to crash against the wall.

The crash itself was loud, throwing up a spray of stone fragments and rubble. The middling pulled herself out of the impact crater and winced, having clearly hurt herself. But her eyes were fixed on the eldest, who was flickering from position-to-position, having bolstered her speed with an Agility.

Hissing in anger, the middling clasped her hands together and produced a white sphere that she then thrust-kicked. The sphere exploded into a gale carrying silver crescents of power. The Silver Wind attack missed despite the coverage, passing through an afterimage and slamming into the walls… including the one they were under!

The Yungoos let loose a shriek as he realized they would be stricken as one of the silver crescents bore down on them. But before it could connect, the eldest was in front of them. Faster than his eyes could track, she brought her leg upwards and shattered the silver crescent into loose, glittering powder.

She then turned towards the youngest, who had curled down and braced for impact, and inquired if she was okay. Once she got a nod in response, she turned back towards where her other reckless sibling had been and found the spot empty. She then looked around until she felt the air shift from above and found the middling rushing down for them, having used a Bounce to get that high.

Letting out a hiss of her own, she held out her hands as they shone with a white light and then released countless stars that rocketed up to meet her. The Swift attack connected, slamming home with enough power that they knocked the middling out of her attack and sent her tumbling to the ground. The eldest one then went over, pulled her up by the arm, and then marched her over to apologize to the youngest as she held the Yungoos in her arms.

The middling did the opposite. She plucked the Yungoos from her arm and held her down with one foot, leaving the youngest pinned as she dangled him in the air. All while she chided her for goofing around instead of training so that they could take back their territory.

The Yungoos struggled fruitlessly, but that only seemed to annoy the middling. She threatened to Stomp him, much to the dismay of both him and the youngest, until the eldest smacked her on the head. It startled her enough that she lost her grip and he fell down to the ground.

He took that as a cue to leave and immediately scurried out of the Totem Den, away from the terrifying one. He didn’t stop until he was far down the slope and away from them, closer to the rushing water that had carved out the deeper portions of the cavern. Then, and only then, did he stop running and collapsed by the water in exhaustion and fear.

Panting, he wondered exactly why it was him who had to deal with this. Things were so much easier when all he had to do was show up, grab a berry to eat, and lounge around. Now he was hungry and still covered in a mix of sand and silver powder that left him feeling filthy.

Sighing, he crawled into the water’s edge and laid down on the slope with his head sticking out. Letting the running water clean his fur as he ruminated on the good times in the past, he drifted off to sleep until a gnawing in his stomach roused him. The Loitering Pokémon yawned, showing his teeth, before getting ready to pull himself out of the water and finding that he wasn’t in it anymore.

Instead, he was on the shore and sitting on a rock further out with a few berries in front of him. Next to him was the youngest, curled against the wall and her eyes closed as she slowly breathed in and out whilst asleep. Had she been watching him sleep and brought him food as an apology for earlier?

He huffed at the very thought of that being enough… but supposed he could do worse if he had to be stuck babysitting.

[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]

Plumeria’s feet were aching by the time she made it back to Route 13 from visiting Po Town.

The abandoned town that had been the haven of Team Skull had been mostly cleared out, barring the three numbskulls and their Spinda in the Pokémon Center there. Unlike most of the others, they didn’t have homes to return to. So they stayed in the place and made themselves comfortable in the rooms there until they could get enough money to chase their dreams.

Plumeria could relate to them. She didn’t have her mother and father either after they’d gotten themselves locked away, not that they paid all the much attention to her before then. She only had her granny, who had taken her in when she was a runt from overseas, and it hadn’t been easy moving from Orre to Alola to live with a relative she barely knew.

Still, the rest of her dumb little brothers and sisters were scattered now that Guzma had disbanded them and it was her job to look after them. So she’d been checking on them over the last few days. They were mostly going back to their old lives and, while she was happy they were all managing given that occasionally they were too dumb for their own good, it still left her feeling a bit down.

When she arrived in Alola, she was treated like she didn’t belong and hated it. It was only when Guzma showed up that she really made a friend, even if he was a couple of years older than her. When they formed Team Skull as a place for outcasts like them, they also made a place where she could be who she was and belong with them. Now that they were disbanded, she was again without a place.

I should have known it wouldn’t last though, she thought to herself as she got into viewing distance of her granny’s camper and found Molo and Lanai outside of it. The two of them took it after themselves to watch over her granny out of a sense of loyalty to the former Admin of their group, with Molo guarding the outside and Lanai keeping her company. Plumeria was appreciative of them for it.

Lanai spotted her eventually and ran over. “Big Sis, that old dude Nanu showed up with some nerdy-looking guy! They’re inside talking to your granny!”

“What!?”

“I tried to stop them,” Molo said. “But granny told us not to be rude… and then gave us pocket-money to go get some food while she talked in private. But we didn’t spend it.”

“…Alright, I got this,” Plumeria said. “Go get something from the café in Tapu Village. You two look like you’ve been out in the sun too long. We don’t need you passing out.”

They consented and ran off as she walked up to the door of the camper and entered inside. No sooner than she did, the male Stufful that had been lying on the makeshift bedding nearby rose up and greeted her with a cheerful sound. He was happy that she’d returned.

She would have picked him up, if not for Nanu sitting on the couch with a scrawny man that had blond hair and glasses. “Who are you and why are you here?”

“My name’s Molayne.” The scrawny man stood up and held a hand out for her to shake. “So, you’re Plumeria? It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She stared him down instead for a moment, before judging him as no real threat and then turning to Nanu. “Why you bugging my granny? If you got something you want to complain about, then come find me. Don’t bring her into this.”

“Be polite, Plumeria,” her granny chided her before turning to the two other men. “Forgive my little flower, please. It’s an honor to have a Kahuna and Trial Captain grace us.”

“Trial Captain?” She practically balked as the words came out and gave the man a once-over again. “Never seen you before.”

“I’m a former one,” Molayne explained. “My cousin has the position now, while I just manage the Observatory and Storage System for Alola. But I went through my island trials around the same time that Kukui and Guzma did, before he dropped out. Did he never mention me?”

“No,” she said rather bluntly as she crossed her arms. “Anyway, what’s a former Trial Captain and the Island Kahuna want with us, if not to cause problems?”

“Well, there’s something we were hoping you could assist us with,” Molayne said. “Tell me, how much did you know about the original Team Skull?”

“Granny told me a lot of the old stories when I arrived here, including about them,” Plumeria answered. “They formed around the former Kahuna of Ula’ula Island because he didn’t like the idea of being bound to serving the whims of the Tapu just because he was chosen and tradition dictated it.  Eventually, Tapu Village was leveled, leading to the battle between the four Tapu and Team Skull at the time.”

Supposedly, the former Kahuna was former royalty as well. Even after the roles of royalty fell out with Kahunas taking their place, occasionally they overlapped. However, the Kahuna didn’t want the job since it meant being chained to the island and the whim of the Tapu for the rest of his life, so he ignored its desires and allowed the island to drift from the path the Tapu set, with the village at the base of Mount Lanakila being the primary one.

Then the supermarket was built, destroying an old tree that stood there for ages and was supposedly sacred to Tapu Bulu. It finally acted towards the offense by leveling the entire village in retaliation, and Team Skull rose up around the Kahuna, who was said to have lost something dear to him in that incident. Then they stormed the desert to face Tapu Bulu, only to be met with all four of the Tapu and struck down for it.

The Kahuna was ousted from his position, but then was supposedly cursed because of it as well. He died sometime after that as eternal rain and gloom hung over Po Town. It was known as the wrath of the Tapu and served as a warning against going against their wills, fickle as they may be.

After she’d finished recounting that, Nanu decided to speak up. “So then you must know that the name of Team Skull isn’t exactly something most people would throw around lightly. Especially on this island. Even so, you were the one who came up with that name for the second group, weren’t you?”

“And what if I was?” she asked, practically challenging him as the Stufful pushed against her leg in a bade for affection after being abandoned to that motel not far from here and only recently adopted by them. Thankfully, he was trained by whoever had him before, so he didn’t bowl her over in the process. She crouched low and stroked his head to appease him.

“What we want to know is why you chose that name?” the former Trial Captain asked. “You had to know that name carried a bad reputation from the start.”

Plumeria scoffed at that. “Maybe it did to you two, being a part of the traditions of Alola. But to us it carried a different meaning. They were a group of people who felt the traditions and Tapu were unfair and outdated, outcasts who fought to change them and were labeled as being wrong because they failed. We took up their name because we felt the same. All of us were outcasts because of how things worked, the traditions and everything, and we wanted to change them.”

“Except that you were a bunch of kids who didn’t know how difficult it would be to do that and could only rebel by causing mischief,” Nanu said. “Once everyone realized that it was a bunch of teenagers running around and calling themselves Team Skull, they stopped taking you seriously. The only ones who did were the ones who flocked over to that town Guzma claimed to have taken over when it was all but abandoned. And once they were there, they were too stubborn to go back.”

“Watch it, Old Man,” Plumeria said in warning as her eyes narrowed. “Because if it’s a fight you want, we can go outside.”

Her granny looked shocked at the blatant disrespect. “Plumeria, apologize!”

“I won’t listen to him talk that way about those kids I watched over or our boss like that, Granny,” she said, rising to her feet. “Yeah, they were stubborn idiots a lot of the time. But they chose to stick around because they weren’t being judged because they didn’t live up the unfair expectations pushed onto them. They needed somewhere to go and we gave them a place to belong.”

Neither one denied it. They just listened.

“And the island trials weren’t the only traditions we rebelled against either,” Plumeria continued. “We took in anyone who was an outcast because they didn’t conform to the island ways. Whether it was because they didn’t behave a certain way, or look a certain way, or didn’t come from the islands. We looked out for them, even when it was tough and we had to get our hands dirty. So I’ll never apologize for that.”

“…It’s good to see you really have such strong convictions,” Molayne said, adjusting his glasses by the bridge. The glare of the light hid his eyes in the process. “And you’re absolutely right.”

The shock of his admission left Plumeria stunned. “What?”

Seeing her reaction brought a small smile to his face. “Like I said, I traveled around with Kukui and Guzma when we were younger. Though we didn’t think much of it at the time, when Kukui and I looked back on how Guzma changed because he couldn’t live up to the expectations placed on him to be the best among us, we realized that as great as the traditions were, they could also leave people behind.”

“If you knew all of that, why didn’t you do something sooner?” she demanded.

“Because we couldn’t just give up our traditions and throw away part of what made us who we are,” he explained. “So we decided to find a road between them. That’s part of why I worked so hard on getting the Storage System up and running, while Kukui dedicated himself to bringing a Pokémon League here. Pokémon link people around the world through a common interest, which allows for them to become more diverse and accepting.”

He then turned to Nanu. “Isn’t that right?”

Nanu sighed wearily as he stood up and rubbed his neck, only to slouch over and place his hand in his pockets. “The Kahuna were also in agreement that some of the traditions don’t mix well with the present day, such as needing to be an Alolan native to participate in the island trials. So we worked with these guys to get some of them changed, such as that any trainer under twenty-one can partake in an island trial.”

“It wasn’t that way when I got here,” Plumeria pointed out.

“Change takes time,” Molayne stated. “But now it’s come to fruition with the latest Island Challenge Champion also being our first Pokémon League Champion. Kukui’s choice proved that once someone else was given a chance that they could rise to the occasion and become great for Alola.”

A knot of guilt stirred in her stomach at that. The very thing she hated was being fought against by the people they rebelled against. If they had succeeded in crushing him, then she would have only been reinforcing the traditions.

“…Well, what does this have to do with me now?” she asked, her tone a little more hesitant upon realizing that fact.

The former Trial Captain looked over to her granny, who nodded, and then dropped a bombshell. “We want you to enter the Pokémon League.”

There was a long, pregnant pause at that as she looked at all three of them in the face. Her granny looked proud. Molayne’s were closed as he kept smiling. Nanu… well, just looked tired as always. “You’re not messing with me, are you?”

“Not at all,” Molayne assured her. “You’re under the age of twenty-one by about two years, and you’ve lived on the island for over a decade now. Who better than the person who suggested the name of Team Skull in the first place to participate and show that the traditions have changed for all of those kids who you watched over?”

Her lips pursed as she actually thought about it. Personally, she felt that it was too little too late for her own sake. She’d been shunned in her youth because she wasn’t native to Alola and wasn’t permitted to have the same chances their little Champion had now. But, at the same time, it wasn’t about her.

It was about those she considered her little brothers and sisters, who had been scattered when Team Skull separated. They disbanded without accomplishing anything in the end, failing to keep the promises of change that Guzma and she made to them. More than anything, she wanted to correct that so that it didn’t feel like it wasn’t a waste, and to make them proud of being a part of Team Skull.

“What would I have to do to get a Z-Ring?” she asked. Unlike Guzma, who had earned a Z-Ring before he threw it away, she didn’t have one. She’d never taken the trials and the Poisonium-Z crystals she had were ones her Grunts had found, much like the ones they’d gathered for Guzma.

And she had a strong suspicion that Nanu would be reclaiming those eventually.

“We may be pointing out an opportunity for you, but you’ll have to earn it under your own power,” the Kahuna said as he pulled an object out of his pocket and set it down on the table. “You know where to find me. Try not to take too long, but don’t be in a rush, okay?”

He then left out with Molayne, leaving Plumeria to stare at what was left behind. It was an Island Challenge Amulet. The unspoken message carried:

If you want to get a Z-Ring, beat my Grand Trial.

 


Fanfic Recommendation 55

My Fanfics :

 

Calling Card 14

Rabbit of the Moon: Interlude 1 – Orario

A Lily Blossoms in Kanto 4

A Lily Blossoms in Kanto 5

 

 


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated:

Cissnei’s Path 67 (Tv Tropes)

A Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic

Summary:  Cissnei wanted to save Zack that night, only to find that it was too late. Though she couldn’t bring him back to life, she could keep his legacy alive. That was why she refused to abandon Cloud on his journey, despite going against her former friends and colleagues.

Whirlpool Among the Eddies 46

A Naruto Fanfic

Summary: A/U: Leaves spiral in the soft eddy as Naruto meets Karin in the Forest of Death. From that moment on, the two bearing the Clan name carried with them the fate of the Uzumaki and would be forever entwined.

Ashes of the Past 216 – 219 

A Pokemon Fanfic

Summary: Time travel, based on the Anime.  So, the world ended. That’s bad news. Who best to get to fix it? Well, there is this guy with a track record in world saving…  Not entirely serious. T rating may be overdoing it.

Pokemon Radiant Sun 14 – 17

A Pokemon Fanfic

Summary: Novelization of Pokémon Sun. After moving to Alola from the Kanto region, an 11-year old boy is immediately sent on a crash course in local culture through the Island Challenge, a unique rite of passage amongst Trainers in Alola. Join our newest hero, Sun, as he meets new friends and encounters exotic new Pokémon…even those from another world. Sun X Lillie.

Chaos Theory 36

A FSN Fanfic

Summary: Sometimes, the tiniest of changes can have the greatest impact on the world. One chance encounter goes in a new direction, and the course of the Holy Grail War is irrevocably changed…

Great Teacher OniGuzma 13 – 16

A Pokemon Fanfic

Summary: After disbanding Team Skull Guzma, the team’s former boss, decides to return to his home on Melemele Island. There, after a once in a lifetime opportunity arises, he is accepted into a teaching position at his old Pokemon school. Though with his infamous reputation, winning over his students will be a tough task. It is one that he is more than determined to take on.

Intrepid:  15.05 Sophia – 15.07 Emma

A Worm Fanfiction

Summary: In the wake of the Locker Incident, Taylor goes comatose. Wracked with guilt, Emma and Madison trigger. Things spiral from there as they quickly go different routes, both seeking redemption in a different way.

Odyssey 5

A Worm Fanfiction

Summary: A Vita-centric spin-off of Intrepid.

A Cloudy Path Interlude 22.5 – Seeker 23.4

A Worm / Supreme Commander Fanfiction

Summary: Frustrated with her school life, Taylor Hebert dons an unfinished costume and goes off into the night to fight crime as a superhero. She stumbles across an infamous crime lord, Lung, talking about killing some kids. Taylor decides she has no choice but to act……and Lung kicks her ass.Not because she’s weak. Far from it. Taylor Hebert is hamstrung by being a moral person with an exceptionally lethal power set, one with horrifying and even potentially global implications.

Fate: Reach Out 36

A Fate Stay Night / Persona 4 Fanfiction

Summary: A chance decision leads to an unlikely discovery. The mention of a rumor leads to an unbelievable mystery. And the connection to a long forgotten family leads to an unforgettable experience. Welcome to Inaba, Yu Narukami… or should I say Shirou Emiya? (Co-Authored by Nameless Flame Wielder)

With the Ring: Last Supper Renegade Supplementary – Falling Actions 1   (Tv Tropes Page)

A Young Justice Fanfic

Summary: An SI with an Orange Ring ends up in the Young Justice Universe and seeks to advance humanity through advance technology and magic.


(Pokemon Sun and Moon Fanfic) A Lily Blossoms In Kanto: Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Let’s Get Along

Back on the Sevii Islands, Officer Jenny stood outside of the interrogation room and watched through the glass at the interrogation that was ongoing. The small station that was in One Town was rarely used most of the time, since nothing exciting really happened barring the occasional trouble on one of the ferry’s that they had to sort out. So imagine her surprise when one of the criminals attacking the Pokémon Center held a badge that marked them as a member of Team Dominance.

The clandestine organization was thought to be filling in the gaps left behind by the collapse of Team Rocket years ago, primarily in illegal Pokémon trading. There was suspicion that they were part of another organization in Orre that was thought to have been wiped out, but nothing concrete. The only thing that was an absolute was the badge that she found on him, a pin that served as proof of membership. This island was under her jurisdiction and the last thing that she would have is a criminal group dragging the island and its people into whatever they had planned.

“You’re in a lot of trouble, boy,” Ron, her partner, said while sitting across from the suspect. He was sitting with his elbows on the table, fingers laced in front of his mouth as he peered into the young man’s eyes with a steely glare. “Talk to us before it gets worse.”

“I have no idea what you mean,” he said. “I just panicked when the power went out and called out my Pokémon.”

“Oh, don’t give us that song and dance.” He slid a picture of the badge in front of him. “You were found with that on you. You know what that is?”

“I got it from a Gym,” he lied. “Back when I was doing the Gym Challenge. It was a few years ago, but I was pretty good. Things didn’t work out though and I settled down into being a fisherman.”

“Funny, because that doesn’t belong to any gym I’ve seen.”

A cocky grin formed on his mouth and he shrugged. “How many could you have been to if you’re working out here?”

Jenny winced as she watched Ron reach across the table and grabbed him by the collar. “Listen, you brat. This isn’t a game. One call from us and the International Police will have you locked in a cell so deep underground you’ll forget what light looks like.”

No sooner than he got the words out did the light abruptly cut out and darkness shrouded the building. Jenny searched for her flashlight through her desk with one hand and picked up the phone with the other, only to find that the line was dead. Her radio didn’t seem to be getting a response either. “What’s going on?”

“Ahh!” came from the interrogation room. It was Ron’s voice.  She ran for the window and held up the light, only to see the criminal sitting there and looking smug as Ron laid on the table unconscious.

Panic set in as she opened the door, only to be met with a pair of large hands and a single eye in front of her. The hands moved in a hypnotic motion and she felt… her consciousnesssinking

[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]

Ravin waited patiently in the shadows outside of the police station with his pocket watch in hand, counting the minutes until his Pokémon finished their work. A decade ago a small station like this wouldn’t take more than three or so minutes to get in, grab the others, and get out. But time and experience dictated he take more precautions and thus he’d opted for a subtler approach, as not to disturb the peace or rouse suspicion.

Subtly was something he’d come to appreciate over these last few years. If only others could have that same appreciation. Maybe then he wouldn’t be here right now and they could let the standard protocol take place. But no, the young fool that got caught had brought his badge and made things more complicated.

A minute later a ghostly flame floated out of a window and hovered around in a fixed pattern. That was the signal from Dusclops. The well-aged gentleman stretched his back and felt the years taking their toll with audible cracks before he made his way to the door and entered into the station.

The Pokémon belonging to the officers had all been returned to their balls while their owners slept. The only other human standing upright was Officer Jenny. Her eyes were dull and lifeless from the trance she was in thanks to the efforts of the male Dusclops next to her.

“Good work as always, Ceifer,” Ravin said as he approached the pair. “Do me one more favor and clear a seat in the interrogation room. I need to have a word with the young man there before Lalka gets back.”

The Beckon Pokémon gave him a nod, adjusting the Reaper Cloth around his neck before he passed through the walls. Another good thing about these old and remote police stations was that there weren’t many counter-measures against teleportation or intangibility. It made his job so much easier.

Ravin addressed turned to the officer next. “Jenny, have you contacted the International Police or anyone else about the suspects you’ve apprehended?”

She shook her head slowly.

“Excellent,” he said in relief as he adjusted his black hat. That made it much easier to deal with. “Then be a dear and fetch that badge for us from wherever you’ve got it locked up. Will you?”

She nodded her head and then walked off to do so while Ravin entered the interrogation room. The young man was still bound to the table by the handcuffs and his Dusclops had set the other officer down against the wall. Ravin took a seat in the chair opposite of him and crossed one leg over the other to get comfortable.

Then he asked, “Do you know who I am, son?”

“One of the guys they sent to spring us,” he said.

“That’s not entirely wrong, I suppose.” He brushed his nose and ruffled his mustache. “I’m a bit higher-up in the ranks than you, but I basically just help clean up when an operation goes wrong. Things like springing the others when they get caught and passing judgment on those involved. The latter is why you and I are having a little talk right now.”

The young man seemed to get the underlying message and immediately became defensive. “We had no idea that trainer was there. Otherwise we would have been in and out.”

“That’s not the issue,” Ravin said. “The boss tends to be… forgiving, depending on the mistakes that were made during an operation because good help is hard to come by. He’s talked it over with the one in charge of the operation that managed to escape, which is why my Claydol is Teleporting them onto a nearby boat. They’ll have to do underground work since they’ll have warrants out for them, but there’s a place for them in our organization… that just leaves you.”

Fear crept into his eyes as Ceifer moved in closer, hovering behind him.

“You were specifically told you not to bring your badge,” Ravin continued. “Our organization is trying to avoid the sort of attention that led to the fall of the last one operating out of Kanto and Johto. With that in mind, you were supposed to avoid carrying a badge for this operation. That way, if something happened, it could be explained away and I wouldn’t need to waste my time and come out here personally to spring you.”

“It was a mistake,” he admitted. “I won’t make it again.”

Aged fingers began to tap on the table. “I don’t know, son. I’ve deemed the others salvageable. But you… well, if you couldn’t follow orders that the rank-and-file grunts could then there’s no need for you is there?”

The Dusclops began to open his mouth and approached the young man when he caught the gesture Ravin made with his eyes. Any human that stared into the ethereal flame for too long had their soul taken and deposited to the afterlife. Any physical thing that entered his mouth was sucked into a void from which nothing escaped.

The young man grasped that much, given he began struggling against his bonds and shaking his head. “No, no, no, you can’t!”

Ravin rose from the chair slowly. “If it’s any conciliation, it’ll be painless.”

Unable to get away, he resorted to begging now. “NO, PLEASE! I’LL DO ANYTHING!”

Have some dignity at the least,” the older man muttered as he rolled his eyes and then raised his hand to signal the Dusclops to stop. “Since you seem repentant enough, I’ll give you another chance. You’ll be working the bottom side of things from now on. The things beneath the rank-and-file. But one more mistake and that’s it. Understand?”

“F-F-Fine.” He took a staggering breath and licked his lips nervously. “Fine. I’ll do. Just don’t kill me.”

Ravin turned to Ceifer and then nodded. The Dusclops knocked the young man out using the same method that he’d done to the other officers and then broke him free of the chains to carry him out. The aged gentleman left the interrogation room and found Officer Jenny waiting for him with the badge in her hands, which he took gingerly from her grasp.

“Thank you, Jenny,” he said pleasantly. “Now go ahead and take a nap. By the time you wake up, we’ll be long gone and this peaceful little place you have will go back to normal.”

Officer Jenny nodded her head and then laid down on the ground, obediently closing her eyes and falling unconscious.

The young fool is lucky, Ravin thought to himself as he held the badge. Ten years ago, no amount of begging for his life on a blunder this big would have saved him. We’ve all changed over the decade, haven’t we?

He went left outside where his Claydol was waiting with another woman around half his age. She, like him, was higher up in the ranks. He passed the badge off to her. “Job’s done.”

“Thanks for the hard work,” she said, slipping it into her pocket as the female Claydol grabbed the young man from the Dusclops’ arms with its psychic powers. “If it’s any conciliation, the operation will be put on hold for now while we look for information on that trainer responsible for the operation blundering was. It turns out she’s—”

“Ann,” he said sharply. “I’m not as active as I used to be and I don’t bother with civilians. The only reason I even came out was because I happened to be relatively close and it came from the top.”

She at least looked apologetic. “Sorry, sorry. I won’t bug you with the details then, but do you want me to give you a lift until we’re close enough to Vermillion City for Lalka to teleport you?”

“It would save us a trip,” he conceded. Both he and Pokémon weren’t as young as they used to be.

A minute later they were all gone and One Island was quiet once more.

[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]

Lusamine sighed wearily as she made her way back to the room in the Pokémon Center where she’d left her daughter and the child, while carrying a bag in her arms. The market had several snacks that Lillie could use and even a few berries that her own Pokémon were fond of. But during the entire trip she couldn’t help but ponder her son’s words on betraying her father’s legacy.

He had placed the Aether Foundation into her care, having the same love of Pokémon that she possessed. Not only her. Even her children and her husband possessed a great love for them all. While they may have loathed her for what she did to them personally, it was ultimately her treatment of those two Pokémon they cared for that had driven them away.

Father would be ashamed if he saw me now, let alone Mohn, she couldn’t help but think bitterly as she approached the room. The sound of voices coming through the door ultimately drew her out of her dark thoughts. She opened it and peered inside.

The girl, Astra, was using a knife to cut what looked to be a giant egg as her Sableye sat down with a wooden stick in its hand, munching on the rock candy attached to it with its sharp teeth. At the same time, Lillie was holding some kind of red shell in her lap and speaking to it while her Alolan Vulpix and Rotom Dex were on opposite sides of her, observing the situation.

“Please come out, Shuckle,” she said to the shell as her Vulpix prodded at it with her paw curiously. “I need to make sure you’re okay.”

A soft sound emerged from one of the holes in the shell in response. “Kle.

It’s no good, Rotom said. He seemzzz scared to come out since he’s somewhere unfamiliar, zzt.

Lusamine took that as her cue to enter and did so, opening the door wider and stepping through it. “I’m back.”

“You’re Lillie’s mother?” Astra tilted her head as she looked the older woman up and down. “You look like you’re her big sister more than a mother.”

“Aren’t you sweet?” She set the bag down on the table and grabbed the two Ultra Balls that housed her Bewear and Mismagius. “How are you feeling since you’ve woken?”

“Hungry, but really good otherwise,” Astra said. “A Blissey gave us an egg to eat, so I’m cutting it up enough for all of us and our Pokémon. Do yours want some too?”

“It would go well with all of the snacks I’ve bought for them.” She looked over to Lillie. “Are you having trouble with your Shuckle?”

“A bit,” Lillie admitted. “I let him out of the ball to see if he was feeling better, but the moment that I did he took a look around and then retreated into his shell. He’s still afraid of us.”

“Well, he was a wild Pokémon. He probably hasn’t had very much interaction with people,” Lusamine said as she reached into the bag and pulled out a carton of six Oran berries that had been chilled. Carrying it with her as she took a seat next to her daughter on the bed, Lusamine then passed it to her. “Try using these as a peace offering.”

That may actually work, zzzt, Rotom said as its screen flashed to show an image and data on Shuckle. Shuckle are known for hiding under rocks while eating berries they collect in their shells. They make a delicious juice that can be used as a medicine.

“Is that so?” She looked over the blue berry before holding the carton close to the hole. “Shuckle, I have some berries if you’re hungry.”

“…kle?” Shuckle poked his head out just enough to observe the berries and smell them, presumably. There was no visible nose. Then he began to take them into his shell, stretching what serves as his neck, and stashed them away one-by-one without pause using its mouth.

Odd, I’m registering that you have Sturdy as an Ability. Not Gluttony,

The Shuckle seemed to take offense to that, frowning.  “Kle. Shuckle!”

Ah, my mistake, zzt. Rotom looked over to Lillie and explained. It zzzeems that it has been harder for him to get berries since the Combee have been more aggressive because the Sandshrew have begun to eat them, zzt.

“That must be what Nurse Joy was talking about,” Lillie said, looking down at the Mold Pokémon in her lap. “Because the Sandshrew had moved into the forest to escape from Trainers trying to catch them, they started feeding off the Combee more. So now they won’t let you near the berry trees to eat, right?”

The male Shuckle nodded his head and then began to speak, with Rotom acting as a translator. It seemed that he had complained about it before to the Sandshrew as a whole, who only mentioned trainers were bad and forced them to move—that they captured you and then threw you away if you were too weak.

“That’s not right!” Astra said as he finished, still in the process of slicing the egg. Her blade landed with a loud thunk on the platter she was using. “You can’t just throw away a Pokémon because you don’t need them anymore. They’re supposed to be your friends!”

“That’s right,” Lillie said, less fervor in her voice but a frown all the same. “We’re supposed to help one another.”

The Shuckle retorted, through Rotom, that he still lost his home because of the battle earlier. It was apparently a really nice rock.

“I guess that one is our fault, isn’t it?” Lillie said, looking over to her Alolan Vulpix while nervously scratching her cheek. The Fox Pokémon sheepishly lowered her head, but Lillie patted it gently in response. “It’s okay, I’ll take responsibility for it since I wanted to find Sandshrew in the first place.”

Shuckle crossed his limbs and looked up to her. “Kle?”

Lusamine didn’t need Rotom to guess it was saying, ‘How?’ But to her daughter’s credit, Lillie just smiled.

“How about we travel together until we find a nicer place for you to stay?” Lillie offered. “That way you’ll get to see a lot of new places and eat a bunch of different berries until then.”

“You can’t just give a Pokémon what it wants to make it happy,” Lusamine warned her daughter before the deal was sealed. “You have to actually train the Pokémon you take under your care, otherwise it won’t be that much different than those that threw them away when they were no longer useful.”

Lillie looked confused at that, but it was Astra who asked, “How’s that?”

“Let’s say that Lillie takes Shuckle with her, but doesn’t train it. Not only is she using up one of her six allowed slots, but she’s putting more pressure on her other Pokémon that have to pick up the slack. It’s not fair to them that one gets to get away with doing nothing while Shuckle is perfectly capable, and they may start to resent both their trainer and him.”

“Is it really the case?” Lillie asked.

Lusamine nodded. “In addition, it’s a disservice to Shuckle as well since the training would allow him to better defend himself in the wild. If you only feed him without training him in turn, he’ll struggle to obtain food for himself against other Pokémon, or may simply be captured by another trainer who probably won’t be so generous.”

“I see. It was different with Nebby…” She looked down to the Mold Pokémon and amended her previous offer. “You hear that Shuckle? You’ll have to help if you come along, but it’ll be good for you.”

Shuckle brought an appendage to his mouth in thought at everything that was said. Then he looked up and nodded. “Shuckle.”

“Then let’s get along from now on, okay?” Lillie extended her hand down to him and Shuckle’s limb stretched and coiled around it to shake. She smiled and then turned to her mother. “Thank you, Mother. I didn’t want Shuckle to be worse off by mistake.”

“That’s what mothers are for,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be kind, but you also have to be stern sometimes as well. The Pokémon must respect you, otherwise they won’t listen.”

Lillie seemed pensive at that until Astra finished and revealed her handiwork. She’d cut the large egg horizontally several times and then vertically twice, turning it into neat cubes and then stacking them up like a pyramid.

“Where did you learn how to cut so neatly?” Lusamine asked, impressed.

“Some of the fruit that grew on the island where I lived was big and there were a lot of Pokémon, so I learned how to cut them like this so all of them could have some,” she explained as her Sableye walked over and nonchalantly plucked one from the top. “You’re supposed to wait your turn, Mister!”

The Sableye shrugged, plopped in his mouth, and then started chewing. A smile blossomed on his face moments later. He quickly reached for another one, only to be rebuffed by his trainer.

“Wait until everyone else gets one!” She raised the platter above her head before the Pokémon could grab a second one and walked over to the pair on the bed. “Try some before Jet eats them all.”

“Sure,” Lillie said as she reached for three of them at once. She then set one down in front of the Alolan Vulpix and another in front of the Shuckle, holding the third close to her mouth. “We’ll try them together on the count of three. Okay?”

Koko nodded, her tail wavering up and down slightly in anticipation as she crouched down. The Shuckle prodded at the egg cube with one of his limbs before giving a more reserved nod. Lillie counted down and on three they all took them into their mouths.

Mmmmnn~!” A pleasant sound slipped out of Lillie’s mouth as she chewed with a smile, joined by a practically giddy yip from the Vulpix and the Shuckle letting out a surprised gasp as his black eyes glistened with stars. “It tastes amazing!”

“If it takes that good, I suppose I should try it myself then.” Lusamine mused as she watched their reactions. Reaching down elegantly, she picked up a cube between two fingers and held her cupped palm under it as she took a bite. In an instant, it was like a world of flavors opened up. If a rainbow had a taste it would be the pure bliss rolling through her, bringing a smile to her face as joy bubbled up in her very blood. “It really is delicious.”

Shoo good,” Astra agreed, in the process of chewing one herself. It had her so enraptured that she barely noticed the Sableye tugging at her clothes until he climbed up her back and started reaching for her arm. “Jet, you have to wait until all the Pokémon get a taste too. That includes Miss Lusamine’s!”

“You’re such a sweet girl to be so considerate.” Lusamine pulled out her Ultra Balls and set them to an enlarged and active state so that her Pokémon could hear her. “There’s snacks for everyone, but we’re in a guest’s room so I expect all of you to be on your best behavior. Now come out and introduce yourselves.”

The five balls popped open at once to release her Pokémon, much to the wide-eyed amazement of Astra. Of them, Milotic was the first move before she had even fully materialized, extending her body so that her head was pressed against Lusamine’s stomach and nuzzled her.

“I missed you too,” Lusamine said as she gently patted her on the head and then looked over to the rest of her Pokémon, spotting Bewear growing tense at her gaze. “Bewear, you know what you did wrong, don’t you?”

The Strong Arm Pokémon’s ears drooped. “Bewaooo…”

“You weren’t supposed to leave Lillie alone,” she continued. “I put my trust in you to listen to her and help her. That means staying with her until she returned, but you went off because you were impatient and then put her in danger yourself. I should punish you by taking away your snacks for the next week at least, if not the next year.”

“Bewao.” Tears welled up in her dark eyes as she whimpered. “Wao…”

“But—” Bewear’s ears head perked up at that. “—Lillie feels that you tried your best, and it would be rude to this darling girl who went and prepared the snacks for this evening to not share. So just this once I’ll let it slide, but next time do as I ordered. Understand?”

Maa…” Mismagius huffed in a manner that spoke of her exasperation as Bewear nodded her head in joy at being forgiven. Then she noticed the girl with the Sableye on her back staring at the assembled Pokémon and floated closer, speaking in a softer tone and smiling. “Mismagius?”

Astra blinked in confusion. “Huh?”

“Mismagius wants to know who you are,” Lusamine stated as she continued rubbing the Milotic beneath her chin. “She’s fond of children.”

“I’m Astra,” she said to the Magical Pokémon, before holding up the tray. “Do you want one?”

Mismagius nodded her head and then reached for one with the cloak-like tendril to delicately pick it up and bring it to her mouth. She found it delightful to the taste, her smile growing wider as proceeded to rub the child on the head with her other appendage.

Then Bewear trotted over with her paw to her mouth, eyeing the food hungrily. “Bewao?”

“Here you go.” Astra placed one into her grasp. Bewear immediately gulped it down and then began to smile as well, reaching for another until Mismagius let out a warning growl. That stilled the massive paws for a time, much to Astra’s delight from how she smiled.

Lilligant approached next and gave her a curtsy in politeness. She was always the polite type after all. Astra tried to respond in kind, but it was somewhat difficult with her hands filled and the Sableye on her back before she held the platter low enough for Lilligant to grab it herself.

That was when Jet tried to reach for it again until Clefable waddled over next and pointed to the Sableye and then to the ground. He bared his teeth and grunted in annoyance.

The Fairy Pokémon crossed her arms and tapped her foot. “Clefable. Clef, clef.”

Jet grumbled as he climbed down, complying to the Fairy Pokémon’s warning. Then he sat onto the ground and crossed his arms, looking away petulantly. “Sa!”

“Thank you,” Astra told her as Lilligant and Clefable grabbed one for themselves. “Jet’s just a bit of a spoiled sometimes.”

“Fable.” Clefable nodded in understanding before pointing over to Milotic. She then shrugged her shoulders as though to say ‘children’ and ate the egg cube along with Lilligant. From there they all mingled with one another until Astra’s Pokégear began to ring.

“That must be Grandpa.” She fiddled with it before opening it up and holding it up close to her face. “Hi, Grandpa! Are you done with your business?”

I should be back soon enough,” he said. “Did you have any luck catching your first Pokémon?

She laughed a bit awkwardly. “Not exactly. But I’ll have a new friend by the time you get back, and we’ll challenge the Gym in the morning!”

Don’t push yourself,” he warned gently. “You’re young. Just take the time to enjoy what you can. I’ll see you soon.

“Bye Grandpa.” The call disconnected then and Astra stood up. “Jet, we’re heading back out!”

“The sun has set,” Lusamine said as Milotic ate a treat out of her hand while the Sableye rose up from sitting on the ground. “Are you sure that’s safe?”

She nodded. “I want to show Grandpa that I can go out on my own so he’ll let me travel by myself on the Gym Challenge, but I need to prove myself first. And Jet can see real good in the dark. As long as we don’t go too far out, it’ll be fine.”

“…Very well,” Lusamine consented. It wasn’t as though she had any right to stop her in the first place.  “Just don’t go too far away from your Pokémon and the city limits. Another Drowzee might try to repeat what happened before otherwise.”

“I won’t,” she said, before turning to Lillie and holding out her Pokégear. “Since we’re both starting out and I had a lot of fun, can we exchange numbers?”

Lillie looked surprised at the offer, but quickly consented. “There you go. Feel free to call me whenever you want.”

“Thanks.” Astra gave her smile in gratitude as Sableye climbed onto her back. “It was fun meeting you both. Thank you for everything.”

When Astra left out of the room to head towards the Route where they found her, Mismagius turned to her trainer and said, “Magius, ma?”

“I’ll be in our hotel room,” Lusamine said. “Come back when you’re ready.”

“What was that about?” Lillie asked as Mismagius disappeared through the wall.

“Mismagius intends watch over that child while she goes out to prevent what happened earlier from happening again,” Lusamine explained. “You may not be aware of it, but Drowzee are common on the island where she stayed as a Misdreavus, so she understands their habits. Between them and the more troublesome Drifloons, she had her work cut out for her because she often went against her own sleep cycle to try and keep them from causing problems for the locals for a time.”

It was how she ended up in her care after all. One Drifloon had tried to carry off Gladion when he was fairly young and she intervene, exhausting herself in the process. Lusamine had taken her into the Foundation afterwards and had made efforts to get awareness out about the potential dangers to children. She also spoke with the Kahuna of the island about it as well.

Since Verdant Cave was close to the location and the Trial Captain under the Kahuna held sway over the Totem Pokémon, which held sway over their respective species in the area, they were able to mitigate future incidences by having them warn the Pokémon against such mischief. In exchange, the Berry Farm on the route would supply berries to the Pokémon when needed on that Route, with the Aether Foundation providing funds for compensation. It was beneficial for them all.

Lusamine rose up to her feet and then clapped her hands. “Everyone, we need to clean up before we return to the hotel and get some rest early. You can have more snacks later, Bewear.”

The Strong Arm Pokémon, who was in the middle of going for the bag with snacks in them, whined but bobbed her head before she started cleaning up too. Soon they had the room the way it was before they arrived and returned to their balls, leaving Lusamine and Lillie to leave the center and head back for the Gold Sky Hotel.

When they arrived outside of their rooms next to one another, they found Bill’s Umbreon and Espeon lying next to one another. The former was awake while the latter was asleep. Once the female Umbreon noticed their arrival, she gently nudged her partner awake. The male Espeon yawned before he stared at Lusamine and his eyes shone with the gem on his head as he passed on a telepathic message.

“Yes, I’ll speak to Bill right away,” Lusamine said before she turned to her daughter. “You should go to your room and get some rest since we’ll probably be leaving in the afternoon for the train to Cerulean. If you still plan on challenging the Gym, you’ll have to wake up early.”

[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]

Mismagius drifted in the air some distance away from the young trainer, shrouded by the night itself. Today had been trying for her, what with having to wake early during the day. She was only at her peak at night, or at least out of the sun. It was because she was so sluggish and lacking in strength that she’d had much more of a challenge than she should have against that Vespiquen.

It didn’t help that she only wanted to make sure that Lillie had gotten away before she retreated, opening her up for a Pursuit attack. She wasn’t very good at taking hits, much less ones that were actually super-effective against her. It wouldn’t have even been a problem if Bewear hadn’t been so careless in the first place.

Really, their trainer spoiled the Strong Arm Pokémon so much that even after she had evolved, Bewear was still a child at heart.  Then again, it was nice to see that Lusamine was returning to her old self. Watching her gradually falling from someone who cherished her family and Pokémon into what she had become by the end hadn’t been pleasant, but there was little the Magical Pokémon could do to stop it.

She could have left the woman, sure enough. But considering how unhinged she became after her husband and children left, leaving her behind would have likely worsened her condition greatly. Granted, by the end Mismagius wasn’t much better off after being exposed to the totem energy when she last seriously battled, back in Ultra Space.

It was hard to describe it really. One moment she was within her ball, within stasis after the first battle with Lillie’s friend. The next her ball was being flooded with energy, every fiber of her being permeated with pure power. She’d gotten all but drunk off it before she was released to do battle again, and she had been ruthless.

The moment Lusamine had given the order for her to deal with the trainer’s Crobat, she had risen in the air above them and conjured dozens of Power Gems. It was more than she had ever done before, each packed with enough power to devastate everything beneath her. She could recall the terrified look in Lillie’s eyes as she then let them loose with enough force that everything beneath them was lost in a billowing wave of dust and stone fragments.

While she wasn’t aiming for the child she’d come to care for or her trainer friend, she hadn’t been all that concerned if they were caught in the wake of the attack. If not for Nebby for shielding both of them from the stone fragments and the force of the attack, there was a very real chance she would have hurt the children. That was the worst thing about the experience—that she couldn’t find it in her to care at the time.

It didn’t even hit the Crobat in the end, which somehow managed to evade the shots and then get behind her quick enough to blindsided her with a Bite attack. She could still recall it sinking its fangs into her ghostly body and staying there. She took to phasing through the closest wall so that it slammed into the surface before she could free herself from the Bat Pokémon.

The pain was deep. Throbbing. Aching. Annoying. Her fury fueled her next attack as conjured more Power Gems the moment she emerged from the wall in a different spot.

However, instead of finding one annoying Bat Pokémon there were dozens through the use of a Double Team attack, each one flying about at a pace her eyes struggled to keep track of. The moment that they spotted her, they rushed in to attack her en masse and she let loose the crystallized light to fill the sky with piercing, prismatic rays. Thunderous crashing resounded as the rays smashed against the distant surfaces and threw up plumes of dust while illusionary copies were snuffed out one by one in the process, until the final Crobat raced forward.

Mismagius then charged a Shadow Ball, packed with ghostly energy until it was crackling with dark streamers, and fired at the Bat Pokémon. The dark orb passed through it, revealing it to be a final copy as the actual Crobat sent a spiraling disk of air racing towards her through the dust screen thrown up by her last attack.

She couldn’t avoid it in time. The Air Slash crashed against her, sending her spiraling lower to the ground and flinching. By the time she righted herself with the intention of sharing her pain with the Crobat, it was too late.

The Bat Pokémon had crossed the distance in a flash, wings aglow with a venomous energy. It struck her down with a Cross Poison attack.

The pain was too much for her to continue fighting. In the brief moment before she was recalled into her ball, her head cleared. The pain sobered her mind that had gotten drunk off the waves of power coursing through her and she realized the full extent of everything.

She’d regretted it. Most of Lusamine’s Pokémon did, albeit the reasoning between them differed. Mismagius never wanted power to harm children, but to protect them. That was why she chose to evolve from her previous form when Lusamine presented her with a Dusk Stone.

Even so, they couldn’t undo the past. They could only work towards making the future better. And if she could help the child Lillie befriended stay safe, that was something she could take pride in.

Still, she wouldn’t interfere unless necessary. Being a trainer was something like a coming-of-age process for children. She would only intervene if the child’s Pokémon left her vulnerable.

The moment Astra reached the edge of the town and out into the fields lined with tall grass, she leaned up on her toes and tried to look through the darkness for any sign of movement. But human eyes could only see so much, so she looked over her shoulder to the Darkness Pokémon that had been clinging to her back until now. “You’re up, Jet. Go find us a new friend.”

The male Sableye slid off her back and then ran out into the grass on all fours. He was small enough that only the tall grass rustling could be made out from Mismagius’ view, let alone that of the child rocking on her toes as she fiddled with a Poké Ball in waiting. It was cute, but careless given that he was her only Pokémon.

Mismagius’ valid concerns about the child proved correct when she spied a Drowzee peeking through a bundle of tall grass opposite the girl. The Magical Pokémon had never been fond of them, but the way this one eyed the child made it clear that her sweet dreams would be a delicacy to it. The Hypnosis Pokémon slipped out of the grass and started creeping up on her, licking its lips and rubbing its grubby hands together as it prepared to use Hypnosis to put Astra to sleep.

Tempting as it was to blast the gluttonous dream eater, Mismagius reminded herself that Astra was a trainer. The child needed to learn from her mistakes and the male Sableye wasn’t that far away. So she settled for conjuring a wisp of Mystical Fire that she floated over behind it.

The moment the wisp caught it and burned, the Drowzee cried out in pain. “Zeee!!

The sound grabbed Astra’s attention and she wheeled around towards it. “Over here, Jet!”

The tall grass rustled as the male Sableye began to race back towards her, but the Drowzee was starting to flee since it couldn’t sneak up on her. It would get away at this rate. Given it tried to feast on her dreams and leaving it in the wild would likely lead to another attempt on another child, Mismagius decided to stretch her help just a little more.

Fortunately, she had just the technique to use to stop it from escaping. She hadn’t used it in some time. After all, once she evolved she’d focused mostly on strong offensive techniques. But whenever she needed to punish one of the Drowzee on Melemele Island early on, she made sure that they couldn’t get away before she got the message across.

Mismagius used Mean Look!

Drowzee can no longer escape!

The Drowzee went stiff as her eyes glowed. A malevolent aura that prickled its skin with cold sweat wreathed its body and sank into its very being. Just like that it was bound—cursed really—into remaining within eyesight of the Magical Pokémon as the Darkness Pokémon broke through the grass and snarled at the Hypnosis Pokémon.

Drowzee let out a tiny shriek in panic as the Sableye rushed forward to attack it. Living up to its title as the Hypnosis Pokémon, it tried to stop him by releasing hypnotic psychic waves and putting it to sleep.

Drowzee used Hypnosis!

It doesn’t effect Jet!

However, the hypnotic waves broke against it like water against a shore. The Darkness Pokémon sloughed through it without any trouble at all and finished closing the distance. Panic set into the Drowzee’s eyes as it came under attack.

Jet used Scratch!

The Sableye proceeded to rake his claws against the Hypnosis Pokémon and knocked it back using the momentum of its charge. The Drowzee stumbled back from the hit and nearly tripped over itself before falling back on its rear. Another growl left the Darkness Pokémon’s mouth as it bared its teeth in recognition at that specific one.

The Drowzee extended both of its hands again as he took another step forward and flashed his claws.  This time it launched a bundle of telekinetic waves, attempting to push the Sableye away and get to its feet.

Drowzee used Confusion!

It doesn’t effect Jet!

Again it had no effect. Being part-Dark Type, the Sableye was immune to its power utterly. Thus it couldn’t be stricken by the Psychic-aligned attacks that the Hypnosis Pokémon’s kind was known for.

“Get it again, Jet!” Astra ordered. “Just a little more and we’ll catch it!”

“Saaaaa!!” snarled the Sableye as he moved in to strike it again with another Scratch attack.

The Drowzee, still unable to escape, closed its eyes and then threw its hand forward, finger wrapped into a tight fist as a desperation move.

Drowzee used Pound!

It doesn’t effect Jet!

Though it connected, it did nothing as the Sableye was also part-Ghost type. The Darkness Pokémon followed through with his second Scratch attack, digging into its flesh and knocking the Hypnosis Pokémon down a second time. Then the diamonds that made up his eyes began to glow red.

Jet used Night Shade!

It’s Super-Effective!

Beams as dark as the night, wreathed in a hue of deep red, struck the Drowzee. It was bombarded by the beam, causing it to let out another pained shriek until the attack ceased. The Hypnosis Pokémon then wavered on its feet and gave a slight groan before it toppled backwards.

“That’s enough, Jet!” Astra shouted as she threw the Poké Ball at the weakened target. It connected and the ball popped open, releasing a burst of energy that enshrouded the Drowzee and pulled it into the ball. The ball wriggled thrice before it made a sound to indicate it was captured. Astra ran over and scooped up the ball. “We managed to catch our first new friend!”

The Sableye let out a small snarl at the ball.

“Don’t be that way,” she told him, wagging her finger to reproach him. “Just because the last one managed to put me to sleep doesn’t mean you get to bully this one.”

The Sableye shook his head as he pointed off to the distance, with the trees far off, and then pointed to the ball.

Astra seemed to take a moment to guess what he was saying. “You mean it was the same Drowzee from before?”

He nodded. “Sableye.”

“Wow, it must’ve really like me then.” She held the ball up in the air. “I’ll take good care of it and show it to Grandpa when he gets back. Ah, but first we should name him… or is it a her? What would be a good one for a Drowzee?”

The Sableye set his claws on his head and shook it in frustration as she began to list off a bunch of different names.

Mismagius chose then to appear, silently rising out of the ground behind the Darkness Pokémon and just out of the girl’s view. She leaned over the tiny Pokémon’s shoulders and whispered into his ears to keep that Drowzee in check.

His shoulders sagged as he gave a resigned sigh. More work for him it seems. He then made his way over to Astra’s side and tugged on the hem of her dress with one limb, pointing towards the town with the other.

“Oh, we should head back and make sure that Nurse Joy heals you both, shouldn’t we?” Astra extended her arm for him to climb onto her back again.  “I’ll give you Rock Candy when we get back to the room for doing good too.”

Mismagius felt a sense of satisfaction in her actions as she watched them go. She not only got to protect a child, but she managed to get one of the dream eating gluttons out of the wild and less likely to cause problems. She bore a smile as she floated after her to ensure that Astra made it back to the Pokémon Center and then called it a night.