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Written Story Unova Mature Mon Eternal Enmity: a multi-player Black/White nuzlocke

Thread Description
United we stand, divided we fall. (02/08: Chapter 27, fresh today!)


Conqueror of the Cinnabar Gym
Pokédex No.
Jul 1, 2019
Pokémon Type
Fire, Fairy
Pokédex Entry
Between long periods of dormant slumber, this writer rises again for periods of activity that leave piles of dead fictional Pokemon in their wake
In Unova, four teenagers come of age and set out with their first Pokemon. All they want is to travel together and start working towards their dreams. But forces beyond their understanding are about to clash, and will turn everything they know on its head in the process...

(Thank you @Zephyr_Iphis for this beautiful cover!)
Since I have a few days off I decided to work on re-posting my current ongoing nuzlocke, a story based on three runs played by myself and my friends. Oh god so many characters help me

This fic is the fifth main fic in the Keyleeverse, but I'm trying to write it as a jumping-in point for new readers, so you hopefully you won't have to have read the previous million words to follow this story! The older stories are being refurbished and will return to the new forums in time.

You can also read it on AO3!

This fic may contain internalized homophobia, homophobic parents, transphobia, , marriage pressure from religious relatives, child endangerment, child injury, kidnapping, fairly graphic violence (in human-on-human, Pokemon-on-Pokemon and Pokemon-on-human varieties), death (human and pokemon), racism and cults. The Dog Dies.

1. Catch only the first Pokemon you encounter in each area.
1.1. Pinwheel Forest Exterior and Interior are two separate areas.
1.2. No duplicates, and no mulligans to find another.
1.3. No gift Pokemon aside from the starters and the elemental monkeys, which qualify as Dreamyard catches.
1.4. Illegal shinies may be captured but not used.

2. Nickname all Pokemon.
2.1. Alliteratively.

3. If a Pokemon reaches 0 HP, it is dead. Bury it in a box and never use it again.

Chapter 1: see below
Chapter 2: see below
Chapter 3: see below
Chapter 4: see below
Chapter 5: see below
Chapter 6: see below
Chapter 7: see below
Chapter 8: see below
Chapter 9: see below
Chapter 10: see below
Chapter 11: see below
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17

Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27

{Reshin 15th, 10:58}
{Nuvema Town}

...our next story, a riot nearly broke out at Mistralton Airstrip this morning. Police and Mistralton Leader Skyla Huuro had to break up fights that broke out at Mistralton Commercial Airport today between anti-Fairlan protesters and a Plasma Foundation delegation and their supporters. Both groups had arrived at the airport for the arrival of the Fairlan Head of State, Champion Saylee Pryce, and her family. Champion Pryce has arrived for an extended diplomatic tour of Unova after a confrontation between the Fairlan and Unovan ambassadors at the UN over the issue of--

“They’re not supposed to leave the Sar title out of her name, it’s the same as Sar Weaves,” Cheren commented as he wandered into Carlotta and Warren’s room with a couple of sodas that he’d gotten out of their fridge. He tossed one to Carlotta, who caught it without looking up from her spot at the window.

“You know what U-News is like, it’s a miracle they’re pronouncin’ her name right,” Carlotta said absentmindedly, wrapping her hands around the cold soda.

“Where’s War?” Cheren asked, unlocking Carlotta’s e-reader and making a face as he sat down on one of the cushions strewn across the floor and browsed through her comics. “You still buy New Guardians of the Galaxy? It’s garbage.”

Carlotta didn’t look over at Cheren as she opened her soda, though she did snort. “You just don’t know art when you see it,” she remarked. “He’s still at Professor Juniper’s gettin’ the stuff."

“Then he’s late,” Cheren commented, checking his C-gear.

“Calm down, Cher, he’ll get ‘em,” Carlotta insisted, rolling her eyes. “’Sides, we’ve got plenty of time. It’ll be fine.”

“Says the one who won’t stop staring out of the window,” Cheren pointed out.

Carlotta took a calm sip of her soda. “I ain’t lookin’ for Warren.”

“Then why are you staring out of the window like that?”

“’Cause there’s ninjas on top of the Hoenn Embassy,” Carlotta said, nodding at whatever she was looking at, then tucking her pink baseball cap slightly lower over her face and hiding behind her soda.

“Excuse me?” Cheren said, setting aside the reader and his own soda as he hopped to his feet to join her at the window. He stared, straightened his glasses, and stared some more. “My goodness. You meant that literally.”

“Literal ninjas,” Carlotta agreed, watching the tall figure in dark purple who was pacing back and forth along the edge of the embassy’s roof. Another one was standing by the front gate.

“You know, I always assumed that ninja were the kind of Fairlan stereotype that only ever appeared in movies,” Cheren commented. “I never believed that they were real, certainly not in this day and age. Why are they there?”

For an answer, Carlotta pointed at the TV, which was showing footage of the arguing between protesters and Plasma Foundation members that had turned into battling. Skyla Huuro was easily visible as she waded in with her huge bird Pokemon, while in the background of the shot a number of dark figures were making the Fairlan Champion and her family impossible to see. “The Fairlan Champion has ninja bodyguards, how cool is that?”

Cheren looked pained. “That’s another thing they’re getting wrong,” he grumbled. “She’s the head of state of the Tohjo Union, consisting of the countries Kanto and Johto, not the whole Fairlands, which consists of the Tohojo Union, the Sevii Islands, and the countries of Hoenn and Sinnoh, all with separate--”

“Alright, see, I knew it was weird that she was hangin’ around the Hoenn embassy,” Carlotta agreed.

Cheren frowned, pushing his glasses up his nose as he peered at the building. “That… is odd,” he agreed. “She’s coming here to learn more in detail about Pokemon in Unovan society, isn’t she? I would think that she could deal with any business pertaining to Hoenn at home, when she’s not on a diplomatic tour…”

“Yeah, but she definitely went in there,” Carlotta said, gesturing with her soda can, “and them ninjas followed. One of ‘em grappled ‘cross the rooftops. With an actual grapple. It was awesome. I thought ‘bout tryin’ to film it, but I’d probably get assassinated…”

“Look, there they are now!” Cheren said, pointing and then quickly withdrawing his finger when the ninja on the roof paused and turned to look in their direction. Then the bodyguard dropped down next to the people exiting the building, stepping off of the roof as if they were simply walking down stairs.

The two teenagers recognized the Hoenn ambassador, Sar Key Weaves, although she was new, only having moved in with her family three months prior. She was definitely noticeable, often dressed in the most vividly colourful spectrum of skirtsuits that anybody in Nuvema Town had ever seen, her bright blonde hair usually bundled up in a large decorated clip. She seemed to have a hundred of them, all shaped like different Pokemon from Hoenn. Possibly they were Pokemon she’d trained before, as she was supposed to be a champion of the Hoenn Pokemon League, which over there was as much politics as sport. She was chattering animatedly to a much shorter woman with darker hair who was walking alongside her, a far less colourful figure in white dress trousers and a sleeveless red blouse.

“That’s her, ain’t it?” Carlotta asked Cheren. “The Champion? The little one?”

“There’s a Fairlan saying that means ‘dangerous things come in small packages’,” Cheren commented. “I guess the kid with the dark hair must be hers—Sar Weaves only has the twins, right?”

Carlotta nodded. “The kid don’t really take after their mom,” she noted, watching the tiny brunette who was taller than both of Sar Weaves’ hyperactive bright-blonde twins. All three kids were being held tightly in the grip of the two men following Sar Weaves and the Champion, who were trailed by a skinny, dark-haired teenager. “Y’know, I don’t rightly know which one’s Mr Weaves… you ever seen ‘im? Dad says he manages a bunch of charities but don’t do public stuff ever for some reason he ain’t talkin’ about.”

“I think he’s the taller one,” Cheren said, nodding at the taller and darker of the two men who were bringing up the rear of the group, talking to another ninja. Nuvema Town was a secure community that largely housed Unova’s foreign embassies and people who worked at those embassies, so the two families were able to walk down the street without the attention of the horde of reporters that had met Sar Saylee Pryce off the flight from Kanto and was probably lying in wait to stalk her tour of the country.

“They must be buddies,” Carlotta theorized, watching the two families walk up the road. “I mean, they must just be visitin’ friends, not doin’ political stuff, y’know?”

“I wonder where they’re going,” Cheren said, narrowing his eyes. “The Tohjo Embassy’s the other way.”

“I dunno, maybe they got other friends in embassies here?” Carlotta suggested, watching the group walk past the Sinnoh embassy. “I hope they ain’t goin’ to Professor Juniper’s…”

Cheren checked his C-gear gain with an irritated sigh. “He’d better get the Pokémon in time,” he grumbled. “We can’t change the time of the escape plan…”

{Reshin 15th, 11:07}
{Nuvema Town}

“Thanks again for doin’ this,” Warren said, looking over and pocketing the three license cards.

“You, Carly and Cheren are all over sixteen,” Professor Juniper said with a smile. “It is absolutely your right to have and train Pokémon if you wish. What you--or any other sixteen-or-over trainer you happen to spend time with--do with these Pokémon is entirely up to you.” She gave him a significant look before returning to cleaning her computer screen.

Warren grinned. When Cheren had first approached Professor Juniper about the legalities of acquiring and exchanging Pokémon, she’d asked him to make sure that they all knew what ‘plausible deniability’ meant. “Thanks again,” he said, picking up the box of pokéballs.

“Clear out,” she ordered, not looking up. “The Tohjo Champion’s coming to visit the lab, so her security team will be here any minute to sweep it. Go! Explore! Get into danger! Discover new things! Have fun! And,” she added in a softer tone, “look after each other, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Warren said, saluting and walking out of the lab and almost directly into a ninja. “Whoa!”

The man, tall with silver hair and sharp Fairlan features, gripped Warren’s arm and said something in Fairlan.

“Uh, sorry, man, I don’t speak Fairlan,” Warren said with a shrug.

The ninja turned and looked back as somebody behind him had a rapid conversation in Fairlan, then Sar Key Weaves, the Hoenn Ambassador, stepped up with a smile. “You are Mr and Mrs Arathos’ boy, yes?” she said in Unovan. “I am sorry. One moment, please, to explain to the security why you are here?"

“Just pickin’ up some Pokemon,” Warren said, opening the box to show the three pokéballs inside. Sar Weaves rattled a Fairlan translation off to the ninja, who let go of Warren’s arm picked up the box, opening it and examining it thoroughly before nodding and returning it to Warren.

“Thank you,” Sar Weaves said with a smile. “You all have fun!”

“Thanks!” Warren said, stepping out of the way as two of the ninjas—a security team of ninjas? Carly’s gonna love this—stepped into the lab. Warren hurried out of the lab, glancing curiously at the Tohjo Champion.

She was much shorter than he expected, a petite woman in a red-and-white semi-formal outfit who nevertheless was probably the most threatening-looking head of state that he’d ever seen thanks to all the scars. There was something very deliberate about the way that her sleeveless blouse bared a huge swathe of pale pink burn scars across her right shoulder, more burns down her bicep, and a plethora of other scars, slashes and bites cross-crossing both arms. An unsettling set of darker scars around her neck looked like somebody had tried to decapitate her at least once, among other things. Entirely at odds with this was the delicate little snowflake necklace around her neck and the friendly smile she gave Warren.

Ain’t they got dermatological surgery where she’s from? he wondered as she looked down and said something to a little girl with long brown hair, who looked like her but also like the man holding her hand, presumably the Champion’s husband. He had the same skinny, short build that she did—he was shorter than Warren, though nowhere near as tiny as his wife—and his black shirt and brown shorts also showed up a number of scars on his arms and legs, the most notable being three parallel scars on the left side of his face that cut into his nose and perilously close to his left eye.

Warren had never seen Mr Weaves up close, so it was hard to be sure, but he was reasonably confident that Mr Weaves was probably the larger, muscular man with dark hair and skin, a thick beard and moustache, a weird cross-shaped scar across the middle of his face and a giggling blond twin under each arm. He definitely wasn’t the lanky, dark-haired teenage boy who was as tall as Sar Pryce and already staring with wide-eyed curiosity into Professor Juniper’s lab.

Since Nuvema Town was slightly more than half made up of embassies, other political institutions and their staff, Warren was used to suspicious security personnel; one of his earliest memories was, at four years old, being questioned about his intentions and the contents of his juicebox after squeezing through a hedge and running into a very twitchy new guard for the Kalosian ambassador. As such, he waited until he was well out of sight of the Fairlan group before dialling his sister on his C-gear, banking on the perpetually punctual Cheren already being at their house.

“I got the stuff,” he announced. “Operation ‘Rescue The Princess’ is go. Did you see that the Tohjo Champ’s got freakin’ ninjas for bodyguards?!”

{Reshin 15th, 11:12}
{Nuvema Town}

“I don’t think we should touch any of ‘em yet,” Warren said, holding the box of pokéballs out of the reach of his inquisitive sister. “I think we should let Bianca pick first.”

“But what if somethin’ goes wrong with the plan and we need to fight our way out?” Carlotta insisted.

“We are not going to attack Bianca’s parents with Pokémon, you terrorist,” Cheren said sternly. “The Bigot Bomb will be sufficient.”

“’Sides, you know if we start a Pokémon battle ‘round here, we’ll have us a whole UN of security teams on our asses,” Warren said, snapping the box shut almost on his sister’s fingers. “Now includin’, need I remind you, ninjas.”

“In the embassy directly across the road from Bianca’s house,” Cheren added.

“Well, ‘less they’re actually stayin’ in the Hoenn embassy,” Carlotta added, nodding at her open bedroom window, which was letting in a cool breeze and the sounds of three children playing with a yapping Lillipup and yelling in loud Fairlan across the road. “Are the ninjas still on that roof?”

“The ninjas are on the roof,” Warren confirmed, leaning up to peer out of the window. “What a weird-ass sentence. Anyways, I swear that Tohjo Champ is scarier than any of her bodyguards. She looks like what ain’t killed ‘er shoulda tried harder, y’know?”

“Well, the Fairlands do still value prowess in battle very highly in their politicians,” Cheren said, eyeing up the box of pokeballs covetously, “and with all the terrorist problems they’ve had, it’s no wonder. She was the chief of police before becoming Champion, I believe.”

“Yeah, but ain’t they got any sorta skincare there?” Warren asked, moving the box out of Cheren’s line of sight. “She and her husband both look more scar’n skin.”

“Perhaps they’re still recovering from that brutal civil war they had thirty years ago,” Cheren suggested, leaning around to peer at the box. “I understand that many aspects of their health system and justice system are still rather crude.”

“I love how you know everythin’,” Warren said, grinning at Cheren and kissing his boyfriend’s cheek before leaning over his shoulder to throw a pillow at Carlotta as she tried to steal the box again.

{Reshin 15th, 22:17}
{Nuvema Town}

Not all of Nuvema was made up of political buildings; several blocks were owned by members of tight-knit religious groups who could afford the secure, relatively private area as their own little gated community.

The Romrams were one of the most insular, their children homeschooled and rarely leaving the two blocks of houses owned by members of the sect. Bianca’s house, on the corner across from the Tohjo Embassy, had always been easy to sneak in and out of. Carlotta, Warren and Cheren had been doing it since they were kids to visit the little blonde girl who got adorably overexcited about reading anything about Pokémon or playing with any toys that weren’t pink, red or orange.

Carlotta headed around the side of the building, following their latest, as-yet-undiscovered entry route under the far hedge while Warren and Cheren rang the doorbell and braced themselves for an onslaught of religious quotations about the horrible fates awaiting perverts, blasphemers and other bad influences on Mr D’Artagnan’s little girl.

Carlotta made it to Bianca’s window just as the shouting started, which handily covered the noise of Bianca opening her parents’ bedroom window and throwing her bag out. Carlotta ran over to grab it and yelped as it was yanked out of her arms by a ninja. “What in the—?!”

The ninja said something in Fairlan which, after a moment, was translated by a device clipped to her shirt, projecting holographic Unovan words just in front of Carlotta’s face. You are breaking into this house?

“No I ain’t! Sssh!” Carlotta hissed, glancing nervously at the front of the house, where from the sounds of it Mr D’Artagnan had gotten onto the topic of an eternity spent burning in fire and lightning. “I’m helpin’ my friend break out!” The ninja stared steadily at Carlotta as the device translated her words to Fairlan, the strange characters hovering in the air between them.

“Carly?” Bianca’s voice hissed from above.

“I’m here!” Carlotta hissed back, raising her arms. “I gotcha! If you get in the way and I drop her,” she added to the ninja, who was watching the translation of her words materialize, “ninja or not, I’ll kick your ass.”

The ninja showed no perceptible response to the translation of this threat, but merely watched as Bianca jumped out of the window and Carlotta caught her, staggering somewhat as her best friend’s weight hit her arms but, to her pride, not falling over. “My hero!” Bianca giggled overdramatically, hugging Carlotta as the brunette set her on her feet. “Uh… who’s that?”

“Please, please, please don’t tell Mr D’Artagnan that we’re goin’!” Carlotta begged the ninja. “They’re Romrams!”

After the translator was done turning Carlotta’s words to Fairlan, the ninja barked a sharp question, which turned out to be what?, though it was almost drowned out by a wordless scream of pure fury from the front of the house, suggesting that Warren and Cheren had dropped the Bigot Bomb by asking if the D’Artagnans’ hatred of their relationship meant that they were acknowledging Cheren was male.

“My parents are in a church that says that humans and Pokémon ain’t supposed to mingle,” Bianca explained quickly. “They think that Pokémon trainin’ is degenerate. But I wanna travel with Pokémon so much! Please let us go!”

After a moment of listening to the translation, the ninja nodded and vanished. Carlotta handed Bianca’s bag to her. “Run!” she hissed as the front door slammed loudly.

{Reshin 15th, 22:22}
{Nuvema Town}

“Janine says the girl claims not to be breaking in,” Koga said, one hand to his ear as he listened to his comm, “but to be breaking her friend out of some sort of religious household…”

“Oh, that part of town’s all Romrams,” Key said, making a face. “They’re an extremist Taotri sect, pretty insular. If a kid wants to break out of that, then fair play to them. It’s not really our problem.”

“Even if they were robbing that house, it’s still not really our problem,” Blue pointed out, looking down at the small figure that was lying on a guest bed, with Scarlet sitting on her mother’s lap and holding their hand. According to Archie, their name was Meloetta, and was usually a slim black-and-white Pokemon, but they were so covered with bruises and wounds that they were nearly unrecognizable. “I don’t think petty housebreakers did this.”

“Who would do something like this?” Saylee asked, looking up at Key and Archie.

“My best guess would be some kind of collector, maybe, or a gang of poachers looking to cash in,” Archie sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. His eyes blazed a little deeper blue for a moment, with red streaks shooting through them. “They’re not the most powerful one out here, but they’d still be worth a lot of money.”

“But somebody hurt them,” Scarlet whined in distress.

Saylee squeezed her daughter, kissing the top of her head. “Well, we’ll make sure they don’t get hurt any more,” she promised.

She glanced up at Red, who took the signal to pick Scarlet up. “I know you’re worried about Meloetta, but they’ve gotta sleep and so do you,” he said, hefting his niece onto his back to carry her through to her bedroom. “C’mon, say goodnight.”

“After all, Ray and Amy are already in bed,” Key said loudly and threateningly, inciting the sound of small feet running in the hall outside. “You can all come see how they’re doing in the morning.”

“But ‘m not sleepy,” Scarlet complained, betraying herself with a big yawn. “...G’night, Auntie Key. G’night, Uncle Archie. G’night, Mister Koga, and say g’night to Miss Janine, ‘kay?”

“I will do so,” Koga promised seriously.

“G’night, Mummy, G’night Daddy,” Scarlet added, waving to her mother, who was tucking in the small black-and-white figure on the guest bed, and her father, who winked at her. “G’night, Meloetta,” Scarlet added in a whisper. “Get well soon…”

The Bigot Bomb is the invention of a friend of mine and his ex-boyfriend, who used to use it to scare away Catholic relatives. It's a real hit at awkward horrible family dinners! And by a real hit I do mean be safe and only give you or your friends' homophobic relatives shit when you have a solid escape plan.

Saylee and Key are former Keyleeverse protagonists and apparently just can't get away from this kind of shit.

{Reshin 15th, 23:02}
{Route 1}

“To the success of Operation Rescue The Princess!” Warren sang, passing around bottles of soda as the four of them sat out under the stars. The summer night was so warm and clear that while all of them save Bianca had been camping plenty of times before, none of them were particularly fussed about putting up their tents. Eating packaged dinners under the stars had the right celebratory atmosphere.

“I just hope that ninja don’t tell my folks ‘bout us runnin’ away…” Bianca said, twisting her hands nervously around her bottle.

“They’re gonna notice when you ain’t in your room in the mornin’, Bianca,” Carlotta said, rolling her eyes. “I’m just grateful she didn’t sound the alarm or stab me or anythin’.”

“Once they confirmed that the situation was neither a break-in nor a kidnapping, they likely decided that it was none of their business,” Cheren said with a shrug. “Their business is, specifically, anyone or anything that may be a threat to Sar Saylee Pryce or her family. We are not in that category.”

“Well, unless you believe Bianca’s folks that we corrupt the very air we breathe,” Warren said, patting Cheren’s shoulder with a grin.

“To corrupting the purity of evenly divided and partitioned existence,” Cheren said, clinking his can against Warren’s and then kissing his boyfriend instead of drinking the toast. Bianca pilfered both of their cookies while they were distracted.

I think we should celebrate by pickin’ our Pokémon,” Carlotta suggested, grabbing Warren’s bag to get the box out, which proved to be enough to get her brother and his boyfriend to come up for air to intercept her.

“Remember, we agreed that Bianca gets to pick first,” Warren pointed out.

“I know!” Carlotta opened the box with a flourish and presented it to Bianca. “Here! We got a Snivy, an Oshawott and a Tepig, an’ you get first pick. Whichever one you want!”

“Snivy is a grass-type that evolves into Servine and then Serperior,” Cheren rattled off. “Oshawott is a water-type and evolves into Dewott and Samurott. Tepig is a fire-type that also becomes part fighting when it evolves into Pignite and Emboar. Their best-known attacks are Leaf Tornado, Razor Shell and Flame Charge, respectively. It can be difficult to earn a Snivy’s respect, but they are famously intelligent and protective of their trainers once they’ve bonded. Oshawott are known for being affectionate and fiercely loyal. Tepig are the most headstrong but also very friendly. When they evolve, the--”

“Thank you kindly, Cheren,” Bianca giggled, cutting off Encyclopedia Mode. She stared at the pokeballs for a long moment, biting her lip. “I… I think… I think I want Tepig,” she said finally, reaching out a tentative hand for the pokeball with the fire decal.

“Yesss! I get Oshawott!” Carlotta hooted, snatching up the pokeball that was emblazoned with a water droplet almost before Bianca had gotten a grip around her own choice.

Cheren sighed, but smiled. “I wanted to take on the challenge of raising a Snivy anyway,” he declared, taking the last pokeball, which had a small green leaf emblem on it. “I suppose that if we’re traveling together, we can trade at any time if we are unsatisfied with our choices.”

“I actually have a Pokemon,” Bianca said, hugging the pokeball in rapture. “I could never be unsatisfied with this baby!”

“So release ‘em and meet ‘em,” Warren suggested, peering curiously at the pokeballs. “And then one of y’all owes me an Audino.”

“I’ll catch you one!” Bianca promised, holding out the pokeball containing her new Tepig. Her hand shook slightly as she did so. “Do… do you think it’ll like me?” she asked, her excitement at having a Pokemon of her own suddenly overtaken by nerves and fear.

“Tepig are about as friendly as they come,” Cheren assured her. “And so are you, so I am certain that the pair of you will be fast friends.”

“Okay…” Bianca said, taking a deep breath and opening the pokeball.

The little orange-and-black Tepig that appeared shook its head as it materialized, as if waking from a long sleep, and then immediately flattened its ears at the happy squeal from its new owner. It stared up at her, wide-eyed.

“The way you’re squeakin’, I think it thinks you’re tryin’ to talk to it!” Warren laughed.

“I can’t help it! It’s so cute!” Bianca squealed, holding out her hands to the small fire-type. It sniffed her hands with its large snout, squeaking interrogatively before looking up at Bianca. When she smiled, it smiled back and hopped into her hands, allowing itself to be picked up and cuddled. “I love you, Tepig!” Bianca sang.

“My pokedex says he’s a boy,” Warren said, scanning up and down his device. “It also says ‘unregistered’--your fingerprints opened the pokeball so it’ll only open for you, but we definitely need to go get you a trainer card in the mornin’. Congrats!”

“What are you gonna call ‘im?” Carlotta asked, reaching out a finger to tickle the little Tepig. He tucked his head shyly under Bianca’s arm, squeaking.

“Hmmm… Tiberius,” Bianca declared, stroking her new Pokemon’s ears. “He looks like a Tiberius, don’t ‘e?”

“If you say so,” Warren said with a shrug.

“My turn!” Carlotta hopped to her feet and threw her new pokeball exuberantly into the air.

“Hey, what makes it your--oh, never mind,” Cheren sighed as Carlotta’s new Oshawott leapt out, squeaking enthusiastically and brandishing its scallop proudly. It spun on its heel, taking them all in, chirped and waved to Tiberius, then spotted its pokeball in Carlotta’s hand and bowed to her.

“Nice,” Carlotta said with a grin, reaching out to pet her Oshawott’s head.

“He’s a boy, and… yep, now registered to your trainer card,” Warren affirmed, glancing down at his pokedex. “What’s this li’l guy’s name gonna be?”

“Well, clearly he’s a mighty hero, so I’m gonna call ‘im Owain!” Carlotta declared, pointing at her new Oshawott. Owain pointed at himself and squeaked. Tiberius snorted at him, sending the little water-type into a high-pitched tirade, waving his scallop about. “Hey, no more of that,” Carlotta decided, pulling Owain into her lap. “Bianca’s my friend, so that makes Tiberius your friend too, got it?”

“Well, you guys should probably all have practice battles once Cheren’s met his Snivy,” Warren said pointedly.

“Ooooh, yes, let’s meet ‘im!” Bianca squealed, pointing at the leaf-decorated pokeball in Cheren’s hand.

“About time, too,” Cheren said in a mock huff. He clicked the pokeball open, releasing a small green-and-white lizard onto the ground. Owain and Tiberius immediately set up a chorus of what were presumably “hello”s, and Owain started brandishing his scallop again. The Snivy just blinked slowly at the pair of them, then turned up its nose.

“Snooty little jerk,” Warren chuckled. “Also a boy, by the way, and securely registered. What are you gonna call ‘im?”

“I don’t know… what?” Cheren asked as Warren grinned broadly.

“Yeah, you do,” Warren prodded. “Go on. You know you wanna.”

“I was joking!” Cheren complained, throwing up his hands.

“Jokin’ ‘bout what?” Bianca asked curiously.

“You joked about it a lot,” Warren pointed out. “C’mon, it ain’t geekier than Carly namin’ her Oshawott after a video game character. Bianca’s gone for a freakin’ Scriptural name. You are not the biggest--well, not the only dork in the field,” he corrected himself with an unrepentant grin.

“Fine,” Cheren declared with a sigh, reaching a hand out to his Snivy. “Forgive me, but your name is now Sherlock.”

“Aww, c’mon, that’s perfect!” Bianca said brightly. “I mean, he looks real smart--or real snobby, anyway… that’s the same thing, right?”

“Perfect match for Cheren,” Carlotta sniggered. Sherlock looked from her and Owain, to Bianca and Tiberius, and then at Cheren, who rolled his eyes. Sherlock smirked and scurried up Cheren’s arm to curl up on his shoulder.

“Aww, I think they’re goin’ to sleep,” Bianca giggled, rubbing her eyes. “Maybe we should practice battle in the mornin’?”

“Well, if we want to move at first light, that gives us five hours,” Warren said, looking at his watch. “Hope you all had your naps earlier…” He gave Carlotta a stink-eye. “And if not, you’re gonna just have to deal with it tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir,” Carlotta declared, saluting her twin as she flopped over backwards, tugging her bag under her head as a pillow. Owain curled up against her shoulder. “Night, y’all.”

“Good night,” Bianca yawned, curling up on her side with Tiberius cuddled close. “And… thanks, y’all. Really. I can’t tell all y’all how much this means to me…”

“It’s our pleasure,” Warren told her, wrapping an arm around Cheren’s shoulder as they lay down, tugging his hat over his eyes and sticking a thumbs-up in the air. “All for one, an’ all that junk.”

{Reshin 16th, 06:13}
{Route 1}

“Round one: Carly vs Bianca!” Warren called, flipping pancakes over the small portable grill while Cheren fed berries to Sherlock. “Aaaand go!”

“Tackle, Owain!” Carlotta ordered. The Oshawott immediately barrelled headfirst into his opponent.

“Tiberius!” Bianca cried as her Tepig tumbled backwards. “Ummm… Tail Whip!” Tiberius turned, hitting Owain with his springy tail, making the Oshawott squeak unhappily.

“Tackle ‘im again, Owain!” Carlotta called. Owain hit Tiberius again, knocking him to the ground.

“Oh, no… umm… Tackle!” Bianca shouted. Tiberius was looking the worse for wear now, but he got to his trotters and hit Owain full-force, knocking him down. Owain whimpered as he staggered back to his feet.

“That’s it! I know you’ve got it in you! One more Tackle!” Carlotta hollered. Before Bianca could respond, Owain knocked Tiberius down, and this time the Tepig collapsed with his eyes closed and didn’t get up.

“Match!” Warren called. “The winner’s Carly! Bianca, bring ‘im here so I can check on ‘im, okay?”

“Sure,” Bianca said, hurrying to scoop up her Tepig. “You did a great job,” she whispered. “And so did you, Owain! Wow, Carly! You’re really tough!”

“Woo-HOO! That was an awesome first match!” Carlotta said, leaning down to rub Owain’s head. He smiled up at her, waving a little weakly. “Hey, War, you got some healin’ juice for Owain?”

“Let me give Tiberius his Potion first,” Warren said, spraying a bottle over the Tepig’s wounds. “Cher, can you get the pancakes?”

“Got ‘em,” Cheren said, quickly tipping a slightly burning pancake out of the pan and onto a napkin. “Help yourself, Bianca. You put up a pretty smart fight, weakening Owain’s defenses like that. They’re just too young to do much of anything tactical. Carly, are you up for the next fight against me?”

“Bring it,” Carlotta said, catching the potion that her brother tossed to her and kneeling down to spray it over Owain’s wounds. “How you feelin’, big guy? Ready to fight again?” Owain waved his scallop, chittering proudly.

“Come on, Sherlock,” Cheren said, standing up and allowing Bianca to take his vacant seat with a plate of pancakes. “You’ve got the advantage here.” Sherlock uncurled from Cheren’s shoulder, tail briefly flickering out and tasting the air as he looked at Owain.

“If he knew any grass moves yet,” Carlotta pointed out with a grin. “Owain’s gonna wreck your delicate li’l leaf.”

“He’s not as delicate as he looks,” Cheren promised.

“Just fight already!” Warren yelled, pouring more pancakes.

“Leer!” Cheren ordered immediately. Owain flinched as Sherlock leapt off of Cheren’s shoulder and glared at him.

“Don’t be scared of that twig!” Carlotta ordered. “Tackle!”

“Don’t you have any other strategies?” Cheren asked with a frown. “Tackle, Sherlock!” Owain was knocked down by Sherlock’s full-bodied strike, but easily rolled back to his feet.

“Hey, this early, we’re gonna go with what works,” Carlotta responded. “Tackle ‘im again, Owain!”

Sherlock screeched as Owain slammed into him, crumpling on the ground.

“That’s the match!” Warren called. “That looked like a critical hit! Cheren, bring ‘im here, lemme see ‘im…”

“Good match,” Cheren said, fistbumping Carlotta as they both went to pick up their Pokemon and he hurried his unconscious Snivy into his boyfriend’s care.

“Yeahhhh! Two for two!” Carlotta whooped, hoisting Owain up in the air. “Well done, little guy! You’re a badass!”

Owain cheered and spat a jet of water into the air.

“A badass who just learned Water Gun, from the looks of it,” Cheren mused, smiling at Sherlock as the Snivy blinked awake. “Bianca, shall we have the next match?”

“We’re game, right, Tiberius?” Bianca said, feeding her Tepig a last berry before getting up. Tiberius squeaked, shaking his ears out before running onto the field to face Sherlock.

{Reshin 16th, 07:31}
{Nuvema Town}

“Mummy, look!” Scarlet called, running into the dining room. “We’re twinsies! Like Amy and Ray!”

“What do—oh,” Saylee said in surprise, staring at the exact clone of her daughter that was following Scarlet into the room. “What’s…"

“Meloetta,” Janine said, gesturing to the second girl as she walked into the room. “If you listen closely, you can hear them humming. They’re using the humming to project some form of glamour. It’s kind of amazing.”

“They look exactly like you, Lettie!” Amber said, peering closely at Meloetta. “Cool!”

“Hey, can you transform into other stuff, too?” Raphael asked excitedly. “Like… like dinosaurs! Or an alien!”

“Nuh-uh! They’ve gotta look like a human so the people who hurt ‘em can’t find ‘em, dummy!” Scarlet argued.

“Hey, play nice,” Blue said, stepping in between his daughter and the twins, ostensibly to crouch down in front of Meloetta. “Don’t call people ‘dummy’, it’s mean. Are you doing this because you want to come with us?” he asked Meloetta.

Meloetta nodded tentatively, their glamour dissolving when their humming stopped. “If you are willing, I would be grateful,” they said melodically. “I ask for little but to hide among you. I do not wish to endanger you.”

“We’ll protect you! My mummy and daddy are the best trainers in all Kanto an’ Johto,” Scarlet declared proudly.

“An’ our mummy’s the best trainer in all Hoenn!” Amber added.

“They can beat up anybody!” Raphael put in. “Hey, can you turn into me?” All three children shrieked with laughter as Meloetta smiled and promptly did so.

“Which doesn’t make much difference if we don’t have any Pokemon for diplomatic reasons,” Key muttered sourly. “WMDs my ass…”

“Which is why I brought the greatest human warriors in the Fairlands as my security detail,” Saylee said soothingly, pointing to Janine in a vague gesture that also encompassed the rest of the building and wherever Koga, Linda and Alice might be lurking.

“Fuchsia ninja train in hand-to-hand combat against both Pokemon and humans,” Janine assured Key, “not to mention that all four of us survived Kanto’s seventeen years of isolation. We can protect you and Meloetta from whatever poachers attacked them--”

“Not poachers,” Meloetta interrupted, their glamour dissolving again when they stopped humming to speak. “A Hydreigon, one of the rarest and most fell creatures in Unova. This was not a wild one, either, but one trained specifically to hunt rare ones like myself…” They trailed off, frowning in concern. “I must at least go to Castelia with you. I… have a friend there whose safety I must see to. You are kind people, with Kyogre themself among you…” They gestured to Archie, who nodded vaguely, frowning in a way that suggested some internal debate was going on. “…But please forgive me for not saying more,” Meloetta concluded. “It is a matter of safety. You understand.”

“Fair enough, really,” Saylee said with a nod. “We are going to Castelia for the party Caitlin’s throwing.”

“Until then, what are we gonna do, tell people we secretly had twins this whole time?” Blue asked, ruffling Scarlet’s hair. “We’ve got hotels and appearances booked, public stuff like that where everybody involved knows we have one kid. The general public probably doesn’t know the difference, but all it takes is one person to get off their ass and check either of our official profiles, right?”

“Easiest would be for Meloetta to masquerade as part of the security detail,” Janine suggested. “We all keep our faces hidden in public, nobody’s paying as much attention to who we are as who you are, and even if they are, part of our formation requires that nobody be able to see all of us at once. Preferably, only half of us should be visible at a time, at most. So if Meloetta remains as one of the visible ones, nobody knows how many are hidden out of sight…” She chuckled. “And if we are needed, it’ll be a nice extra element of surprise if somebody who is paying enough attention to know that you have four guards doesn’t see the fifth coming!”

“How about it, Meloetta?” Saylee asked, gesturing to Janine, who pulled her hood and mask up to conceal her features. Meloetta looked up up and down, then began to hum again, their form shifting up to be a duplicate of Janine, as indistinguishable as she was from Linda and Alice and even Koga if you weren’t paying attention to how they moved. “I think I should take that as a yes.”

“Why can’t Daddy come with us?” Raphael said with a pout. “He could beat anybody!”

Archie smiled tightly as he sat down next to his kids, putting his arms around their shoulders. “Daddy’s special rules, you know that,” he said gently. “I can’t travel with you. It’s not allowed.”

“Well it’s not special rules, ‘cause Uncle Silver comes to Kanto all the time,” Scarlet pouted. “How come you got extra special house rules?”

“Send me lots of cool pictures, okay?” Archie said, ignoring the question and squeezing the twins until they began to giggle and flail to escape, “Especially if you find any weird Unovan water Pokemon!”

“I’ll bring Dad, Linda and Alice up to speed,” Janine said, pulling her hood back down and reaching up to her comm.

“I know we can trust their discretion,” Saylee said, glancing at Meloetta.

“You wouldn’t have brought us as your guards if you couldn’t,” Janine said. “Meloetta, while you’re disguised as part of the security detail, you’re playing a junior member, okay? That means obeying any order that the rest of us give you. That isn’t a trainer-Pokemon thing, it’s just a hierarchy thing--Linda, Alice and I all obey any orders Dad gives, Linda and Alice have to obey any orders I give, and so on. Okay?” Meloetta nodded silently without dropping their glamour.

“And we need to get packed to go to Striaton,” Saylee said, checking an alert that came up on her pokegear. “Lettie, Amy, Ray--you understand, right?” she said, crouching down to be at the kids’ eye level. “Meloetta isn’t quite like Archie or Uncle Silver, but they are somebody that you can’t tell anybody about, okay? It’s just as important to keep Meloetta a secret as to keep Archie and Silver secret.”

“Duh!” Scarlet proclaimed, putting her hands on her hips and nodding at the younger twins. “We won’t tell anybody we ever saw Meloetta, right?”

“Nope! Not ever!” Amber swore.

“We’re not gonna let anybody hurt you, even if you are a ninja now,” Raphael promised, looking up at Meloetta. “Hey, can you turn into a pirate?”

Cheren, Sherlock


Carlotta, Owain

Bianca, Tiberius​
The Meloetta event was going on around the time I started playing this run (that’s how long ago I played this :P) so I decided to make her a story element. I never used her ingame because you get her at level 50, so it would probably be cheating.

Name: Owain. Species: Oshawott. Nature: Adamant. Ability: Torrent. Caught: Nuvema Town. Level: 5

Name: Tiberius. Species: Tepig. Nature: Jolly. Ability: Blaze. Caught: Nuvema Town. Level: 5.

Name: Sherlock. Species: Snivy. Nature: Sassy. Ability: Overgrow. Caught: Nuvema Town. Level: 5.

Cheren, Sherlock


Carlotta, Owain

Bianca, Tiberius​

{Reshin 16th, 07:32}
{Accumula Town}

“I’m so sorry, Tiberius,” Bianca said dejectedly as she handed her Tepig’s pokeball and her ID over to the Pokemon Centre nurse.

“They’re barely trained,” Cheren promised her, hanging on to Sherlock’s pokeball and his ID while he waited for his turn. “At this stage, it’s honestly as much luck and random chance as anything else whether we win or lose.”

“Guess that makes me the luckiest bitch here,” Carlotta said proudly.

“Be polite or the nurse ain’t gonna heal Owain,” Warren pointed out as the nurse gave them a Look over Bianca’s head while giving her back her pokeball and ID. “And then how are you gonna catch me my Audino?”

“I’ll catch one for you,” Cheren promised, handing over his ID and Sherlock’s pokeball to the nurse. “We’ll need to go buy some pokeballs and supplies…”

“I’m afraid that our Centre store has closed for lunch early,” the nurse said apologetically as she ran Sherlock’s pokeball through the healing machine. “Most of the staff would rather be out of the way of the Plasma rally that’s about to start outside.”

“Plasma? The Pokemon Rights Foundation?” Cheren asked with interest.

The nurse gave him a cold look as she handed back Sherlock’s pokeball and Cheren’s ID. “Well, that’s what they call themselves,” she said archly.

“You ain’t a fan?” Carlotta asked, handing over Owain’s pokeball and her ID.

“A fan? They ain’t a band or a sports team,” the nurse snorted as she healed Owain. “They’re an activist group, and an extremist one at that. I’d recommend that you kids keep away from them.” She took a deep breath and resumed her professional smile. “Can I help you with anything else today?” she said brightly.

“No, thank you very much,” Warren said, immediately towing the other three away from the counter.

“Shall we have a look at the Plasma rally before we go catch more Pokemon?” Cheren suggested.

“What are Plasma?” Bianca asked in confusion. “Why don’t she like Plasma?”

“You know, I’m not even surprised that you’ve never heard of them in your household,” Cheren commented. “They’re a Pokemon Rights movement. They argue that Pokemon, as intelligent creatures, should not be kept in pokeballs or bought, sold and owned as property. They’re rather extreme in making their points, but I do believe that they’re right that Unovan law pays too little heed to the needs of Pokemon, and a lot of the competitive breeding industry is excessively cruel…”

Extreme is right,” Warren snorted. “The reason that nurse don’t like Plasma is probably ‘cause of their more aggressive publicity stunts, like attackin’ a breedin’ centre to release the Pokemon inside.”

“Did they hurt folks?” Bianca asked with a frown.

“The breedin’ centre employees, yeah, and they released a loada newborn baby Chatot in the middle of nowhere in the dead of winter,” Warren sighed. “The Plasma attackers set the breedin’ centre on fire to keep the breeders from recapturin’ the Chatot, but that just meant that half of ‘em burned to death tryin’ to stay near the fire for warmth, and the rest froze to death.”

“Some members of the movement are real jackasses,” Carlotta put in. “I mean, didn’t one of ‘em throw acid in a trainer’s face? Like, didn’t start a fight or anythin’, just walked up to ‘em outside of a Pokemon Centre and threw gondamned acid at ‘em.”

“Dangerous stunts like that really undermine the movement,” Cheren said with a scowl, gesturing to the group of people in blue tabards and hoods who were hoisting pennants around the stage. “Some people are only in it to cause trouble. But the leaders really care about Pokemon, like… oh, wow, is that Ghetsis?”

Moving up to front and centre of the stage was an older man in a long, shapeless blue-and-yellow robe. He had pale skin, faded green hair and a large red-and-white eyepatch over his right eye. He smiled benevolently at the crowd as they started to quiet down as they noticed him waiting on the stage.

“Hello, people of Accumula!” he called, causing those who were still talking to fall silent. “My name is Ghetsis! I am here representing the Plasma Foundation!”

His associates all cheered and raised their banners at the mention of the name. A few crowd members cheered, too, while others clutched closer Pokemon that they were holding.

“Today, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to talk to you about Pokémon liberation,” Ghetsis continued. “I’m sure most of you believe that we humans and Pokémon are partners that have come to live together because we want and need each other. However… is that really the truth?” He was speaking sadly, like a parent very regretfully telling a child that no, they can’t grow up to be a Braviary. “Have you ever considered that perhaps we humans… only assume that is the truth? Pokémon are subject to the selfish commands of trainers… They get pushed around when they are our ‘partners’ at work… Can anyone say with confidence that there is no truth in what I’m saying?”

Bianca clutched Tiberius’ pokeball, wide-eyed and horror-struck. Carlotta put an arm around her shoulders, giving her a comforting squeeze.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, Pokémon are different from humans,” Ghetsis continued. “They are living beings that contain unknown potential. They are living beings from whom we humans have much to learn. Tell me, what is our responsibility toward these wonderful beings called Pokémon?” There was a lot of muttering from the crowd until someone shouted a single word.


“That’s right!” Ghetsis responded, shouting more powerfully now. “We must liberate the Pokémon! Then, and only then, will humans and Pokémon truly be equals. Everyone, I end my words here today by imploring you to consider the relationship between people and Pokémon… and the correct way to proceed.” He bowed his head, returning to a more normal volume. “We sincerely appreciate your attention.”

Some people clapped, but most people started muttering nervously to each other, or to their Pokemon.

“Is that true?” Bianca said, looking stricken. “Are we hurtin’ our Pokemon by…?” She held out Tiberius’ pokeball.

“Hey, you’re okay, they’ve proved that Pokeballs don’t hurt Pokemon ‘less they’ve got an allergy only electric-types can get,” Warren assured her. “Tiberius is fine. You’ve been carin’ for ‘im well since the moment you got ‘im, lettin’ ‘im rest outside his pokeball and feedin’ ‘im well and everythin’.”

“But I let ‘im get hurt fightin’ Carly and Cheren…” Bianca said, crestfallen.

“You didn’t push ‘im any more in that fight than the kinda fights Pokemon get into in the wild,” Carlotta reassured her. “Be careful trainin’ ‘im and don’t push ‘im too far, and he’ll be fine.”

“The problem is that due to the League’s lack of interest in pushing any real regulations, others will not be so cautious,” Cheren pointed out. “Trainers are perfectly free to gamble with their Pokemon’s lives with no repercussions from the League. The competitive breeding industry is worth a fortune, and that’s more important to the lawmakers of this country than the lives of Pokemon. Issues like that are what is currently causing such strife between Unova and the Fairlands--but even in the Fairlands, where Pokemon have all the rights of humans, they still fight competitively.”

“All of which you are absolutely right about, as usual,” Warren said, patting Cheren on the shoulder, “but save the lectures for the gym leaders, okay?”

“You’re scarin’ Bianca!” Carlotta warned him, hugging her best friend protectively. “Don’t worry. We can protect each other, and once we get Warren his Audino, he’ll be able to heal anythin’.”

“On that note… back to Route 1 for catchin’?” Warren suggested pointedly.

{Reshin 16th, 08:09}
{Route 1}

“G-Go on, Tiberius! Tackle!” Bianca called nervously, clutching an empty pokeball as her Tepig knocked the wild Lillipup to the ground. It got back to its paws, panting with exertion. “Ummm… Tail Whip!”

The wild Lillipup flinched as Tiberius hit it with his tail, but tackled him again anyway. The attack was so weak that it barely shifted Tiberius’ footing, though its own tail was wagging fit to bust. Bianca took the chance and flung a pokeball at the tiny brown Pokemon.

“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon…” she mumbled, crossing her fingers as she watched the ball rock back and forth. “C’mon, c’mon… YES!” she squealed as the ball locked. “You’re the BEST, Tiberius!”

Bianca scooped up the pokeball, cuddling it happily. Tiberius hopped up into her lap with a proud squeak.

“Oh, you’re hurt!” Bianca gasped, realizing that the little fire-type was covered in bruises. “C’mon, let’s go find War and get you all healed up, alright?” Scooping up the Tepig under one arm and continuing to clutch her new pokeball in the other, she hurried off across the fields of Route 1, heading to the meeting point that Warren had offered to wait at while she, Carlotta and Cheren spread out to make their first captures. She couldn’t help looking over her shoulder every few feet, nervously expecting to see her parents or her priest on the horizon.

“They can’t make me go back,” she told Tiberius quietly. “I’m gonna be with you and my friends. I ain’t goin’ back, and they can’t make me. I’m sixteen, they really can’t, it’s the law. The League can’t give ‘em my info without my say-so, they don’t know where my card’s checked in, and they’ll be lookin’ at gyms first, right?”

Tiberius squeaked in confusion, then leaned up to nuzzle her chin.

“Sorry,” Bianca said, hugging him. “Guess you don’t understand much of what I’m sayin’, do you? It’s alright. Thanks for tryin’ to help me feel better. I know I can count on you an’ my friends to stand with me if they find me, anyway, right?”

Tiberius continued to look confused, but he gave her another nuzzle on the chin to comfort her.

{Reshin 16th, 08:21}
{Route 1}

“Aw, of course you had to beat me to it,” Carlotta complained, jogging up to her brother and his boyfriend with Owain tucked under one arm and her new Lillipup’s pokeball in the other hand. “Bet you rushed it just so you could have some alone time with W--oh.”

She stopped short when she got close enough to see that Cheren and Warren were bent over an unmoving Patrat. “Sorry, Cher,” Warren said, shaking his head. “You hit the poor thing a bit too hard.”

Cheren sighed, reaching up to pet his Snivy. “It’s not your fault, Sherlock,” he said quietly. “I wasn’t…” Warren leaned over to put an arm around Cheren’s shoulders, resting his forehead against his boyfriend’s.

Carlotta sat down next to her brother, trying not to look at the sad, limp form of the dead Patrat. “What happened?” she asked softly.

“I was… training Sherlock up a bit,” Cheren said with a deep sigh. “I wanted to make him a little stronger before I caught anything else… went a little too far…”

“It was just an accident, Cher,” Warren said. “C’mon. Let’s bury ‘im.”

“Too bad none of these guys know Dig,” Carlotta sighed, kneeling down and setting down Owain and her Lillipup’s pokeball so her hands were free to dig into the soft summer earth. Owain peered at what she was doing for a minute, then used his scallop shell as a little shovel to help her dig.

“Heh… clever little guy, ain’t he?” Warren said, helping his sister dig.

Cheren petted Sherlock’s head again as the Snivy slinked down his arm and up to Owain, softly hissing to the Oshawott, who responded with a quiet purr. The two continued to chitter to each other as the humans covered up the Patrat again and made for the river to wash their hands.

“I wonder what they’re talking about,” Cheren mused, rolling up his sleeves and dipping his hands in the clear, running water.

“Your Pokemon… just now, it was saying…”

All three of them looked up sharply at the sound of an unfamiliar voice. It was issuing from a tall young man who was walking up to them, hands in his pockets, cap pulled so low that his face was hard to see even from a low angle but with a massive mess of light-green hair spilling out the ponytail loop in the back. A small purple Purrloin was curling about his heels as he trailed off into rapid mumbling.

“Slow down, you talk too fast,” Cheren said, standing up and pulling out a handkerchief to dry his hands on. Cheren had always been taller than Carlotta, Warren and Bianca, but even he was noticeably shorter than the lanky newcomer. “What was that about Pokemon… talking? What an odd thing to you say. Are you one of those Fairlans who believe they can talk to Pokemon?”

“Yes, they’re talking,” the stranger affirmed with a nod, pointing to Owain and Sherlock.

“I mean, sure, they’re communicatin’, but it ain’t really speech, is it?” Carlotta said, nonplussed. She wiped her hands on her shorts as she stood up, absentmindedly tugging at her own ponytail.

The young man scowled. “Oh, then you can’t hear it… how sad,” he said softly, condescension dripping off of his tone.

“Excuse me, but who exactly are you?” Warren asked sharply.

The stranger straightened up, pulling his hands out of his pockets and pressing his right hand over his heart. “My name is N,” he said formally. He glanced over them--very much over them, appearing to be looking at the tops of their heads instead of making eye contact.

Carlotta exchanged a is this guy for real? look with her brother while Cheren, a little nonplussed by the sudden formality, replied, “my name is Cheren Athos, and this is Warren and Carlotta Arathos. We are new trainers who are intending to travel Unova. Carlotta and I are both planning on taking the League challenge… but I, of course, will be Champion,” he added, forcing Carlotta to playfully punch him in the arm.

“The League, right?” N mused. “So… you’re going to confine many, many Pokemon in pokeballs for that, then.” He gestured to the pokeball sitting next to Owain, who looked down at it and then back up at N. “I’m a trainer, too,” N continued, stooping to pet the ears of the Purrloin at his ankles, “but I can’t help wondering… are Pokemon really happy that way?”

Owain suddenly stood up, squeaking loudly. “Ssssh, Owain,” Carlotta hissed, picking up her suddenly unruly Oshawott’s pokeball.

“No, don’t… Carlotta, was it?” N asked, suddenly crouching down very close to her.

Carlotta fell over backwards with a surprised yelp. “Alright, man, you invade my personal space like that again, and you ain’t gonna like what happens next,” she threatened, rolling back into a crouch with fists up.

N glanced quickly at her in confusion, before turning his focus back to Owain. “Let me hear your Pokemon’s voice again.”

Owain started squeaking again, waving his arms as he chattered to N. “You alright?” Warren asked, offering his sister a hand up and glaring at N.

“Yeah, he just spooked me… I didn’t even see ‘im move,” Carlotta said, staring down at N, who was stock-still aside from nodding occasionally as he listened to Owain. “Do you think he’s really…?”

“He can’t be,” Cheren said, shaking his head. “Fairlan culture claims that humans can speak to Pokemon, but that can’t be possible--almost every species of Pokemon has its own form of communication, and none of them are developed enough to be termed ‘language’...”

“I never expected to hear Pokemon say such things,” N said abruptly, petting Owain on the head before standing up. “But as long as Pokemon are confined in pokeballs, they will never become perfect beings.” He turned back to face the humans, hands shoved in his pockets. “I have to change the world for Pokemon,” he announced, “because they’re my friends.”

With that, he turned on his heel and quickly strode off, the Purrloin still following him closely.

“Was that a thing that just happened right there?” Warren wanted to know. “What was wrong with that guy?”

“I think I saw him in the crowd at the rally,” Cheren commented, pushing his glasses up his nose. “He must be a Plasma supporter. I hope he isn’t one of the extreme ones. I like my face without acid burns.”

“So do I,” Warren said, kissing him on the nose, “so let’s find me an Audino so we can afford to avoid Pokemon Centres for a while, alright?”

“Well, on that note… I said only that I had not caught myself a new Pokemon,” Cheren said, going on one knee and presenting a pokeball. “Warren Arathos… would you like this Audino?”

“Ohmigod, yes!” Warren screeched, scooping up the pokeball. “I’m gonna swoon,” he crooned like an old-timey romance movie character.”Catch me, my love!”

“They’re dorks,” Carlotta explained to Owain and Sherlock, who were staring somewhat as Warren hugged Cheren excitedly. “I know y’all can pick up battle commands if you hear ‘em often enough… wonder if y’all can pick up the word ‘dorks’ the same way.”

“Carly!” Bianca called, hurrying down the dirt path towards them, Tiberius and a pokeball cuddled in her arms. “Awww… am I the last one?”

{Reshin 16th, 21:09}
{Striaton City}

Key abruptly shoved a hand over her mouth to stifle a sharp burst of laughter, frantically scrambling to pause the broadcast.

“Sooo… what’s the joke and can you keep it below dying wailmer noises before you wake the kids up?” Blue asked, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at the kids’ hotel room.

“Y-yeah,” Key wheezed. “It’s just… oooh, it’s not even a joke, it’s not funny, it’s not. Well, it is a little. I mean, the way he said it…”

“He doesn’t look like a joking kinda guy, despite the outfit,” Saylee said, gesturing to Ghetsis’ still image. “So what did he say? C’mon, the subtitles on this thing are really slow.”

“He just announced, with all the gravity of a man revealing a game-changing scientific discovery,” Key explained, giggling, “that humans and Pokemon are different.”

“Do you think he figured that out all by himself,” Red laughed as Key broke down in muffled laughter, “or did he need help?”

“Good grief,” Sayle sighed, propping her head up on her hand as she stared at what she could see of the crowd who had watched the rally live earlier that day. “The crowd’s certainly taking him seriously.”

“Well, he’s a charismatic speaker,” Blue said with a shrug. “Which probably means he’s an asshole.”

“Takes one to know one,” Red chuckled, just laughing harder when Blue gave him a look that implied a middle finger that he was not going to actually give to a thirteen-year-old.

“I’m just wondering why this guy’s speeches are so popular when he has so little of worth to say,” Saylee said, shaking her head. “He’s prone to overgeneralization, and I personally don’t think somebody has the right to speak for Pokemon without speaking to Pokemon. I mean, you know what’s the easiest way to find out what Pokemon want and need? Ask them!”

“For what it’s worth,” Janine said, opening the door from the balcony where she was sitting her watch, “Plasma are actually on our watchlist. They’re not connected to any major incidents, but they do have a tendency towards extremist demonstrations. Setting a building on fire, throwing acid at trainers trying to go in and out of Pokemon Centres--no human deaths, but some members are doing time for violent crimes.”

“I don’t like it,” Saylee said, rubbing her forehead.

“Okay, Red, that makes it time for you to head for bed,” Blue said, shooing the teenager away. Red rolled his eyes, but went without a word of protest, eyes glued to the screen of his pokegear with clear intent to be on it for at least two more hours. “And you,” Blue continued, pressing his hands to Saylee’s head and miming pulling something out of her skull. “You are not getting one of your bad feelings. I refuse. We’re on a diplomacy holiday. Moreover, this is not our country and these are not our problems.”

“When has that ever made a difference?” Saylee murmured, glancing up at the roof where she knew that Koga was keeping watch with a minor god.

“You’ve got meetings pretty early tomorrow, so how about we catch some real news and then some sleep?” Key suggested, grabbing the remote to change channels. “If I have to look at that evil snuggie for a minute longer, I’m gonna go blind.”

Cheren, Sherlock

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal

Bianca, Tiberius, Lilith​

Angus the Audino

Owain the Oshawott
Name: Loyal. Species: Lillipup. Nature: Impish. Ability: Pickup. Caught: Route 1. Level: 2

Tiberius the Tepig
Name: Lilith. Species: Lillipup. Nature: Quirky. Ability: Pickup. Caught: Route 1. Level: 4

Sherlock the Snivy
Name: Poptart. Species: Patrat. Nature: Sassy. Ability: Runaway. Caught: Route 1. Level: 2
RIP Poptart the Patrat, level 2-6

Cheren, Sherlock

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal

Bianca, Tiberius, Lilith​

{Reshin 16th, 22:12}
{Route 2}

“Loyal,” Carlotta decided, watching her Lillipup playfully tackle Bianca’s to the ground. “That’s what I’m gonna call ‘im.”

“I like Lilith for mine,” Bianca said. “Lilith! Lilith, c’mere girl!” Her Lillipup looked up, perking up her ears. “See? She likes it, too!”

“She’s responding to her trainer’s voice, not the name,” Cheren pointed out. “Also… another Scriptural name? I thought you were trying to escape all that?”

“I still believe in the Dragons,” Bianca insisted. “I ain’t givin’ up my faith, I just don’t think two immortal an’ almighty dragons really care what colour of clothes we’re wearin’. They’ve gotta have more important stuff on their minds. I mean, if they didn’t, we’d all be ash by now, right?”

“I can respect that,” Carlotta decided, beckoning for Loyal to come closer so she could scratch his ears and feed him some berries. Owain, Sherlock and Tiberius had already had theirs, and were all starting to doze off in their trainers’ laps. Angus, Warren’s new Audino, was humming contentedly to himself as he watched over the other Pokemon.

“Looks like we’re gonna reach Striaton by lunchtime tomorrow,” Warren said, reading his map on his C-gear. “Just in time to get lunch at the famous Striaton Gym!”

“As in, the restaurant that is extremely expensive unless we’re there for a gym battle?” Cheren pointed out. “It’s as well that we can’t afford to stay in hotels. Camping off the track makes us harder to find.”

“I’m sorry y’all’ve gotta hide out like this ‘cause of me,” Bianca said, hunching down a little. Lilith licked her trainer’s hand supportively.

“C’mon, Bianca, we’re more’n happy to,” Warren pointed out. “Like Cheren said, it ain’t like we could afford to stay in hotels anyways. And it’s nice campin’ weather.”

“And we’d rather be out here with you than in some snobby hotel without you,” Carlotta said, giving Bianca a one-armed hug.

Carlotta and Warren’s C-Gears suddenly rang. “Hey, Mom’s callin’,” Warren said, checking his and picking up the call. “Hi Mom!”

“Hi, Mom,” Carlotta said, joining in the call.

“Hi, Auntie Steph,” Cheren put in, leaning in to see Warren’s screen instead of joining on his own C-Gear.

“Hi, Mrs Arathos,” Bianca said meekly to Carlotta’s.

Hi, kids! Nice to see the four of you are still runnin’ free! You caught many Pokemon yet?” Stephanie Arathos asked, smiling.

“Bianca and I got Lillipups, and Cheren caught Warren his beloved Audino,” Carlotta reported.

That’s wonderful! I’m so proud of you all,” her mother replied, pressing a hand to her chest. “Goodness… when did my babies become grown-up trainers?

“Mooom,” Warren complained.

Stephanie chuckled. “Well, I wanted to let my grown-up trainers know that I bought y’all some new shoes, in case your old ones wear out when you’re on the run! I’ve emailed you the deposit item link. Oh, and speakin’ of bein’ on the run… well, I understand why you couldn’t, but I almost wish y’all could’ve been here to see the awful scene Bianca’s folks have been makin’.

“Oh, no,” Bianca said, putting her face in her hands. “They ain’t been botherin’ you, have they?”

Honey, they’ve been botherin’ me for years,” Stephanie said, rolling her eyes. “They did come knockin’ on my door--I was having Natsuko and Li Yong over for lunch at the time, actually, so they got to yell at all of us at once about our degenerate queer children kidnappin’ their daughter.

Bianca somehow managed to press her face even deeper into her hands. Cheren made a face. “I’d wager my parents were not entirely impressed with that display,” he muttered, pushing his glasses up his nose.

No, your mama beat me to the punch, quite literally,” Stephanie said cheerfully. “They tried lodgin’ complaint with your folks’ employer, but I guess Lady Caitlin didn’t like whatever she saw inside the D’Artagnan’s heads, ‘cause she dismissed the accusation and just asked Natsuko not to do it again, or at least not while she’s on the clock.

“She gets a little… protective,” Cheren said, trying not to smile.

Oh, I know, your folks are perfect professionals to people who ain’t insultin’ their baby boy. I just don’t know how they have the patience for it,” Stephanie sighed. “Anyway, Bianca, your folks are lookin’ for you, but I suggested that the Opelucid Gym was a common first stop for new trainers, so they should be lookin’ on the other side of the country right now.

Carlotta choked. “That gym’s infamous for always being people’s eighth choice because nobody wants to fight Drayden!” she laughed. “Mom, did I ever tell you you’re my idol?”

Of course I am, dear,” Stephanie said, starting to tie her hair up. “I’d better go--I’m on the night shift tonight. Be careful and look after each other, okay? I love y’all kids--you know that, Cheren, but that extends to you, too, Bianca. Y’all’re always in my heart and thoughts.

“Love you too, Mom,” Warren and Carlotta chorused. Stephanie blew them a kiss and hung up.

“Y’all’s mama’s so sweet,” Bianca sighed, picking up and cuddling Lilith, who sniffed at her trainer and licked her cheek.

“I always forget how scary your folks can be,” Warren said to Cheren. “They’ve always got that complete diplomatic chill.”

“And yet, if you break Cheren’s heart, they will cut you down,” Carlotta said brightly, reaching over to scratch Loyal’s belly. “You are too gondamn cute to send into a fight,” she said accusingly. “We’ve gotta train and toughen you up.”

“The Dreamyard just outside Striaton is said to be good for that,” Cheren said, checking the time on his C-Gear. “We should have plenty of time to train tomorrow.”

“And that, children, means it’s time for bed,” Warren declared, reaching over to turn off the porta-stove that they were using for a fire. “I love bein’ able to sleep under the stars in summer,” he said softly as, from the sound of it, he let himself fall over backwards.

“Goodnight, everybody,” Cheren said, his glasses clicking as he took them off and folded them up to be safely stowed away.

“Night,” Bianca said softly. Carlotta just curled up on her side, tucking her bag under her head and watching the dark shapes of their Lillipup as they settled down.

Lilith and Loyal wuffed and growled at each other for a while, with Angus occasionally cooing at them, but no matter how hard she listened, Carlotta couldn’t understand any of it.

{Reshin 17th, 11:07}
{Striaton City}

“Guys, hold up!” Bianca yelled, hurrying after her friends as they made for Striaton City’’s Pokemon Centre. “I’m tryin’ to have a look at the cool buildin’s!”

“Cool…? Well, damn the dragons! I just realized!” Carlotta gasped, slapping the side of her head. “Bianca, ain’t you been to Striaton before?”

“You kiddin’ me? Aside from pilgrimages, which don’t go through here, I ain’t ever left Nuvema,” Bianca pointed out.

“Somehow, I already forgot what a terrifyingly deprived child you are,” Warren sighed, pulling off his baseball cap and using it to fan himself as he looked at the buildings around them. The days were getting hotter and hotter, and he’d already stripped off his hoodie and unzipped the calf parts of his trousers. “I mean, this is where we go to school, this place is borin’ as hell to us. Cheren, you know everythin’, why don’t you give her the tour?”

“How come the buildin’s all look... I mean, they look pretty much the same as each other, but all that red brick and all the railin’s are so pretty!” Bianca asked, pointing at the buildings.

“These buildings actually date back to the Industrial Revolution, when most buildings in Unova were built in this style,” Cheren explained as Warren shooed them all on towards the Pokemon Centre. “This city was originally built for factory workers to live in. There are a few modern buildings, but most of this city is actually a World Heritage Site and any sort of modifications to the buildings need a lot of approval. When the factory industry started to collapse after energy-to-matter creation became a profitable industry…”

“Y’know,” Carlotta laughed, watching a couple of younger kids come out of a cafe ahead of them with lunches in hand and schoolbags over their shoulders, “it’s kinda cool to be walkin’ around Striaton without bein’ here for class or summer camp…”

“I know, right?” Warren agreed, straightening his bag. “I’m gonna enjoy bein’ here without settin’ foot in the school buildin’.”

“It is right next to the Pokemon Centre, though,” Carlotta pointed out with a grin. “Are you scaaaaaared…?”

“Petrified,” Warren said sincerely. “Can we go literally anywhere else?”

“Ta-daaa,” Cheren said, waving his hands as they walked into the Pokemon Centre. “So, when the League was first formed, battles were held in the town square, but then in the nineteenth century due to public safety concern they started to be held out by the factories, now the Dreamyard, and then--”

“You get the cutest dopey look when he’s bein’ a gondamned encyclopedia,” Carlotta teased, nudging her brother.

“You’re the… cutest… dopey… somethin’,” Warren grumbled, joining the queue at the counter. “Shut up and get your Pokemon ready to hand over.”

Carlotta picked Owain and Loyal’s pokeballs off of her belt, running her thumbs over the plain red surfaces. “Still don’t feel real,” she murmured with a grin. “We have Pokemon, War!”

“I noticed,” he said, rolling his eyes but still wearing a grin as he cradled Angus’ pokeball. Ahead of them, Cheren was holding the pokeballs of Sherlock and the Purrloin that he’d caught on Route 2 while Bianca handed over Tiberius, Lilith and the Patrat she’d caught just before they reached Striaton.

“You’ve got good timing,” the nurse said, swiping Bianca’s trainer card. “In about fifteen minutes, we’re going to start getting the lunchtime rush from the gym. Have you booked your battles yet?”

“Not yet,” Cheren said. “How long is the waitlist, usually?”

“It can be a few weeks, I’m afraid, but they have a drawing for a couple of same-day tables every morning at six, so if you’re willing to get up early you might get lucky,” the nurse said with a smile, handing back Bianca’s Pokemon and taking Cheren’s.

“Nice,” Warren said, grinning. “We can hit the Dreamyard to train today and then get up in the mornin’ to join the drawin’, how ‘bout it?”

“I feel like we should book gym battles anyway,” Cheren suggested, “just in case we never get lucky on the drawing.”

“Luckiest bitch around, remember?” Carlotta said, gesturing to herself and ignoring the nurse’s frown.

“The drawing’ll be mobbed tomorrow,” the nurse warned, returning Cheren’s Pokemon and accepting Carlotta’s. “The Tohjo Champion’s eating at the gym tomorrow. Not battling, just having dinner with the Hoenn Ambassador’s family and getting her first up-close look at an Unovan gym battle. They’re all supposed to be quite exceptional trainers, so I’m sure lots of people will be wanting to show off what Unovan trainers can do!”

Cheren smiled and thanked her for the information, but as he walked away from the counter he leaned over to Warren and muttered, “I’m not sure the Champions of two Leagues are going to be particularly impressed by scraps between Lillipup.”

“Then how ‘bout we go to the Dreamyard and find us somethin’ cooler?” Warren suggested with a grin.

{Reshin 17th, 11:58}
{Striaton City}

“This place is creepy,” Bianca muttered, huddling close to Carlotta as they walked through the gates of the Dreamyard after showing their trainer IDs to the security guard. The difference between the lovingly cared-for historical buildings of the city and the rot of the Dreamyard was stark. The warehouses and factory buildings that loomed up over them were just as old as the red brick houses of the city, but they had been neither protected nor restored, and were instead crumbling husks with weeds and overlong grass bursting from every crack.

“Is everybody up to date on their shots?” Warren said, wrinkling his nose as he looked around. Then he looked back at Bianca. “Wait, remind me. Are your folks some of the ones who think vaccines make the body ‘impure’?”

“Nah, I’m good,” Bianca promised, flexing her arm and patting the spot where vaccines were usually injected. “I mean, there are some folks who think that way, but it ain’t doctrine. ‘Sides, y’know it’s actually illegal to miss your vaccines ‘less you’re allergic to ‘em? Child services threatened to take away a kid from our church ‘til his parents caved an’ got ‘im some shots. They’re free anyways. Don’t see the fuss.”

“Despite its state, this place is actually very closely monitored by the Trainers’ Association,” Cheren assured them. “They occasionally come knock down walls or floors that have become too structurally unsound--as long as trainers don’t do it first, anyway. It’s already a ruin, so they don’t care what Pokemon do to it while training.”

“It’s been a ruin for a long damn time, though,” Carlotta pointed out. “When does a thing get old enough that UNESCO steps in and starts protectin’ it?”

“They protect sites of historical and cultural importance, not just old places,” Cheren pointed out. “This area was just one part of a long belt of factories that were, when all’s said and done, not that important. There’s a series of preserved factories-through-the-ages near Nacrene, but the rest of it’s not of value to anybody.”

“A worthless old dump… of course they left it for trainers,” Warren muttered, kicking a bit of stone.

“Ain’t there anywhere nice ta train?” Bianca muttered, huddling even closer to Carlotta as they passed a couple of people fighting with Watchogs. The tall rodent Pokemon were snarling terribly at each other as they fought.

“Not ‘round here,” Carlotta said, shaking her head and patting Bianca’s arm. “Not for trainers at our level, anyway. You have to get quite a buncha badges to be seen as a professional ‘stead of somebody avoidin’ a real job.”

“Being a trainer isn’t considered a real job, not one you can make a living from,” Cheren grumbled. “The Striaton Triplets aren’t just running a restaurant for fun--even as Gym Leaders, the League only covers expenses, it doesn’t pay much. I suppose their restaurant does benefit from the public exposure of being Leaders…”

“Worry ‘bout it when you become the president, Cheren,” Carlotta said, clapping her hands. “Enough! We’re here to train, we’re here to get us some new Pokemon, and we’re here to have fun! Let’s do this! What kinda wild Pokemon do they have ‘round here anyways?”

“Patrat and Purrloin, mostly, but you can get a Munna if you’re very lucky,” Cheren rattled off. “Do we want to train first, or go find new catches?”

“Maybe we should train first?” Bianca suggested shyly. “‘Cause, y’know, we wanna make sure we’re strong enough to protect ourselves from the wild Pokemon ‘round here, right?”

“I’ll protect you, Bianca,” Carlotta promised, patting her best friend’s cheek, “but you’re right. Fight me, Cheren!”

“Bring it on,” Cheren said, pointing to the front of one of the warehouses. “Let’s see if there’s space to fight in there where we won’t get mixed up in anybody else’s fight.”

“Before we walk in there, I wanna make a group pact that if we hear any noises, we don’t go investigate and we do not split up, we leave that horror movie immediately,” Warren insisted as they cautiously pushed open the warehouse door.

{Reshin 17th, 17:31}
{Striaton City}

“Opponents are chosen by the three leaders themselves,” Warren read aloud from the latest edition of So You Want To Be A Trainer. “For those with fewer than four badges, they aim to give the challenger an advantage to promote a positive experience in a young trainer’s early gyms. Due to its proximity to the region’s premier Trainers’ School, many aspirin’ champions’ first gym is Striaton.”

He, Cheren and Carlotta had already learned all the gyms backwards and forwards, but Bianca’s knowledge of the League was still often patchy, so a bit of revision wasn’t a bad idea. “So it’ll be easy?” Bianca said hopefully, checking Packard’s teeth. He snapped at her fingers, causing her to draw her fingers back quickly.

“Not easy, nah,” Carlotta said, glancing up from Priscilla and Owain, who were growling at each other, awaiting further commands from their trainers. She grabbed Bianca’s hand, checking to see if Packard had bit her. “I don’t think he got your fingers, I don’t see any bite marks. Anyways, you’ll have an advantage, so long as you remember your type strengths and weaknesses.” She pointed at Tiberius. Owain looked around, then took a stance facing Tiberius, while Priscilla yawned and curled up. “So, he’s a fire type, right? What’s he strong against?”

“Oooh, ooh, I know this! Okay… grass…” Bianca said, counting on her fingers. “…Bugs… steel… and, um… there’s one more, right…?”

“Ice,” Cheren offered after a moment. “Three out of four’s good, and you won’t see ice-types around here anyway. The Striaton leaders use fire, grass, and water. So, if you’re to have the advantage, which will you be facing?”

“Grass, right?” Bianca said hopefully.

“Bingo! None of us have badges, so you’ll get Cilan,” Carlotta said, high-fiving Bianca proudly. “Oh, hey, Owain, tackle Priscilla!” Owain looked around in surprise, then charged Priscilla.

“Their first-timer teams are always a Lillipup and a Pan-somethin’,” Warren continued. “Now, for Lillipup…” He gestured to Loyal and Lilith, play-fighting in a yipping heap. “What’s good on them?”

“Errr… fightin’-types, and… ummm…” Bianca said, frowning thoughtfully at the two Lillipup.

“That’s all, actually,” Cheren said. “Well done. Priscilla, use Fury Swipes! Now, we don’t have any fighting-types, so our best bet may be to simply brute-force our way through.”

“You think he’s close to evolvin’?” Carlotta mused as Owain knocked Priscilla through a door that was hanging off of its hinges, sending the rusted metal crashing to the ground. The Purrloin yowled unhappily as she lay in a heap on the wrecked door. To Cheren’s frustration, Priscilla was not an enthusiastic fighter, tending towards weak attacks and giving up quickly when injured. So did Lilith--though she was enthusiastic at first, she never attacked very hard and would back out quickly if she got hurt. Loyal, Packard and Owain were all more aggressive fighters, as were Sherlock and Tiberius, though Tiberius clearly preferred cuddles, jumping into Bianca’s arms as soon as he’d won a battle.

“If anybody’s evolvin’ first, it’s definitely Owain,” Warren said, releasing his Audino. “Heal Pulse, Angus,” he ordered, pointing at Priscilla.

Angus glowed, sending a soft beam of light at the collapsed Purrloin that made her bruises disappear and her eyes flicker open as she slowly stood up. Then Angus stopped abruptly, stepping through the now-empty doorway and looking around with his ears fluttering and a frown on his face. He chirruped something and Priscilla mewled a reply, sniffing the air, her ears and whiskers twitching.

“Somethin’ up?” Warren asked in concern. Angus looked at him, then looked around, calling out loudly. Packard looked sharply in the direction that Angus was looking, chittering frantically. Loyal and Lilith paused and perked their ears up at the sound of Angus’ call. The two sniffed the air, then took off, barking loudly.

“Lilith! Lilith, come back!” Bianca yelled, running after her Lillipup with Tiberius clutched in her arms.

“Bianca! Loyal! Dammit, Loyal, live up to your name!” Carlotta yelled, scooping up Owain and running after them.

“Guys, this is exactly what we swore not to do!” Warren yelled, returning Angus and chasing after them, further into the dilapidated factory that they’d moved to after an over-aggressive trainer with an overpowered Braviary, likely on his sixth or seventh badge, had knocked in a wall of the warehouse they’d started in.

Loyal and Lilith’s barking abruptly increased in volume, joined by a chorus of yowling from Priscilla. Sherlock, Owain and Tiberius all looked up sharply, and Sherlock started hissing, pointing his nose directly in the direction that their Pokemon had gone.

“They seem… unhappy,” Bianca said, cuddling Tiberius as he squeaked frantically, his nose twitching, nearly falling out of her arms as he leaned in the direction that he wanted her to go. Owain actually managed to get out of Carlotta’s arms, running at full speed ahead of the humans.

“There,” Warren said, spotting the Pokemon crowded around the remains of a rotted old cupboard.

“Do you hear that?” Cheren said as they approached the cupboard. “What’s that sound?”

“More Pokemon?” Carlotta said curiously, leaning over to open the dangling cupboard door a little more to get a look inside.

Inside was a cardboard box, and inside were three small, weakly chirping Pokemon, one blue, one red, one green. They were immediately recognizable to Carlotta, Warren and Cheren, who’d seen the species before. The Striaton leaders came to the Trainers’ School a few times a year for workshops or lessons on the Unova League, always bringing their signature Pokemon. “A Pansage, Panpour and Pansear!” Cheren said in surprise, starting to crouch down and reach out to the tiny, colourful Pokemon. Lilith and Loyal both growled, their hackles rising, Packard snapped, and even Priscilla hissed at her trainer, her fur rising and her back arching. “Okay then,” Cheren said, quickly withdrawing his hand.

“Hey! Don’t bark at Cheren!” Bianca admonished Lilith with a frown. “Maybe we should return ‘em if they’re gonna misbehave…”

“I think they’re just tryin’ to protect these little guys,” Warren said, watching Angus use a Heal Pulse on the three small Pokemon in the box. “They’re injured… I guess they’ve been abandoned.”

“We should probably take ‘em to the Pokemon Centre, then,” Carlotta suggested, reaching towards the box again, bringing up another round of snarling and hissing. “Okay, look, I’m not gonna hurt ‘em, so you’ve gotta let me pick up the box,” she said, putting her hands on her hips and scowling at the Pokemon. The three in the box just whimpered, huddling close together as if trying to hide beneath each other.

“These Pokemon were probably hurt by the trainers or breeders that abandoned them--they can’t understand that we have good intentions,” Cheren pointed out, returning Sherlock and Priscilla. “We’ll need to return our Pokemon to move them.”

“Don’t worry, guys, they’re gonna be okay,” Carlotta promised, returning Owain and Loyal while Bianca returned Tiberius, Packard and Lilith.

Warren returned Angus, then reached out to pick up the box. The Pansear screeched in fright and spat embers at him, burning his hand. “Ow!” Warren yelped, yanking his hand back and cradling it against his chest.

“Warren!” Cheren gasped, hurrying over to check Warren’s hand. “You’re going to have to get that checked out at the hospital,” he said, examining the burn.

“It’s only first-degree,” Warren assured him, “it just hurts like a bitch.”

“Hey! We’re tryin’ to help you!” Carlotta yelled at the box. The three Pokemon inside just shrank back more.

“Carly, they’re just scared!” Bianca insisted, stepping between her best friend and the box. “We gotta figure out a way to move ‘em without scarin’ ‘em anymore!”

“We could catch them,” Cheren suggested, setting down his backpack and pulling out three pokeballs. “Then we can move them to the Pokemon Centre and they won’t even be aware of it.”

“Best plan we’ve got,” Carlotta agreed, watching Cheren capture the three Pokemon. “Y’all take those to the Pokemon Centre, I’ll take Warren to the hospital to get that hand looked at.”

{Reshin 17th, 18:35}
{Striaton City}

“Success?” Blue asked, straightening up as Koga let Key and Saylee into the hotel suite. “Or at least, a reasonably minimal level of obnoxiousness?”

“There wasn’t a lot of obnoxiousness, no, but passive-aggressiveness was off the charts,” Saylee sighed, setting her bag down on the floor by the door, unclipping her necklace and pokegear to set on the table, and carefully toeing off her shoes before calmly walking over and collapsing face-first on the couch next to Red, who sighed and patted her back without looking up from whatever he was reading on his Poketch.

Key didn’t even bother with carefully removing her jewelery or coat, simply walked over and sat down on the floor next to where the three younger children were teaching Meloetta how to play Snap. Amber leaned over and patted her mother’s ankle. “Are the Unovans being silly again, Mommy?” she said sagely.

“Yes, sweetie,” Key sighed, leaning over and kissing her daughter’s head, then her son’s. “Did you have a nice dinner?”

“Uncle Blue got us hamburgers!” Raphael said excitedly.

“This is a very fancy hotel,” Blue said, walking away from the younger kids to sit on the floor next to Saylee and stroke her hair. “The hamburgers have sprigs of parsley on top. So, on a scale from Wallace to Clair, what shade of annoying is the Governor?”

“She’s not a fan,” Saylee said bluntly, turning her head so she could speak without being muffled by a pillow. “She made some implications about what can be inferred about people in Kanto based on ‘a mere Pokemon’ beating them to public office. I did not appreciate those implications, and told her so. She did not appreciate me not appreciating those implications. Ad infinatum.”

“Rude,” Red commented, scowling at his Poketch.

“That sounds confusing and mean,” Scarlet commented. “Do you want a hamburger, Mummy?”

“It’s okay, honey, I already ate,” Saylee said, smiling tiredly at her daughter, “but thank you. How did you like the gardens?”

“We got lost in the maze!” Raphael said excitedly. “Then we talked to some Pidove an’ they told us all about the forest, but the guide lady didn’t like us talkin’ to Pokemon so she showed us some bushes that look like Pokemon instead. They didn’t talk.”

“Well, except for that mushroom that turned out to be a Pokemon,” Red added.

“We drew pictures!” Amber cried, hopping to her feet and running over to the coffee table across the room, between another couch and a television, to fetch a mass of crayon drawings.

“By the way, Janine,” Saylee said as the kids tried to arrange whose drawings were whose and Meloetta examined the artwork of a king on one of the playing cards, “where did you go while we were arguing about a Pokemon’s capability to do the governor's job? You vanished a little more than usual…”

“I left Linda keeping watch,” Janine said. “I had to have a look around. There was somebody following us… somebody well-trained in stealth.”

“They eluded you,” Koga said, narrowing his eyes.

Janine bowed her head. “Forgive me,” she said, looking ashamed. “I don’t know how they managed to vanish, but they did. I searched for them, but I could find no trace. But they were there, watching us, of that I am certain.”

“I trust your instincts, Janine,” Saylee said with a nod. “Whoever it is, I’m sure they’ll be back. You’ll get them next time.”

“Thank you for your faith in me,” Janine said formally, bowing, before straightening up with a smile. “I refuse to be out-ninja’d by an Unovan.”

“Uh-oh,” Blue said with a grin. “Somebody’s thrown down a challenge they’re going to regret. Hey, you’ve gotta check out the one of the red flowers,” he added as Scarlet approached with her drawings. “Remember what they were called, Lettie?”

“Scarlet Carsons! They’re my flower!” Scarlet said delightedly, climbing into her mother’s lap with a sheaf of drawings.

Cheren, Sherlock, Priscilla

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal

Bianca, Tiberius, Lilith, Packard​

Angus the Audino

Owain the Oshawott, Loyal the Lillipup

Tiberius the Tepig, Lilith the Lillipup,
Name: Packard. Species: Patrat. Nature: Docile. Ability: Run Away. Location: Route 2. Level: 4

Sherlock the Snivy
Name: Priscilla. Species: Purrloin. Nature: Rash. Ability: Limber. Location: Route 2. Level: 3

Cheren, Sherlock, Priscilla

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal

Bianca, Tiberius, Lilith, Packard​

{Reshin 18th, 05:58}
{Striaton City}

“That looks painful,” Warren said sympathetically as he and Carlotta rejoined the line, both clutching coffee, just in time to see Cheren give them a jaw-cracking yawn.

“Wow, Gulpin are super rare ‘round here… anybody got a Great Ball?” Carlotta joked, giving Bianca her coffee.

Cheren mumbled something incomprehensible as he clutched the coffee that Warren handed him, leaning against his boyfriend’s arm as he drank deeply.

“It’s garbage coffee, but it’s hot, cheap an’ here,” Warren said, sipping his drink and checking the time on his C-Gear. “Damn… just in time.”

“They’re openin’ the door!” Bianca gasped, pointing and bouncing on the spot as three young men in waiters’ uniforms stepped out. They weren’t the distinctive triplet Leaders, merely restaurant employees, but they were the focus of hundreds of rapt gazes as they set up a lottery table. A bucket was sitting on the table, its contents indiscernible, and one of the waiters started walking down the line while the other two remained and the table and started inviting trainers forwards.

“Normally we take everybody’s trainer ID numbers and draw from those, but we clearly have too many entering the lottery today,” he explained as he walked down the line. “We are drawing for nine battles. Please take one plastic egg from the basket and open it to see if you have a winning ticket. Once we have drawn all nine, the lottery will close. Thank you for your understanding.”

“Oh, no… there’s so many,” Bianca whispered, clutching her coffee nervously.

“Yeah, but we’re close to the front thanks to our team campin’ strategy,” Warren said, high-fiving his sister.

“‘Scuse me,” Carlotta said, flagging down the passing waiter. “Three of us are here for battles together--can we draw once for three battles?”

“You’ll have to ask Maxwell--he’s the head waiter, the one sitting behind the table,” the waiter explained. “I don’t see why not, but he’ll probably only let you draw once.”

“Luckiest bitch,” Carlotta promised her friends with a grin.

“I’m not sure that it gives us better odds, but it does ensure that if we win, we’ll all get to fight on the same day,” Cheren allowed, visibly looking more alive the more coffee he drank.

“We’ve gotta fight together,” Bianca agreed. “Oooh, what if we win? We’ll be fightin’ in front of the Governor, and… and…” Bianca abruptly paled. “Do you… do you think reporters’ll be there?” she whispered.

“Maybe,” Warren allowed, “but don’t worry. Your folks can’t do anythin’ even if they do find you, and we’ll be here to support you if they do.”

“Most of the reporters’ll probably be from the League networks, so your folks won’t see anythin’ unless they decide to get sports channels,” Carlotta added comfortingly.

“Besides, I’m not sure there’s going to be that much focus on who’s fighting in front of Sar Pryce,” Cheren commented, pressing some buttons on his C-Gear. “Apparently her meeting with the Governor yesterday… did not go well, at least going by the ‘press statement’ Governor Christie ranted afterwards.”

“Oh, damn, what shit’s she on now?” Warren said, peering at Cheren’s C-Gear screen. “Blah, blah… ‘primitive, superstitious nation’, wow, rude… okay, makin’ a Pokemon a governor or whatever they call it there is weird, but…”

“Wait, for real? A governor Pokemon?” Carlotta asked curiously.

“It’s a purely symbolic position over a grave town with almost no living population,” Cheren said, rolling his eyes. “Like that Purrloin who’s a ‘stationmaster’ in Nimbasa. There must be some religious significance to it, since from the looks of it Sar Pryce released a statement about ten minutes later expressing how unhappy she is with the Governor mocking the whole thing. Well, that diplomatic tour’s starting out well.”

“Honestly, I could probably go dig up a Stunfisk that could write better school reform than Governor Christie,” Carlotta said thoughtfully. “We sure graduated just in time.”

“The governor’s been speakin’ out a lot ‘gainst the Plasma Foundation, and a Pokemon as a politician is exactly the kinda wild shit Plasma Foundation would suggest,” Warren opined.

“Yeah, but if it’s a religious thing, not a joke, the governor oughta be more respectful,” Bianca said with a frown.

“The problem with the Fairlands is that their religious beliefs heavily influence their government,” Cheren sighed. “They’re right up there with Alola in pushing embargoes on countries that don’t sign the UN Convention on Pokemon Rights, even though the UN itself isn’t even doing that yet. All because they believe in communicating with Pokemon as if they’re human.”

“Basically, they’re a whole… a bunch of whole countries of weirdoes like that N guy?” Carlotta asked. “I mean, I always put Lady Caitlin bein’ pretty weird down to her bein’ psychic, but you’re sayin’ they’re all like that?”

“Yeah, but… wouldn’t it be nice to be able to talk to Pokemon?” Bianca sighed. “We’d be able to tell those Pokemon that we weren’t gonna hurt ‘em…” They’d taken the Panpour, Pansage and Pansear that they’d found to the Pokemon Centre for healing, and had gotten directions to a Plasma Foundation-funded shelter for abused Pokemon that they could take the three obviously abused Pokemon to once it opened later in the morning. The three had had to be kept in their pokeballs the whole time, panicking violently when they were let out.

“Pokemon ain’t exactly people, but they can be pretty smart,” Warren said, leaning up on his toes to peer over the heads of those in the line ahead of them. “We’re close… we’re definitely gonna get to draw, at least. Are we just gonna let Carly do it?”

“Luck isn’t actually a real concept so it won’t matter anyway,” Cheren pointed out.

“Have faith, Cher,” Carlotta said, patting him on the shoulder. “And get pumped, ‘cause by the end of the day we’re gonna have our first badges!”

“Ooooh… I can’t wait!” Bianca squeaked, starting to bounce on her toes again as she clutched Carlotta’s arm. “I hope they let us draw soon… I can’t handle this!”

“Next!” the waiter standing in front of the table called, gesturing them forwards. “You’re all together?”

“Only three of us are drawing for a battle,” Cheren explained, looking from him to the head water behind the table. “Are we allowed to draw once for all three of us? We’re good friends and we’d like to have our battles together, if we could.”

“Hmmm… well, we do usually allow trainers the opportunity to fight alongside their friends, but these battles are in high demand,” he said, nodding at the line behind them. “You get one draw, understand?”

“Go, Carly, go!” Bianca chanted as Carlotta mimed rolling up her sleeves--”You’re wearing a tank top,” Cheren muttered--and rubbed her hands together.

“Here we go,” she said, plunging her hand into the bowl up to the elbow and yanking out an egg in a single motion. “C’mon… c’mon… c’mon…” she muttered as she twisted the egg open, inhaling sharply as a small gold slip fell out.

“And that’s a winner!” the head waiter declared, to a mixture of cheering and swearing from the trainers queued behind them. Bianca screamed wordlessly and hugged Carlotta in delight while Warren punched the air, hugging Cheren with his other arm.

“Luckiest. Bitch. In. UNOVA!” Carlotta declared, picking up Bianca and swinging her around.

“Should I put that down as your name, or do you have trainer cards?” the head waiter said dryly, prompting Carlotta, Cheren and Bianca to sheepishly dig for their ID cards. “You’re in the 7:00pm slot. Please arrive no later than 5:30pm so we can show you to your table, get you through security--it’ll be quite stringent tonight, of course--and give you time to order. Do not move from the table unless you require the restroom, which you will be guided to by a staff member, or it’s time for your battle. You’ll have time for your entree before your battles, which will take place between the entrees and first course. Please do not attempt to approach Governor Christie or Sar Pryce’s tables--”

“Not eating together anymore, eh?” Cheren commented.

The waiter’s face remained professionally impassive. “They will both be eating with their families, and again, I must stress, do not approach their tables,” he said. “Remain at your own until called. I see from your trainer cards that this is your first badge for each of you. Are you aware of the rules for gym battling?”

“We are all well aware,” Cheren promised.

“Then best of luck,” the waiter said, handing back their cards. “Next!”

“So are we going back to bed, or are we trainin’?” Warren asked as they moved out of the way of the next trainer in line.

“You can go back to bed, but we are--” Cheren checked his watch. “--twelve and a half hours away from our first gym battles, and we need to be back here in eleven hours. We are training.”

“Train, come in to visit the shelter when it opens at nine, then train some more,” Carlotta decided. “C’mon, it’s ass o’clock in the mornin’, the Dreamyard’ll be practically empty!”

{Reshin 18th, 06:47}
{The Dreamyard}

The Dreamyard wasn’t empty--it was open 24 hours, and there were already quite a few trainers around, either people who’d been ahead of them in the line for the drawing or had decided not to try it.

“Hey, were you at the drawing?” an athletic-looking guy with messy black hair called, waving at them.

“We won! We’re battlin’ at seven!” Carlotta said proudly. “Were you?”

“I’m battling at nine, but I booked my battle months ago, so I didn’t go to the drawing,” the guy said with a smirk. “Congratulations, though! Care to train? They could do with somebody new to battle against.”

“Is… that a Garchomp?” Cheren said, gesturing to the tall, pointy, purple Pokemon that was grappling with a skinny red one that had huge claws. “And a Scizor? None of us have any badges yet, I’m afraid. You may be somewhat above our level.”

“For now,” Carlotta said threateningly. “I’ll catch up and kick your ass someday, dude. Carlotta Arathos. Remember the name. And Cheren and Bianca too, if you want,” she added, gesturing to her friends.

“Drake Zychsbane, and this will be my sixth, so… yeah, that’s a mismatch. Shame,” he said, shaking his head. “Best of luck, Carlotta Arathos and friends. Did you just get here today, or were you particularly hoping to battle in front of Pryce-dono?”

“We just started yesterday, but--sorry, are you from there?” Cheren asked. “Was that Fairlan you just spoke?”

“Eh, I was born in Sinnoh. Haven’t seen the place since I was a baby, but you know how parents are about learning the language,” Drake said. Cheren nodded. Drake yelled something in Fairlan at his Pokemon, causing the Scizor to fly up in the air while the Garchomp spat balls of blue fire at it. “Pryce-dono was probably the strongest trainer in the whole Fairlands at her peak, and her husband’s still one of the strongest Leaders to fight. Might take that challenge one day, after I’ve beat the Unova League. It’s a lot harsher, I hear. Even if it’s just your first badge, put up a good fight, okay? And hey,” he added, “don’t let anybody tell you that being harsh on your Pokemon makes them stronger. You get more out of ‘em if you treat ‘em well.” He gestured to his Garchomp. “Take it from me.”

“Thank you for the advice,” Cheren said with a nod. “Come on--we’d better stake out a good training spot.”

“Haven’t seen anybody head into the warehouse yard this morning,” Drake said, pointing at the hulking warehouses. “The one that’s completely collapsed is a good open space, if that’s what you’re after.”

“Thank you very much!” Bianca said brightly. “I hope the Dragons smile on your battle!”

“Good luck, and thanks,” Warren said. Drake waved, but didn’t look away from the intent watch he was keeping on his Scizor as it dodged blue fire in midair.

As Drake had promised, the rotting warehouses were empty and quiet, with no other trainers in sight. “You know, as small and young as our Pokemon are, I am not sure that we need much space…” Cheren began.

“No, but let’s take it anyway, ‘cause we can,” Carlotta insisted, grabbing him and Bianca each by the wrist and tugging them towards the collapsed building at the end.

“Actually, I think somebody’s already there…” Warren said as the sound of voices drifted towards them, accompanied by a high shriek of pain.

“Sounds like they might need healin’,” Bianca said nervously. “Warren, you an’ Angus oughta go help!”

“Good idea,” Warren said, running on ahead. “Hey!” he called. “‘Scuse me, are you… okay…?”

“War? What’s wrong?” Cheren shouted, also breaking into a run as Warren trailed off, staring wide-eyed. Carlotta and Bianca took off after him, rounding the last intact warehouse to get a look at what was going on.

Warren was frozen, staring at two people, a man and a woman, both in head-to-toe Team Plasma uniforms. The man was resting his boot on a small, round, pink Pokemon that was lying in a whimpering heap on the ground.

“…Hey, fellas?” Carlotta said with a frown. “A Pokemon battle involves two Pokemon.”

“It looks really hurt,” Bianca added. “I think it’s done fightin’. Shouldn’t you heal it?”

“My friends both have good points, but I would also like to ask: Team Plasma make a great deal of noise about being against Pokemon battling, and indeed any form of cruelty to Pokemon,” Cheren added, “so… I am trying to find a way to phrase this…”

“The question you’re lookin’ for is what the fuck,” Carlotta suggested.

“None of your business, kids,” the woman snapped. “We’ll be done in a minute, anyway, so go away and leave us alone, got it?”

“Just hurry up and give us the dream smoke,” the man muttered, kicking the little Pokemon again, making it cry out in pain.

“Hey! Stop it!” Bianca screamed. “You’re hurtin’ it really badly! We’ve gotta stop ‘em!” she begged, tugging Carlotta’s arm.

“I agree,” Cheren said, releasing Sherlock. “Munna are endangered. Leave it alone, now.”

“What part of back off don’t you kids get?” the man demanded, releasing a Patrat. The woman released a Purrloin.

“Oh, c’mon, two on one ain’t fair at all!” Carlotta argued, releasing Owain. “Water Gun, Owain!”

The tiny Oshawott bounced enthusiastically in place before shooting off a jet of water that knocked the Patrat backwards. It snarled as it crouched in place, eyes glowing.

“It’s using Bide! Ignore the Purrloin and take it out!” Cheren shouted. “Leaf Tornado!”

“Scratch!” the woman shouted. Sherlock winced but kept his focus on firing a whirlwind of leaves at the Patrat.

“Tackle, Owain!” Carlotta ordered. The Oshawott slammed into the Patrat, which collapsed, unconscious. Owain stumbled as the Purrloin scratched at him, knocking him over the exhausted Patrat.

“Wrap, Sherlock!” Cheren shouted. The Snivy wrapped his long body around the Purrloin, making it spit and hiss as it fought to move.

“Finish it with another Water Gun!” Carlotta ordered, pointing at the entrapped Purrloin. The water attack splashed off of Sherlock’s leaves harmlessly, but slammed into the Purrloin which, not being knocked back, had to endure the full force of the blast. With a pitiful mewl, it slumped in Sherlock’s embrace.

“Now, then,” Carlotta said, stomping towards the two Plasma members. “Y’all wanna fight somebody yourselves, how ‘bout you pick on somebody your own size?”

“Okay, little girl, you asked for it--” the man began, reaching down towards his belt.

The two Plasma members froze as pink mist descended on them, pained expressions overtaking their faces. They slammed their hands over their ears and dropped to their knees, screaming in agony.

“I didn’t touch ‘em!” Carlotta cried, jumping backwards with her hands in the air. The two Plasma members scrambled backwards, starting to babble.

“--didn’t tell them anything, My Lord, would never--”

“--please don’t, please, I’ll do better, I swear I will--”

“--just one more chance, please--”

“--please, I’m begging you--”

“--don’t, please don’t--”


Screaming, the two scrambled to their feet and fled, leaving their defeated Pokemon behind.

“Cher?” Warren said, staring. “You know everythin’. What in the hell just happened?”

“I think it was that,” Cheren said, pointing up to the remains of the upper level. They all looked up to see a shape like a great pink-and-purple balloon slowly descending towards them.

“Oh, it’s so pretty,” Bianca cooed softly.

“Musharna,” Cheren muttered. “Mature form of Munna. It can devour people’s dreams, and give dreams using its smoke. Perhaps… it fed them a nightmare.”

“Defending its young?” Warren suggested as the Musharna floated down to the Munna, uncurling from its large, globular shape to envelop the smaller Pokemon and float away again.

“Gondammit!” Carlotta realized, throwing up her hands. “We had a shot at gettin’ us some real rare Pokemon there!”

“C’mon, Carly, the baby was real hurt,” Bianca said with a frown. “‘Least its mama’ll take good care of it now.”

“It was hurt pretty darn bad, though,” Warren mused. “Might’ve done better if we took it to a Pokemon Centre, but ‘less we wanna track it down, ain’t much we can do ‘bout it now.”

“I wonder what on earth those Plasma members wanted with that poor thing,” Cheren sighed. “I have to admit, I’m not altogether comfortable with taking those abused Pokemon that we found to a Plasma shelter now. What if those reprobates are working there?”

“Well, can’t we tell the cops ‘bout ‘em?” Bianca asked.

“If fightin’ wild Pokemon was a crime, we’d all go to jail,” Carlotta pointed out.

“Killin’ an endangered species is a crime, sure, but we don’t have that Munna, dead or alive,” Warren groaned, looking up to where the Musharna had vanished, then going to check on the Patrat and Purrloin that the two Plasma members had abandoned.

“I suppose we could just keep them Pans…” Carlotta mused. “If we could get ‘em comfortable with us, they’d be real handy in the gym battles tonight, wouldn’t they?”

“It’s not that easy to befriend abused Pokemon,” Cheren sighed.

“We should at least take these ones to the Pokemon Centre,” Warren said, standing up with the Patrat and Purrloin in his arms. “Maybe they can tell us about somewhere other than the Plasma shelter to take them.”

{Reshin 18th, 17:15}
{Striaton City}

“Have you seen an Unovan gym battle before?” Saylee asked.

“Try to talk without moving your face,” Key said, wielding the mascara brush very carefully. “And not live. They broadcast them sometimes, if the trainer or their guardian has consented to it, and I have watched a few, but I don’t think what you can see on TV is a great sample, honestly. They broadcast uncontroversial fights, the sort without any disputed rulings or severe injuries.” She barely got her brush out of the way before Saylee’s eyes flashed open.

“I know Pokemon don’t have proper rights here,” she said, “but is it true that they commonly maim or even kill--?”

“Eyes closed until I say so,” Key ordered. “I know it happens. I don’t know how common it is. The Pokemon League here’s a private sporting organization, not a governmental body, so it’s pretty hard for me to get many details. But this gym often works with the schools nearby, they do extracurricular training classes for aspiring Pokemon trainers. They’re most people’s first gym battle, I can’t imagine they’re that dangerous. Okay, now you can move,” she added, sitting back. “Get your sparkles on and let’s get going, shall we?”

“You are good at that,” Saylee said, checking her hair and makeup in the mirror and then digging out her snowflake necklace. “Okay. Enjoy the fancy dinner, watch the battles, don’t look in Governor Christie’s direction.”

“I think they’re seating you so you face away from each other,” Key said, putting in her earrings and picking out a hairclip. It looked a little like a Stantler, but one with bright bunches of leaves around its horns--pink, green, orange and white. “It’s a Sawsbuck,” Key said, sliding it into her hair. “Native to Unova, isn’t it lovely?” She tapped the glittering piece with a smirk. “The pin’s sharp enough to stab right through a human hand, too. If you ever grew your hair long enough, I’d get you one.”

“Not quite my style, but good to know,” Saylee said, standing up. “Okay, let’s go help Blue and Red with the kids so we can get going.”

“If they need more help, won’t Janine or one of the others help them?” Key asked.

“One: Janine’s a bodyguard, not a nanny,” Saylee said, pulling her jacket on and opening the door. “And two, she thinks the twins are hilarious.”

“Well, she’s not wrong,” Key sniggered, following Saylee out. “Ray? Amy? How close are we to being ready to go, huh?”

Cheren, Sherlock, Priscilla

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal

Bianca, Tiberius, Lilith, Packard​

They technically have the elemental monkeys but I'm not putting them on the team rosters yet because, well, they're not on the teams yet!

Angus the Audino

Owain the Oshawott, Loyal the Lillipup

Tiberius the Tepig, Lilith the Lillipup, Packard the Watchog

Sherlock the Snivy, Priscilla the Purrloin

Cheren, Sherlock, Priscilla

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal

Bianca, Tiberius, Lilith, Packard​

{Reshin 18th, 17:58}
{Striaton City}

“I ain’t dressed fancy enough to be in here,” Bianca muttered, fidgeting nervously with her skirt. She was wearing a frilly white blouse and yellow skirt, the dressiest things she had, while Cheren, Warren and Carlotta were all wearing white dress shirts and black slacks.

“The dress code doesn’t apply to trainers who are here to fight,” Cheren assured her. “None of us have the money to go shopping for new formal clothes. You look lovely, Bianca.”

“You got any idea what you wanna eat, or do you want me to pick somethin’ for you?” Carlotta asked, frowning at her menu. “That one, the pommes frites, that’s the fancy fries, right?”

“Yes, it is,” Cheren said. “Bianca, you like soup, don’t you? Try that one.” He pointed at an item on her menu.

“Ain’t this food expensive?” Bianca asked.

“This menu’s free to trainers,” Warren promised. “Oop, here comes our waiter. Evenin’,” he said as the young lady approached their table with a smile. Her nametag said her name was Tia. “Can I get that salad, please?”

“Pommes frites, s’il vous plait,” Carlotta said with a grin.

“Tres bien!” Tia laughed. “And you, miss?”

“Ummm… soup, I guess,” Bianca mused, pointing at the one Cheren had suggested. “Please.”

“I’ll have the kebab, please,” Cheren said, collecting everybody’s menus and handing them to the waitress. “Thank you.”

“Of course!” Tia said, bobbing a curtsey and heading off with the menus.

“Bianca, seriously, you look darlin’,” Carlotta said, dragging Bianca’s hand away as she started self-consciously patting at her hair.

“I know, but… they look so nice,” Bianca said wistfully, nodding to the table next to Cress’ stage where the Tohjo Champion and her husband were eating dinner with the Hoenn ambassador. Even all the kids were dressed up nice, all of them in bright, traditional-Fairlan style clothes. Three ninja were visibly hovering around the table. They were wearing more conventional black suits and ties instead of their ninja getups, but were still wearing black masks over their mouths and noses and sunglasses over their eyes, making them difficult to tell apart.

“I think it’s just gondamn hilarious how they put her table as far as they damn could from Governor Christie’s table,” Warren said, pointing to the governor’s table, which was on the opposite end of the room, next to Chili’s stage. “I don’t think they could be any further apart without puttin’ one of ‘em out in the front garden!”

“Ohmygoodness, what’s happenin’?!” Bianca squeaked as the lights dimmed.

“They’re gettin’ started, sssh,” Carlotta said, patting Bianca’s shoulder and pointing to the centre stage, where, with a burst of music, the stage lights came up on the Striaton Triplets.

“Good evening, honoured customers!” a pale man in a waiter’s uniform announced. He ran a hand through his short green hair. “My name is Cilan, and these are my brothers--”

“Cress,” a man with long blue hair announced, waving and bowing to the applauding crowd.

“And Chili!” a man with spiky red hair shouted, pumping one fist in the air. “Woo!”

“Thank you all for joining us this evening,” Cilan continued, “and I would particularly like to thank our esteemed guests, Sar Saylee Pryce, Sir Blue Oak, Sar Keyanu Weaves, and their beautiful families! Domo arigatou, Pryce-sama, to Oak-sama, to Weaves-sama!” he called, he and his brothers bowing deeply to the far table. “Thank you also to Governor Christie and her fine husband for joining us tonight,” he added, bowing again to the opposite table.

“Please enjoy your appetizers as our first three challengers join us,” Cress announced. “Could Brutus Soyinka please go to Chili’s stage, Phileas McLeen here to Cilan’s, and Conner Leone follow me to my stage?”

The three stages were decorated in green, red and blue drapes, making it easy to tell which was which. Their table was quite close to the blue stage, Cress’, so they got a look at Conner Leone as he passed them, a tall, pudgy man with unkempt black hair and dark bags under his eyes. He looked like he hadn’t slept the night before, possibly training for the gym battle, or maybe the early morning to draw in the raffle had taken its toll on him.

“See, Bianca? He’s here in a gondamn hoodie,” Carlotta whispered. Bianca slammed her hands over her mouth to stifle her giggles. Conner didn’t seem to hear them, but looked unhappy anyway, slouching onto the stage and into the marked-out spot across from Cress. Cress bowed with an unaffected smile, in perfect unison with his brothers. Cilan’s opponent was staggeringly tall with long blonde hair in a ponytail and a scruffy beard, and while he was wearing a dress shirt and nice slacks, he had the sleeves rolled up and was wearing boots. Chili’s opponent was tall, though not quite so much as Phileas McLeen, and more serious-looking, his shoulder-length black hair tied back out of his face and his white dress shirt neatly tucked into his black jeans.

The drapes at the back of the stages drew back to reveal display screens that showed photographs of the challengers, and the information that all three were challenging for their fourth badges. Bianca fidgeted with her napkin as the servers returned with their drinks and entrees, listening intently as the referees announced the rules, even though her friends had already taken her through them earlier in the day. She couldn’t help the fear that she’d mess something up, do something wrong, somehow…

This was her chance to be with Pokemon. She had to get this right.

“Holy shit,” Carlotta whispered as Cheren whistled appreciatively when the three challengers released their first Pokemon to face the triplet leaders’ Stoutlands. Conner and Phileas both had Pignite, but Brutus had something humanoid and green-and-white that Bianca had never seen before.

“Is that a Gallade?” Cheren murmured, eyes fixed on the battle against Chili. “You don’t see many of them around here…”

“Lookin’ forward to evolvin’ Tiberius into that?” Carlotta asked, nudging Bianca and nodding to Conner’s Pignite, which was enthusiastically flinging Cilan’s Stoutland around the stage.

“Won’t be able to carry ‘im anymore if I do,” Bianca giggled nervously. She started sipping at her soup. The battles on the stages were intense. Chili had already switched to a red Pokemon that looked like a bigger version of the ones they’d found abandoned. Simisear, she remembered from what her friends had taught her. Cress has a… Simipour, and Cilan has a Simisage… but they don’t use ‘em on just first badge fights, right? They use littler ones…

Brutus was the first to finish, his Gallade winning both battles in under five minutes. Bianca joined in the clapping as he and his Gallade both bowed elegantly, before he returned his Gallade and was presented with his badge. Phileas finished not long after, switching to a brown Pokemon with long, bouncy legs and big eyes set into its chest after Cress brought out his Simipour. Cheren quietly identified it as a Hitmonlee, another rare, foreign Pokemon, and it didn’t take long to kick Cress’ Simipour off the stage, drawing some laughter as well as clapping. Conner was the last to finish--waiters were starting to deliver main courses to the other tables by the time he won. His Pignite didn’t struggle to defeat either the Stoutland or the Simisage, but Conner himself seemed bored by the entire business, giving his orders slowly while his energetic Pignite dodged around the stage. Even he, however, finally won his badge, waved vaguely to the room and slouched back to his seat.

“Congratulations to Brutus Soyinka, Phileas McLean and Conner Leone on your wins!” Cilan announced. “Now, battling for their first badges--please welcome Carlotta Arathos to Chili’s stage, Cheren Athos to Cress’ and Bianca D’Artagnan to mine!”

Bianca felt like she’d sweat through her clothes as she walked on wobbly legs up the steps to Cilan’s stage, barely hearing the clapping. There probably weren’t even fifty people in the room, and it turned out that all the cameras were being kept outside, a horde of paparazzi who had been completely uninterested in anybody except Governor Christie and the Fairlan delegation. And there were three stages, so probably the whole room wasn’t even looking at her. Probably they were looking at Cheren, striding confidently onto the stage, or Carlotta, who was much more beautiful than Bianca and waving cheerily to the whole room, smiling her proud, dazzling smile.

Even if nobody was looking at Bianca, though, she still felt watched, and she’d always hated that feeling. Her parents had assured her, every day since before she could remember, that the dragons were watching every single thing she did and said and thought. This had never felt as comforting as it was probably supposed to.

This was worse than choir. At least she’d never had to sing alone.

Focus on what you’re doin’, she reminded herself. You love what you’re doin’, you just hate folks seein’ you do it. Ignore ‘em.

“Are you ready, Miss D’artagnan?” Cilan said, releasing his Lillipup.

Bianca took a deep breath. “I’m ready,” she said, releasing her own Lillipup. Lilith yipped excitedly when she spotted the other Lillipup, bouncing on the spot. Cilan’s Lillipup just huffed.

“Excited little thing, yours, isn’t she?” Cilan chuckled. “Okay, Sauvignon, Work Up!” The little Pokemon snarled and bristled, causing Lilith to take a hesitant step back as her opponent started barking aggressively.

“Don’t let ‘im scare you, Lil!” Bianca cried. “Bite!” Lilith leapt forwards, catching one of her enemy’s ears in her teeth and worrying at it. “Lilith! Harder’n that! We ain’t playin’!”

“Bite, Sauvignon!” Cilan ordered. Sauvignon bit back, much more aggressively, tearing into Lilith’s shoulder. Lilith wailed in pain.

“C’mon, Lil! Bite ‘im!” Bianca cried. “Or, ummm… Take Down!”

Lilith slammed into Sauvignon, sending him flying backwards across the stage. Bianca heard a cheer from somewhere off the stage, but fought the urge to look. “That’s great, Lilith!” she cried. “Take Down again!”

Lilith charged Sauvignon again and, again, Sauvignon was knocked backwards. Lilith looked tired from using the difficult attack, panting and shaking, but Sauvignon was also looking battered and weak. He coughed a little blood onto the stage.

Blood? Do we keep fightin’ if there’s blood? Bianca wondered, looking to the referee, but he just smiled and gave her a thumbs-up.

“Once more!” Cilan ordered. “Bite!”

Sauvignon lunged and Lilith, exhausted, didn’t dodge far enough.

Sauvignon’s teeth ripped into her neck, and this time there was a lot of blood. When Lilith, with a pitiful, choked whine, slumped, it was into a puddle that was already big enough to splash.

“LILITH!!” Bianca screamed, running towards her Lillipup. She screamed again when Sauvignon growled at her, the fur of his face messy with blood, but Cilan whistled and he backed away.

“Miss D’artagnan, stay off of the field! Battling Pokemon are dangerous!” the referee said sharply, holding her back. “I’ll check on her. Step back or you’ll be disqualified.”

As Bianca hugged herself, starting to cry, she became aware of Warren shouting. “--my friend, she’s never seen a Pokemon die before, you have to let me up there--”

“Dead,” the referee announced. “Do you wish to choose another Pokemon, Miss D’Artagnan?”

“Wh-what? No!” Bianca cried. Cilan returned Sauvignon and she ran across the now-lifeless battlefield, slumping next to Lilith’s corpse as she descended into full-fledged sobbing. She barely registered the referee announcing her forfeit, or the anger breaking out at the tables at the back of the room, or the blood soaking into her skirt. At some point, Warren reached her, hugging her tight, and she she was grateful to have somebody to cling to as she cried.

{Reshin 18th, 19:29pm}
{Striaton City}

Bianca was far too upset to sit back down and eat, let alone watch other battles, so Warren took her out to the foyer and sat with her while they waited for Carlotta and Cheren. A waitress led them out to where they could sit down and brought Bianca a glass of water and some tissues.

“Alright, hon, I’m sure you don’t wanna talk about this just now, but I’ve just got a coupla things I need to ask you,” she said, tapping at her C-gear. “First up, we’ve put your poor Lillipup’s body away safe for now, but we need your call on what to do with her. You want her cremated, we can point you at a place nearby that does that real cheap, ‘less you wanna splurge of a fancy urn or craft for her ashes. You wanna have her transferred somewhere for traditional burial, that’s a bit more pricey."

“Don’t! Don’t… don’t burn her!” Bianca cried frantically. “She didn’t do nothin’ wrong!”

“Okay, hon, okay,” the waitress said, raising her hands placatingly. “That’s a ‘no’ on the crematin’, got it. You got somewhere special you want her buried?”

“I… I dunno,” Bianca croaked. “My… my folks always said Pokemon don’t got souls, so it ain’t right ta try an’ bury ‘em proper… I dunno about…”

“Celestial Tower,” Warren said firmly. “It’s a little pricey, but we’ll all chip in, okay? They’ll take real good care of Lilith.”

“Alright, hon, we’ll send you an invoice later,” the waitress said. “Sure you don’t wanna come back in for some food?”

Bianca just shook her head, pressing her hands to her mouth as she started to cry.

“Thanks, but we’ll just wait here for our friends and then go,” Warren told her.

“Alright, then,” the waitress said, heading back towards the restaurant. She was nearly steamrollered by Carlotta as she charged out, pokeball in one hand and new badge in the other.

“Bianca, I’m so sorry, I was so into the battle, I didn’t notice a thing until I’d finished and then I couldn’t see you or Warren and I saw Sar Pryce was arguing with Cilan and that Phileas guy told me that…” She trailed off as she sat down down on Bianca’s other side and snaked an arm around her. Bianca just turned around and started sobbing on Carlotta’s shoulder. “Oh, Biana… I’m sorry. That was absolute roshit.”

“It’s all my fault!” Bianca sobbed. “Should’ve had ‘er use a different move… or… Shoulda used Tiberius from the start, them other two’s Pignites did just fine… It’s all my fault! I got ‘er killed!”

“Hey, c’mon, it ain’t your fault,” Warren said, patting her back. “These things happen sometimes.”

“Mostly only higher up, though,” Carlotta added. “No first-badge battle should’ve gotten that intense. If anythin’, it’s Cilan’s fault.”

“Good grief,” Cheren panted, running through the door. “I barely got to finish my battle. There’s a diplomatic incident happening in there. I think we’d better leave.”

“Oh, shit, did the Governor and the Fairlan Champ start a fight again?” Carlotta said, looking far too excited at the prospect.

“No, and they never--well, they are hardly in combat, but it looks like the Fairlan delegation were already furious about Lilith’s death, especially in front of their children,” Cheren said. “I think I heard one of them crying… I was finishing my battle so I didn’t quite hear what happened, but the Champion just about exploded--”

“Sar Saylee is suffering some difficulty with the notion that Unovan laws are not the same as Fairlan ones, that’s all,” Cilan said, striding calmly through the door. Following him was a man who, having pulled down his mask, was instantly recognizable as the ninja that had accosted Warren at Professor Juniper’s lab. His already deep-etched scowl was diamond-hard now as he watched Cilan. “Miss D’Artagnan, I am here to apologize personally. As a professional, it was my job to ensure that our battle did not get out of hand, especially where a brand-new trainer such as yourself was concerned, and I failed in that. Therefore, as a gesture of goodwill, I would like to offer to cover the costs of your Lillipup’s burial, and, if you’d like a new one, I can introduce you to the breeder who my brothers and I always buy from. She’s the best of the best, I can promise you that.”

“Th-thank you, but… I don’t wanna replace Lilith,” Bianca sniffed, wiping at her eyes.

“Let me know if you change your mind,” Cilan said with a friendly smile. “Would you like to book a rematch now?”

“N-no,” Bianca choked out, struggling not to cry again.

“Thank you for your help, but right now, we’d just like to leave,” Cheren said, standing between Bianca and Cilan.

Cilan, taking a hint, nodded and stepped away. “Best of luck on your League challenges,” he said with a bow, backing through the doors to the restaurant.

Datanya-sama?” the ninja sad. “Matte kudasai…” He started fidgeting with what looked like a translator button on his lapel.

Sumimasen?” Cheren interjected, a little haltingly. “Ferango o hanashimasu.

Honto ni?” the ninja said in surprise. “Ferango wa jyouzu desu ne!

Sonna koto nai desu…

“What’s goin’ on?” Carlotta whispered.

“How should I know?” Warren whispered back. “I don’t speak Fairlan!”

“You spend half your time with a nerd who does!” Carlotta argued quietly, gesturing to Cheren.

“You spend almost as much time with Cheren as I do,” Warren shot back, “and when we’re alone, it’s not for Fairlan lessons!”

“Didn’t know…” Bianca hiccuped between quiet sobs. “…Cheren… spoke… ‘nother language…?”

“Eh, both his parents’ families are from the Fairlands, like, eight generations back,” Warren said, rolling his eyes. “But his mum’s is one of those families that holds on super hard to their roots, so they’ve always raised their kids speaking Unovan and Fairlan. They want him to go on a year of work study in Sinnoh, too. Damn, maybe we should be filming this, his parents’ll die of pride to see him speaking real Fairlan to a real--aw shit,” Warren muttered as the word ‘die’ caused Bianca to start sobbing again. Carlotta, scowling, leaned over and punched her brother in the arm.

Cheren was ignoring them in favour of focusing intently on his conversation, looking increasingly floored by whatever the ninja was saying to him. Then there was a lot of bowing both ways and some “Arigatou gozaimasu”s, one phrase that Warren did actually know.

Then the ninja bowed to Bianca, said “Go shuushou sama desu,” and walked back into the restaurant.

“Cher? You okay? What happened?” Warren asked, leaning over and taking his pale-faced boyfriend’s hand and rubbing his thumb over Cheren’s knuckles.

“Well… as I understand it, Sar Saylee is indeed incensed that there are no actual legal consequences for killing a Pokemon in battle, even if it was an accident, and, um…” He looked down at Warren, Bianca and Carlotta. “Well, she offered condolences as if you’d lost a child instead of a Pokemon and then, because she believes you shouldn’t have to worry about food or shelter while dealing with a loss and knowing that traveling trainers don’t have much money, has offered to cover rooms for the four of us at the Trio Grande hotel, including room service.”

“The Tri--the big-ass fancy hotel by the Botanic Gardens?!” Warren yelped. “Seriously?”

“Apparently, we just need to go into the desk and check in as Bianca D’Artagnan and her plus three,” Cheren said, looking a little dazed.

“Sweeeeeeeeet,” Carlotta breathed, putting her hands on Bianca’s shoulders. “Okay, so we’re gonna go check into this fancy hotel, and--Bianca, how do you feel about bubble baths?”

“I… could really use one right now,” Bianca sniffed weakly.

“Then we’re checkin’ in, you’re gettin’ in a bubble bath for as long as you gondamn want, I’m gonna find you my favourite pep-up playlists of 100% happy music, and then we’re gonna order fancy room service and eat it while wearing hotel dressing gowns, which are really nice even when it’s not the fanciest hotel in a hundred miles so these must be next level, and we’re gonna watch the best movies you were never allowed to, okay?”

“After Bianca’s first ever professional battle ended so disastrously, I think that sounds ideal,” Cheren said, gripping Warren’s hand and pulling him to his feet. “We aren’t far. I think we should head there directly. The paparazzi are still outside, but they aren’t expecting anybody to come out yet and don’t care about some no-name rookie trainers coming out of a gym, whereas if we arrive at the hotel after they’ve followed Sar Saylee’s entourage there, they will most certainly be interested in the no-name rookie trainers staying in an expensive hotel.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Warren said, taking one of Bianca’s hands as Carlotta took the other, pulling her to her feet so she could walk semi-hidden between the taller twins with her friends holding her hands. “Hmmm… You know what I loved as a kid? Toy Story. You ever see it?” Bianca shook her head, sniffing. “Well, it’s great. All these toys come alive, like a Mr Petaya Head--you must’ve had one of those--and a Slinky Stoutland and a Grumpig bank and stuff, but mainly there’s this rancher, right, and…”

{Reshin 18th, 20:01}
{Striaton City}

Saylee was still seething by the time they got back to the hotel. “Kids, go start getting changed into your PJs, okay?” Key said gently, ushering her uncharacteristically quiet twins into their room. “Mommy’ll be through in just a moment.”

“Go on, Lettie, you too,” Blue encouraged her. “Red, keep an eye on ‘em, willya?” he added.

“Sure… c’mon, then,” Red said, leading Scarlet by the hand after the twins. He glanced nervously over his shoulder before closing the door behind them.

“Gods, I knew it wasn’t actually illegal to kill your opponents’ Pokemon here,” Saylee moaned, putting a hand over her eyes, “but you said it was rare, Key, and you never said they--”

“It’s… not as rare as it should be,” Key admitted. “And I had no idea they’d just…”

“Scoop the body off in a fucking shovel and then continue as if nothing happened?” Blue supplied sharply.

“…but I just gave them another ‘Fairlan Champion makes a scene’ headline, didn’t I?” Saylee groaned, dragging her hand down her face. “Gods… I won’t apologize for demanding that they treat the poor thing with a little dignity, but I’m gonna have to make some sort of statement clarifying my position and apologizing gracefully for my conduct, aren’t I?”

“I’ll help you out with that later, if you want, but for now, I’ve really gotta go speak to my kids,” Key said quietly. “They know what death is, but they’ve never seen a Pokemon die before.”

“They’ve never seen… shit,” Saylee sighed, rubbing her eyes again. “I’d better talk to Scarlet, too. She’s been to some of her great-grandparents’ funerals and she saw Grace die when there was that assassination attempt, but still, this was awful… I want to know how Red’s doing, too.”

None of the kids were in their pyjamas yet by the time they’d collected themselves enough to go talk, something nobody felt inclined to tell them off for. Key gently sat down next to her kids and they immediately latched onto her, burying their heads in her side. Amber was sobbing; Raphael was yelling.

Why’d he hurt the other one so BAD, didn’t he know biting somebody there’d KILL them, why’d he DO that, Mommy, why’d his trainer LET him, didn’t his trainer TELL him you can kill somebody biting ‘em there, Mommy, Grandpa always tells HIS Pokemon to be real careful not to hurt anybody TOO bad, how come he’s a Leader if he doesn’t TELL his Pokemon to be careful, Mommy, how COME…”

Scarlet hugged her dad, just crying. “Th-they j-j-just… s-s-s-s-s-scoo-oo-ooped h-her up… d-d-dragged her aw-way… l-l-l-like n-nothing’s wrong…” she gasped between sobs.

“I know, kiddo,” Blue said, rubbing her back. “Koga says they’re taking her away for a nice funeral, okay?”

“Hey,” Saylee said, putting a hand on Red’s shoulder. “You okay?”

“…Never seen a Pokemon die before,” he mumbled. It was just… one second it was okay, then it was just… gone, in a puddle of blood.”

Saylee took a deep, deep breath as a lump dropped heavily into her stomach. “That’s… how it happens, sometimes,” she said carefully. “And… it’s unfair, and it’s cruel, and it shouldn’t. That’s part of why we’re here--trying to talk to Unovan people, get them interested in how we do things, in a better way of treating Pokemon…”

Red gave her a tortured look. “Why can’t they already see how cruel that is?” he asked, his voice breaking.

Saylee put an arm around him, letting him lean his head on her shoulder while tears slipped down his cheeks. “I don’t know,” she said quietly, staring out of the window at the highly-advertised view of the Botanical Gardens, all of the magnificent hedge sculptures lit up for the night with dramatic spotlights. It all looked so beautiful.

I’m sorry, Red. You were never supposed to rediscover that kind of cruelty. You were lucky enough forget, to get a life where you could believe in a world that isn’t cruel and cold. You and Scarlet were never supposed to see it at all…

Cheren, Sherlock, Priscilla

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal

Bianca, Tiberius, Packard​

Brutus belongs to Gamesmaster64, Phil belongs to Gensoukyan30, and Conner belongs to Bowserboy129! They’ll probably appear again in some capacity as none of them got speaking parts in this chapter, but since they’re all on the gym circuit too, I thought it’d be fun to have them establish how the Striaton Gym works :) And yes I am aware that ingame you fight the Leader with an ADVANTAGE over you, not a DISADVANTAGE. I changed it after establishing that they’re linked to the local Trainer’s School--I thought it’d be more likely that they’d try to give new trainers an advantage, switching to giving more accomplished trainers a disadvantage and a challenge. Anyway, whichever brother it is doesn’t really change the fact that a fucking Worked Up critical Bite killed my fucking puppy. (Of course, ingame, no, I didn’t forfeit, I won the badge, but there was no way Bianca was capable fo finishing that battle.)

When Koga greets them, “Datanya” is my best estimate of how a Japanese person would pronounce “D’artagnan”, and “Matte kudasai” means “wait, please” because he’s an old man who can’t make his digital translator work. Cheren steps in to say that he can speak Fairlan (“Feran” would, again, be my guess at a Japanese pronunciation; “Ferango” would be “Fairlan(language)”, while “Feranjin” would be “Fairlan(person)”). Koga then says the Fairlan-substituted-for-Japanese ritual polite phrase which means “Really? Your Fairlan is so good!” and Cheren responds with the official response, which basically amounts to “not really”. Japanese people are just about obligated by law to praise any foreigner who speaks Japanese with this phrase, and it looks rude if you don’t deny a compliment in Japanese. The last thing Koga says to Bianca is roughly equivalent to saying “I’m sorry for your loss” in English, though it’s not a direct translation.

Angus the Audino

Owain the Oshawott, Loyal the Lillipup

Tiberius the Tepig, Packard the Watchog
RIP Lilith the Lillipup, level 4-12

Sherlock the Snivy, Priscilla the Purrloin

Cheren, Sherlock, Priscilla

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal

Bianca, Tiberius, Packard​
{Reshin 18th, 21:12}
{Striaton City}

Having been assigned two rooms, they let Bianca settle alone in one to run herself a bubble bath in the big, luxurious bathroom, which did include fancy bubble bath among the free toiletries. There was more than enough room in the second twin for Carlotta, Cheren and Warren to poke around the fancy desk, minibar and cupboards before flopping down on the luxurious beds to decide what to do while they waited to find out how long Bianca’s ideal bath was.

“We could try makin’ friends with those three abandoned Pokemon,” Warren suggested. “If we’re not gonna give ‘em to the Plasma Foundation, we might look into keepin’ ‘em. If we could get ‘em comfy with us, we wouldn’t have to just abandon ‘em in a computer box forever, right?”

“That’s a good idea,” Cheren said, opening a web browser. “Do you know much about interacting with scared, hurt Pokemon, Warren?”

“Ehhh… I’ve read a couple things, but I ain’t a doctor yet,” Warren admitted, ruffling a hand through his own hair. “But stayin’ calm and givin’ ‘em space to calm down is important, I’m pretty sure.”

“Here’s an accredited guide,” Cheren said, throwing up a holodisplay from his c-gear screen. “It says that if you’re dealing with multiple scared Pokemon, only let them out one at a time or they’ll panic each other. Which one first?”

“The grass one,” Carlotta said. “If it panics, it ain’t gonna set the room on fire or flood it. I mean, we ain’t payin’ for this place, but that don’t mean we can trash it. I’m guessin’, if we get it calm, it can calm down the others, right?”

“Right,” Warren said, carefully pressing the front buttons on the pokeballs to get information displays until he found the Pansage, clicking hard to release the the little green Pokemon into the middle of the carpet. He looked much better without the blood and bruises, but as soon as he saw the three humans, he whimpered and shot off under one of the beds.

“Do we just let ‘im do that?” Carlotta said, leaning down to peer under the bed.

“Yeah, I think we do,” Warren said, pulling her back. “We shouldn’t touch or approach it ‘til it lets us, right?”

“That’s what it says here,” Cheren agreed. “We should stay very still, keep as quiet as possible, and not react to anything it does--in fact, try not to even look at it. It might take a long time, but when it realizes it isn’t being hurt, it’ll come to investigate us, and when we don’t hurt it for that, it’ll get more comfortable.”

“Wait, we’ve gotta sit still and quiet for hours?!” Carlotta said in dismay.

“That might actually kill you,” Warren observed.

“No shit,” Carlotta grumbled. “Look, I’ll go back to the other room and work out until Bianca gets outta her bath. You guys can stay here alone so long as you don’t tell our folks I left y’all unchaperoned and you don’t get up to nothin’, or at least keep it quiet if you do, okay?”

“Please go away, now, please,” Cheren sighed, pulling his glasses off and rubbing his eyes as Warren shoved his cackling sister through the adjoining door between the rooms.

“So… Grass Vs Ghosts?” Warren suggested, holding up his c-gear.

“I’ll set up a local game,” Cheren agreed with a cough. They loaded up the game and settled down on the floor, backs to the couch so they could see if the Pansage came out from under the bed.

It was a little eerie at first, playing in silence aside from the occasional hiss of frustration, but steadily Warren got absorbed into the game. Around ten, a “BlazingSoul96” joined their game, and Cheren murmured something about bored rich kids before they got back into the flow of the game. Warren got so sucked in that he couldn’t help jumping and yelping when something unexpectedly touched his foot.

The Pansage gave a little wail and took off under the bed again.

“Well, shit,” Warren muttered. “Did I just flush an hour and a half down the pan?”

“Did you make that pun consciously?” Cheren said. Warren groaned. “And you didn’t hurt it, you just startled it. It won’t take so long to come back again. Hmmm…” He pulled his pokeballs out of his pocket. “Maybe I’ll let Sherlock out. He’s very well-behaved, and it might help settle the poor thing to see another Pokemon.”

“Good idea,” Warren said, picking up his c-gear again. “Aw, shit, we left Blazin’ Soul holdin’ the fort alone! He’s gettin’ swamped!”

“So help him quietly,” Cheren said, keeping his voice deliberately soft as he released Sherlock, then picked up his own C-gear to rejoin the game. Sherlock stared at the humans for a while, as if waiting for a command, before hissing a bit when nothing happened. “We’re not fighting, Sherlock,” Cheren whispered, pointing to the bed that the Pansage was hiding under. “Remember that Pansage? Go say hello!”

Sherlock stared at the bed, then flicked out his tongue a few more times, eyes widening. He crept under the bed. Warren turned his full attention to the undead invasion floating across the screen.

After a while, the quiet in the room was tinted by soft hissing and chittering.

{Reshin 18th, 22:55}
{Striaton City}

“Oh,” Bianca said, coming out of the bathroom in a fluffy dressing gown to see Carlotta lying on her back, bench-pressing a toddler-sized blue Pokemon with long whiskers, who was giggling as he went up and down. “Uh… is that Owain? Did he evolve?”

“Oh, yeah,” Carlotta grunted, setting down her starter. “After the gym battle. Wasn’t really worth mentionin’ at the time. How are you doin’?”

“Better,” Bianca said, sitting down on the bed. “Sorry for takin’ so long.”

“Awww, don’t you worry your head about it,” Carlotta said, patting Bianca’s shoulder. “I’m gonna get a shower. Be five minutes. Don’t go next door ‘less you wanna sit silent, they’re tryin’ ta get them abused Pokemon used to ‘em. When I’m done, we’ll get room service, awright? The menu’s in plain Unovan, so have yourself a peek an’ pick what you want.” She returned Owain, handed a tablet to Bianca and headed for the bathroom.

Bianca stared at the menu listlessly, then, biting her lip, scrolled to the dessert menu. They won’t judge me for gettin’ a milkshake, right? Even if it’s a big one? I could even get… gondamn, does that say double chocolate fudge brownie?!

Carlotta wasn’t even five minutes, coming out with her long brown hair wrapped up in a towel and stroking the sleeves of her dressing gown. “Damn, this shit’s soft. Alright, Bianca, what’re you gonna have?”

“I… could do with a milkshake,” Bianca admitted, pointing to the picture in the menu.

“Ooooh, good idea!” Carlotta said, grinning. “Lemme see… yeah, sounds like a good idea! Ooooh, double chocolate fudge brownie? My favourite!

“I want that, too,” Bianca said, nearly melting with relief, the feeling of a threat avoided. Which is silly. Carlotta’s my friend. She ain’t a threat.

“Nice,” Carlotta said, double-tapping the flavour option and ordering two. “Right… well, let’s see what movies this place has got, huh?”

“Carly?” Bianca asked, fidgeting with her sleeves. “Ummm… Lilith. Dyin’. Have you… seen stuff like that before?”

“Well… I ain’t actually seen it happen before,” Carlotta admitted. “They don’t tend to broadcast that. Restrictions. People an’ Pokemon can fake die in movies plenty, though I think we’ll avoid that. But sometimes, y’know, you see dead wild Pokemon around… maybe they got killed fightin’ other wild Pokemon, or by a trainer who didn’t bury ‘em and just left ‘em. I ain’t sayin’ it’s a good thing, but it happens. High-level battles often lead to somethin’ dyin’ ‘cause the Pokemon involved are so dang strong.”

“Is it silly of me to be this upset?” Bianca asked quietly, wrapping her arms around herself. “She was just… so little… it looked like it hurt…”

“Hey, Bianca, no, you ain’t silly,” Carlotta said, reaching out and hugging her tight. “Hells, maybe we oughta be more upset. It is pretty messed up that that happened in front of all them kids, too. You’d really think Cilan woulda been more careful. The rest of us are just… more used to it, that’s all. It happens.”

“I… I guess I gotta get used to it too,” Bianca said, wiping her eyes.

“You don’t have to do nothin’ but feel better in your own time, Bianca,” Carlotta said, squeezing her tight. “Sorry it ain’t all sunshine and rainbows out here.”

“It’s still better,” Bianca said, hugging her back. “Believe me. It’s better.”

{Reshin 19th, 08:30}
{Striaton City}

“Oh my goodness,” Bianca gasped, clasping her hands to her chest and smiling broadly. “You did it!”

The Pansear and Pansage both eeped at the sudden sound and hid behind the Panpour who, though he was trembling, puffed up his chest and leveled the fiercest glare he could muster.

“Hey, no, it’s okay,” Warren said, pointing to Bianca and Carlotta and smiling. “Look, they’re safe, they’re friends, okay? Kneel down, hold out a hand, don’t move,” he added to Carlotta and Bianca. They did so, watching as the three little Pokemon slowly edged closer, occasionally glancing at Sherlock, who leaned down from his trainer’s shoulder and hissed.

“And try not to smile with teeth, these species see it as a challenge,” Cheren added. Bianca quickly adjusted her grin. The Pansage looked up at her, then at her outstretched hand, tentatively tapping it with a paw.

“Hey there, cutie,” Bianca cooed softly as the Pansage patted and sniffed his way up her arm. “I’m a friend, I promise.” She reached out another hand, tentatively, to pet the little green Pokemon. He flinched away, trembling, before slowly opening his eyes and staring in awe as all she did was stroke his ears gently.

“See? Friendly!” Carlotta said, waggling her own fingers. The Pansear sniffed at her, then nipped her finger. “Ow!” she yelped, pulling her hand back. The Pansear fled again. “What was that for?!”

“He’s just testin’ you to see if you’re just actin’ nice,” Warren advised, over the sound of Sherlock hissing at the Pans. “Don’t do anything.”

Sherlock was pushing the Pansear back towards Carlotta. Grumbling, she held out her hand again. The Pansear stared, wide-eyed, then licked her wound. “Is that sanitary?” she asked Warren.

“Fire-types don’t carry anythin’ that can infect humans, their body temperatures are too dang high,” Warren promised her. “Guess you’ll be carryin’ him, then, ‘til we can find somewhere safe to take ‘em?”

“Sure,” Carlotta said, holding out her hand for the pokeball so she could return the Pansear. Bianca recalled the Pansage, and Cheren the Panpour. “Right. Speakin’ of…”

“A guy we were gaming with last night mentioned over text chat that there’s a nursery nearby that also takes in abandoned Pokemon,” Cheren explained. “I looked up the address. It’s on the way to Nacrene City, anyway, so shall we?”

They checked out, giggling conspiratorially as the concierge told them that their bill was nothing whatsoever and wished them luck on their journey. Following Cheren’s c-gear map route, they wandered the streets of north-west Striaton, which were so thick with ornamental trees that it was actually a while before they realized that the buildings were gone and they were outside of the city. They spotted the first brightly-coloured sign for the nursery at the same time that the sound of children shrieking with laughter reached them.

“I think that’s it,” Carlotta said, pointing to a big, old-fashioned log cabin that was semi-concealed by the trees around it.

“Umm… guys?” Bianca said nervously. “I… I know it looks real nice… but are we sure they’re gonna treat the Pokemon right?”

“Blazing Soul said that the place allows you to visit and play with adoptable Pokemon,” Cheren explained. “They let some play with the children at the nursery, but others adults can visit. We can have a look at the place before we leave those Pokemon here, okay?”

“Thanks,” Bianca sighed in relief. Carlotta patted her arm and pressed the doorbell, which played the chirpy theme song of an old cartoon.

“Oh… hi!” a young woman in a bright apron said, looking startled as she opened the door. “Um… can I help you?”

“Hi,” Warren said. “We heard we could visit adoptable Pokemon here?”

“You were… oh! Right! You’re visitors! Yes!” the young woman said, opening the door further. “Sorry, we’re expecting visitors. Different ones. Sorry, can I see your IDs, please? I’ll check you in. It’s not them!” she called over her shoulder as three more members of nursery staff came hurrying into the entrance hall. They all had their names embroidered on their aprons, revealing that the woman at the door’s name was Autumn and she wasn’t just wearing a mismatched seasonal apron. “It’s some trainers,” Autumn explained, causing her coworkers to sigh in momentary relief before one went to look anxiously out of the front window.

“Sorry, should we have made an appointment or called ahead?” Cheren asked as Autumn led them over to the front desk.

“No, no, don’t worry about it,” Autumn insisted, taking and scanning their IDs. “Are you here looking to adopt or just visit?”

“We ain’t really lookin’ to adopt, we just wanna spend some time with the Pokemon,” Carlotta explained.

Autumn nodded. “We actually welcome that, because we have a few who aren’t completely safe to socialize with children, so older visitors are very welcome to spend some time with them,” she said with a smile as she handed back their IDs. “Most of the Pokemon are out in the yard with the children just now…”

“You really let the kids play with the Pokemon? Every day?” Bianca breathed in awe.

“Bianca’s wonderin’ if she’s too old to go to nursery,” Warren said in amusement.

“You’re too old to enroll, I’m afraid, but not too old to play with Pokemon,” Cheren said encouragingly. “Are we allowed to release our own Pokemon here?” he asked Autumn.

“We’d rather you didn’t,” Autumn said apologetically, walking back out from around the desk and gesturing for them to follow her down the hall. “Not all of our Pokemon are comfortable around stranger Pokemon. Also, we do have some guests coming by appointment soon, so please don’t go wandering off around the building unsupervised.”

“Gotcha,” Carlotta said. “So, what’ve you got?”

Autumn stopped by a doorway with a deposit box set into the wall next to it. She tapped the screen above, scrolling through the pictures of some Pokemon. “Well, here, you folks have a look. Any of the ones with red tags, they aren’t comfortable around ANY other Pokemon at all, so you’d have to go to a room on your own with them. Yellow tags are fine together but not with stranger Pokemon. We have quite a few that really aren’t happy around men and one or two who don’t like women, so please check their information carefully.”

Warren swiped past a Lillipup extremely quickly. “Hey, look, it’s a Munna!” he said, pointing at the round, pink Pokemon. “Says here you ain’t lettin’ it out with the kids ‘cause she panics at loud noises?”

“And small children are nothing if not noisy,” Autumn giggled.

“Aww, it’s snuggly! I’ll snuggle ‘er!” Bianca volunteered immediately. Autumn smiled, entering her passcode to withdraw the Munna’s pokeball and handing it to Bianca. Cheren, Carlotta and Warren selected a couple of Pidove and a Purrloin, and went into the empty gym hall to play.

“Keep in mind all the same stuff from lookin’ after those pans,” Warren said softly, stroking the Purrloin he’d selected, who curled up on his lap and purred. “Voices soft, no sudden movements, don’t do anythin’ if they get nervous an’ scratch or bite, right?”

“Right,” cooed Carlotta, giggling as the Pidove she’d picked chirped at her and hopped up and down her arm. It was missing a leg, but didn’t seem willing to let that slow it down. “Goddamn, up close, these things are cute. Always thought they were just messy li’l assholes.”

“Surprisingly soft,” Cheren mused, lying on his back and letting his Pidove sit on his stomach and chirp as he stroked its head with a finger. They all lapsed into silence, focused on gently petting or cuddling the Pokemon they’d chosen. It was soothing, after all the chaos of the day before.

After about twenty minutes, Autumn came back. “Just showing a couple of our foreign visitors around!” she said brightly, opening the door and speaking softly, a digital translator clipped to her apron displaying her words in the air in front of her.

The Fairlan man and woman who walked in were dressed like tourists, down to the woman having pulled her high purple ponytail through a Zebstriker baseball cap, but one look at their strikingly familiar faces suggested that they were anything but daytrippers.

“Holy shit, you’re the ninjas!” Warren blurted out.

“I feel like people not yelling that is crucial to being a ninja,” Cheren said, slamming a hand over his boyfriend’s mouth.

The two ninja stared at the four of them in surprise, then the man pointed at them and said, “Warren Arathos, to Carlotta Arathos, to Cheren Athos, to Bianca D’artagnan, hai?”

“That’s us,” Carlotta said, raising her hand. “Do we gotta leave now? ‘Less your boss ain’t comin’ to visit and this is just you on your day off…” Cheren rattled off a translation for her.

There was some muttered conference between the ninja and some anxious looks from Autumn before the woman started talking, reaching for her translator button for a moment before changing her mind, nodding to Cheren. “They said it’s fine for us to stay because they know who we are,” he said.

As Autumn ushered the pair back out, Carlotta said, “third random encounter--does that make this a pattern?”

“I don’t believe the second time counts, since we chose to do our gym battles on a day when we knew the Fairlan Champion would be there,” Cheren opined.

Should we be here?” Bianca said nervously. “Ya think members of the public ain’t supposed to be here?”

“That would explain why the staff were so startled to see us, but no, I don’t imagine we’re banned from being here, per se,” Cheren explained, looking around for his Pidove, who had startled when Warren yelled. “I’m sure they would have turned us away at the door if that was the case.”

“They wouldn’t do that, though, ‘case we started askin’ around why the place is mysteriously closed to visitors today,” Warren added. “The Champion’s probably plannin’ to visit quite a few places and they won’t be makin’ all of ‘em known to the public--”

“--especially if she’s bringin’ her kid, which she might, since this is, like, a place for kids to play with Pokemon,” Carlotta added. “I mean, places like this, all people-’n’-Pokemon together, are the kindsa places they gotta love. But they’re not gonna post an itinerary or anythin’.”

Warren nodded. “It’s a security hazard. But they ain’t gonna close places to the public with no explanation, either, since that’s a pretty obvious flag to anybody hopin’ to figure out where she’s gonna be today. Those ninja came in disguise to scope the place out, make sure it’s secure ‘fore the Champion gets here. If we were strangers, one of them probably woulda stayed to keep an eye on us until the Champion left.”

“Whoa… that’s a lot,” Bianca said with a shudder. “They gotta go through all that anytime they go anywhere?”

“That’s security,” Carlotta said with a shrug, gently rocking her Pidove in her hands. “It’s good procedure. I’m guessin’ we’re gonna hafta stay here ‘til they’re gone.”

“I can do that,” Bianca said, rocking her Munna gently.

Cheren, Sherlock, Priscilla, Poncho

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden

Bianca, Tiberius, Packard, Pine​

Angus the Audino

Owain the Dewott, Loyal the Lillipup
Name: Paden. Species: Pansear. Nature: Calm. Ability: Gluttony. Location: Dreamyard. Level: 10

Tiberius the Tepig, Packard the Watchog
Name: Pine. Species: Pansage. Nature: Naive. Ability: Gluttony. Location: Dreamyard. Level: 10

Sherlock the Snivy, Priscilla the Purrloin
Name: Poncho. Species: Panpour. Nature: Impish. Ability: Gluttony. Location: Dreamyard. Level: 10

Cheren, Sherlock, Priscilla, Poncho

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden

Bianca, Tiberius, Packard, Pine​

{Reshin 19th, 09:45}
{Striaton Co-operative Nursery}

“You know, quite a few of these Pokemon are fine, just… abandoned for whatever reason,” Cheren mused, flicking through the viewscreen set in next to the door. Visitors couldn’t withdraw Pokemon, but they could view all adoptable Pokemon. “Look, there’s Roggenrola from the cave nearby who were brought here for recovery from injuries and considered to have imprinted too hard on humans to be returned to the wild. They’ll be quite resistant to Lenora’s Pokemon and very strong against Burgh’s bugs…”

“You think they’re ever gonna let us out so you can shop?” Carlotta said idly, catching Pijon as he came flying back to her hand. Beyond bored, she’d absentmindedly starting swinging the sleeping Pidove around and then, probably on pure muscle memory, had actually thrown him. Warren and Bianca’s horrified yells had trailed off when the bird had woken up in midair and, apparently enjoying the assistance in getting airborne, flown back to Carlotta’s hand and chirped insistently until she threw him again.

“I don’t know…” Cheren said, biting his lip as he looked at the close door.

“I’m gonna have me a li’l look-see,” Bianca said, trotting over to the door and pushing it open, ignoring Cheren’s protestations. “Hello?” she called.

There was a thump and a crash from down the lobby that made her jump with an eep.

“What on earth--?” Cheren said, following her to stick his head out of the door. There was a scream down the hallway. “What in the hells is goin’ on?!”

“C’mon, Owain, we’re gonna check that out,” Carlotta said, setting Pijon down on the floor and releasing her Dewott. The one-legged Pidove fluttered up and sat on her shoulder. “Fine, Pijon, you can come too.”

“Maybe we should leave that to the Champion’s security team to handle it…?” Warren said uneasily. There was another, larger crash and more screaming, this time distinctly a child’s.

“We’re the good guys, they’ll be fine with it!” Carlotta shouted, running down the hall.

“That’s not remotely--Carlotta!” Cheren shouted, running after her and releasing Sherlock onto his shoulder as he did so. “War, Bianca, close the door and stay safe in there!”

“Wait--!” Bianca shouted, but they had already run into the lobby and the fighting overwhelmed whatever Bianca was arguing.

One figure in black threw the second over the lobby desk, only for the second to grab it, flip back upright and throw a handful of small knives that the first only barely dodged. Next to their all-black clothes, their shock of purple hair looked bright, and was the only way to really distinguish them from the one who’d thrown them across the desk, who was themself sporting long white hair. Another shriek forcefully dragged Carlotta’s attention away from the actual ninja fight happening before her to see, outside, somebody dressed in the uniform of the daycare centre running away while struggling to hold onto a furiously screaming and thrashing child.

“Cheren! C’mon!” she yelled, grabbing his arm and dragging him after her out the door in pursuit. They both had to dive to the ground to avoid two more ninjas, who fell off of the roof, still fighting. Owain yapped, brandishing his shell at the perceived threat, until Carlotta picked him up bodily and took off after the escaping kidnapper.

“Carlotta, wait!” Cheren shouted, from the sounds of it already falling behind her. He’d never been much of a runner, but Carlotta couldn’t afford to slow down to let him keep up.

“Can’t!” she shouted back. “He’s kidnappin’ a damn kid!

She could just catch Cheren swearing as she accelerated after the sound of screaming.

{Reshin 19th, 09:47}
{Striaton Co-operative Nursery}

“Bianca, c’mon, they’re right,” Warren said urgently, trying to drag her back into the room by the arm. “I don’t have no combat Pokemon, we’ve got us a handful a’ traumatized non-combat Pokemon out here, and you--I mean, you ain’t--”

“I don’t wanna fight, but if they’re hurtin’ kids, I’m gonna!” Bianca insisted, wrenching her arm out of his grip and releasing Tiberius. “C’mon, Tibs, folks need our help!”

Tiberius squeaked nervously as he hopped into her arms and she took off running, following where Carlotta and Cheren had gone. She was bowled over when somebody dressed all in black was thrown at her, knocking her to the ground hard. Tiberius squealed as he went rolling across the floor, then angrily huffed and spat fire at the person who’d hit Bianca, who had already rolled back to their feet, flipping their long white hair over their shoulder and brandishing a knife. They stepped back, hissing in pain as they were burned, and were then sent flying backwards again as somebody else in black with spiky purple hair hit them in the chest with a flying kick. Bianca could hear bones cracking.

“Carly? Cheren?!” Bianca screamed, ignoring the bruising pain blooming up her back and shoulders as she struggled to her feet. She scooped up Tiberius and fled out of the door, where two more black-clad people were fighting, one narrowly avoiding a knife stabbed so ferociously that it sank deep into the wall. She ran past them and down the path into the forest. “Carly? CHEREN? WHERE ARE YOU?!”

Tiberius squealed shrilly again, suddenly hopping out of her arms and running away through the trees. “Tibs, wait!” Bianca yelled, running after him. “C’mon, don’t make me chase you too!”

Tiberius ignored her, shooting off so fast that only his bright orange colour allowed her to keep track of him, especially as the trees started to get bigger and denser. She squeezed sideways through some particularly tightly-packed trees and stumbled as she came out in some kind of open, grassy clearing.

Tiberius ran back up to her, squeaking frantically and tugging at her skirt. “I’m comin’, I’m comin’, are Carly an’ Cheren here?” she said, quickly scrambling to her feet and looking around. The clearing was empty, however, aside from a bundle of bloodstained blue fluff on the ground, which was twitching and whimpering.

“Oh, hey, sweetie,” Bianca cooed softly, running over to it and scooping it up into her arms. In addition to all the blue fluff, it also had two limp, black, leathery wings, and a round pink nose with a black patch in the shape of a heart on it. “Oh goodness, ain’t you the cutest thing? Hang on, sweetie, I got potions…”

As she was digging in her bag, she heard a faint growl. Tiberius suddenly darted in front of her, shaking but spitting embers warningly.

Bianca looked up and made eye contact with a Liepard.

She’d seen its picture, when Cheren was showing her what Priscilla would evolve into, but the numbers and stats beneath the picture hadn’t meant anything to her. What meant something to her now was the way that, while she was kneeling, the Liepard was taller than her, and baring large, sharp fangs as it stalked towards her, apparently ignoring Tiberius, its eyes instead fixed on the Pokemon in her arms.

“Hey! No! You leave us alone!” Bianca shouted, cuddling the smaller Pokemon to her chest and scooting backwards on her knees. She didn’t want to break eye contact with the Liepard. Somehow, she knew that was when it would pounce. “Tiberius, Ember!”

Tiberius spat several small balls of fire at the Liepard. It hissed, stepping backwards with a paw raised, but didn’t seem to be more than singed. It suddenly swung its upraised paw, claws extended, and knocked Tiberius aside.

“TIBS!” Bianca cried in fear when she saw blood on the Liepard’s claws. She backed up further, curling tighter around the injured Pokemon. “Go AWAY! Just GO! CHEREN! CARLY! HELP!”

There was a loud squeal, and Tiberius, now surrounded by fire, suddenly slammed into the Liepard’s side, knocking it over. It rolled over, hissing and spitting angrily, while Tiberius squealed threateningly, not noticing the lightly bleeding cut in his side. The Liepard leapt to its feet, clearly ready to go again, but then something else leapt over Tiberius, something much larger, which headbutted the Liepard so hard that it vanished into the trees.

“Oh,” Bianca whispered, looking up at the new Pokemon. It had to be a Pokemon--it had four long, strong-looking legs and its whole body was pearly white, save for a light blue tail and a big mass off blue and red fur around its head. When it turned to look at her, she saw that it had a short horn on its forehead, and what oddly struck her as a friendly expression. She didn’t feel scared at all as it slowly walked towards her, leaning down to lick the small set of claw marks in Tiberius’ side. Tiberius whined something, staring up at the new Pokemon in awe.

“Hey, Tibs, we’re okay now,” Bianca said soothingly, leaning over to pet him and then looking up at the new Pokemon. “Um… thank you?”

“No problem,” the Pokemon said. “That bully had it coming. Hey, is that Woobat doing okay?”

{Reshin 19th, 09:51}
{Route 3}

Carlotta heard the kid’s cries echoing before she saw the cave, a crack in the steep face of the mountain starting to rise ahead. She dove inside, stumbling on the rough terrain before she thought to turn on the flashlight in her c-gear.

The light glinted off of water to her left and outlined the fairly small space. There was only one path to follow and she followed it, quickly catching up to the kidnapper, who was facing two people in Plasma’s uniform, carrying lanterns.

“--looks like a child, but I’m sure she’s--” the kidnapper was saying, before being cut off by one of the Plasmas spotting Carlotta.

“Holy shit, it’s you! The Munna-kickers from the Dreamyard!” Carlotta yelled as she got a look at their faces. “Kickin’ a defenceless li’l Pokemon ain’t enough for you, huh?! Why not try fightin’ somebody your own size for once?!” She opened her arms and Owain leapt out, waving his shell and crying out furiously. The child the kidnapper was holding stopped screaming, leaning over his shoulder to stare at Owain, then started yelling again, reaching for the Pokemon.

“Back off, kid,” one of the Plasmas snapped, stepping forwards. “The Munna wasn’t important, but this thing is.” Her partner also stepped forwards, the two of them releasing three Patrat between them. “This is your last warning, or else we will take you down, for the sake of the greater cause!”

“What are kidnappers doing, acting so self-righteous?” Cheren panted, running up behind Carlotta.

“Thought I’d lost you, Cher,” Carlotta said, smirking as Sherlock jumped down to stand by Owain’s side, hissing at the trio of Patrat.

“You couldn’t lose me if you wanted to,” Cheren said, rolling his eyes as he straightened up, catching his breath. “We’ve been friends our whole lives. We’ve got each others’ backs when it counts, right?”

“You know it,” Carlotta said, high fiving him. “Owain, Razor Shell!”

“Enough of this! Bite!” one of the Plasmas yelled, causing all three to leap.

“Sherlock, Wrap!” Cheren ordered. Long vines extended from Sherlock’s sides, catching a leaping Patrat in midair and slamming it into a second. Owain took down the third. “Good! Throw them again!”

“Make sure it stays down, Owain!” Carlotta yelled. “Razor Shell again!”

Sherlock seemed to grow before their very eyes as he produced more vines so he could properly grab two Patrat at once and knock them into each other until they went limp. Owain Razor shelled the third so hard it flew into the water with a splash.

“Dammit! Where the hell are the--” one of the Plasmas shouted.

“Think fast!” Carlotta yelled, grabbing Pijon off of her shoulder and flinging him at the Plasma’s face. Pijon shrieked and clawed at the screaming Plasma as he impacted. “You thought this fight was over just ‘cause we knocked down your Pokemon, fuckers?! You kidnapped a damn kid!”

“You wanna fight, kid?!” snarled the Plasma member who wasn’t currently being savaged by Pijon’s remaining claw, starting to draw her sword. It was only halfway out of her scabbard by the time Carlotta had crossed the distance and thrown a full-on punch into the woman’s face, sending her crashing to the ground and the sword flying.

The kidnapped kid actually laughed and clapped.

“Sherlock, Wrap them!” Cheren ordered, pointing at the two Plasmas. Sherlock looked confused, staring from the two humans to his trainer and chirping. “Sherlock! Wrap! Now!” Cheren snapped, pointing again. Finally seeming to get it, Sherlock wrapped the two humans in thick vines, pinning them to the ground.

The kidnapper snatched up the dropped sword, holding it up with a snarl. “Back OFF!” he yelled. “This is none of your damn business! This kid isn’t even human!”

“Hey, that’s racist!” Carlotta exclaimed. “Look, hand her over now and you ain’t gonna get punched, promise--whoa whoa whoa!” she yelled frantically as the kidnapper swung the sword up, holding the blade to the kid, who froze, staring wide-eyed at the sword. “Hey, ain’t no need for that!”

“Return your Pokemon, now,” the kidnapper ordered.

“Carly, we have to do it,” Cheren urged, returning Sherlock. The two Plasmas didn’t get up, settling for curling up and clutching their faces, groaning in pain. “This person’s deluded, he might actually hurt the kid!”

“Good,” the kidnapper said, grinning as Carlotta returned Owain and, lacking a pokeball for Pijon, snatched him up and tucked him into her pocket. “Now, just back away down the tunnel there, and we can go our separate ways.”

“What’re you gonna do to that kid?” Carlotta demanded.

“Calm down, I told you, this isn’t really a kid,” the kidnapper snapped. “It’s just duplicating a kid to hide. It’s only keeping up appearances to fool you into rescuing it. So just back away and--”

“MAMA!” the kid suddenly screamed. “MAAAMAAAAAAAAAA!”

Carlotta turned, the light of her flashlight picking out Sar Saylee emerging from the darkness with a fierce scowl. She was a short woman, but she cast a long shadow, and she was simmering with barely-contained fury.

“Stop,” she demanded, pointing at the kidnapper. “Let. Her. Go.”

“Sar, you may have promised to protect this one, but you don’t understand,” the kidnapper began. “What our leader can achieve with Meloetta’s power--”

“Stop,” Sar Saylee said, waving a hand in frustration. “Too fast. Don’t understand. Don’t care. Let her go.”

“Maaaaamaaaaaaaaaaaa,” the kid whimpered, trying to reach for her mother and leaning perilously close to the sword blade. Sar Saylee held out a hand, speaking in sharp, rapid Fairlan as she walked past Carlotta and Cheren, towards her daughter.

“I said BACK OFF!” the kidnapper yelled, swinging his sword at Sar Kanto, who ducked the swing, though she was so much shorter than the kidnapper she barely needed to move to avoid his wild swing. She tried to run up and grab her daughter while the kidnapper’s swing was wide open, trying to tug her down and out of the kidnapper’s arms. The kidnapper brought the sword back in, trying to cut at Sar Saylee’s head, but she brought a hand up and caught the blade in it. She winced, and in the flickering lamplight Carlotta could see a dark line run down the sword from her hand and where it cut into her shoulder, but she didn’t move, just snapping something as she reached for her daughter with her free hand. Cheren barked out a laugh.

“Cher, what the fuck?” Carlotta whispered.

“She told him his sword’s shit, not even properly sharpened,” Cheren muttered. “Though how she noticed that in this light is--holy shit!”

The kidnapper was knocked to the ground as a dark figure dropped on his head. Sar Saylee backed away, struggling to hold up her daughter with one arm and then stooping to set the girl on the ground, hugging the kid while she broke into sobs and clutched her mother. The kidnapper was disarmed by the ninja who’d jumped him, who took his sword, spun on her heel and kicked him hard in the chest, causing him to collapse with a gasp.

“Sherlock,” Cheren said, releasing his Pokemon again, “Wrap.” Sherlock seemed to get the picture quicker this time, wrapping the groaning Plasmas and the semiconscious kidnapper in strong green vines.

“Um… Sar?” Carlotta said, releasing Owain again. “We’ll keep an eye on them until the cops show up, you should probably… Cheren? Help me out here?”

Cheren spoke quickly with the Champion. Sar Saylee nodded at the ninja, holding out her hand and taking the sword in her unhurt hand, gesturing for the ninja to pick up and carry the still-crying kid.

Domo arigatou gozaimasu… Thank you very much,” Sar Kanto said, bowing her head and walking out of the cave, followed by the ninja, who was rocking the kid and gently humming.

{Reshin 19th, 09:56}
{Route 3}

“Bianca!” Warren yelled, spotting the blonde stumbling out of the trees, holding Tiberius in one arm and a bundle of blue and black in the other. “Oh thank goodness. You’re alright! Where are Cheren an’ Carly?”

“I dunno, I lost ‘em… what happened at the nursery?” Bianca said, looking disoriented.

“The evil ninjas ran away all of a sudden,” Warren said, “and much as I love gettin’ to say that sentence, that ain’t important. What happened? Where did you go? What’s that you got there?”

“I found her… her name’s Wilhelmina,” Bianca mumbled, looking down. “She got hurt, but I healed her with them potions you gave me, and… I saw another Pokemon…” She bit her lip, then looked up at Warren. “Warren… ya ever met a talkin’ Pokemon?”

“What? What’re you--hey!” he cried, his train of enquiry completely derailed by the sight of Sar Saylee, carrying a bloodied sword and trailed by a ninja carrying a child. “‘Scuse me! Uh, sumimasen! Have you seen Carlotta and Cheren--holy shit, are you okay?!”

Sar Saylee looked at her left hand, which was twitching and dripping blood, then waved it dismissively and pointed her sword back down the path that she and the ninja had come up. “Your friends,” she said, pointing the sword more insistently down the path.

“Thank you,” Warren said, tugging Bianca’s wrist. “C’mon, let’s go get ‘em.”

“Thanks!” Bianca called, waving as they ran past. Sar Saylee did a double-take, staring at Bianca as they went past, but it didn’t register to Warren, too focused on finding his sister and boyfriend.

It didn’t take them long. The path led directly to a cave, and Carlotta and Cheren weren’t far inside, idly chatting as Carlotta tossed and caught a delightedly squawking Pijon repeatedly.

“You ain’t gonna believe what we saw,” Carlotta said when she spotted Warren and Bianca.

“Wanna bet?” Bianca giggled nervously.

{Reshin 19th, 13:04}
{Striaton City Police HQ}

“They’re still interrogating them, but it looks like the nursery aide has been a member of the Plasma Foundation the whole time,” Saylee sighed, resting her forehead on her good hand, both out of need for support and to stop herself from picking at the stitches and gel on her left hand. “He’s been regularly processing fake adoptions to give abandoned Pokemon to Plasma for three years, and they called on him to kidnap Lettie… they thought she was Meloetta.”

Who got hurt this time?” Silver demanded, so urgently that Saylee dialed down the volume on her pokegear a couple of notches. She was currently alone in the break room, the police giving her a respectful but awkward berth, and none of them could speak Fairlan, but still.

“I have a little cut, it’s nothing, it’s already being treated,” Saylee inisted, raising her left hand. “They must just have those swords for intimidation or something, they’re not sharp at all. Probably going to have a scar, but hey, matched set. Lettie’s uninjured, just terrified…” She sighed again, rubbing her eyes. “Scared the wits out of all of us.”

Ninjas in Unova…“ Silver mused. Saylee hadn’t mentioned ninjas yet, but didn’t ask how he knew that. He and Red texted daily, and even if they hadn’t exchanged any messages—unlikely, since Silver had probably tried to call their brother as soon as Red got upset to see what had happened—sometimes he just knew things that Red knew without being told. “What are you going to do?

“Cut out some of our visits to places with less security, negotiate to transfer over some of the security team’s Pokemon, or even some of mine or Blue’s,” Saylee said grimly. “And try to find out something about Plasma Foundation. There’s clearly more going on here than just rescuing abandoned Pokemon and giving speeches…”

I’m already suspicious of the speeches.

I give speeches,” Saylee pointed out.

No, you give press statements and the occasional official address, and you look horribly uncomfortable in all of them,” Silver responded. “People who like giving big, dramatic speeches and aren’t in cheesy movies are suspicious assholes. If, like, the kidnapping thing wasn’t obvious enough.

“True,” Saylee said, rolling her eyes. “And there’s more… more than Meloetta around. I haven’t gotten to ask her yet. But I saw a girl today… not ascended yet, but an Avatar. But I also saw her yesterday, and she wasn’t. She’s been chosen between yesterday and today… Something divine is going on here, something’s changing. Silver… do you know about any gods native to Unova?”

Most of them aren’t native to anywhere,” Silver pointed out. “There’s some that mostly live in Unova, though, like those dragons, and the last time Ho-oh heard anything from the weather triad, they were in Unova… I dunno, I’ll check it out. Do you want me to send somebody for a little extra protection? Suicune can be there in, like, a day.

“I’m already defended, and Meloetta said there are god-hunters about,” Saylee pointed out. “If they spot Suicune, that might just draw more attention that we don’t want. I can’t end the tour at this point and I really don’t want to be separated from Scarlet, especially not right after what happened, but damned if I don’t just want to jet home right now…”

I wouldn’t blame you, but I guess the Unovans might,” Silver sighed. “I’ll hold off for now but the next time something happens I’m sending Suicune, alright? What the hell kind of god is Meloetta, anyway, letting kids get kidnapped right under their nose? That’s the perfect time to smite! Moments like that are made for smiting!

“I don’t know if you’re physiologically capable of this, but please chill,” Saylee said, shaking her head. “You and Ho-oh both, if this is some kind of long-running divine issue. They don’t seem to be all that powerful in a combat sense. Their strengths are… something else.”

Unless their divine energies tend towards preventing my damn niece from getting kidnapped, I don’t care,” Silver said stubbornly. Saylee smiled. “I’ll see what I can find out about these Plasma fucks, too. Especially the speech guy--what did you say his name was? Gaycheese?

“Ghetsis,” Saylee corrected him, “and please do. Thank you, Silver.”

It’s nothing,” Silver mumbled. It was only a voice call, but she could imagine the way he’d duck his head to avoid eye contact when suddenly experiencing Emotions. “Just do your job and try to effect political change in Unova, right?

“Right,” Saylee promised, blowing a kiss at the mic. “Love you.”

Yeah, yeah, love you too,” Silver said, hanging up.

Saylee smiled at the pokegear a moment longer, then sighed heavily, stood up, stretched, and headed back to the observation room where she could watch the interrogations of the people who’d kidnapped her daughter.

You have one working fist right now, don’t put the other one through a camera. One working fist, don’t put the other through a camera. One working fist, don’t put the other one through a camera…

Cheren, Sherlock, Priscilla, Poncho

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden, Pidove

Bianca, Tiberius, Packard, Pine, Wilhelmina​

Angus the Audino

Owain the Dewott, Loyal the Lillipup, Paden the Pansear
Name: Pijon. Species: Pidove. Nature: Rash. Ability: Big Pecks. Location: Route 3. Level: 8

Tiberius the Tepig, Packard the Patrat, Pine the Pansage
Name: Wilhelmina. Species: Woobat. Nature: Hasty. Ability: Klutz. Location: Wellspring Cave. Level: 10

Sherlock the Snivy, Priscilla the Purrloin, Poncho the Panpour

Cheren, Sherlock, Priscilla, Poncho

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden, Pidove

Bianca, Tiberius, Packard, Pine, Wilhelmina​

{Reshin 19th, 18:17pm}
{Route 3}

“Was this it?” Cheren said, showing the image on his screen to Bianca. “Zebstrika?”

“No,” Bianca said, shaking her head. “I told you, it was all white an’ red an’ blue. And it talked.”

“Maybe there was a Chatot nearby?” Carlotta suggested. “Or a trainer you couldn’t see?”

“No!” Bianca argued in frustration. “I’m tellin’ y’all, I really saw a real weird Pokemon that spoke to me! An’ he… or she… or somethin’, I dunno… they told me Mina’s name, an’…” The Woobat perked up at the word “Mina”, clearly recognizing her name. She was sitting by the fire with Tiberius, squeaking with her new, and only, teammate.

“Y’know, I don’t get why you kept her when you were insistin’ so hard on leavin’ Pine an’ Packard at the nursery,” Carlotta said, resting her chin on her hands with a sigh. “You coulda had a good team goin’.”

“I don’t get why y’all kept your two,” Bianca murmured. “They were abused. Just ‘cause they get along with y’all now don’t mean they wanna fight. But Mina said she liked me an’ Tibby wanted to stay, so I’m keepin’ ‘em. You sure them Pokemon you adopted wanna fight? I mean, your Purrloin sure don’t...”

“Those two Roggenrola weren’t allowed near the kids because they fight so much, and the Pidove we picked up were also left by trainers,” Cheren pointed out. “In fact, once we’ve finished dinner, I recommend some training matches so we can get a better feel for their abilities.”

“While I am going to nap,” Warren groaned, flopping backwards onto the grass. “It felt like we were in that police station forever.”

“Six hours,” Cheren corrected him.

“So many statements,” Warren mumbled into the arm he’d flung over his face.

“Hey, at least we ain’t gonna be on the news,” Carlotta said, patting Bianca’s shoulder. “I mean, they’re doin’ their best to keep it quiet ‘cause they don’t wanna admit foreign dignitaries are gettin’ their kids kidnapped ‘round here, so your folks won’t see nothin’ about us, probably.”

“We’re media minors, they couldn’t put us on the news anyway without parental consent, which they will not get without us directing them to our parents,” Cheren said, standing up and releasing Sherlock, Priscilla, Poncho the Panpour, and his new acquisitions, Peabean the Pidove and Rocky the Roggenrola.

“Bring it on,” Carlotta hooted, releasing Owain, Loyal, Paden the Pansear, Pijon the Pidove and Roland the Roggenrola. “I’m thinkin’ I can get an evolution outta Loyal an’ maybe Pijon by the end of the night!”

“You don’t have to join them if you don’t want to, Bianca,” Warren said, patting Bianca’s shoulder as she watched Tiberius and Mina. “But it might be a good idea to evolve Tiberius before taking on the next gym.”

“Yeah… maybe,” Bianca said, resting her chin on her knees. “Warren? You don’t think I’m crazy or nothin’, do you?”

“I don’t,” Warren assured her immediately. “I think… you saw something you don’t fully understand, but none of us can say what because we didn’t see it. Who knows? Maybe you’ll see it again.”

“I sure hope so,” Bianca said softly. “They promised.”

{Reshin 20th, 11:24}
{Nacrene City}

“Oh my goodness,” Bianca gasped, clasping her hands to her chest. “It’s amazin’!”

“It really is,” Cheren agreed. “I haven’t been here in person myself. Pictures don’t quite capture it, do they? It wasn’t originally a residential area, you know.”

“Here we go,” Carlotta said with a grin.

“Hush up an’ let ‘im nerd,” Warren hissed. Bianca was already enraptured.

“Originally, this area was part of was miles and miles of warehouses and factories that had been built during the industrial boom, then begun lying empty during the bust.” Cheren explained. “The many drifting, homeless unemployed had moved in, and many had taken to decorating their new homes. Though there were a few clearouts, once the place got an artistic reputation, it didn’t take long for famous artists to start considering it trendy and buying up property there, converting the warehouses into lofts and workshops. For a while, the city was priced far out of the range of the squatters who’d originally given it its reputation, but the work of a few philanthropists and the sands of time have now given the city real variety. People from all layers of society live here now, with one unifying trait—they’re almost all highly creative sorts. Painters, sculptors, musicians… I believe Burgh, the Castelia City Leader, originally comes from here.”

“It’s beautiful,” Bianca cooed, gazing up at a mural of Reshiram and Zekrom took up the entire, vast side of one warehouse building.

“Well, lucky for you, Carly an’ me’ve been here once before, an’ we know where the good souvenir shoppin’ is,” Warren said, leading them through the buzz of summer tourists. They drifted in and out of the clouds of music created by buskers, just far apart that they never seemed to clash, occasionally accompanied by dancers or jugglers or other performers. Bianca was enraptured, wanting to stay and watch every one, and Warren knew his boyfriend well enough to know that Cheren was also fascinated by the performers but was happier to hide behind the excuse of doing what made Bianca happy.

It took them over an hour to get to the first shop that Warren remembered from their trip to Nacrene, a beautiful handicrafts shop that took up a good-sized space on the bottom floor of one warehouse, though part of it was also the workshop, where customers could actually see the artists who sold their wares working.

“Oh, ain’t these lovely?” Bianca said, examining some rugs. “These are all, like… Native Unovan styled, right?”

“That would be because all of us who own and sell in this shop are Native Unovan,” the woman weaving at a loom next to the rugs said without looking up.

“Huh?” Bianca said, staring at the woman in confusion. “You’re Native Unovan?”

“Well, yeah,” the woman said, looking up and crooking an eyebrow. She had the long, black hair, copper-toned skin and strong nose classically associated with Native Unovans, so Warren could understand her mild confusion at Bianca’s surprise.

“It’s just… I thought y’all got wiped out, like, a thousand years ago,” Bianca said, still looking confused. “I thought y’all didn’t exist anymore ‘cause of civilization movin’ in.”

“Oh. My gods. Did you even have history class?” Cheren groaned, putting one hand over his eyes and steering Bianca away with the other. “Ma’am, I am very sorry about this.”

“She just escaped a very religious household,” Carlotta explained.

“It’s fine,” the woman said, in a way that suggested that it wasn’t, really, but it was too much trouble to get into with these customers. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to finish this rug.”

“Bianca, the Native Unovans were never wiped out, despite the ancient colonial governments’ best attempts,” Cheren sighed as they quickly hurried away, “but it could be said to be a touchy subject and somewhat disrespectful to bring up to a complete stranger.”

“Oh, no,” Bianca gasped, clasping a hand over her mouth. “I gotta go apologize!”

“You weren’t to know, Bianca,” Carlotta said, putting an arm around her shoulders and giving her a little hug. “They’d probably prefer if you didn’t blow it up into a whole thing. Just move on, and now you know better for the future, huh?”

“I’ve gotta buy somethin’ nice,” Bianca decided, digging into her purse to see how nice she could afford.

“I think the least we can do is spend some money here,” Cheren agreed, looking at a selection of small sculptures. “These look to be in our price range. They’re mostly mythological Pokemon, or Pokemon that were once thought to be gods--”

“Oh!” Bianca gasped, running after him and pointing at one of the figures on the shelf. “That’s it! That’s the Pokemon I saw!”

“Wait, what?” Carlotta asked, leaning over her shoulder to look. Warren also came to have a closer look.

The figurine was about three inches tall, carved out of wood and unpainted, but polished to make the detail clear. It looked like a Rapidash with the mane of an Arcanine, but with rounder, stockier features.

“Hmmm,” Cheren said, peering at the figure, then picking it up carefully and looking at the base for an inscription. “I… don’t believe I recognize this one. Are you certain?”

“Yeah! It was all white, with all this--” Bianca ran a finger over the mane-- “all red an’ blue!”

“All the artists work in here, let’s find the carver an’ ask ‘im,” Carlotta suggested, walking to the end of the shelf and peering around it. “‘Scuse me, sir, all these carvin’s your work?”

“Yes, they are,” a deep voice on the other side said. They walked around the shelf to see a surprisingly small and delicate man for what a deep voice he had, whittling nonstop at a block of wood while he talked to Carlotta.

“Sorry to interrupt your work, but could you tell us which Pokemon this is, please?” Cheren asked, holding out the figure. “I’m afraid I don’t recognize it at all.”

“Most don’t,” the man said, glancing at the figure with a smile. “We don’t know their name, but we call them The Little One. You know of the the Three Warriors--the ones your people call the Swords of Justice?”

“Cobalion, Terrakion and Virizion,” Cheren immediately rattled off. “Fabled defenders of Pokemon.”

“Those three are famous, but a legend less known these days is that with every battle they lose, they gain a new soldier,” the carver explained, still whittling. “Once there was one, then two, then three… now there are four, but the balance has not fallen far enough to call their wrath down on us, so The Little One’s powers and name are as yet unknown. But they’re seen around, every so often. My sister saw them, as a child, even spoke to them, briefly.”

“See!” Bianca exclaimed. “I told you it spoke to me!”

“Bianca, it’s a myth--” Cheren began.

“Now, hang on, young lady,” the whittler said, finally setting down his wood and staring intently at Bianca. “You say that you saw The Little One? Even spoke to them?” He looked at the pokeballs on her belt. “I would never expect one of The Warriors to favour a trainer…”

“Well… I was healin’ a hurt wild Pokemon I found,” Bianca explained. “An’ then this other wild Pokemon attacked us, an’ I tried to protect it, then, um… The Little One came an’ protected me. An’ they spoke to me. They said…” She bit her lip. “Um. It’s a secret. Sorry.”

“My sister would never speak of what The Little One said to her, either,” the whittler mused. “Ain’t that something.”

“What is happening?” Warren whispered to Carlotta.

“I have no idea,” Carlotta whispered back as Bianca started digging out money to buy the statuette, “but Bianca knew that thing even when Cheren’s never seen it before.”

“You think she really might’ve…?” Warren said, nodding at the statuette.

“I don’t think it’s really what that guy thinks it is,” Carlotta murmured, “but Bianca definitely saw somethin’ not normal…”

{Reshin 20th, 17:36}
{Nacrene City}

“I think we took a wrong turn somewhere,” Cheren said, pulling up a map again on his c-gear. They’d definitely wandered off the beaten path--there wasn’t anybody else walking down the road they were on. “You know, they really ought to use the murals on the buildings as landmarks.”

“Nah, they change ‘em every so often,” Warren said, shaking his head. “Some of ‘em ain’t murals so much as super-fancy graffiti.”

“Tourism could hire a guy to keep the maps updated, though,” Carlotta pointed out. “I’d do it. Sounds like a sweet job.”

“That don’t exist,” Warren pointed out.

“I think I hear a voice,” Cheren said, glancing up at the nearest building and then at the sculpture garden in front of it. “Excuse me?” he called.

“Hello?” a little voice called from behind a sculpture.

“Excuse me, but we’re lost,” Cheren said, walking around the sculpture. “Are your parents… around…?”

“What’s--oh,” Bianca said, following Cheren and pausing when she saw what made him trail off. The kid on the other side was in a wheelchair, but not the regular sort for just going about your life in. It was a huge mass of monitors, tanks and tubes that the little girl it was all connected to was almost lost in all the equipment. The kid herself was skeletally skinny.

In front of her sat a little Petilil, playing with some leaves it had picked up, using its powers to make them dance. It dropped the leaves at the sight of the new humans.

“My mom’s working late, but I bet one of the nurses can help you,” the girl said, ducking her head shyly from their gazes. She pressed a button on the arm of her wheelchair. “One’ll be out in a minute.”

“Thanks very much,” Warren said, smiling. “Real kind of you. Hey, little thing,” he added, waving at the Petilil.

“Hey, are y’all trainers?” the little girl asked, pointing to Angus’ pokeball, which Warren had strapped to the shoulderpad of his bag.

“Sure are!” Carlotta said, showing off her own pokeballs.

“Coooooool,” the girl breathed, her eyes lighting up. “I really wanna be a trainer an’ travel with Lilli an’ see the world, but…” She trailed off, having to take a mask to breathe into for a minute, the excited rush of words too much for her. “I’m not gonna get to travel,” she said in a tiny voice.

“You wanna meet our Pokemon?” Bianca suggested, releasing Mina and Tiberius. “They’re real friendly!”

“Hi,” the girl said, giggling as Mina gave her a heart-shaped kiss on the cheek. “They’re real sweet!”

“They sure are,” Warren said, releasing Angus and glancing at Cheren and Carlotta. “Do y’all have any Pokemon that are gentle enough to be around this kid?” he hissed.

“Um… no,” Carlotta said, running a hand over her pokeballs.

“I think I have one, actually,” Cheren said, releasing Priscilla. The Purrloin immediately leapt up and curled up on the little girl’s lap for a nap. “Priscilla, careful! She’s not hurting you, is she?”

“No! She’s real light… and real warm,” the girl said happily, gently stroking Priscilla’s fur. “I get chills a lot. I’d love to have a real furry one like her.” Priscilla purred loudly as the girl kept petting her.

“Well… why don’t you keep her?” Cheren suggested with a sigh. “To be honest, I’ve never been able to make a fighter of her. Looks like lap-warmer is her life’s dream.”

“Really?!” the little girl said excitedly. “You’d just… give her to me? Just like that?”

“What’s all the commotion about?” a nurse said, walking across the lawn towards them. “Denise, do you know these people?”

“This trainer said I can have his Purrloin!” Denise squeaked, getting so excited her breathing started to get laboured and she had to reach for her mask again.

“Breathe in and out, hon, it’s real excitin’, I know, but you’ve gotta relax,” the nurse said soothingly, glancing at Cheren. “You know her?”

“No, we were passing by and just asked for directions,” Cheren said. “But really, all that Purrloin does is sleep. I think she’d be happier with Denise here, and Denise certainly seems happy.”

“Well… we do have a station for processing gift Pokemon, and we will have to look her over before letting Denise spend too much time around her,” the nurse said, softening a little at how wide Denise was grinning. “But I think, with her mother’s permission, we can do that. Come on inside and we can process that, okay? Is it a trade or just a gift?”

“Just a gift--” Cheren began.

“No, we should trade!” Denise insisted. “Trainers trade so their Pokemon can have all sorts of new experiences, right? I want you to take Lilli with you!” The little Petilil perked up at the sound of her name. “You’re goin’ to all sorts of cool places, right? You’ve gotta, to take the gyms, right?”

“That’s right!” Carlotta said, showing off her Striaton gym badge. “We’ve got a lot of traveling ahead of us.”

“So… take Lilli with you!” Denise insisted. “Just… take her all the places I can’t, okay?”

“…I’d be happy to trade with you,” Cheren offered, “on the condition that you let me send you pictures of Lilli in all of the cool places we go, okay?”

“You will definitely need her mother’s permission for that,” the nurse said, leaning down so he could pick up Lilli and start wheeling Denise inside, “but I think it sounds lovely.”

“You softie,” Warren said, kissing Cheren on the cheek.

{Reshin 20th, 18:43pm}
{Nacrene City}

“Seriously, Cheren, that was the sweetest,” Bianca was still gushing as they walked into the Pokemon Centre, having finally been directed on their way by Denise’s delighted mother, who had offered them her instagram account to send pictures to in lieu of giving strangers a direct line to her eight-year-old.

“Well, last night you pointed out that Priscilla simply isn’t a fighter,” Cheren said with a shrug. “Now she gets to sleep all she wants and that girl gets a reliable therapy Pokemon.”

“And you gotta carry around a Pokemon that you gotta be careful about ever usin’ to fight ‘cause if she gets hurt you gotta tell that to a terminally ill little girl,” Carlotta said teasingly.

“I can manage just fine with a team of five,” Cheren said loftily.

“Bianca D’Artagnan?”

“Yeah?” Bianca said, turning around.

“Don’t answer that--damn,” Carlotta muttered, immediately moving between Bianca and the dark-haired man in a brown longcoat who’d approached her. “What do you want, pal?”

“Well, I just wanted to know if she was really Bianca D’artagnan,” the man said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a card that declared him a private detective. “The name’s Perivale. Ace Perivale. I’ve been hired by your parents to find you, Miss D’artagnan.”

Warren and Cheren immediately joined Carlotta in forming a protective human wall. “You cannot force Bianca to go anywhere,” Cheren pointed out. “She is legally independent.”

“Technically, you also legally can’t stop me from calling her parents right now,” Ace said, though he showed no motion towards making a call. “I would, however, like to hear your side of the story, why you left and why your parents are so protective.”

“Um, because they’re Romrams?” Warren said scathingly. “Don’t that say it all? They’re homophobic, transphobic, racist, ableist…. Everythin’ bad, really.”

“I gathered,” Ace deadpanned.

“An’ they were startin’ to set up marriage meetin’s,” Bianca mumbled. “I don’t wanna marry any of them boys from the church.”

“They can’t legally compel you to get married, Miss D’Artagnan,” Ace pointed out.

“No, but they’ll drag me to the meetin’s anyway and ignore me sayin’ I ain’t interested an’ send out invites and start plannin’ and it’ll be the goddamn day and they’ll be guilt-trippin’ an’ harrassin’ me ta get into the dress ‘cause they already did all that work an’ their ears went an’ erased every time I said I didn’t wanna do it, and ain’t I such a horrible, selfish daughter!” Bianca burst out. “I ain’t goin’! You call ‘em, an’ all I’ll do is run away again!”

“I understand,” Ace said, holding up a hand. His blue eyes were sparkling with what looked like… amusement? “They came off as a real pair of pricks when I first met them, AND on their daily calls demanding updates, but I was really hoping that was just out of worry.”

“Nope, that’s how they are,” Carlotta said, folding her arms and tensing her muscles. She had been slacking off a little on her own training in favour of training her new Pokemon, but she was still pretty confident that she could break the guy’s neck with a flex and she wanted to make damn sure he knew it.

“We know you have a job to do, Mr Perivale--”

“Sir, actually,” Ace said with a grin, flashing a necklace with some kind of heavy pendant on it, like that was supposed to mean anything, though of course Cheren seemed to recognize it.

“…Well, Sir, we know you have a job to do,” Cheren said, raising an eyebrow. “But if you agree that trying to reunite Bianca with her parents would be awful…”

“Now, young man, I am a professional, and the D’Artagnans are paying me extremely well to find their little girl,” Ace said, shaking his head. “They are paying me, by the day, very, very well, and they’d have to be absolutely awful for me to not feel unconscionable about continuing to take their money without giving them any updates… so, thanks for that.” He tucked his necklace away again. “They’re essentially funding another investigation of mine that I personally rank as more important. Just be forewarned that they might hire somebody else if they get tired of my lack of progress, Miss D’Artagnan. Enjoy your time in Nacrene.”

“Hey, how’d you find us, anyway?” Carlotta demanded.

“Oh, I’ve spent a couple days just jumping around between Pokemon Centres, keeping an eye out,” Ace said with a shrug. “Runaway teenagers, I figured it was that or I’d have to start scouring for campers. And truth be told, when you walked in you all caught my eye. You have a very distinct aura, Miss D’Artagnan.”

“Um… thank you?” Bianca said in confusion. Ace just waved and walked off.

“…Well, at least we know he’s not a Romram,” Warren said, sounding nonplussed. “He’s one of them aura hippies.”

“So… should we be runnin’ away to another city or what?” Bianca said, wiping frightened tears out of her eyes.

“I… think we go find a camping spot by the train tracks, just in case,” Carlotta suggested. “Even if that guy’s not gonna sell you to your parents, he’s gondamn weird.”

Cheren, Sherlock, Poncho, Peabean, Rocky, Lilli

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden, Pidove, Roland

Bianca, Tiberius, Packard, Pine, Wilhelmina​

Sir Ace Perivale belongs to ShinigamiMaster on FFnet! Thank you very much for letting me use him! He’ll be back quite quickly ;) Because… this was another chapter I had to split in two because it was just getting too damn long, even at twice the length of my old style of chapters. I. Uh. May not be good at estimating chapter lengths. Who even knows how long this is gonna be now XP

This is also my first time writing approximations of Native American characters, so as usual, if I’m fucking up at all, let me know?

Okay, confession number 1: Pine died in the Plasma fight in Wellspring Cavern, and original drafts did have Plasma kill Pine during the kidnapping, but arranging the scene and getting Bianca to meet Keldeo meant that ultimately, it just didn’t flow. Nothing bad happened to Packard, but I ended up boxing him in favour of other Pokemon a little while after this and he was really not central to any events in the meantime, so this was a good, peaceful way to send him off and also give Bianca a break for a damn minute
Confession number 2: Priscilla also did die but that happened while catching the Cottonnee Key traded for a Petlil and she didn’t take that thing’s details so given Priscilla’s pre-existing characterization it made more sense to trade her away :P THEY’VE EACH GOTTEN ONE. Carlotta gets one and then that’s IT.

Angus the Audino

Owain the Dewott, Loyal the Herdier, Paden the Pansear, Pijon the Pidove
Name: Roland. Species: Roggenrola. Nature: Modest. Ability: Sturdy. Location: Wellspring Cave. Level: 12

Tiberius the Tepig, Wilhelmina the Woobat
RIP Pine the Pansage, level 10-14

Sherlock the Servine, Poncho the Panpour
Name: Peabean. Species: Pidove. Nature: Impish. Ability: Gluttony. Location: Route 3. Level: 10
Name: Rocky. Species: Roggenrola. Nature: Bashful. Ability: Sturdy. Location: Route 3. Level: 10
Name: Lilli. Species: Petlil. Nature: Modest. Ability: Chlorophyll. Location: Nacrene City. Level: 15
RIP Priscilla the Purrloin, level 3-21

Cheren, Sherlock, Poncho, Peabean, Rocky, Lilli

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden, Pidove, Roland

Bianca, Tiberius, Packard, Pine, Wilhelmina​

{Reshin 20th, 20:29}
{Nacrene City}

“This place kinda reminds me of that movie,” Carlotta said, patiently performing crunches. “Y’know, the one where that guy was trainin’ by pullin’ a train?”

“Carly, that is so many superhero movies, you’re gonna hafta be more specific than that,” Warren pointed out, side-eying the ancient, rusted metal that barely peeked through the grass. “Is it weird that, even though a train obviously ain’t run here for hundreds of years, I’m kinda anxious ‘bout sleepin’ here?”

“You’re a worrywart, Warren,” Cheren said fondly, checking the time on his pokegear. “Now sssshhhh. Save the World is on.” He projected a screen up from his C-gear and settled back, his arms folded behind his head and his C-gear sitting on his stomach to display the slightly transparent image.

“Ooh, what’s that?” Bianca whispered, lying on her stomach in the grass to get an angle where she could see the screen too.

“Nerd show,” Warren said, lying down next to Cheren.

“They debunk pseudoscience, interview experts in various fields and investigate groundbreaking new research,” Cheren murmured, “and this week they are interviewing the Professor Oak, so sssshhhh.”

“Hey, that’s Professor Juniper!” Carlotta gasped, pointing at the screen and immediately getting shushed by the other three. “Well, it is!”

Professor Juniper was sitting around a table with a brown-haired Fairlan woman and an older man with silver hair and a bow tie. “—Because tonight, we’re looking at some research that could potentially blow everything that we know about Pokemon out of the water—if it can be proven!” the older man was saying. “I’m here tonight with Unova’s own Professor Aurea Juniper, who’s a little skeptical, and the originator of Energy Field Theory, Professor Daisy Oak. Now, may be a surprise to those of you who know that these ladies are on opposite sides of this debate, but you studied together, didn’t you?

Well, we didn’t exactly go to school together,” Professor Juniper laughed.

I did most of my studies over the internet,” Professor Oak said, the Unovan translation from a translator patch on her jacket overlaying her Fairlan words after a moment. “Aurea was often on fieldwork with her father, so attended many of the same digital classes I did. We disagreed often then, too!

I do want to go into this saying that, for all that, and despite some sensationalizing gossip, I’ve never thought of Daisy as an enemy,” Professor Juniper said, holding up a hand. “Sometimes I’ve been wrong, and would’ve been too assured of my own cleverness to admit it without her calling me out so well—and sometimes, she’s been wrong, but to prove it, I had to learn to prove my point better.

Oh, I think you were wrong a little more often, but who’s keeping count?” Professor Oak said with a mischievous smile.

It’s only 51 to 50, Oak, and I might get to even the score tonight,” Professor Juniper laughed.

51 to 49. ‘I bet I can pick up this Crustle without getting pinched’ doesn’t count as a debate, Juniper.

Ladies,” the host laughed. “Professor Oak, care to give us an overview of your Energy Field hypothesis? You’ll note, attentive viewers, we’ve switched up our usual running order and gone for an interview first,” he added, looking to the audience, “given how the nature of this theory is that it’s… difficult to prove.

But not impossible,” Professor Oak said firmly. “I’m not finished experimenting yet. But Pokemon have been mysteries since time immemorial. We’ve slowly begun to unravel the odd way that Pokemon grow and mature, controlled by stimuli rather than time, and have many working hypotheses on how they can generate quantities of, say, water that far exceed their own mass, but by and large when it comes to Pokemon we tend to only know what works and not why. But I think that may be because we’ve fundamentally misunderstood what Pokemon are, by assuming that they are purely organic beings, the same as humans.

“Well, what does any of that mean?” Bianca whispered.

“Means we don’t actually know that much ‘bout Pokemon, even after all this time,” Warren whispered. “One of the reasons I got into studyin’ Pokemon medicine. Just studyin’ Pokemon biology is weird and super interestin’.”

“Sssh, question time after,” Cheren muttered.

“—hypothesis is that there exists an energy field that humans are not part of, but Pokemon are,” Professor Oak was saying. “Converting that energy into matter is something they can do naturally, rather than relying on technology as we do. They can do it to heal injuries in extremis, or add to their own mass with rushed evolutions, or convert it to fire, water, leaves, and so forth.

Which, if true, does neatly tie up a great many mysteries about Pokemon biology,” Professor Juniper agreed. “And I’m definitely interested in experimenting to find some way to detect this energy—” The image froze, silent and flickering.

“Gondamn signal,” Cheren muttered, waving his C-gear up in the air. “Can’t stream video worth a damn.”

“You can download and watch it next time we’re in a Pokemon Centre,” Warren reminded him.

“I’m sorry… we coulda stayed in one tonight if I didn’t speak to that guy,” Bianca said guiltily.

“Sssshhh, no takin’ the blame for nonsense ain’t your fault,” Carlotta ordered, putting a finger to Bianca’s lips. “Hell, new rule: you ain’t allowed to take the blame for anythin’, ever. Nothin’ is your fault. Official. Understood?”

Bianca opened her mouth, then froze, staring wide-eyed over Carlotta’s shoulder. “What is it?” Cheren said, sitting up and looking past Carlotta, scanning the overgrown debris strewn around the old trainyard. It was difficult to see much at night, even with the flashlights, just a vague sense of the way the lumpy shadows around them textured the darkness.

Then, in the bushes, the lights of a flashlight glinted off of two small eyes.

“What is that?” Carlotta asked, zeroing in her flashlight and releasing Owain, who brandished his scallop defensively at the source of the eyes, which just blinked slowly at him.

“It’s a Banette?” Cheren said in surprise, opening his pokedex. “It’s a ghost, quite a rare one…”

“A ghost, huh? Now that’d be somethin’ for a champion’s team!” Carlotta said excitedly. “Owain, don’t hit it too hard! Razor Shell!”

Owain leapt forwards with a mighty squeak, slashing at the shadowy Pokemon. The Banette vanished, with a rustle, into the bushes.

“Hey!” Carlotta yelled, chasing after it with Owain.

“Carly!” Warren yelled, chasing his sister. “Don’t go chasin’ after a ghost in the dark!”

Cheren caught Bianca’s eye and sighed. “Come on, then,” he said, scooping up his bag. “We might as well go after them.”

They didn’t have to go far. The Banette had scuttled behind the bushes and into an old rail car that was turned on its side and almost completely overgrown with bushes and turf. There was something melancholy about the fallen machine, like it was a great skeleton slumped on the ground, wishing to be left to sleep rather than be disturbed.

“There you are!” Carlotta cried, tackling the Banette herself and actually grabbing it in her arms, where it flailed and squeaked frantically.

“Carlotta, don’t grab a wild Pokemon!” Cheren said in exasperation.

There was a faint sob, and it didn’t sound like a Pokemon. Something about the sob cut straight to the heart. “Hey, guys?” Bianca said, looking around, clutching her chest as she abruptly felt horribly, terribly afraid.

“I heard it too,” Warren said with a frown, shining a light into the train car. Inside, a small figure ducked under their large hat.

“Oh, hey, honey,” Bianca said, crouching down. “It’s okay. Carly, can you let that Pokemon go? I think it belongs to her…”

“Huh? Oh, shi—sugar,” Carlotta said, leaning down with the Banette in her arms. The kid sobbed and moved further back. “Hey, darlin’, we ain’t gonna hurt you…”

A little green-and-white Pokemon jumped in front of the little girl, spreading its tiny arms and chirping angrily.

“Sssshhh… hey, I’m just gonna sit down here, okay, honey?” Bianca offered, sitting down in the grass. The air was thick with the kid’s fear. “Nobody’s gonna come any closer. Carly, let that poor li’l thing go!”

“Sure thing,” Carlotta said, opening her arms. The Banette hopped out, scurrying over to the little girl, hopping into her arms. As soon as it did, the green-and-white Pokemon chirped again and the three vanished in a flash of energy.

“I think that second Pokemon was a Ralts,” Cheren said after a moment. “It must have used Teleport.”

“Damn, I feel bad,” Carlotta said, crouching down and petting Owain, who also drooped. “I think we really scared that kid…”

“You didn’t know it wasn’t wild,” Cheren said consolingly.

“Hey, guys?” Bianca said, leaning into the train car and picking something up. “I think she dropped this…”

“A sketchbook?” Warren said, peering at it. “Let me have a look…”

“We shouldn’t be spyin’ on her stuff,” Bianca said with a frown, clutching the sketchbook close.

“I just wanna see if she put her name or anythin’ in it, see if we can return it,” Warren assured her, holding his hands out. She handed over the sketchbook after a moment to let him flip open the cover.

“What does it say?” Cheren said, holding up the flashlight.

“Property of Kara, age 12… that kid was twelve? She was tiny!” Warren said in surprise.

“Maybe we oughta go lookin’ for her back at that hospital,” Carlotta said, returning Owain.

“Nah, says here… if lost, give to Marsha at Nacrene Museum,” Warren said, pointing at the bottom. “Different handwritin’. Maybe it’s her mom?”

“Well, we’re going there in the morning to book battles, anyway,” Cheren said, standing up and stretching. “Shall we get in some more training, sleep, and head out there early?”

{Reshin 21st, 09:12}
{Nacrene City}

The whole way to Nacrene Museum, Bianca couldn’t stop looking over her shoulder. Even with the detective’s assurances that he wasn’t going to tell her parents, she kept jumping whenever she saw a man as tall as her father or a woman with her mother’s hair colour, her mind briefly painting on the faces she was most afraid to see…

“Here we are,” Cheren said, gesturing to a big stone building that didn’t look like a warehouse or factory. “This place was purpose-built six hundred years ago with money left to the city by—oof!”

“Hey, watch where you’re—oh, it’s you,” Warren said with a frown when he got a good look at the guy who’d shot out of the museum doors and into Cheren at top speed. He maintained eye contact and the dirty look while helping Cheren up, the low angle actually letting him get under N’s perpetually tipped baseball cap.

“I remember you,” N mumbled, apparently unphased by the collision. In one arm he was holding a small, round, blue-and-brown Pokemon with a smiling face and a big blue tail. “The trainers who keep Pokemon in pokeballs.”

“Most trainers do that,” Carlotta pointed out. “Ain’t nothin’ special ‘bout us doin’ that.”

“Hmmm… no, they don’t have it here,” N said, apparently to the Pokemon in his arms, which was humming and buzzing. “We’ll have to look somewhere else.”

“For what?” Bianca said in confusion.

“I… want to see things no-one can see,” N said, glancing up briefly at her before returning his focus to the little Pokemon he was holding. “The truths of Pokemon inside Pokeballs. The ideals of how trainers should be. And a future where Pokemon have become perfect… Do you feel the same?”

“Uhhhh…” Carlotta and Warren exchanged a look. “I mean, we’ve all got ideals ‘bout the trainers we wanna be…”

“…I cannot see the future yet. The world is still to be determined…” N mumbled. He started to brush past. “Right now, my friends aren’t strong enough to save all Pokemon. Maybe I can’t solve the equation that will change the world. So, I need power… Power enough to make anyone agree with me…”

“Excuse me, but forcing people to agree with you doesn’t make you right,” Cheren snapped, grabbing the taller man’s arm.

N tensed up, staring at Cheren’s hand on his arm. “It always has,” he said bluntly. “I know what power I need. I need Reshiram, the legendary Pokemon that, along with its hero, made Unova what it is that day.” He smiled, suddenly, as he pulled away. “I will become that hero,” he declared proudly, “and when I do, you and I will be friends!”

“Don’t think I could see that even if I could see the future,” Carlotta snorted, folding her arms with a scowl. N just smiled at her, then strode off, a little spring in his step. “What is with that guy?”

“He isn’t wrong that, historically speaking, might has made right, but… good grief,” Cheren said, shaking his head. “What century does he think this is?”

“Maybe he thinks he’s in Kanto or somethin’?” Carlotta theorized. “Don’t they still pick leaders ‘cause of who’s the best battler? I think I remember you sayin’ somethin’ like that…”

“It isn’t exclusively about battle prowess, though I suppose you could be forgiven for the mistake,” Cheren sighed. “Never mind him. Let’s find Marsha, shall we?”

“Whoa,” Bianca breathed as they stepped into the museum, staring around the cavernous main exhibit hall, odd encounters entirely forgotten as she took in the huge, peaceful space. It gave off the impression of being vast and still and yet, at the same time, jam-packed with so many things that her eyes couldn’t take them all in at once, and instead they seemed to fade into view like the pictures in a magic eye puzzle as she processed them. Skeletons of flying creatures, tablets of stone and tapestries all hung from the high ceiling, while the walls were practically papered with paintings and signs directing them to various exhibits, and each open doorway seemed full to bursting with more. “Wow.”

“Your catchphrase,” Carlotta joked. “See that big one in the middle? That there’s a Dragonite. A real powerful one, goin’ by the size!”

“Been here before, huh, hon?” the man sitting behind the ticket desk said in amusement.

“Sure, a buncha times, but this is her first time here!” Carlotta said excitedly, clutching Bianca’s arm. “Y’all got anythin’ new lately?”

“Well, there’s the Relic Castle Excavations,” the man said thoughtfully. “Y’all got our app? It’s in the east wing right now.”

“Sure!” Carlotta said, opening up the app on her pokegear and zooming around the digital floorplan. “I see it, thanks!” she chirped, putting down a marker.

“Before that,” Cheren said, holding up a hand, “is there a Marsha here?”

“Why do you wanna know?” the man behind the counter asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, we found this last night,” Warren said, pulling the sketchbook out of his bag. “It said, if found, return to Marsha at the Nacrene Museum?”

“Oh!” the receptionist said, his face lighting up. “I’ve seen that before! Her new li’l girl likes to sketch. I’ve seen her in here with it. Hang on, Marsha’s on ‘er lunch break, but I’m sure she’s gonna be delighted to see somebody found it!” He pressed a button on his counter. “That’ll buzz ‘er out. Give ‘er a minute.”

“Thank you,” Cheren said politely. “So, what did they find in the Relic Castle?”

“Rocks, really, but if you’re into geology or somethin’, then…”

They made small talk for a couple of minutes until a tall, dark-skinned woman with her hair piled up in a wrap the same colour as the museum’s uniform came out. “You buzzed, Petey?” she called.

“These folks found Kara’s notebook!” Petey called, waving her over.

Marsha’s face split into an excited grin and she all but sprinted across the hall towards them, hugging the notebook in delight. “Oh, thank y’all!” she gushed. “Kara was so dang upset when she realized she’d lost it after goin’ out drawin’, but she’d had a real fright and didn’t wanna go lookin’ for it…”

“That was us,” Carlotta admitted sheepishly. “We thought her Banette was a wild Pokemon, and, uh… I’m real sorry…”

“Oh, damn,” Marsha sighed. “I know she don’t like havin’ other humans around, even me, but… don’t worry ‘bout it, honey,” she said reassuringly. “You did her a real kindness bringin’ her notebook back—” She yelped as somebody shoved past her, nearly knocking her over. “WHAT THE HELL?!” she yelled after them.

“STOP THEM!” another voice yelled—a more familiar voice. Sir Ace Perivale came running up to them. “Maybe if the lot of you weren’t just standing around gossiping, you’d have noticed those damn thieves!”

“Those what?” Cheren said, looking up and gasping.

The skull of the giant Dragonite, the head that had been sitting so sturdily high above the ground just a few minutes before, was gone.

“Oh, shit!” Petey yelled, grabbing a phone. “I’m callin’ the police!”

“I’m going after them now!” Ace shouted, shooting off.

“C’mon! Let’s get ‘em!” Carlotta yelled, following after him.

“Carlotta, we’re not—stop doing this!” Warren cried as he, Cheren and Bianca chased after his sister.

The streets of Nacrene were crowded in the morning, so it was all Bianca could do to keep up with Cheren and Warren, never mind see who it was that they were chasing. She ended up grabbing onto Cheren’s hand just to make sure she could keep track of him, and was relieved when he gripped her hand tightly and towed her forwards.

She fidgeted nervously with Wilhelmina and Tiberius’ pokeballs as they ran. She didn’t want to put them at risk or lose another Pokemon fighting thieves…

But who wants to steal a skull, and why?

{Reshin 21st, 09:29}
{Pinwheel Forest}

“Gondammit! Where in the hells are we?!” Carlotta groused as Ace slowed down in front of a bridge. The dappled, flickering light filtering down through the tall trees played tricks on the eye and made it difficult to make out the dimensions of the bridge, or what lay on the other end.

“Pinwheel Forest,” Ace said, looking down a dry gully that ran between two heaps of boulders just before the bridge. “I think they went down there, trying to disappear into the forest. Sucks to be them. That gully’s deep and there’s only one path, no way to climb up the rocks. It’ll bring them back around to the other side of the bridge.”

“So we just gotta wait for ‘em on the other side of the bridge?” Carlotta said as Cheren, Warren and Bianca caught up, gasping.

“Better if we can pin them in the gully,” Ace said, frowning at a young couple with a baby who were strolling across the bridge. “This is a public path. Look, if you kids want to help, go into the gully and chase after them. Stick together and be careful, don’t rush.” He released a blue-and-black canine Pokemon that was almost as tall as him. “Qui-Gon and I will go into the other end of the gully and we’ll catch them between us, got it?”

“Got it,” Carlotta said, saluting and then releasing Owain, who immediately looked around for somebody to fight, and Pijon, who tried to sit on her shoulder before realizing that, having evolved into a Tranquill the previous night, he was now too big. He settled for perching on one of the bridge’s handrails. “You comin’, Cheren?”

“Of course,” Cheren said, releasing Sherlock and Peabean, who had also evolved. Pijon immediately began preening his new, brightly coloured facial crest. “Bianca, Warren, you should--”

“I’m comin’ too,” Bianca said firmly, releasing Wilhelmina, who hovered around her trainer’s head, sniffing the air. “I wanna help!”

“Then I might as well join in this time,” Warren said, patting his pokeball. “One of you is definitely gonna get yourselves hurt doin’ this nonsense…”

“See you in there,” Ace said, tipping his hat and runnin off with Qui-Gon at his heels.

“I’m guessin’ you ain’t been hikin’ before, Bianca,” Carlotta said, heading off across the rocks. “Watch your footin’, okay?”

“Got it,” Bianca said, hitching up her skirt and stepping cautiously across the stones, wishing she’d gotten up the courage to go buy her own trousers already. The fear of committing such a sin causing her parents to physically manifest in the store in front of her was about equaled by the awkwardness of peering at a clothing stand and realizing she had no clue what any of the numbers meant.

“The detective said we didn’t need to rush, since he’ll be coming at them from the other side,” Cheren said, gripping Warren’s arm as they headed down into the gully, “so do be careful. I did not wear hiking shoes today.”

“Can’t be that bad, or they’d’ve blocked it off,” Carlotta said reassuringly.

“Unless the thieves destroyed whatever was in the way to stop folks from gettin’ in,” Warren pointed out.

“It’s a trainer path, there’ll be rangers down there,” Cheren said, stumbling. Sherlock immediately extended several vines, catching his trainer and keeping him upright. “Ah… thank you, Sherlock.”

“Two left feet,” Warren said, shaking his head fondly.

“Hey, down there!” Carlotta said, sliding down a moss-covered tree trunk instead of climbing down the rough rock face. Somebody dressed in red was collapsed on the ground. “Hey, y’all okay?!”

“Gondamn cheaters,” the woman grunted. She was hunched over, clutching a leg that was horribly bent at a spot too low to be her knee. “You kids head back,” she ordered. “Some thieves are runnin’ loose—”

“We know, we’re chasin’ ‘em,” Carlotta said authoritatively. “We’re with a detective, Ace Perivale. Did you see the thieves? What did they look like?”

“Look like? They were dressed in that damn fool Plasma costume!” the ranger spat. “Y’all get after ‘em. I already called for help an’ I can dress this thing myself.” She gritted her teeth and pushed the leg straight with a horrible crack before letting loose a litany under her breath that sounded liable to start a forest fire.

“If you’re sure you’re okay…” Cheren said uneasily. The ranger nodded, opening her bag and keying in a password before withdrawing a splint.

“She’s got this,” Warren assured him, tugging Cheren along as they headed deeper into the gully. Wilhelmina flew ahead, giving echoing cries. “What’s she doin’?”

“Is she trying to echolocate them?” Cheren said with interest. “That’s very clever. How did you teach her to do that?”

“Uh, she just started doin’ it,” Bianca said, brushing a tree branch out of her face. “She’s real smart, ain’t she?”

Wilhelmina squeaked loudly, diving suddenly. Pijon and Peabean dived after her. “Do they see somethin’?” Carlotta called, speeding up as she vaulted over a fallen log and took off between the scattered trees.

“Carlottaaaa!” Warren yelled in exasperation as they went after her. They spotted Wilhelmina and the two Tranquill further down in the gully, all gathered around two much smaller Pokemon. They were grey and bipedal, with heavy pink markings on their bodies. One was carrying a large chunk of wood over its shoulder.

The other was lying on the ground in a pool of blood.

“Aw, gondammit… too late,” Warren said, grimacing as he crouched next to it. “Nothin’ Angus or I can do for it. It’s gone.”

“Oh… I’m sorry, li’l guy,” Bianca sniffed, reaching to pet the other one. It smacked her hand away with a small paw, squeaking angrily. Wilhelmina squeaked right back. Then Pijon and Peabean both trilled loudly, spreading their broad wings, Pijon’s crest standing on end.

“That’s an aggression display,” Cheren said, reaching for Peabean’s pokeball. “We don’t need to waste time fighting wild—”

With an angry cry, the surviving Timburr ran off, with Wilhelmina and the two Tranquill flying after it. “C’mon!” Carlotta yelled, running after them. Warren just sighed heavily this time before taking off in pursuit, tugging Cheren along by one hand.

The gully grew denser and greener around them as they ran. It was probably beautiful, but impossible to make out as any more than a green blur at the corners of their eyes as they focused on chasing after the Pokemon without catching their ankles in tree roots or rocks hidden in the grass.

“There!” Carlotta cried suddenly. A flash of powder blue was distantly visible whipping around a boulder. “HEY!” She yelled, pointing at where the figure had been. The wild Timburr screamed in rage and swung the chunk of wood over its head as it ran around the boulder, while Peabean and Pijon simply swooped up and dived over with a shriek.

“You have nowhere to run!” Cheren shouted as they ran around the boulder to see one Plasma on the ground, yelling as the Timburr beat at him with its hunk of wood. Several more were clustered behind him, carrying a huge package wrapped in black cloth between them, which they were carefully setting on the ground so they could get their pokeballs. Behind them was a tunnel—or, on closer inspection, not a tunnel but a gigantic fallen tree, a dead titan rotted through the core, leaving a musty-smelling hollow that one could drive a truck through. Two of them stumbled back with a cry as Pijon and Peabean divebombed them.

“The detectives are comin’ the other way!” Warren shouted, pointing at the fallen tree. “Give up an’ surrender the skull!”

“Plasma will never surrender!” one of the Plasmas yelled, releasing a Patrat. All of them had Patrat, but large, strong-looking ones, probably not far off of evolution. “Attack!”

“Leaf Tornado, Sherlock! Peabean, Air Cutter!” Cheren ordered, pointing at two of the Patrat.

“Yeah! Air Cutter, Pijon! Razor Shell, Owain!” Carlotta cried. The four Pokemon dove into battle. The Plasma on the ground had managed to released a Purrloin, but the wild Timburr knocked it aside with a furious cry.

“Mina! Ya gotta make ‘em sleep before it kills ‘im!” Bianca cried. “Um… Confusion, ain’t it?”

Wilhelmina swooped towards the pair on the ground, glowing pink. Both human and Pokemon groaned, clutching their heads, then collapsed, unconscious. “Good job, Bianca!” Warren said, throwing a pokeball to catch the wild Timburr. “Should stop it wakin’ up an’ gettin’ outta control again…”

Carlotta and Cheren had already swept aside all of the Patrat. A couple more Plasmas had Purrloin, and a couple had low, brown Pokemon with large jaws full of sharp teeth. “They’re Sandile! Use Pijon!” Cheren ordered. “Peabean, Air Cutter that one!”

Peabean, as ordered, struck the Sandile hard, slamming it flat into the ground. Behind it, one of the collapsed Patrat staggered to its feet, eyes glowing.

“CHEREN, LOOK OUT!” Bianca screamed, pointing. Too late, Cheren turned and saw the Patrat just as it leapt into Peabean, tearing into her belly with a horrifying screech and a spray of blood.

“We know how to bide our time in Plasma,” one of the grunts joked.

“Shut the fuck up!” Carlotta snarled, scooping up a stone and spinning to fling it. The Plasma woman screamed and collapsed as it struck her in the knee with a crack. “Warren, get your ass over here!”

“Already on it!” Warren yelled, releasing Angus. “Doubleslap!”

Angus slapped the Patrat away from Peabean. His attacks weren’t very powerful, but they were enough to take down the barely-conscious Patrat. “Good. Now Heal Pulse, Angus!” Warren ordered. Instead of glowing with charging power, Angus prodded at Peabean, making a distressed noise. “Fuck. Cheren…” Warren said, gripping his boyfriend’s hand.

“I know,” Cheren said tightly. “SURRENDER!” he barked angrily at the Plasmas as they looked over their various downed Pokemon and a couple of downed partners. “Y’all got nowhere to run!” Cheren repeated, anger fraying his usually precise diction. “Give it up, NOW!”

“Never!” one of the Plasmas spat, drawing his sword. He was immediately bowled over as what looked like a ball of pure light smacked into his back.

“Careful, those things are sharp,” Ace called, running down the inside of the log with Qui-Gon. The last two Plasmas still on their feet exchanged glances, then held their hands up in the air. “Wow, you kids caught up with ‘em fast. Did you save any for me?”

“I wish,” Warren sighed as Pijon fluttered down next to Peabean, nudging her with his beak and chirping. Angus put a small paw on Pijon’s back and crooned in a soft, sad voice. Owain, Sherlock and Wilhelmina all gathered around the Tranquill as he threw his head back and gave a haunting wail of despair.

“I think they’re cryin’,” Bianca said, tears thick in her own voice. “They know she’s dead…?”

“Well, they sure know she ain’t gettin’ up,” Warren said, putting an arm around Cheren. “I just… didn’t know Pokemon mourned.”

“Yeah,” Ace said, looking down at the dead Tranquill with a sad sigh. “They sure do. Look, if you kids wanna… I dunno, bury ‘er out here, we can handle these guys.” He released a fully-evolved Samurott, along with a humanoid orange Pokemon that looked a bit like a large Pansear except with its head actually on fire, and a tall Pokemon that was mostly hidden under what looked like a hooded green cloak except for a protruding beak. “My team and I can handle taking this lot away.” He nodded at the various Plasmas and the flaming orange Pokemon immediately picked two up and, ignoring their protestations, flung one over each shoulder.

“He’s right,” Carlotta said as Ace and his Pokemon walked away with their prisoners, the Samurott carrying the stolen skull on its back. “We oughta bury ‘er…” She reached for Owain and Pijon’s pokeballs, but Bianca put out a hand to stop her.

“We should… let ‘em say goodbye too,” she sniffed. “An’ that poor li’l thing back there… we oughta bury him too. He was just here, an’ they killed ‘im…”

“I did catch that other one… here,” Warren said, handing the pokeball to his sister. “I don’t need a fighter, but you could probably do somethin’ with ‘er. Who knows, maybe it’ll make ‘er like us if she sees us buryin’ ‘er friend, right?”

“Good idea,” Carlotta sighed. “Owain, c’mon, let’s go get that dead Timburr… y’all find some soil we can dig in, okay?”

They found some at the far end of the tree trunk, where some of its roots were still sunken into the ground, the rest reaching up into the sky like a wall of broken spires. It seemed a suitably solemn place to inter Peabean and the dead Timburr, with Pijon’s sad wailing serving as the funeral dirge.

The wild Timburr didn’t cry aloud when Carlotta released her and she saw them putting the dead one’s body in a hole and covering him with earth. She just dropped her chunk of wood on the ground, sat on it, and cried silently without ever looking away from her friend’s body until he was completely covered with earth.

Cheren, Sherlock, Poncho, Rocky, Lilli

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden, Pijon, Roland, Thamina

Bianca, Tiberius, Wilhelmina​

As in the last chapter, Sir Ace Perivale and his Pokemon belong to ShinigamiMaster, and introducing Kara, belonging to Ludyhoolu!

Angus the Audino

Owain the Dewott, Loyal the Lillipup, Paden the Pansear, Pijon the Tranquill, Roland the Roggenrola
Name: Thamina. Species: Timburr. Nature: Adamant. Ability: Guts. Location: Pinwheel Forest (Exterior). Level: 14.

Tiberius the Tepig, Wilhelmina the Woobat
Name: Tristan. Species: Timburr. Nature: Quiet. Ability: Guts. Location: Pinwheel Forest (Exterior). Level: 13
RIP Tristan the Timburr, level 13-23

Sherlock the Servine, Poncho the Panpour, Rocky the Roggenrola, Lilli the Petilil
RIP Peabean the Tranquill, level 10-21

Cheren, Sherlock, Poncho, Rocky, Lilli

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden, Pijon, Roland, Thamina

Bianca, Tiberius, Wilhelmina​

{Reshin 21st, 10:32}
{Pinwheel Forest}

“Hey, guys?” Warren said, stopping in the middle of the bridge and looking at his C-Gear. “Maybe we oughtn’t go back to Nacrene right now…”

“Why—oh,” Cheren said, looking at Warren’s screen and wincing. “Of course. Should have known. The press are all over the museum,” he clarified to Carlotta and Bianca.

“It too much to hope your folks don’t watch news?” Carlotta asked Bianca, who’d gone deathly pale.

“Um… is Mono News reportin’ on it?” Bianca asked anxiously.

“Hold on, this app only shows real new stations… aw, shit, they’re showin’ it too,” Warren sighed.

“We’ll come back an’ fight Nacrene Gym later on,” Carlotta decided. “An’ don’t you start,” she added immediately, turning to Bianca, who shut her mouth. “We can fight ‘em in any order, port back any time we like, this ain’t a problem or setback for nobody.” She put a hand on Bianca’s shoulder and gentled her tone of voice. “Just remindin’ you you ain’t done nothin’ wrong an’ have nothin’ to apologize for, got it?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Bianca said with a shy smile. “Okay! Campin’ again! I’m lookin’ forward to it! This forest’s real pretty!”

“I believe there is a popular trainer campsite by the lake,” Cheren added, turning and leading them back across the bridge, deeper into the forest. “It ought to be an ideal place to train, maybe with other trainers to have practice battles with.”

“Hey, here’s a plan—we challenge some other folks, wreck their Pokemon, an’ charge ‘em for Angus’ Heal Pulse,” Carlotta cackled.

“Says the police are at the museum, too,” Warren mumbled, still looking at his c-gear screen. “Think they’re gonna wanna talk to us?”

“They probably aren’t in a rush, seeing as none of the thieves escaped and they have plenty of witnesses,” Cheren mused. “Has that detective made a statement?”

“Oh, yeah, here ‘e is,” Warren said, turning on a video. The screen was too small for the others to see, but they could hear the report just fine over the rustling leaves and smooth, quiet flow of the river below.

“…with the aid of some traveling trainers,” the detective was saying. “But as they were minors, I’m not going to give their details out on the air. I’ll leave it to the discretion of themselves and their guardians to visit the police to offer statements.

“I like this guy,” Carlotta mused. “I like ‘im a lot.

“What a solid dude,” Warren agreed.

“Is that ranger lady okay?” Bianca asked, peering at Warren’s c-gear.

“Uhhhh… oh, yeah, says here Ranger Irene Cooper was hospitalized with a broken leg, but thanks to her own quick first aid she should make a full recovery,” Warren reported. “She’s gonna be fine, don’t you worry.”

“Good,” Bianca sighed in relief. “I’m glad they got that skull back safe, too. Been a real shame for that poor thing not havin’ ‘is head no more…”

“He’s been dead for over three thousand years, Bianca, I don’t imagine much bothers him,” Cheren said, looking up at the signs standing over the path ahead. “Ah. Campsite this way. There we go.”

The campsite wasn’t directly off the main path leading to the bridges, but instead down a winding trail between the trees. It was a pleasant day, with the sun filtering down through the trees casting everything in a warm, dappled light. It was peaceful, beautiful, quiet, and all in all worlds away from the morning’s violence. It was only a few minutes’ walk before they first got a glimpse of glittering water through the trees, and not long afterwards until they found themselves in a field of short, scrubby grass before a lake. It was mostly empty, aside from a couple of tents dotted amongst the stone-ringed firepits. The lake itself was the sort that was too large to be a pond, but the far shore was close enough that individual trees could be made out, and they could practically see Carlotta estimating how long it would take her to swim it. At the water’s edge, where the grass gave way to a small strip of damp sand, a couple of trainers were fighting—though on closer inspection, it clearly wasn’t an actual fight, as such.

The two trainers were standing on opposite sides of the rough outline of a battlefield drawn in the sand, as if having a real match, but there was no way the Pokemon in the middle were really battling. One, a gigantic mass of red-and-blue stone with something like a big nose and moustache on front, wasn’t even moving, just grunting as a little orange thing with a burning tail spat tiny spurts of flame that washed harmlessly off of the bigger Pokemon’s hide. One trainer, a tall, pale man with dark blue hair to his shoulders, was cheering on “Giro”, while the other, an equally tall dark-skinned trainer with very long, straight red hair, was just watching with a smile.

“Awww, are they helpin’ the baby train? That’s real sweet!” Bianca gushed.

“Hi!” Carlotta called, waving. “Mister with the li’l guy! If you’re needin’ a proper fight, I figure we’re more on your level! How many badges you got?”

“Hi!” the man called, waving. “Gearing up to get my first. I’m thinking Burgh, it’ll be easiest on my team. How about you?”

“We’ve got our first badges,” Cheren said, pulling out his badge case as they approached the battlefield.

“And you couldn’t resist showin’ it off,” Warren ribbed his boyfriend, nudging him. “Competitive trainers. Can’t take y’all anywhere. Since we skipped over the whole introductions part, my name’s Warren, this is my boyfriend Cheren, my sister Carlotta, an’ our best friend Bianca.”

“Oh, yeah, hi,” the guy said with a nod. “I’m Marco. I’m from Accumula. Are you from around here? Giro, come back!” he added, shouting over his shoulder at his little orange Pokemon, who immediately scurried over and clung to his ankle.

“We’re all from Nuvema,” Carlotta confirmed. “How ‘bout you?” she asked the other trainer, who just returned their huge Pokemon and they strode over with their hands shoved into the pockets of their black jacket.

“I’m Fern,” they said. “I’m from Sinnoh!”

“Wow, your Unovan’s real good!” Bianca gasped.

“My girlfriend is from Undella, she taught me!” Fern said proudly. “I’m here to visit her, but also I want to see… what is the word… the god places?”

“God places?” Carlotta said, looking around with an eyebrow raised at the campsite. “I’m not sure that’s the word you want…”

“Not here,” Fern said, pointing at the ground before gesturing all around, “but in this forest, there are god places.”

“Yeah, we were talking about this before… I always heard that this is Virizion’s forest,” Marco said, stooping to scoop up Giro in his arms. “Haven’t you guys heard? Nuvema’s not far from here, right?”

“Honestly, most I know ‘bout Virizion begins an’ ends at the cartoons,” Carlotta admitted with a shrug.

“What is this li’l cutie?” Bianca cooed, waggling her fingers at Giro, who waved a little claw back at her.

“He’s a Charmander… not surprised you haven’t heard of them, they’re very rare,” Marco explained. “You were saying you’ve got one badge each already… would you be willing to give us a proper fight?”

“Oh, well… it’s Carly an’ Cheren got badges,” Bianca admitted, shying away, with her eyes downcast.

“If you don’t wanna fight just now, Bianca, how ‘bout we set up our campsite while they fight?” Warren suggested, tugging her away by the hand. “I ain’t a battler, either,” he added.

“Tch, it is morning,” Fern said, waving their hand dismissively. “You want to camp and see the famous sunrise, yeah? If you do not want to fight, come explore the forest with me! I can protect you from wild Pokemon, and maybe we will find a god place!”

“Bianca does have some interest in gods,” Cheren said. “Alright, Carlotta, which one of us will fight Marco first?”

“We’re deciding this like warriors, Cher,” Carlotta declared, raising one fist in the air. “Rock, paper, scissors, three, two, one—!”

“I don’t actually know anythin’ ‘bout Virizion, either,” Bianca clarified as she and Warren hurried to keep up with Fern’s long stride. “We didn’t get to watch cartoons, an’ my folks said anythin’ but the Dragons are false gods.”

“The Dragons you mean are Zekrom and Reshiram, yeah?” Fern said. “But there are many, many, many, many other gods!”

“Yeah, Bianca’s folks’re pretty intense,” Warren said. “Virizion… he was always the pretty one. Always flirtin’ with somebody, had to have all his attacks real pretty. Uh, in the cartoons an’ movies, anyways,” he added with a cough when Fern looked curiously at him. “Don’t know much ‘bout the god except that its thing is grass, an’ it hangs around with Terrakion an’ Cobalion.”

“Yes! The three are battle gods, who travel to fight on behalf of Pokemon in need!” Fern exclaimed. “Virizion is the most beautiful, they say, and the most gentle. And, yes, grass. That is why they live in this forest, maybe. Hello,” they said to a Pidove that was pecking at the path ahead of them. The tiny grey Pokemon looked up, staring quizzically at them. “In Sinnoh we have Starly. Not so cute, I think. Do you have? I know these ones are very common here.”

“No, but ain’t she adorable?” Bianca cooed, crouching down and carefully holding out a hand to the Pidove, who chirped and nuzzled it.

“Awww, kawaii desu ne… she thinks that you are very cute also,” Fern informed Bianca. “If you want to have a Pidove, I think she will let you catch her. Do you have pokeballs?”

“What? Y-yeah,” Bianca said in surprise, digging in her bag. “Really?”

“Pokemon don’t just let you catch ‘em,” Warren pointed out.

“Well, do you ask before you take? No!” Fern scoffed. They looked down at the Pidove, firing off a question in rapid Fairlan. The Pidove looked up and chirped. “Miss Penny says, I want to see far-away places, and to meet different Pokemon. That is why she is looking for a trainer.”

“Got it!” Bianca said, pulling an empty pokeball out of her bag. “You sure she’s really gonna just… let me catch ‘er?”

“I asked, and she answered! I am sure that miss Penny is a good bird who would not lie,” Fern said firmly.

“Well, here goes…” Bianca said, holding out her pokeball and tapping it gently to the Pidove’s head. The little Pokemon vanished immediately in a burst of light, and the ball didn’t even rock before locking.

“…wow,” Warren said in amazement. “That was easy.”

“I told you, I spoke to her, and she agreed!” Fern insisted. “Are you an Unovan who thinks that it is not true, that we speak to Pokemon?”

“W-well… it don’t sound very… sensible, do it?” Warren said, backing up a little as Fern loomed over them, hands on their hips and a scowl on their face. “I mean, Pokemon don’t all communicate in the same way, first off…”

“Pah! Sense! If it makes sense, does not matter,” Fern said flippantly. “It is true, whether it makes sense or not. Many clever people are studying it, and maybe one day they will make sense. But until then, it is still true.”

“Then you don’t gotta be so bossy ‘bout it, do ya?” Bianca said, standing up with her hands on her own impressive hips as she put herself between Warren and Fern, glaring up at the much taller person.

“It is okay, okay?” Fern chuckled, hands raised. “You, much more tough than you look. Protect your Pokemon as well as your friend, yeah?”

“Uh… okay,” Bianca said, looking down at the pokeball in her hand. “I’ll do my best.”

“Good! Now, where might a god place be?” Fern mused, looking at their wrist, where they wore something like a C-gear, though chunkier. They started fidgeting with the map function, which looked to be covered in custom pins.

“Damn, B,” Warren said, patting his friend on her shoulder. “You could be that intense more often.”

“Well… they were bein’ rude to you, and there weren’t no call for it,” Bianca mumbled, going red. She drooped a little more, hunching in on herself. “Why couldn’t I never talk to them like that?” she almost whispered.

“Your folks?” Warren guessed. Bianca nodded. “Well, that’s different. They’re your folks. This is just some person we just met. An’ hey, thanks for gettin’ tough on my account,” he added, squeezing her shoulder, “what with Carly not bein’ here to do it!”

“‘Sokay,” Bianca said, smiling shyly as she went even redder. “You’re my friend.”

“You are all very sweet,” Fern noted, causing them to jump and hurry to catch up with them on the forest path. “Are you old friends?”

“Known each other since we were… what, four, five?” Warren said. “All four of us.”

Osana najimi! It is a very important, very strong bond,” Fern explained. “All four of you? Very rare, very strong. But it is difficult. We change friends many times when we grow up because we become many different people on the way. To still be friends means to work, to understand, and to love. I hope you will do that,” they said with a smile, making an “OK” sign with one hand.

“I hope so too,” Warren said, imitating the signal back. Then he frowned, looking back over his shoulder.

“What’s up?” Bianca asked, following his look back. They had moved onto a path-off-the-path, where the trees were denser and darker, and the ground underfoot thicker and more coated with leaves and roots.

“Nothin’, just… felt like we were being watched for a moment,” Warren said, shaking his head. “Nothin’ there, though.”

“If you see any strong Pokemon, then Gatsby and I will keep you safe,” Fern offered, releasing a tall, green-and-white Pokemon that looked a little like a beautiful woman. “He is a Gardevoir! He is very brave!”

The Gardevoir looked them up and down, humming. It was a pleasant sound, but if he was speaking, neither of them could understand it.

{Reshin 21st, 11:19}
{Pinwheel Forest}

“You two are not on my level,” Marco grumbled, returning his last Pokemon, a little blue water-type called a Piplup.

“Have I told you I love this girl?” Carlotta boasted, watching a newly-evolved Thamina flex her new muscles. Carlotta flexed back. “‘Cause I love this girl.”

“She’s a Gurdurr now,” Cheren explained, looking at his pokedex, “and she’ll start gathering anything metal to create a new club with, so keep an eye on your things.”

“Nice,” Carlotta said, returning Thamina. “She trains real hard. No wonder she evolved so darn fast.”

“I need to get stronger, fast, as well,” Marco said, digging potions out of his bag. “What’s your secret?”

“Daily trainin’ an’ a consistent regimen, pal,” Carlotta declared. “No skippin’ out! It all adds up!”

“Are you talking about you or your Pokemon?” Marco asked, pointing at Carlotta, who was still flexing.

“Both!” Carlotta said proudly.

“She isn’t joking,” Cheren sighed. “Daily training is key, though, and taking on a few strong opponents does you more good than many weak ones, though it’s riskier. We travel together, so we can train together several times a day.”

“Hmmm…” Marco loaded potions into his pokeballs thoughtfully. “I prefer my Pokemon.”

“Well, if you want to fight Burgh first, I’m sure your Charmander could handle a first-badge Bug battle alone,” Cheren said encouragingly. “Where did you get one, anyway? They’re extremely rare, aren’t they?”

“My parents are Fairlan, and they both have Charmeleon that they’ve had since they were children,” Marco explained. “They’re Giro’s parents. Yes, they’re very rare, though I hear Sar Kanto sponsors a program in Kanto that’s building the population back up.”

The question so, do you really believe in all that talking-to-Pokemon stuff hovered on Cheren’s tongue, but he bit it back. He was curious about it every time the topic of the Fairlands came up—as it seemed to daily, lately—but if there was one thing he’d learned online, it wasn’t just to pick your battles, but the time and place for them, too. The issue of talking to Pokemon was a touchy one, and there was nothing for anybody to gain if it sparked an argument between two passersby at the same campsite.

Instead, he asked, “you said you needed to get stronger fast. Are you taking the League challenge?”

“Only as a means to get stronger,” Marco said, leaning back on his hands. “I want to be able to protect Pokemon from people who are cruel to them. It’s so damn easy to get away with hurting Pokemon in this damn country. If the law won’t protect them, I will.”

Well. That also sounded like a touchy subject, but… “You know… the most effective way to protect them would be to lobby to change the laws concerning Pokemon rights,” he pointed out. “Just attacking people will only get you arrested, and it won’t really help the Pokemon. It certainly hasn’t garnered the Plasma Foundation any sympathy.”

“Plasma…” Marco snorted, his expression darkening. “I’m not planning to run around dispensing vigilante justice, but if I see them again, I want to know I can protect my Pokemon and any other Pokemon they have their filthy, murdering eyes on.”

“Murderin’?” Carlotta said in surprise. “I ain’t heard ‘bout them killin’ nobody, that lady they threw acid at lived last I heard…”

“Not a human, a Pokemon,” Marco said, shaking his head. “I saw them kill a Kangaskhan to take her baby. If I’d been a trainer at the time, if I’d had Pokemon, maybe I could’ve done something…”

“Damn… human or Pokemon, that’s fucked up,” Carlotta muttered. “Didn’t we see somethin’ like that at the Dreamyard?”

“They were beating up that Munna, yes… I can’t think what they plan to gain from it, though,” Cheren said, frowning.

“I don’t know or care what they plan to gain from it,” Marco spat. “They’re not getting away with that shit again. Not on my watch.”

“I can respect that,” Carlotta said, putting Thamina’s pokeball back on her belt. “Think yours are all healed up and ready for another fight? Y’all gotta work hard to get tough!”

“Sounds good to me,” Marco said, jumping to his feet. “Just not the Gurdurr. Please.”

{Reshin 21st, 17:14}
{Castelia City}

Saylee leaned back against the arm of the sofa, one arm tight around Scarlet while she held up her tablet in her uninjured hand, watching through a playlist of cartoons that her cousin Lucy had sent her. She’d skipped out some kind of charity dinner, and felt a little bad about it, but she knew she wasn’t going to be able to cope with having Scarlet out of her sight for a little while. Besides, the host, a local gallery owner, had been very gracious about her giving a generous donation instead of attending, and she figured that anybody she’d meet at that dinner, she was also going to meet at the gala in a couple of days. It was worth it for a peaceful evening, watching Scarlet giggle at the cartoons while Blue and Red continued their reversi rivalry on a board they’d found in a stack of board games under the television. The noises of the cartoon, Scarlet’s giggles and the click of Blue and Red placing and flipping pieces all seemed woven together harmoniously by Meloetta’s humming. The small Pokemon was sitting at the foot of the couch, eyes closed as they hummed in tune with the small sounds of the room, sometimes singing wordlessly, turning every random sound into part of the melody.

The view of the sprawl of Castelia City was famously impressive, especially from the penthouse she was in, but she’d drawn the curtains. Koga’s team hadn’t lost to any of the three strange ninja who’d attacked them, but none of them had really won, either. She’d never met anyone who could go toe-to-toe with anyone from Fuchsia in hand-to-hand combat, and she didn’t like knowing that they were still out there.

There was a soft knock on the door and Key stuck her head around. “Hey, put down the fragiles,” she announced. “There’s news from the interrogations and you’re not gonna like it.”

“I’ll hold the cartoons, Mummy,” Scarlet said, reaching up for the tablet. “Can I keep watching?”

“Yes, but only if you promise not to press any of the buttons, okay?” Saylee said, gently shifting her daughter onto the couch. “I have important things on here. Cartoons only, or no more cartoons, okay?”

“Okay!” Scarlet said immediately. “I’ll tell you what happened when you get back!”

“Awww, thanks, honey,” Saylee said, kissing her on the forehead and getting up. Blue and Red also stood up. “Red, stay here and keep an eye on her, okay?”

“This isn’t us fobbing you off because you’re a kid,” Blue said quietly when Red opened his mouth, possibly quietly enough that Saylee wasn’t supposed to hear it. “We all had a real scare, okay? We just… even if it’s just stepping into the hall outside, just keep an eye out for us, okay?”

“…Sure,” Red said, moving over and sitting down on the couch next to Scarlet. “So, who’re they?” he asked, pointing at the characters on the screen.

Saylee stepped out into the entryway of the apartment-style hotel room, though she kept a foot in the door so she could still hear Scarlet’s voice as she and Red chatted and keep the pair of them in the corner of her eye. “Okay, so what’s happened?”

“The kidnappers confessed, but claimed that they only wore Plasma outfits to distract the police to make them harder to track down once they escaped,” Key said quickly. “Plasma themselves declared that none of these people were ever members, and since they haven’t claimed to be members, the police have no grounds to search their records. Which… unfortunately, they don’t. Plasma regularly gives their outfits to short-term volunteers at their shelters and don’t require that they be returned, so they could’ve gotten those uniforms without being members or doing anything for Plasma.”

Blue pressed a hand to his mouth and whispered, “ffffffffffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck them. Fuck ‘em. Fuckers.”

“They’re loyal, I’ll give them that,” Linda, the guard by the door, commented. “No doubt they’ve been incentivized to lie to protect Plasma, but proving it will be difficult. A good prosecutor could maybe do it, but it’ll take them months.”

“So why did they try to take Scarlet?!” Saylee hissed.

“They claim to be independently anti-Fairlan,” Key sighed, “putting it politely. They each went off on separate crackpot rants about getting you to confess to being a dictator or something, that they’ve been stalking your evil ways, yadda yadda. None of them brought up your, y’know, paternity, which tells me they don’t actually know a thing about you and were put up to this by somebody else, but again, that’s not really quick or easy to prove. The Nacrene Museum thieves this morning did claim to be part of Plasma but not acting on the organization’s behalf. They just said they stole the skull because their hearts broke for the poor dead Dragonite, having its remains so desecrated.”

“I am so goddamn angry that I agree about that, although I’m sure they’re lying through their teeth,” Saylee groaned, dragging a hand over her eyes. “Wait, if they admitted to being Plasma Foundation members, the police do have a right to demand access to Plasma’s records, don’t they?”

“Under Unovan law, no, not unless they claim to be acting on Plasma’s behalf, and they weren’t,” Key sighed. “Or at least, they say they weren’t. I’m sorry, Lee, this headache isn’t going away anytime soon…”

“Maybe I should take Lettie and Red and head out,” Blue said, putting a hand on Saylee’s arm. “That’d be diplomatic, sorta, right? And a bit of a fuck you to anybody trying to drive you out of the country with this shit.”

Saylee glanced over at the couch, where Scarlet and Red were engrossed in something loud and smashy happening on the tablet screen. “You probably should,” she said reluctantly. “Gods, Lettie was so excited about this trip, and we’ve never been apart for more than a schoolday before…”

“She’s a bright kid, she’ll understand,” Blue promised, pulling her closer to lean his head against hers and give her a one-armed hug. “I guess if we hang around until the gala, we can let Caitlin know in person that we want to head back to the embassy and out of the country as discreetly as possible…”

“Yeah, you don’t wanna advertise it,” Key agreed. “And, well… I’m gonna send Ray and Amy home tomorrow. It won’t be as fun for them to travel without their friend, and…” She tucked some hair behind her ear, casting a glance at Saylee. “I’m standing with you, whatever shit’s coming our way, obviously. I just don’t want my kids mixed up in it, y’know?”

“Hey, I don’t want my kid mixed up in it either,” Saylee said, raising her hands. “Linda, can you ask Koga to come talk to me to make a plan? Caitlin might have a security detail that can look after them, but if a breakaway detail is an option…”

“We’re honoured, as ever, by your absolute trust in us, Sar,” Linda said seriously, “and we won’t fail you again. I’ll ask him to talk to you after the kids’ bedtimes?”

“Please,” Saylee said gratefully, putting an arm around Blue and hugging him back. “I’ll miss you too, jerk. Facing this kind of thing always seems easier when you’ve got my back. But it feels good to know you’ve got Lettie’s.”

“Of course,” Blue promised. “I’ll get on that ‘good prosecutor’ thing, too. I think we know a guy who might know a guy. And I wanna know why the hell, if Plasma is ordering these crimes and then incentivizing their people to lie about it… why wear the Plasma costumes at all? They’re doing this shit in broad daylight, in recognizable costumes. Why? Were jeans and t-shirts outlawed?”

“Harder to wear a decorative sword with, maybe,” Saylee said, glancing at the bandages on her shoulder. “If they were making good life choices, they wouldn’t be kidnappers and thieves.”


Cheren, Sherlock, Poncho, Rocky, Lilli

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden, Pijon, Roland, Thamina

Bianca, Tiberius, Wilhelmina, Penny​

Fern belongs to MusicalityMix and Marco Grennings belongs to Ultimate5x! Thank you for sharing them with me!

Also, ingame we all actually had quite uneventful Lenora experiences. No, really. No, really. This does seem to be a running theme of us not having a problem with infamously dangerous normal-type gyms (neither Whitney nor Norman were any fuss, either) and then having MAJOR trouble with gyms that don’t seem to have much of a rep.

Angus the Audino

Owain the Dewott, Loyal the Herdier, Paden the Pansear, Pijon the Tranquil, Roland the Boldore, Thamina the Gurdurr

Tiberius the Tepig, Packard the Watchog, Wilhelmina the Woobat
Name: Penny. Species: Pidove. Nature: Timid. Ability: Big Pecks. Location: Pinwheel Forest (Interior). Level: 15

Sherlock the Servine, Poncho the Panpour, Rocky the Boldore, Lilli the Petilil

This gorgeous banner is by @Rainey !

@SeaMaid memed chapter 2 and it still makes me laugh every time I see it
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Conqueror of the Cinnabar Gym
Pokédex No.
Jul 1, 2019
Pokémon Type
Fire, Fairy
Pokédex Entry
Between long periods of dormant slumber, this writer rises again for periods of activity that leave piles of dead fictional Pokemon in their wake
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #2
Okay my laptop was gonna kill me with fire if I didn't make a new post instead of continuing to thoroughly abuse Xeno's lack of character limits so here goes

Cheren, Sherlock, Poncho, Rocky, Lilli

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden, Pijon, Roland, Thamina

Bianca, Tiberius, Wilhelmina, Penny

{Reshin 22nd, 05:06}
{Pinwheel Forest}

“Guys, guys, guys, hold on,” Carlotta said, grabbing Warren and Cheren’s arms as they started to climb the slope up to the viewing plateau. “We don’t gotta rush. Bianca ain’t seen this before, remember?”

“Oh, then we’ve gotta give ‘er the full show,” Warren said, grabbing Bianca’s hat and pulling it down over her eyes. “No peekin’ ‘til we say so, got it?”

“Alright,” Bianca giggled, clutching her hat with one hand and letting Cheren lead her by the other with Carlotta steering her by the shoulders. The group shuffled up the slope carefully, taking care not to trip in the dark. “Good view up here, huh?”

“Nothing in the world like it,” Cheren promised. “Now, be careful, there are roots underfoot…”

She could hear people murmuring all around, some in languages she’d never heard before. The only other sounds were the occasional hum of a car passing somewhere nearby and the steadily increasing splash of small waves. There was a lot of weaving back and forth before she found her free hand guided to a cool metal railing.

“Okay, you can look!” Carlotta declared, patting Bianca’s shoulder.

Bianca pulled up her hat, then blinked in confusion at the all-encompassing darkness. “Are we at a river?” Bianca asked, gripping the railing and leaning over. There was a feeling of space below, but no light at all to see anything by.

“I think it’s technically an inlet,” Cheren suggested. “Never mind. They turn off the lights for a while before dawn. That’s not the view down there.” With her eyes starting to adjust to the faint grey predawn light, Bianca could make him out leaning against the railing next to her with Warren and Carlotta.

“Morning, folks,” a young women said, approaching them with something wide in her arms. Soft LEDs in her hat illuminated the logo of a coffee chain, and when she got close enough Bianca could see a similarly illuminated menu on the tray she was carrying. “You need somethin’ to wake you up?”

“Coffee, no sugar, as much cream as you can add before the system throws an error,” Cheren yawned.

The woman chuckled, tapping in the options on her tray. “Pay here, please,” she said, pointing to a circle in a corner of the tray. Cheren put his cashcard on it, and after a moment the tray beeped and glowed. There was an increased humming, enough to identify the barista’s satchel as a portable generator connected to her tray, which constructed a fresh cup of coffee. “Here you are! Enjoy!

“Thank you,” Cheren said, taking the drink and holding it close. As an afterthought, he grabbed and pocketed his cashcard.

“Um… what kinda tea you got?” Bianca asked, peering at the tray as the menu reappeared.

The server dragged her finger across the tray, scrolling down the menu. “Chamomile, leppa, breakfast, chai, matcha, oran…”

“Does that say fruit explosion?” Bianca said, pointing at one.

“Treat! Your! Self!” Carlotta chanted, Warren picking it up on the second round. “Treat! Your! Self! Treat! Your! Self!” Cheren didn’t remove himself from his coffee, but punched the air in sleepy solidarity.

“Okay,” Bianca giggled. “With sugar, please!”

“Coming right up,” the server said, gesturing to the payment circle.

Bianca’s face fell as she pulled her cashcard out of her pocket, staring at the empty balance. “Oh, right…” she mumbled.

“I gotcha,” Carlotta said, sticking her card on the tray. “I’m treatin’ you and you can’t stop me.”

“Thank you,” Bianca mumbled, going red. “I’ll pay you back soon as I can, okay?”

“It’s tea, B, don’t worry ‘bout it,” Carlotta said, giving her a one-armed hug and pressing the tea into her hands as soon as it was generated. “Blame my own mornin’ brain for forgettin’ you ain’t won no prize money yet. And while I’m here, I’ll have me a Power Smoothie,” she added. The server smiled, generating a second drink in an unholy orange colour. Carlotta let Bianca go to pick up both the smoothie and the card.

“Anything for you?” the server asked, turning to Warren. A small clock in one corner of the tray beeped and flashed. “Oop, choose quick, that’s one minute to sunup right there!”

“I’ll have me a chai latte,” Warren said, nodding at the tray and snatching the cashcard off of Carlotta. “Mom gave this to both of us, remember?” Carlotta stuck a bright orange tongue out at him.

“Here you go,” the server said, processing the transaction and handing over the resulting drink. “Enjoy the show!”

“Show?” Bianca asked. “We’re watchin’ a show?”

“Greatest show on earth,” Carlotta said, leaning against the railing and nodding at where the steadily lightening sky was slowly starting to pick out the outlines of tall buildings. Very tall buildings.

Bianca was distracted by craning her neck back to look up at the highest buildings, so she was completely blindsided by how low the brilliant orange light started. It was the barest slit of sunrise between two buildings that shot across the water, setting a streak the colour of fire across the river, before spilling over some lower buildings, then up, and up, like climbing steps, throwing blocks of light and colour towards them. The city seemed to have been laid out with building heights in mind, shorter buildings rising up to taller ones, then down and up again, like a manmade mountain range. The whole city was painted deep orange as the sun crept up into the sky, the light turning the gently rolling river golden.

“There’s a lotta beautiful places to watch the sunrise from,” Warren mused. “Lotta natural places that are gondamn gorgeous. But I think this is pretty cool in a different way. It’s so damn big, so damn pretty, an’ it’s all built by folks. People did that.”

“It’s beautiful,” Bianca said, wrapping her hands around her cup, only tearing her eyes away from the honey-coloured buildings when she noticed that the light was starting to roll over her fingers.

Carlotta leaned forwards, trailing her free arm over the railing as if to dip it in the river, instead soaking it in the dawn light that made her skin glow.

“Worth it,” Cheren mumbled sleepily, fumbling for one of the pokeballs on his belt. “War, can you take a photo of us for me?”

“Of—oh, shit, sure!” Warren said, pulling up his photo app as Cheren released Lilli the Petilil, handing his coffee to Carlotta so he could hold the tiny grass-type up in the sunlight. As soon as the sun touched her leaves, she immediately began to trill happily, extending her little limbs and her crest as far as she could to soak up more fresh sunlight. “Step left a little, there’s too much dang glare,” Warren ordered, flapping a hand. “Left, lllleeee… there! Right… Lilli! Hi! Over here!” The little Petilil looked around as her name was called, and Warren took the opportunity to snap a few pictures.

“We all oughta get us some snaps long as the light’s good,” Carlotta said, looking around. “’Scuse me, mister?” she called, flagging down a dark-skinned young man who was with two girls who looked like they were probably his sisters. “I’ll take a photo of the three of you if you take some of the four of us!”

“You got a deal, girl,” the guy said, fist-bumping her and handing his device over. Carlotta gave Cheren his coffee back so she could start playing photographer.

“I hope that kid likes these,” Warren said, showing the photos to Cheren. “Lilli sure seems to like it!”

“Photosynthesis looks like fun,” Cheren yawned, holding up Lilli so she could see too. “We all have our own ways of getting energy.” He tipped his head back, chugging the rest of his coffee in one, and promptly choking on it as Carlotta grabbed him to drag him into photography range.

{Reshin 22nd, 06:12}
{Castelia City}

Castelia City was a lot.

Bianca openly gaped as she clung to Carlotta’s bag strap, Cheren hanging onto her bag with one hand and Warren with the other. The four of them were making a human chain in the wake of Carlotta ploughing confidently through the streets, which even at such an early hour were thronging with tourists, joggers and early commuters. Every street corner was piled with signs pointing to various tourist attractions—galleries, cinemas, historic buildings, parks, clubs—as well as police stations, hospitals, and their target, the Pokemon Centre. It was visible from blocks away, thanks to the iconic screaming red extending over the bottom three of what transpired to be thirty stories of shops, medical units, and facilities for trainers. Cheren booked them into a four-bed dorm room while Carlotta dragged Warren and Bianca down the counter, scanning QR codes with her C-gear the whole way.

“We are here for fun,” she declared firmly, dismissing the digital flyers for several museums before Cheren could see them. “I’m thinkin’ the pier first—check it out!” she gasped, expanding and scrolling down an advert for prize matches on Thumb Pier.

“Of course you’re lookin’ at battles first,” Warren muttered, scanning the flyers for the museums Carlotta abandoned. The flyer he picked to expand, though, was a menu. “Casteliacones first. We’re early in the day, lines ain’t gonna be long.”

“Oooh, yeah! Says right here the line’s only twenty minutes long right now!” Carlotta agreed excitedly. “CHER! HURRY IT UP! CASTELIACONES!”

“What’re they?” Bianca asked, peering at the menu.

“Best damn ice cream in the world,” Warren explained, “an’ the recipe’s such a big gondamn secret they won’t record it for generatin’, an’ they ONLY tell family ‘bout it, so they can’t make it super fast. The line’s always out the damn door.”

“We’ve gone lookin’ for it every time we’ve ever visited Castelia,” Carlotta added, “but we’ve had it, what, twice?”

“I’ve only had it once, and we had to wait an hour,” Cheren said, speed-walking directly past them towards the door. “That wait won’t be twenty minutes for long. Let’s move!”

Sunlight was creeping down the sides of the skyscrapers by the time they found the Casteliacone Cafe. It was two stories, the upper being a sit-down cafe with “RESERVATIONS ONLY” in multiple languages scrolling along the bottom of the windows, and a stall selling ice cream distantly visible at the back of the lower level behind the winding queue that was already several layers deep. Most of the lower level seemed to consist of the roped-off queue route, with a sign at the front reporting the current wait time to be thirty minutes.

“Oh dragons,” Bianca gasped, clutching her chest as the pathway moved under their feet a little after they stepped through the doors. “It’s a movin’ pathway?”

“Folks can be waitin’ a long time,” Warren said, nodding to the elderly couple in front of them, who were sitting on folding stools they’d brought. “They don’t want folks messin’ up their legs waitin’, and it stops folks pushin’ too much.”

“Alright, since we’re gonna be here a while, quiz me on Burgh,” Carlotta demanded, turning to Cheren.

“I’m not a trivia machine,” Cheren said, rolling his eyes before looking from her to Bianca and asking, “alright. One badge. What will his primary team be?”

“Any two of Shelmet, Karrablast, Dwebble, or, uhhhh… Whirlipede,” Carlotta counted off on her fingers, “plus his signature Leavanny.” She folded her arms, looking smug about her quick answer.

“And your best counters will be…?” Cheren pressed.

“Oh, gotta be Paden, with Pijon for backup,” Carlotta said, tapping her fingers along the pokeballs on her belt. “But if he uses the Dwebble, I oughta use Thamina. Rock-type’s a bitch. What the hell are you gonna use?”

“Poncho for everything save the Leavanny,” Cheren mused. “It’s liable to have a grass attack, but it will definitely have a bug attack that could seriously harm Sherlock, so though it’s risky, Rocky is my best option. Hopefully, his strong defenses will protect him long enough for his high attack to crush the enemy.”

“Y’all better win some nice prizes at the pier to sell for potion money if you wanna tough it out,” Warren warned. “Angus an’ I can jump in all you want when you’re trainin’, but not in a gym battle.”

Bianca thought over the Pokemon in her mind. Bugs, huh? So… “You think Tibby could handle ‘em all himself?” she asked.

“Ready for this, Bianca?” Carlotta asked, grinning brilliantly when Bianca drew herself up and nodded. “Cool! Yep, fire’s your friend here, but Penny’s gonna be good backup.”

“Mina, too—she knows Gust, right?” Cheren asked. “She might be ready for Air Cutter soon. Dwebble isn’t part of Burgh’s zero-badge lineup, so you won’t have much to worry about…”

They whiled away their time in the queue discussing battle strategies, grateful for their early start as the queue behind them began to spill outside the shop, beyond the moving floor and the store’s air conditioning. By the time they got to the counter and bought their cones, the sun was fully up and the air was buzzing with heat, making the chill of the ice cream as welcome as the delicious flavour as they meandered down to Thumb Pier. Bianca kept slowing down to gape at shop windows as they passed, and her friends were more than happy to join in the window-shopping, especially whenever she lingered at a clothing store.

“We’re takin’ you clothes shoppin’ soon as you win your first badge an’ land that prize money,” Carlotta promised.

“You might like the Elesa line,” Cheren added. “All of their clothing designs are gender-neutral and very colourful.”

“Ain’t the Elesa brand real expensive, though?” Warren pointed out.

“The higher-end stores, certainly, but they do have a line aimed mostly at teenagers and young adults that’s purposefully kept low-cost,” Cheren said, stifling a yawn in his hand. “I’ve got my eye on a few things myself, if we’re going clothes shopping after Burgh’s gym…”

“Maybe we oughta get you a nap instead,” Carlotta laughed. “Early mornin’ catchin’ up to you?”

“I’ve run out of ice cream, I have no more sugar to sustain me,” Cheren said, tossing his empty cup into a trash can as they passed. “Let’s get to these prize matches. I think a battle ought to wake me up.”

Once upon a time, when Castelia had been much smaller but growing rapidly due to being a bustling cargo port, its many piers had been constantly full of dockhands loading and unloading cargo at all hours, and many had entertained themselves by sneaking off among the huge piles of crates and sacks and barrels and betting on small Pokemon battles. The many crates and barrels sitting stacked around Thumb Pier were likely purely decorative to invoke the historical flavour of the prize matches, as the pier itself was clearly no longer hosting any ship heavier than the handful of small pleasure yachts that were tied up along its length. Several of them were close to the banner-festooned rings of the prize matches, with the yachts’ owners and their friends watching and cheering from the decks of their boats.

“Yeah, yeah, some of us ain’t too good to walk,” Carlotta muttered, giving the yachts a truly ferocious stink-eye. “Right, I see where we sign up!”

“It tiers by badges… interesting,” Cheren commented, reading the banners. “Here’s hoping we don’t wind up fighting some Kalosian tourist who’s been a society captain for a decade before coming to try the Unovan challenge…”

“Bring it,” Carlotta insisted, straightening her baseball cap and throwing back her shoulders before making a beeline for the sign-up stall.

“Good luck,” Warren said, squeezing Bianca’s arm and giving Cheren a kiss for luck before heading off to find a spot around the ring where he could watch.

{Reshin 22nd, 12:03}
{Castelia City}

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up,” Carlotta grumbled as she and Cheren approached the prize stall.

“I will, thank you,” Cheren said smugly, brandishing his winner’s ticket. “Excuse me, but would those happen to be evolutionary stones?”

“Good eye! We got water, fire and leaf today,” the guy behind the counter said, gesturing to the prize sheet. “Come back tomorrow and we might have different ones, though!”

“Guess what!” Warren called, pulling a giddy-looking Bianca by the hand as he ran up to the stand. “Guess who I just watched own her battle!”

“Holy shit! Congrats, B!” Carlotta whooped, spotting the winner’s ticket in Bianca’s hand.

“You abandoned us to watch Bianca’s match instead?” Cheren gasped, staggering for a moment, before shrugging. “…Fair. Congratulations, Bianca!”

“If I wanna see you two fight, I just gotta ask which is the best Swoobatgirl an’ get outta the line of fire,” Warren pointed out. “Bianca an’ Tiberius gondamn nailed it. Who won yours, anyway? Ah,” he said, laughing as Carlotta pointed at Cheren with a grumpy expression. “Good job, Cher!”

“And I think I’ll take a water stone,” Cheren said, handing over his winner’s ticket. “Poncho needs it to evolve.”

“Maybe I oughta go sign up to fight again to get a fire stone for Paden,” Carlotta mumbled, looking covetously at the stones.

“Once a day, miss, but you’re welcome to come back tomorrow!” the stallholder said chirpily, handing over a translucent blue stone to Cheren in exchange for his winner’s ticket. “Better luck next time!”

“Oh! Is a fire stone what y’all need for Paden?” Bianca said, pointing out the stone on the sign. “You don’t gotta wait! I’ll get it!”

“Hey, hang on! You don’t gotta do that, Bianca,” Carlotta protested. “You oughta get somethin’ you want!”

“I wanna get somethin’ for you,” Bianca said, turning red but holding out her winner’s ticket anyway. “Consider it me startin’ to pay y’all back for… everythin’. Or a gift, if that’ll make ya take it, ‘cause it’s real darn rude to turn down a gift…”

“Yeah, mom’ll manifest right here an’ now to kick my ass if I do somethin’ that rude,” Carlotta agreed, before squealing and tacklehugging Bianca. “Thank you!”

“Y-you’re welcome,” Bianca stuttered, inventing whole new shades of red while the stallkeeper, shaking with the effort not to burst out laughing, exchanged her ticket for a translucent orange stone.

“Enjoy your prizes,” he managed, through a heroic effort of customer service professionalism, “and come back soon!”

“Let’s find somewhere a little quieter to let ‘em out,” Warren suggested. They headed down the pier, away from the fighting rings, until they found a docking spot that was, while marked as reserved, presently unoccupied, the yacht that should be docked there presumably carrying its occupants off on a daytrip to a nearby island or marina.

“Okay, Poncho,” Cheren said, releasing his Panpour. Despite having moved away from the busiest parts of the pier, the little blue Pokemon looked nervous around so many humans, chittering frantically and starting to hunch down himself, so Warren released Angus. The Audino cooed gently, and Poncho scampered behind him, hiding his head in Angus’ back.

“Here,” Cheren said, crouching low and holding out the stone. Pocho eyed it warily. “I wish I could make him understand how much stronger it’ll make him. He’s still so nervous all the time.”

“He’ll evolve when he touches it, right?” Warren pointed out. “Just let ‘im get comfortable enough to—look, he’s gettin’ curious now!”

Poncho was indeed edging slowly towards the stone, sniffing at it cautiously. He wouldn’t move far from Angus, though, instead leaning out farther and farther until the Audino discreetly started shuffling closer, encouraging Poncho to lean close enough to poke at the stone with a paw.

As soon as he touched the stone, change began rushing up his arm. His large paw began to split into fingers, which was bloodless but apparently either painful or frightening, because Poncho shrieked and started waving his arm frantically. His arm grew longer and stronger as he did so, the fringe of blue fur around his neck beginning to grow rapidly, quickly covering his whole torso. His legs and tail grew longer and stronger as the transformation finally reached his other arm and head, where the curly blue hair on the crown of his head shot out long enough to bounce on his shoulders. It took only a few seconds, but the whole time, he shrieked and flailed in distress.

“It’s hurtin’ him!” Bianca gasped, pressing her hands to her mouth.

“No, it’s not, all the books say evolution isn’t painful,” Cheren assured her. “He’s just frightened because he doesn’t understand what’s happening. He’ll calm down in a moment when he realizes.”

Angus was rubbing the whimpering Simipour’s back, cooing quietly to him. “Angus has ‘im,” Carlotta said, releasing Paden. “Hey, Paden, check out Poncho! Ain’t he lookin’ tough now?”

Paden looked confused at the sight of the new Simipour until Poncho, who was now more than a foot taller, chittered weakly, sparking a frantic series of shrieks from Paden. “Think they recognize each other?” Bianca asked.

“Sure they do, they can smell each other,” Warren said. Paden was indeed sniffing at Poncho, then chittering rapidly at the bigger Pokemon. “Show ‘im that Fire Stone, Carly!”

“Hey, Paden, check it out!” Carlotta said, imitating Cheren’s low crouch and holding out the semi-clear orange stone. “Got one for you, too! Wanna evolve?”

Paden looked from the stone to Poncho. The now-bigger Pokemon whimpered something, then chittered a little more loudly. The two chattered back and forth for a minute before Paden closed his eyes and reached for the Fire Stone.

The change spread from the point of contact as it had with Poncho, splitting his thick paw into fingers, causing red fur to spread and grow long, his thin tail suddenly exploding with plumes of curly red fur and a thick white ruff poofing out around his neck. The one plume of flamelike fur on top of his head split into multiple plumes, which were the first things he started patting interrogatively at before slowly opening his eyes.

“How come it didn’t look like that when none of the others evolved?” Bianca asked. “Not all… in bits like that?”

“The other evolutions you’ve seen are ones that happen as a result of a Pokemon building up sufficient quantities of a unique development hormone not present in humans,” Cheren explained.

“A buncha different hormones, actually, dependin’ on the species,” Warren put in. Cheren bowed to gesture Warren forwards to take over the explanation. “Sorry, I’m buttin’ in.”

“You’re the one studying to be a Pokemon physician,” Cheren pointed out. “Have at it.”

“Anyway, most species have a buncha small developments ‘fore one big one that’s the sorta official transition point, like from bein’ a Pidove to a Tranquill,” Warren explained. “In that case, it’s growin’ the crest that shows maturity, but you notice ‘em steadily gettin’ bigger before that. But some Pokemon evolve ‘cause of gettin’ exposed to certain kindsa radiation. You don’t hafta rub the stone all over their body or anythin’, it’s just contact with a li’l bit flips the body’s response an’ it spreads cell to cell, like… cancer, I guess, except a good thing. It ain’t hurtin’ ‘em, it ain’t makin’ ‘em sick…”

“Even though it’s radiation?” Bianca said, eying the stones nervously.

“Don’t do nothin’ to humans,” Warren promised her, “and don’t do nothin’ bad to Pokemon. Don’t do nothin’ to most species, just a few, and I don’t know why it gets the ones it does. Ain’t studied it that deep yet. But see? They’re doin’ fine!”

Paden and Poncho were poking at each other’s new fur and longer limbs curiously, while Angus smiled and clapped. “Think we can compete again?” Carlotta said, eying the fighting rings with a grin.

“First, we’re feedin’ those two, ‘cause they need a lot of energy an’ they ain’t gonna feel quite right if we just throw ‘em in a healin’ machine,” Warren said. “Then… we did your thing. Somebody else’s thing next, got it?”

“Hmmm… well, I know this sort of thing isn’t for everybody,” Cheren said, opening up some of the flyers he’d downloaded on his c-gear, “but there is a big art exhibit up in the Castle Gallery. Specifically, the focus is Myths of Unova,” he added, looking at Bianca. “Artwork focusing on various gods and legendary beings. It’s cheap entry for students, and it’s supposed to be quite an impressive exhibit.”

“Ooooh, sounds real cool!” Bianca said excitedly. “Y’all up for that?”

“If it’s a gallery, it oughta be quieter than the rest of this dang city, which is the part I like,” Warren said, returning Angus. “Carly? You gonna behave yourself?”

“Hey, Burgh’s showin’ some stuff there too, right?” she said, returning Paden as Cheren returned Poncho. “Might be able to impress him inta bookin’ us in for matches personally!”

“…Sure, why not,” Cheren sighed, clicking the map on the flyer to show them the route. “Let’s keep our eyes out for places we can buy Pokemon food on the way.”

{Reshin 22nd, 12:32}
{Castelia City}

The Castle Gallery didn’t look like much from the outside, just another tall construction of steel and glass, but on the inside the lobby was warmly decorated, with wood paneling beneath replica tapestries depicting ancient knights battling alongside and against armour-clad Pokemon.

“Good afternoon! Konnichiwa! Buenos tardes! Xiàwǔ hǎo! Guten tag!” the girl behind the desk rattled off in a sing-song tone.

“Good afternoon! Four for the exhibition, please,” Cheren said, digging in his pockets as he approached the counter. “We’re high school students.”

“Do you have student IDs or trainer cards?” the girl asked. They all handed their trainer cards over. “Thank you! Okay, there’s your total,” she said, gesturing to a payment patch on the counter. As soon as Carlotta paid, a QR code showed up on the counter. “There’s a map of the exhibition, and details about each of the pieces! Please enjoy yourselves!”

“Thank you,” Cheren said politely, scanning the code. “I’ll pay you back later,” he promised Carlotta, who just shrugged.

“Thank you very much!” Bianca said, taking off her hat and bobbing a quick curtsy to the clerk on the way past.

The main hall was large, perhaps three stories tall, with angled glass windows high above filling the quiet space with light. The walls were painted in stripes of black and white to contrast with the paintings displayed on them, and the floor was also black and white in large squares, like a chessboard.

“The whole room’s dedicated to Reshiram and Zekrom, shockingly enough,” Cheren said, checking the guidebook he’d downloaded on his c-gear. “The freestanding statues and statuettes—” he gestured to an apparently haphazard set of statues standing out on the floor—”are laid out like chess pieces. They’re all kings, queens or generals associated with the Tao Wars, positioned according to notable traits or strengths of theirs, with the kings being Eduard and Dilwyn, naturally.”

“What’re the other rooms?” Bianca asked, glancing around. “This one feels too much like bein’ in church…”

“Fair,” Warren allowed. “How ‘bout the Swords of Justice? There a room ‘bout them?”

“Of course,” Cheren said, leading the way. “The whole room’s a triptych of Cobalion, Terrakion and Virizion, laid out in a representation of the Battle of White Forest, where the White King’s forces ultimately prevailed despite the Swords of Justice inflicting terrible casualties on both sides. Cobalion is in the centre, representing the position King Dilwyn led from, Virizion on the right to represent the way the forest was on his right flank, where the Swords of Justice attacked from, and Terrakion on the left, representing the left flank attack that enveloped King Eduard’s forces…”

“Oh, ain’t this one gorgeous,” Bianca cooed, gravitating to a small painting on the end of the Virizion section.

“Nineteenth century… the flowers around the bottom of the picture aren’t painted, they’re real pressed and preserved flowers. That’s why the painting seems so chunky,” Cheren explained.

Cheren continued to provide commentary from the guidemap he’d downloaded as they wandered around the paintings. The rooms were mostly laid out aesthetically rather than by artist or time period, arranged around some titanic centrepiece painting or statue at least ten feet tall. Many of the older paintings had climate-controlled protective cases around them, but there were newer pieces too, more than a few by Burgh himself.

“Hey, that’s it!” Carlotta said excitedly, pointing out a painting with patches of colour so vivid that they overwhelmed the eyes too much to notice the darkness of the rest of the painting. It looked black at first, but on closer inspection, several areas that were different colours, all so dark that they looked black next to the eye-searing blues, oranges, greens and purples of the bright areas. “Burgh got real famous for that one, ‘fore he was a leader.”

“What is it?” Bianca asked, tilting her head and squinting. “What’re all those shapes?”

“Well, they’re real abstract, you, uh—I guess you kinda gotta know what they are already to recognize ‘em,” Carlotta said, sticking her hands in her pockets and looking up at the painting. “He’s usually got it hangin’ in a protective case in ‘is gym, so I’ve seen it on TV plenty, just never in person before. It’s these three native weather gods—can’t remember the names, but they’re wind, thunder an’ earthquakes. That one up there, it’s sorta humanoid but also lotsa real thin, sharp strands, like lightnin’, right? And that one’s real big but blurry ‘round all the edges like it’s shakin’, like an earthquake?”

“Oh, I get it, that one, all them brush strokes look like the wind!” Bianca said excitedly. “Wow, Carly, you didn’t need the guidebook or nothin’!”

“She ain’t an art buff, it’s just this one paintin’,” Warren ribbed his sister, who elbowed him affectionately.

“Even so, your passion for this painting is very evident, young lady. If you don’t mind my saying, it’s very impressive.”

“Uh, thanks,” Carlotta said in surprise as they all turned to the patron who was standing a few feet behind them. She was a startlingly tall, striking woman wearing a ribbon-festooned dress in an eye-searing shade of pink under a black corset. She smiled at them, blinking slowly. Her eyes were odd, almost a little too large for her face, and she must have been wearing some kind of colour contacts that blew up her pupils and grey irises until her eyes were dark from edge to edge. She either had abnormally long legs, too, or more likely was wearing very high platform shoes under her floor-brushing pink skirt. “Sorry, was I gettin’ loud there? I get too loud for libraries an’ museums an’ stuff sometimes.”

“Not at all, I just happened to be approaching this painting myself in time to hear your description,” she woman said. She spoke Unovan with a trace of an accent, though it was unidentifiable. “To be so interested in Burgh and his work, and this piece specifically… are you trainers?”

“Guilty as charged,” Cheren said. “Are you?”

“Oh, yes,” the woman said with a smile. “I do enjoy Burgh’s work. He paints in a very modern style, but takes his inspiration from older sources that many modern artists forget, which is why I believe his art has its place amongst the many ancient works here. Young lady who knows this painting so well, I assume you also know why much of the painting is dark and formless?”

“Oh, yeah… well, you see them three weather gods?” Carlotta said, looking back up at the painting. “So, there used to be twelve of ‘em, way back when ‘fore colonization. One for each of the Twelve Great Tribes, tha’s a whole thing we’re gonna hafta bring you up to speed on while fixin’ how badly your Taotri school fucked up your history… pardon my Kalosian, ma’am,” she added, a little embarrassed, to the stranger.

“Consider it pardoned,” the woman chuckled, covering her mouth with her long sleeves as she laughed. “The historical context is very important.”

“Anyways…” Carlotta coughed. “Twelve tribes, each had a different weather god that was theirs.‘Cept then, y’know, the settlers happened, an’ the civil war, an’, uh, a lotta stuff… Anyways, seven of them twelve tribes still exist, but only three of the gods. All the rest of them dark shapes are all them dead gods.”

“Their gods… can die?” Bianca whispered in shock. “Didn’t know gods could do that.”

“Nah, didn’t figure your folks would be big on that kinda idea,” Warren said, shrugging. “There’s lotsa faiths where gods can or have died, though it don’t always stick. But in this case, it’s a real big deal. Do we even know names of them dead gods?” he asked Cheren. “I think I remember somethin’ about it bein’ a real private thing…”

“A few of their names were completely lost when the tribe they were patron of was wiped out,” Cheren explained. “Some of the remaining tribes have also lost a lot of information about their gods, because colonization caused massive cultural disruption, preventing stories and traditions from being passed down. All of them have many epithets, but traditionally their true names were known only by a tribe’s wise man or woman, the only one who would have any direct communication with the god in question, and to this day, the surviving tribes keep whatever they’ve managed to preserve or recover on the subject of these twelve very private.”

“Hey, it’s their faith, up to them what they do with it, though I gotta admit to bein’ pretty damn curious about them dead gods,” Carlotta mused. “We about on the money, ma’am?” she asked the stranger, who started clapping.

“And they say children today don’t care for the arts or history,” she laughed. “You cannot blame the original peoples of Unova for taking care with their surviving gods. Do you know what it is that killed them?”

“Well, the cultural imperialism of—” Cheren began, but the woman held up a hand.

“Not what wiped out people’s knowledge of them,” she clarified. “Do you know what it was that slaughtered the gods themselves in combat?”

“Uhhhhh… y’mean, literally killed ‘em?” Warren asked uncertainly. “’Cause I never heard stories ‘bout that…”

“I am sure you have heard stories, but they do tend to warp over time,” the woman said, looking sadly up at the painting. “And of course, people looking from the outside in are always looking for the allegory, the pattern, not the unsettling reality that death is cold and meaningless more often than not, even for gods.” She blinked slowly when she saw their expressions, then bowed her head. “Forgive me. I have a great interest in mythology myself, but my interests do tend towards the macabre.”

“They, uh… sure do,” Carlotta said. “Though, damn, I really wanna know more ‘bout whatever it was killin’ gods, now. Must’ve been a hell of a fight.”

“Hell is a good descriptor for a true war,” the woman said quietly. “I am going to move on to view the exhibits for Cobalion, Terrakion and Virizion. Thank you for allowing me to intrude on your visit for this long.” She bowed formally. “Do enjoy the remainder of your visit.”

“Oh! Wait, ma’am, you said you’re real into mythology, right?” Bianca said, digging into her bag and withdrawing the small sculpture she’d purchased in Nuvema. “Do you know much ‘bout this one?”

“Ahhh… quite rare for anybody to know of this one,” the woman said, her long fingers ghosting around the figurine without ever quite touching it. “Where did you come by it? Or did you just buy the statue because you find it cute?”

“I mean, it is real cute, but, uh… well, I saw it,” Bianca said insistently. “I mean it, I saw it! That actual Pokemon, real life!”

“I believe you, young lady, and I envy your good fortune,” the woman said with a smile. “This one is something of a modern myth, an urban legend, perhaps. Little is known of this one, not even their name. There are only theories, if you are interested.”

“Yes, I’m interested!” Bianca said excitedly. “What do you think it is?”

“Do you know why Cobalion is the leader of their kin?” the woman asked, holding up three fingers. “Because Cobalion was born first. Then, later, Terrakion joined Cobalion to fight at their side, and later still came Virizion. I see no reason why a fourth could not come along, in due time, when needed, do you?”

“Huh… I guess it do kinda look like ‘em,” Warren said thoughtfully. “I mean, same kinda general shape, y’know?”

“It’s true that there is a large stagger between myths of Cobalion, Terrakion and Virizion first appearing,” Cheren commented. “But adding a new god to old stories would be… weird.”

“They are not gods, merely immortal divine warriors,” the woman said, smoothing her skirt. “Let us hope they are simply passing through, rather than massing for battle. Good fortune in your gym challenges, children.” With that, she turned and walked off into the triptych room, a ruffly split in her skirt revealing that, yes, she really was wearing extremely high platform shoes.

“See, this is why I don’t go to art galleries,” Carlotta said to Cheren once she was out of the room. “Art folks are nice but gondamn weird.”

“You don’t go to galleries ‘cause they throw you out for bein’ loud,” Warren said, glancing anxiously in the direction the woman had gone in case she’d heard them and then dragging Carlotta away. “Let’s go see them Victini figures, get y’all some luck for fightin’ Burgh, how ‘bout that?”

Cheren, Sherlock, Poncho, Rocky, Lilli

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden, Pijon, Roland, Thamina

Bianca, Tiberius, Wilhelmina, Penny

Angus the Audino

Owain the Dewott, Loyal the Lillipup, Paden the Simisear, Pijon the Tranquill, Roland the Roggenrola, Thamina the Gurdurr

Tiberius the Tepig, Wilhelmina the Woobat, Penny the Pidove

Sherlock the Servine, Poncho the Simipour, Rocky the Roggenrola, Lilli the Petilil

Cheren, Sherlock, Poncho, Rocky, Lilli

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden, Pijon, Roland, Thamina

Bianca, Tiberius, Wilhelmina, Penny​

{Reshin 22nd, 20:43pm}
{Castelia City}

“Too many folks in this city,” Carlotta grumbled. They were finally making their way back to the Pokemon Centre after hours of exploring Castelia City, but even as the sun was just setting, the streets were no less busy. “Scuse me! ‘Scuse—hey!”

“Hey, careful!” Bianca gasped as somebody jostled her hard as they rushed past. She would’ve fallen if it weren’t for Carlotta and Warren’s grip on her arms.

“We gotcha, B,” Carlotta promised, glaring at the two in hoodies who’d pushed her as the pair shouldered their way through the complaining foot traffic.

Cheren suddenly started pushing ahead, shouting, “HEY! HEY!”

Warren reached after his boyfriend, sighing, “Leave it, Cher, they’re just—”

“THEY TOOK HER BAG!” Cheren shouted, vanishing as he ducked and weaved through the crowd in pursuit.

“What? Oh, no!” Bianca gasped, pawing at her shoulders and then looking around at the ground in desperation. Her bright green bag was nowhere to be seen.

“MOTHERFUCKERS!” Carlotta bellowed, shoving the crowds aside as she took off in pursuit.

“C’mon,” Warren said, pulling Bianca by the arm to follow in Carlotta’s wake. “’Scuse me, folks, sorry ‘bout her, chasin’ a thief, sorry, sorry, sorry ‘bout this—”

Bianca had no idea where they were. She tried to keep track of landmarks, buildings that she recognized near the Pokemon Centre, but it was hard enough just to keep up with Warren and keep track of Carlotta as the angry brunette forged on ahead. She had to hope that Carlotta could keep track of Cheren, and that he, in turn, could keep track of the bag thieves.

Everything I got in the world’s in that bag! My clothes, my trainer card, my Pokemon--

They finally started gaining some ground as they headed down a quieter side street, just in time to see Carlotta barreling through a doorway on the other side. The sign above it stated that the building was a clinic for abused and abandoned Pokemon, and that it was already closed for the day.

“Cher! Carly!” Warren shouted, running through the door. Cheren had already released Sherlock and was facing down a horde of small, low, black-and-brown Pokemon with long jaws full of sharp teeth. Carlotta released Thamina to join him, the hulking Gurdurr immediately wading in without waiting for directions when she saw that two of the enemy Pokemon had clamped down on Sherlock’s long green tail.

“Drop the bag now, and I won’t kick your ass once Thamina an’ Sherlock’ve whipped your Sandile!” Carlotta yelled, punching a fist into her palm threateningly. “Thamina, Low Kick!”

“I’m callin’ the cops,” Warren gasped, leaning with his hands on his knees for a moment while he caught his breath before dialing on his c-gear. “Hello? Police, please, there’s been a robbery…”

As soon as Thamina had beat the brown toothy Pokemon back, Cheren yelled, “Sherlock, Leaf Tornado!”. Now with some space, Sherlock spun, shedding leaves that he flicked up into a whirlwind that shot across the room, sending the Sandile flying and even nicking at the humans in hoodies cowering by the door.

One of them curled around Bianca’s bag protectively. “We’re not giving you back these Pokemon so you can abuse them!” she yelled.

“I ain’t abusin’ ‘em! They’re my Pokemon!” Bianca gasped, feeling her heart clench. “I love ‘em so much… please, don’t take ‘em…”

“Don’t worry, B, they ain’t gonna,” Carlotta promised, stalking menacingly towards the thieves as Thamina and Sherlock finished off knocking out the struggling enemy Pokemon. “Hammer throw under-18s regional champion, here, folks, hittin’ the nationals next year. I can an’ will punch you so hard you’ll shit your own teeth out. So you handin’ that bag over easy, or am I pickin’ it up off the floor after puttin’ you down?”

“What do we do?” one of the thieves whispered.

“We can’t give them back! Look what they’ve done to our Sandile!” the other one whispered, looking stricken. “Are you really going to beat us up to steal these Pokemon?!”

“We can’t steal what isn’t yours,” Cheren pointed out.

“An’ the cops are on their way,” Warren added, looking from Carlotta to the thieves in concern, like he couldn’t decide whether or not to hold her back. “If y’all had anywhere to run, I figure you woulda run there already.”

“It’s locked,” the thief holding Bianca’s bag muttered, jiggling the handle of the only door behind them. “Why is it locked?! Rood said—”

“Less muttering, more handing!” Carlotta yelled, shoving one thief aside and grabbing the slashed strap of Bianca’s bag from the other.

“Carly, WATCH OUT!” Warren yelled as the thief she’d shoved aside pulled a knife out of his pocket, grabbing Carlotta’s shoulder from behind.

“Sherlock, Vine—!” Cheren began, but didn’t get to finish before there was a green blur and the thief with the knife was pinned to the wall by a green, spindly Pokemon nearly as tall as he was. Everybody froze, including Thamina, who had already begun swinging her metal club and was now looking from the club to the skinny green Pokemon with a confused expression.

What is all this, and why on earth is it happening across from my gym?” a voice called as a tall man with wavy brown hair strode into the room. He looked around the room, tapping a long, pale finger against his chin thoughtfully. “Well, well… if I guess correctly, and pay attention to my police scanner, I’d say there’s been a theft, and you’re fighting it out between yourselves instead of waiting on the police. Well, that’s what trainers do. Care to share details, kids?”

“Oh! Th-they stole my bag! My Pokemon are inside!” Bianca gasped, since Cheren, Carlotta and Warren just seemed to be gaping. “When we chased ‘em down to get it back, they attacked us! Cheren an’ Carly were just defendin’ us! I just want my Pokemon back…” She wiped angry tears out of her eyes.

“That true, folks?” the man asked, looking around the room.

“Y-yessir!” Carlotta said, snapping to attention and even saluting. “We told ‘em to hand ‘em over, but since they didn’t—”

“We won’t return these Pokemon to abusive trainers!” the woman clutching the bag yelled again, not one to let go of a favourite argument even if it did also count as a confession to theft.

“Abusive trainers? Let’s see…” the man walked over to Sherlock, holding a hand out to the Servine. Sherlock looked to Cheren, who nodded, then allowed the man to run a hand down his back. “Good healthy coat on this one, clearly getting plenty of water. Doesn’t flinch when approached by the hand of a stranger, and even trusts in his trainer’s judgment of strangers. Does that sound like abuse to you? Assuming you’ve had any training. Or did you run into an abuse shelter at random?” He turned to Thamina, who looked warier, but lowered her club when Sherlock chittered something at her. “Hmmm. More guarded, but still capable of bonds of trust. And she’s healthy, from what I know of fighting-types. Afraid I can’t check over all these poor Sandile…” He carefully stepped over one of the unconscious Pokemon with a sigh. “Now, you were definitely leveraging a knife at this young lady when Lilac and I came in here, and you appear to be clutching a bag with a strap that’s been cut, and you’re both wearing such tacky but feature-concealing hoodies…”

“They’re trainers,” the woman clutching the bag whined. “Pokemon training is abuse!”

“And you are…?” the man asked, looking over the unconscious Pokemon with a raised eyebrow as he picked his way over to the woman. “Well, I am a gym leader, so I’m sure you’ll hate me, but more relevant is that if I see any more knives, I do have five more of my very best waiting to veritably leap into the fray…” He rolled another pokeball over his fingers. “So. Return the young lady’s Pokemon, and I’ll put a good word with the police for you, hmmm?”

“…This isn’t right,” the woman mumbled, slumping. “We’re liberating Pokemon…”

Carlotta yanked the bag out of her hands. “Stealin’,” she corrected, turning back to the gym leader. “Wow, Burgh… it’s, uh, a real honour…”

“Charmed,” Burgh promised, returning her salute from before with a wink. “Not that I disrespect your passionate defense of your friend, dear, but you really should let the police handle this sort of thing once self-defense is out of the way. They wear such lovely stab-resistant jackets, you see.” Carlotta turned red, this time out of embarrassment. “Now, miss, can you just give this a little check to make sure everything’s inside?” he continued, walking over to Bianca and handing the bag over.

Bianca unzipped the side pocket with her pokeballs in it first, releasing Tiberius, Wilhelmina and Penny. “You’re okay!” she cried in relief, scooping up Tiberius and peppering his warm snout with kisses, then reaching out an arm to snuggle Mina too. The Woobat immediately gave her a big nose-kiss to the cheek, while Tiberius looked around, squeaking in a confused way. Penny tilted her head back and forth, before pecking curiously at one of the unconscious Sandile.

“Better return ‘em, there’s the police,” Warren said warningly as red and blue lights flashed through the window. “That… ain’t a good reaction time…”

“It is for this city,” Burgh mused. “It’s those busy streets, you know, awful to get through. It’s why I try to keep an ear out myself for what’s happening in the area. Your friend’s right, you ought to return your Pokemon. Are any of you injured?”

“No, sir,” Cheren said, returning Sherlock. Carlotta and Bianca also returned their Pokemon, though Carlotta kept one hand on the arm of the woman she’d grabbed, who couldn’t take her eyes anxiously off of her partner, still pinned to the wall by Burgh’s Pokemon. “You were listening to a police scanner? Is that legal?”

“Well, it’s not exactly illegal until you commit a crime with it,” Burgh said with a wink as a couple of police officers ran through the door. “Evening, officers!”

{Reshin 22nd, 23:38}
{Castelia City}

“Sleep, now,” Cheren ordered as soon as they stepped into their four-bed dorm room. “Just shuck off your shoes and get into bed now, fitting in adequate sleep before our battles in the morning is more important than pyjamas.”

“Maybe we ought not’ve accepted,” Bianca fretted, twisting her hat in her hands as she sat down on one of the lower bunks and toed her shoes off. “I mean, winnin’ that battle today felt real good, but I don’t know if I’m really—”

“You’re ready for your first badge, B,” Carlotta promised, gently but firmly taking Bianca’s hat as she hauled herself up the bunk ladder, pausing at the top to kick her own trainers haphazardly to the floor before hanging both hers and Bianca’s hats off the top of the bunkbed. “Cher’s right. Stop worryin’ and sleep. Big day today, big day tomorrow!”

Giving their statements had taken time. The officers who’d escorted them and the two thieves to the police station had promised that it would be quick, as the case seemed fairly open-and-shut, until Cheren had recalled one of the thieves mentioning that they’d expected the door to be unlocked on the promise of someone called Rood. That had caused a flurry of activity, a re-taking of statements with emphasis on what they recalled the thieves saying, and an extended amount of time waiting around while the thieves were being interrogated, until Burgh was released from his own interrogation.

“A Mr Carmine Rood is the manager of that particular abuse shelter, you see,” the leader had explained. “As well as the General Manager of several others… and a member of the Plasma Foundation. Somewhat suspicious if such thieves are in the Plasma Foundation’s employ, ‘rescuing’ abused Pokemon by stealing them from trainers… Now, you’re all here to challenge my gym, I understand?”

“Yes, of course,” Cheren had replied. “When can we book matches?”

“Well, usually there’s quite a waiting list, as my gym is the first stop for an awful lot of tourists and locals,” Burgh had said thoughtfully, “but I have some things I can cancel in the morning to fit you in. These two might be responsible for quite a number of bag thefts of late, so I do believe every trainer around here owes you a debt of gratitude if they’re captured because of you.”

“Thank you, sir!” Carlotta had said excitedly. “We’ll be there the minute your doors open!”

“Nine o’clock, then! I shall see you there,” Burgh had said with a smile. “And don’t plan anything afterwards. There’s something I’d like to talk to you four about… but only after we battle!”

Despite Cheren’s insistence on sleep, Bianca’s brain was buzzing too much to let her rest. She rolled back and forth restlessly, repeatedly catching herself staring at her bag in the darkness. Tepig, Woobat, Pidove—maybe Tranquill if we get up early enough for a mornin’ trainin’ session. I can do it. I got advantages, I got the best shot outta all of us. But it’s too soon—what if I ain’t ready? I thought I was ready for the gym in Striation, and…

She curled up at that, the memory of Lilith falling limp on the ground hitting her like a physical blow, tears pricking at her eyes and spilling over as fear turned the image of Lilith’s limp corpse into Penny, into Mina, into Tiberius…

By the time Cheren’s alarm went off, she hadn’t had any sleep at all, but all the anxiety thrumming in her veins had her too wired to feel it as they all got up and started digging out hair brushes and clean socks.

{Reshin 23rd, 09:00}
{Castelia City}

“Hey, Cheren, you know everythin’,” Carlotta said, folding her arms and tipping her head as she looked at what was in front of them. “What the fuck am I lookin’ at?”

Burgh’s gym was situated in an art gallery that he owned and operated, and the lobby looked broadly similar to the lobby of the Castle Gallery—though in green and cream instead of black and white—but as soon as they stepped into the gallery proper, they were faced with an odd sight. To their left and right were a sampling of paintings of various bug-type Pokemon on flowers, but directly in front was some kind of yellow, seeping wall.

“Errrr… I don’t know,” Cheren said, for once at a loss for words. He poked uncertainly at the wobbling mass of gold. “It smells like honey, but the consistency is… I don’t know what.”

“Maybe there’s another door for the gym?” Bianca suggested, sniffing the wall of honey.

“Naw, Burgh makes a real big deal ‘bout expectin’ trainers to get a li’l art in ‘em ‘fore havin’ a battle…” Carlotta said, checking her c-gear. “Oh, here it is… other folks sayin’ it ain’t really honey an’ you can walk through it. It’s some kinda performance art piece ‘bout the struggles of bein’ a trainer…”

“’How sweet the struggle’,” Cheren groaned, reading a placard on the wall. “Wasn’t that an old song?”

“Probably,” Warren said, pushing at the honey wall. “It’s… some kinda gel? Whoa!” he yelped as he abruptly fell through, vanishing on the other side.

“Warren!” Carlotta and Cheren yelled at the same time. Carlotta moved first, pushing through the honey and vanishing after her brother. “We’re okay!” she called a moment later, muffled by the honey. “Not even damp! Warren’s right, it’s some kinda weird gel!”

“Well, then, let’s go,” Cheren said, bowing and offering to let Bianca go first.

“Okaaaayyyy…” Bianca said uncertainly, pushing into the dripping gold. It felt cold and damp, but didn’t leave her hands wet, and though it was extremely hard to push through at first, suddenly it became so easy that she fell forwards, and would have landed on her face if Carlotta hadn’t caught her.

“Gotcha!” Carlotta cheered. “Cheren, c’mon through!”

“I’m… here,” Cheren grunted, stumbling and clinging to Warren as his boyfriend caught him. “Right. Now that we’re through that nonsense…”

“Sorry to say that it looks like we ain’t,” Carlotta said, gesturing down the corridor ahead of them that was lined with paintings. At the far end, another wall of wobbling gold could be seen.

Cheren cursed under his breath. “Let’s get this over with,” he muttered, straightening up and striding towards the honey.

A few minutes and two more honey walls later and they found themselves in a large, airy space that had battlefield markings on the floor but also generous splatterings of paint, clay and silk. Burgh himself had his sleeves rolled up and was intently detailing the shadows on a leaf in the upper corner of an otherwise empty canvas, only looking up with a bright smile when Carlotta whistled.

“Ah, you found your way through!” the gym leader said, sliding down the ladder he was standing on and setting his palette and brush on a side bench. “I thought about leaving a note at the front desk, but you know, for traveling trainers, curiosity and the the courage to charge right in are valuable traits, so I decided to leave you to it! Don’t you all smell delightful!”

“Sir?” Warren said, raising a hand. “I gotta ask… what the sugar honey iced tea?”

Burgh sighed. “Alas, nobody appreciates performance art these days. Never mind, I didn’t invite you here to workshop my next exhibition! You’re here for badges!”

“We are!” Carlotta said exuberantly. “B, you ready to go first?”

“What?! M-me?” Bianca said anxiously. “I-I ain’t sure—”

“You are ready, Bianca,” Cheren assured her, putting a hand on her shoulder, “and the longer you wait, the more you will work yourself up with anxiety. Better to go first and prove to yourself that you can do it—and you can, this morning’s training showed that. With your team, you have the best chance of the three of us.”

“That’s the way!” Burgh said brightly, pressing a button on his c-gear. “One of my students will be here momentarily to referee our grand match! Would you care to share your name and number of badges?”

“I…” Bianca looked from Warren to Carlotta to Cheren, all of whom smiled and nodded at her, Cheren patting her shoulder before dropping his hand. “…I’m Bianca D’Artagnan, and this is my… my first badge.”

“Very well! First badge team it is!” Burgh said, pulling two pokeballs out of a drawer on his workbench as a young man in a paint-splattered apron appeared and began pulling a sheet over the canvas Burgh had been working on to protect it. “Ah, Rick! Referee, won’t you? Miss D’Artagnan’s here for her first badge!”

“Sure,” the young man said, rubbing his eyes sleepily before cracking his shoulders and making his way to the referee box where it was barely visible under a spill of bright blue paint. “Is the Leader ready?”

“All present and correct!” Burgh sang, bouncing over to his designated box.

“Is the challenger ready?” Rick called, looking at Bianca, who tried not to tremble or stumble as she stepped into her own box.

“R-ready!” she squeaked, gripping Tiberius’ pokeball.

“The Leader has two Pokemon and may not switch; the challenger may use up to six and switch at any time,” Rick announced. “A Pokemon is out when it is no longer able to battle, and when that is is at my discretion. This gym operates a no-kill policy, so any deliberate fatal strikes on the part of either the challenger or the Leader will end the battle and result in a forfeit on the part of the offender, understood?”

“Understood!” Burgh called.

“R-really?” Bianca said excitedly, her anxiety lifting somewhat. “Sure! I mean, understood!”

“Then begin!” Rick called.

“Go, Vinca!” Burgh sang, releasing a squat red-and-green armoured-looking bug. “It’s his first battle, too,” he added with a wink to Bianca.

“Okay… go, Tiberius!” Bianca shouted, throwing out her Tepig’s pokeball. “A-and use Flame Charge!”

“Ooooohhhh dear… Protect, Vinca!” Burgh commanded. The armoured bug rolled up tight and as Tiberius charged him, wreathed in flames, he bounced off some kind of invisible shield before even hitting the armour.

“You’re okay, Bianca! It’s just Protect, remember?” Cheren shouted.

“No intervention from observers!” Rick called, rolling his eyes.

Just Protect… it don’t work too good if used more’n once, Bianca remembered. Cheren had spent the morning’s training drilling them on strategies that the Leader was likely to use, and she remembered him going on for a while about the success rate of Protect. She didn’t remember most of that, but she remembered that the more Protect was used, the less it worked. “It’s okay, Tibby! Keep goin’! Use Flame Charge again!” she shouted.

Tiberius rolled back onto his trotters, shook himself off, and charged again, more flames springing up around his body as he barreled into the enemy again.

“Protect again!” Burgh shouted. His Pokemon curled up again, but this time the invisible shield never materialized, and Tiberius hit him like a tiny fireball, slamming him back across the field in his own ball of fire to finally uncurl in a smoking heap at Burgh’s feet.

“Unconscious, poor bug,” Burgh sighed. “That can’t have been fun for a first battle…”

“Burgh’s Venipede is unable to battle!” Rick called. “Please choose your second Pokemon!”

“You got this, B!” Carlotta hooted.

“Well done!” Warren called. “You’re halfway there!”

“Good job, Tibby!” Bianca cheered. Tiberius turned around, squeaking and wiggling his snout happily when he saw Bianca clapping and smiling.

“Go, Sage!” Burgh called, releasing his second Pokemon. It looked something like the slim green creature he’d had with him the night before, but curled up in a small, green, ball of huff. It frowned and grumbled when it saw Tiberius. “String Shot, Sage!”

“Flame Charge, Tibby!” Bianca commanded. Tiberius started to charge, but before he could build up much speed or fire, he was almost drowned in a spray of sticky white string from the grumpy bug sitting in front of Burgh. “C’mon, Tibby! Break out!” Bianca called frantically as the little orange Pokemon desperately flailed, attempting to pull his trotters free.

“Now, Tackle!” Burgh called. Surprisingly fast, Sage rolled up into a green ball and barreled into Tiberius, somehow avoiding sticking to any of the messy white string that was pinning Tiberius down. Tiberius yelled in pain as he was bowled over on his side, then started squealing in distress as he was unable to get back up again.

Ohhhh, nooo… nononononono! Bianca clasped her hands to her mouth, trying not to panic. He ain’t gettin’ out… what do I do, what do I do?!

“Bianca! Breathe!” Warren shouted. “You got this! You an’ your team got this!”

My team… my team! “Ummm… th-the challenger can change Pokemon, right?” Bianca called, waving at Rick.

“The challenger is permitted to make substitutions!” Rick called back with a nod.

Bianca scrambled for Tiberius’ pokeball. “Return, Tibby!” she called, clicking the button and breathing a sigh of relief as Tiberius vanished from under the string. “Ummm… okay, go, Penny!” she called, throwing out her Tranquill. “Stay up in the air!” she yelled, pointing up.

“String Shot! Bring it down, Sage!” Burgh commanded. Sage sprayed string up into the air, but Penny deftly wove and dodged around the shots, staying aloft and untagged.

“Okay, Gust!” Bianca shouted. Penny dove around another String Shot and then flicked her wings forwards, sending a blast of air that bowled Sage back. “Great! Now Quick Attack!” she yelled excitedly.

“Razor Leaf!” Burgh shouted, but before Sage could release any attacks, Penny slammed into the bug, sending him rolling backwards again. By the time he got back upright, he looked grumpier than ever, and the leaves he shot out missed by a mile.

“Gust!” Bianca called again. Penny flicked her wings, this time producing a strong enough blast of wind to knock Sage into the air. Burgh didn’t wait for Rick to call it, returning his bug before he hit the ground.

“The Leader has recalled his Swadloon!” Rick called. “The winner is the challenger, Bianca D’artagnan!”

“I won?” Bianca gasped.

“YOU WON!” Carlotta yelled, tacklehugging Bianca from behind and swinging her off her feet in a circle. “Knew you could do it, B! You got yourself a badge!”

“Congratulations!” Warren laughed. “And congrats to you too, Penny!” he called, waving up at that Tranquill, who was flying in circles around the high ceiling of the room, watching events below curiously.

“Congratulations, Miss D’artagnan!” Burgh said, giving her a big thumbs-up. “Would you like your badge now, or would you like to wait and see how your friends do?”

“Oh, I’ll wait! Y’all better win so we can all get our badges together!” Bianca said, pointing a finger at Cheren and clutching at Carlotta’s amazingly solid arms with her other hand.

“You’d better return your Tranquill so the next challenger can step up, Miss D’Artagnan,” Rick called. “Who’s up next?”

“Alright, Cher, let’s do this,” Carlotta said, setting Bianca down so the blonde could return her Tranquill and holding out a fist. Cheren sighed, holding out his own fist. “Rock, paper, scissors, one, two, THREE!”

Cheren, Sherlock, Poncho, Rocky, Lilli

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Pijon, Paden, Roland, Thamina

Bianca, Tiberius, Wilhelmina, Penny​

Angus the Audino

Owain the Dewott, Loyal the Herdier, Paden the Simisear, Pijon the Tranquill, Roland the Boldore, Thamina the Gurdurr

Tiberius the Tepig, Wilhelmina the Woobat, Penny the Tranquill

Sherlock the Servine, Poncho the Simipour, Rocky the Boldore, Lilli the Petilil

Cheren, Sherlock, Poncho, Rocky, Lilli

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Pijon, Paden, Roland, Thamina

Bianca, Tiberius, Wilhelmina, Penny​

{Reshin 23rd, 10:01}
{Castelia City}

The Leavanny crashed to the ground amidst a chorus of cheers from what Rick had started addressing as ‘the gondamn chorus’. “Two down, one to go, Carly!” Warren called.

“Well done, Miss Arathos!” Burgh said, returning his unconscious Pokemon and picking up his last pokeball. “Now, shall we see what your final challenge may be?”

Cheren sighed as Warren and Bianca turned expectantly to him, but also quirked a little smile. “Taking on two second-badge matches one right after the other, it’s likely he’ll use different Pokemon,” he said, starting to count on his fingers. “Leavanny is a fixture, but I faced Venipede and Karrablast, and she already defeated Shelmet, so…” He winced as Burgh released a small, squat rock with orange claws. “Dwebble. This will be difficult, but it’s not as strong as the Leavanny.”

“Alright, Paden, have yourself a break! Great job!” Carlotta called, returning her Pansear. “C’mon, Pijon, you got this!”

Cheren hissed in frustration as the Tranquil attacked the Dwebble, knocking it back but not out. “Carlotta, don’t get overconfident, Roland could handle this!”

“She’ll be fine,” Warren promised quietly, patting Cheren on the arm and shushing him as Rick threw a warning glance their way. The poor guy had started to visibly lose patience with Carlotta’s overenthusiastic yelling about halfway through Cheren’s match, and just got even more frustrated as Cheren kept blurting out strategy advice all through Carlotta’s.

“Smack Down!” Burgh called. His Dwebble started flinging stones at Pijon as the Tranquil ducked and wove around the projectiles, landing an Air Cutter attack that sent the little bug rolling backwards across the arena. It got a claw out and rammed it into the ground just in time to stop itself from being knocked out of bounds, ripping up the ground to make new projectiles to throw.

“Alright, Pijon, Quick Attack’ll finish it!” Carlotta shouted. Pijon swooped in for another attack, diving in hard and fast and hitting a rock head-on just as the Dwebble flung it full-force.

There was an unusually loud crack, then Pijon hit the floor with a sudden, abrupt stillness, like a puppet with its strings cut.

Bianca felt her heart stop.

“Hold!” Rick called, running across the field, suddenly alert. Burgh ran around the outside of the field, crouching down by his Dwebble and putting a hand on his shell, muttering under his breath while shooting anxious looks at the completely limp Tranquill.

“Oh no, oh gondammit, oh shit…” Carlotta muttered, reaching up and gripping at her cap, tugging it down hard against her head. Warren put an arm around his twin’s shoulders, biting his lip as Rick looked Pijon over.

Bianca nearly jumped out of her skin at the feeling of a hand on her arm. “Breathe, Bianca,” Cheren said softly.

“Th-this… he’s… he said this gym’s got a no-kill rule,” Bianca croaked. Her throat felt dry.
“Accidents still happen,” Cheren said quietly. “It’s sad, but they do. It’s just…” he trailed off as Rick stood up, shaking his head.

“I’m sorry, Miss Arathos, but your Tranquill is dead,” Rick said solemnly. “In accordance with the gym’s no-kill policy, a Pokemon death results in the immediate end of the match and the forfeiture of the offending party.”

“Which means that you are eligible for your badge, if you wish to claim it at the same time as your friends,” Burgh said, returning his Dwebble and standing up before putting a hand to his heart and giving a deep bow. “I am deeply sorry for your loss and that I was the cause of it, Miss Arathos. I assure you, it was not intended.”

“No, I know that, it was just… hit that fuckin’ rock real fast, an’… gondamn it,” Carlotta said, pulling her hat off and digging for a handkerchief as tears started to run down her cheeks. “Fuck. Gondamn it!”

“It ain’t your fault, Carly,” Warren assured her, handing over his handkerchief and looking patiently unruffled as she blew her nose loudly on it.

“I know, I know…” Carlotta sighed, wiping her nose. “And I know this kinda thing happens in upper level battles, just… gondamn it. Y’know?”

Bianca’s stomach rolled. “Is it… really that common?” she asked weakly.

“Not common, but not rare, either,” Cheren sighed, putting a hand on her arm and squeezing gently. “As Carlotta said, the higher the level, the more likely that battles will end in a death. It’s not a good thing, but—”

“No, it ain’t!” Bianca sobbed. “It’s not—this ain’t—it ain’t fair! All I wanted was to be a trainer an’ be with Pokemon, not watch ‘em die!”

“You know, you don’t have to battle competitively to be with Pokemon,” Burgh said, tapping a finger against his chin thoughtfully. “Your license permits you to own and train Pokemon, but there’s no requirement to battle. If you love Pokemon and want to work with them, there’s no need to harden your heart to their deaths.”

“I got the same license as y’all, but it’s so I can work in Pokemon medicine,” Warren added. ”Bein’ a trainer’s a good way to make yourself some cash just now, but you ain’t gotta do it forever if you don’t wanna.”

Bianca wiped her eyes, even as more tears fell immediately. “It just ain’t fair, though,” she whispered. “It shouldn’t be happenin’.”

“Well, I promise I’ll fix that when I either become President or Champion of the Pokemon League, whichever comes first,” Cheren assured her.

“Oh, a young man with big ambitions! I love that!” Burgh laughed. “Change the world, kids. And until then, be kind. Do not let the world make you otherwise.”

“…Sure,” Carlotta agreed. “For now, I guess, uh… do y’all do funerary stuff? So I can, y’know… send Pijon off right?”

Burgh turned to her, his smile becoming sad. “Of course. Since your Tranquill’s death was my responsibility, there’s no charge. Do you have a preference for what is done with your Pokemon’s remains and where they’re stored?”

“Not really,” Carlotta sighed. “The National Cemetery, I guess?”

“Then we’ll have him cremated and sent there,” Burgh promised her.

“Are we gonna say goodbye to ‘im first?” Bianca asked tentatively. “I mean, not just us, like… our Pokemon?”

“You want to let out your Pokemon to see the cremation?” Burgh asked, tilting his head. “Unusual request, but by all means, if you wish…”

“It don’t even have to be the cremation, just… to see ‘im an’ say goodbye, I guess,” Bianca said, twisting her hands anxiously in her skirt. “Y’all remember when Peabean died? Pijon was so sad. I just think… they oughta get a chance to say goodbye, right?”

“They don’t necessarily understand death on a complex level, but… well, it’s up to Carlotta, really,” Cheren said quickly as Warren elbowed him. “What do you think, Carly?”

“Sure,” Carlotta said, hugging Bianca again. “Sounds like a real sweet idea, B. We’ll let ‘em out for a funeral. Might as well get our badges first,” she added to Burgh.

“Well, of course,” the Leader said, plucking three badges off of the underside of his scarf. “Cheren Athos, Carlotta Arathos, Bianca D’Artagnan…you have earned your Insect Badges!”

“Congratulations? Feel like I should cheer an’ shouldn’t,” Warren said, clapping anyway. “Especially you, Bianca! First badge!”

“Thanks,” Bianca sniffed, smiling as she wiped her eyes and peered at the badge. “Wow… it’s real pretty!”

“Why, thank you! Many are quite offput by the insect design,” Burgh sighed. “No respect for art. Now, before we get to the somber arrangements, I do have one more gift for all of you. It had to be sure, but you are the young ones who rescued Lenora’s Dragonite skull and Sar Kanto’s daughter, aren’t you?”

“Wh—yeah, but how’d you know that?” Carlotta yelped, nearly dropping her badge.

“Oh, descriptions have made the rounds in certain circles, though actual names have of course been protected,” Burgh promised. “But Lenora did ask the other Leaders to let her know if we saw you, since you never went back to her gym. Avoiding media attention, I assume?”

“Yeah,” Warren said as Bianca flinched. “We don’t really wanna be super famous right now.”

“We’ll go back to her gym later, since we have to get all eight badges,” Cheren added.

“Of course, but she did wish for me to convey her thanks for rescuing one of the most valuable pieces in the whole museum,” Burgh said, giving them a flourishing old-fashioned bow. “And in that spirit, I do have something for you… invitations!” He tapped a few buttons on his c-gear, projecting up an email and a series of small boxes.

“A party?” Warren said, peering at the screen. His eyes widened. “Holy shit. That ain’t any old party…!”

“No, it is not, Mr Arathos!” Burgh agreed. “This specifically is a cultural affair being thrown to show off the very best Unova has to offer in the arts to various foreign dignitaries—the most prominent, of course, being the visiting Champion of the Indigo Union!”

“What in the hell? Ain’t no way we have any way to dress for somethin’ like that!” Carlotta yelped.

“Darling, you just leave that to me, if you’re interested in going,” Burgh insisted. “If you’re interested. Are you?”

“Yes,” Cheren said immediately. “Of course. We are not turning this down!”

“Don’t you gotta security screen everybody attendin’ somethin’ like that well in advance?” Warren asked, elbowing Cheren.

“Well, yes, that is why I need your names and the opportunity to take photos, retinal scans and fingerprints now, so that you can be screened and cleared before this evening,” Burgh explained. “If cleared, you’ll be picked up by a teleportation courier to be ported into the secure gala location. If you aren’t cleared, well, you’ll have some nice new outfits. There are invitations for all four of you. Just touch here, please…” He laughed as Cheren immediately pressed his finger to the c-gear screen. One of the boxes in the projected screen lit up with Cheren’s fingerprint. “That’s one definite Yes, so how about the rest?”

“I guess we’re goin’,” Warren laughed, watching as Cheren tipped down his glasses to let the tablet’s camera scan his eyes. “Alright, make it two.”

“Three, then,” Carlotta added, nudging Bianca forwards. “Four, to celebrate you gettin’ your first badge?”

“Sure!” Bianca agreed, wiping her hands on her skirt before offering her fingerprint, and her eyes before doing the retinal scan. “What do you mean about sortin’ out dresses…?”

“Dresses, suits, whatever your preference is for a formal affair!” Burgh declared. “I told Lenora I’d invite you to the party if you came to my gym before it happened and she told me to send the bill to her, in lieu of reward. I happen to know the head tailor at the nearest Elesa store, so she’ll see to it that you’re well attired!”

“Tailored Elesa clothes?” Cheren said faintly. Warren reached out to grab him, laughing at his boyfriend nearly swooning. “We have to get suits. I need a tailored Elesa suit.”

“Matchin’ suits,” Carlotta declared, offering her fingerprint. “We’re all gettin’ us matchin’ suits. Hey, Bianca, it can be your real fancy introduction to the world of pants!”

“We can get you a dress if you really want,” Warren assured Bianca, “but it would be fun if all of us have matchin’ suits, right?”

“A suit?” Bianca said, looking down at herself. “Ain’t it gonna, I don’t know… look weird?”

“It’ll be professionally tailored, Bianca, it will look stunning,” Cheren promised.

“Do a fitting, Miss D’Artagnan, and if you’re uncomfortable, you can change to a dress,” Burgh promised her. “You’ll have time, the tailors at Elesa are marvels. But if I may say so, I think the four of you will look absolutely charming in matching suits. Now…” He smiled and nodded as Warren’s retinal scan finished. “I’ll send word to the tailor that you’re all on your way.” His smile faded. “This way to where we’ll handle the cremation…”

{Reshin 23rd, 18:32}
{Castelia City}

“This is… weird,” Bianca called tentatively from the bathroom.

“You gotta practice walkin’ in it, B,” Warren said, tying Cheren’s azure-blue tie for him. “It’ll settle comfy once you do. That tailor sure knew what she was doin’, huh?”

“Burgh introduced us to the head tailor at Castelia’s Elesa superstore,” Cheren breathed, clearly still starstruck. “Of course she knew what she was doing. She’s a genius.”

“Good thing too,” Carlotta muttered, taking a deep breath. “This is way too fancy for us. This is a gondamn gala for their gondamn president.”

“Who you’ve already met,” Warren pointed out.

“That whole thing in the cave don’t even feel real,” Carlotta said, fidgeting with her hair, scraping it up into a high ponytail and scrutinizing it in the mirror before dropping it around her shoulders. “Does that feel like a real thing that happened to you, Cher? And that just kinda happened. Adrenaline an’ all that shit. This is knowin’ly walkin’ into a party full of powerful folks like that!”

“Champion Alder might be there,” Cheren breathed, clutching Warren’s arm. “War, please don’t let me babble on and say something ridiculous. Please.”

“I’ll do my best,” Warren promised, patting his arm. “Come on, B!”

“Comin’, comin!” Bianca shouted. “Just buildin’ up courage… ready… okay!” The door was flung open as Bianca ran out with her eyes closed.

“Whoa, B!” Carlotta whistled, clapping. “That tailor was right, that embroidery’s doin’ it for you!”

“I dunno how to do the tie,” Bianca mumbled in embarrassment, tugging at the honey-gold tie that matched the embroidery curling all over her waistcoat. The four of them had matching pinstriped black trousers and white dress shirts with three-quarter-length sleeves, but each of their ties were a different colour, matching the embroidery on their waistcoats. The waistcoats were all slightly different cuts, too, but it was most noticeable on Bianca, who as it transpired was a lot curvier than suggested by the lumpy cardigans and heavy skirts her parents mandated all her life. Warren was gay, not blind, and made a mental note to keep an eye out, because if any of the diplomats or artists had brought teenage kids with them to the gala, Bianca was definitely gonna draw attention she had no idea what to do with.

An’ if she draws any adult attention… I’m gonna let Carly off the chain. Don’t care how powerful everybody there is.

“War’s the only one who’s any good these damn things,” Carlotta said, holding up her own candy apple-red tie. She was definitely the loudest of the four of them, but that was how she liked it. She was also the only one who was wearing elbow-length sleeves instead of wrist-length, since she’d been very adamant about the tailor not completely covering up her best feature. “I can never remember this shit an’ Cheren always manages to fuck it up and ain’t nobody knows how, least of all him. How’re you doin’ with your first pair of pants?”

“Weird,” Bianca said, tugging at the waistline of her trousers. “Feels real tight.”

“It’s supposed to,” Carlotta said, shimmying her hips. Warren made another note to ask her not to do that again, because Bianca had turned the same odd shade of pink she kept turning around Carlotta a lot lately. He had no idea what to do about that impending situation, really, but he was probably gonna have to have a talk with Carlotta about it soon. “You just gotta get used to it!”

“Here, be distracted while I tie your tie,” Warren said, putting his c-gear on one of the beds and his news app to play video, plenty of which had queued up in the past hour. Bianca was fidgeting nervously, and he was never gonna get her tie on straight if she didn’t stop jittering.

“…sources indicate, however, that he was removed from the Pryce family records fifteen years ago,” said a news anchor Warren recognized but couldn’t necessarily put a name to. “We go now to our discussion panel. Jessica, what do you make of this?

Honestly, I thought it was a smear campaign when the story broke,” the middle-aged blonde leading the discussion panel said, looking around at the other panelists for their nods of agreement. “There aren’t many Fairlans that are well known in Unova. So claiming she’s related to one of the maybe two criminals people have likely heard of, just because the scale of what he pulled was so absurd—”

She was talked over by a grumpy-looking older man. “It’s not a ‘claim’, though, is it?” he interrupted. “Our own research team confirmed it with the Indigo Registry Office! The Pryce family disowned Giovanni, but that disowning is still on public record! If she thinks she can hide—”

They don’t exactly ask you to declare wanted relatives at Customs,” a younger guy said, rolling his eyes.

“Hey, what the fuck?” Carlotta asked, staring at the screen before diving for her own C-Gear and starting to scroll news articles. “They talkin’ ‘bout Giovanni Giovanni?”

“Damn, I think so,” Warren said, waving his hands in a “ta-daaaa” motion as he stepped back from Bianca and reached for his sister’s tie.

“Who?” Bianca asked with a frown, stepping over to the mirror on the bathroom door that Carlotta had abandoned, looking herself and her alien apparel up and down cautiously.

“I don’t suppose he’s very famous in Unova, but if anybody’s heard of a Fairlan criminal, it’s either him or Maximilian Hyland,” Cheren said, straightening his cuffs. “We’ve all seen his wanted posters in the embassies since… forever. He’s still missing. But when Kanto was isolated from the rest of the world, he ruled a sizeable portion of it as his own personal, extremely violent fiefdom for fifteen years. He became something of a meme for how much he sounded like a Crobatman villain, really.”

“Oh,” Bianca said, sounding like she understood none of that. She looked back at the screen. “So who’re the Pryce family?”

“Sar Saylee Pryce,” Carlotta said, eyes wide as she stared at an article on her pokegear screen. “Holy fuck. The cartoon supervillain was her dad!”

“Excuse me—?!” Cheren yelped, grabbing his own pokegear. “I assumed from that discussion panel that he was some sort of distant relative, some Fairlan families track quite distant family branches, but her father—”

“No wonder the news is all over this,” Warren whistled, rapidly tying his own emerald-green tie and reaching to turn off the video playing on his pokegear. “It sure don’t look good for—GAAH!”

“Good evening,” the purple-haired young man who’d appeared in their midst said, giving a formal bow. The chunky little green Pokemon hovering over his shoulder beeped and glowed briefly. “My Elgyem and I are your teleport courier service, here to deliver you to the gala tonight, at Burgh Arti’s invitation. Please confirm your identities.” He held out a touchpad. “Are you ready to go?”

“Hang on!” Carlotta said, running back to the mirror and snatching up her hairbrush to drag it frantically through her hair one last time. “What do y’all think, hair up or down?”

“Leave it down, you never do that, makes it kinda fancy,” Warren suggested, pressing his finger to the touchpad until it beeped in confirmation.

“Um, it looks real good either way,” Bianca said, missing the touchpad on her first attempt to present her fingerprint.

“War’s right, it looks good when it’s down and seems fancy because it’s unusual for you,” Cheren said dryly, giving his fingerprint. She stuck her tongue out at him. “If she does that at the gala,” he asked the grinning teleport courier, “can you promise me she’ll be immediately evicted?”

“Depends on who she does it to,” the courier said diplomatically. Carlotta stuck her tongue out at him, too, while giving her fingerprint. “Thank you very much. Are we ready to go?”

“Oh, wait!” Bianca cried. “Makeup! Shouldn’t we put on some makeup? That’s what folks do for parties, right? Wear makeup?”

“I don’t think I own none,” Carlotta said, looking at Warren and Cheren. “Either of y’all own makeup?”

“Uhhh… I think I have glitter?” Warren said, going into his bag. “It’s leftover costume glitter… is glitter appropriate for this party?” he asked the courier, who politely hid a laugh behind a cough.

“As you are attending at the invitation of Burgh Arti, I doubt anybody will be in any way surprised or unsettled if you wish to wear glitter,” he said. “Dinner will not be served until eight, so while celebrities have started to arrive, you yourselves are not on a pressing deadline, and my instructions are simply to ensure your identities and bring you along when you are ready.”

“Glitter it is!” Carlotta declared. “Hit me, bro.”

Warren fell into a mock fighting stance, pulling a ridiculous face, before saying, “oh, you meant with the glitter. Just lemme find the dang stuff…”

“How are you feeling in the suit now?” Cheren asked Bianca while Warren scrolled through his bag menu.

“Oh! I… think I’m gettin’ the hang of it?” Bianca said, holding her arms up and looking down curiously. “The colours are real pretty. Do I look good in it?”

“You look wonderful, Bianca,” Cheren assured her. “And objectively speaking, as a gay man who gets nothing out of this, it makes your figure look fantastic.”

Bianca blushed almost as red as she did whenever Carlotta hugged her. “Umm, th-thanks?” she squeaked. “Th-that’s a good thing, right?”

“If you are comfortable with it, yes,” Cheren said. “It’s worth feeling like you look good for yourself and nobody else. You deserve it. And I have to say, I still very fondly remember the first time I put on a suit and saw the way it looked on me,” he added, gesturing down at his own outfit and then pulling out his c-gear, scrolling through to a picture from a couple of years previously, with him and Warren both wearing suits and posing under a banner with their school’s name and the name of the dance on it. The suits were definitely nowhere near as expensive, but Cheren was positively beaming with delight. “That’s not to say you have to like wearing suits, but…”

“I… dunno,” Bianca said thoughtfully. “I think I like it. I guess… it’s new, and it’s excitin’,” she giggled. She jumped with a yelp as Warren patted her cheeks from behind. “Ahhh!”

“Aww, where’d that nice smile you were wearin’ go?” Warren asked, holding up a glittery hand. “You gotta smile, B, it’ll make the glitter catch the light! Here you go, Cher,” he added, gently dusting his boyfriend’s cheeks with bright powder.

“Gondamn, we make this look good,” Carlotta said smugly, putting an arm around Bianca’s shoulders. “Alright, I think that’s all I got. Let’s do this! You ready, B?”

“Ready,” Bianca said, straightening her back and smiling, making light dance across her cheeks.

{Reshin 23rd, 19:45pm}
{Castelia City}

“The timing cannot be a coincidence,” Caitlin said sourly. “Whoever contacted the registry office had to have been sitting on this information to release it at the most publicly inconvenient time.”

“Inconve—somebody with a translator shoved a mic in my face to ask if I knew I’d married the daughter of a supervillain!” Blue grumbled, methodically frustration-eating his way through a whole tray of hors d’oeuvres. “I was expecting a lot of shit on the red carpet here, but that—”

“What did they mean by hiding my relationship, anyway?” Saylee asked. “It’s on public record. That’s how they found it.”

“They don’t use family registries in Unova,” Caitlin explained. “Disowning somebody in Unova is not a legal process. You simply refuse all contact or connection with them. So to them, the fact that he was legally removed from your family registry, plus your mother’s adoption, looks like some kind of elaborate cover-up—”

“My grandparents publicly disowned him,” Saylee muttered, throwing her head back to drain another glass of bubbly, more than a little frustrated that the stuff was synth and therefore impossible to get drunk from, as bad an idea as she knew that would be at a public event like this. “And they adopted Mum because she doesn’t have any known parents and to keep Silver, Red and I in the family registry!”

“Because they don’t have family registries, they also don’t have adult adoption,” Caitlin pointed out. “Unovans don’t understand how these things work. And I sincerely doubt that most of the news outlets reporting this story have bothered to learn before spreading the word as far and wide as possible. Make no mistake, this was deliberate.” There was an unnatural glint in the powerful psychic’s eyes as she scowled. “Possibly related to the attempted abduction of your daughter. I will keep investigating, I promise you that.”

“Speaking of, isn’t that them?” Blue said, tugging on the sleeve of Saylee’s kimono. She rarely busted out the uncomfortable thing, because she felt like it made her look too much like one of the Geisha from Ecruteak, but with the gala being an international cultural event, it was recommended. Ambassadors and cultural emissaries from all over the world were present in their own traditional dress, and among them she caught sight of four teenagers looking adorable in matching embroidered suits, gaping a little as Lauro Alder clapped one of them one the shoulder with a jovial laugh. Saylee immediately recognized the black-haired boy with glasses and the girl with the long brown hair as the ones who’d run down Scarlet’s kidnappers, their blonde friend as the one tinted with the faint sense of being god-touched, and another brown-haired boy…

Saylee rubbed her forehead with a groan. “Two of them,” she muttered. “Caitlin, you have to send me some real information about gods in Unova, because some of the bastards have their eyes on two of those kids. Related gods, I think…”

“All the more reason we gotta go say hi,” Blue encouraged, offering her his arm as they started to slowly migrate towards the kids, not wanting to interrupt their conversation with Alder. From the looks on the faces of the two from the cave, they were having a religious experience.

Athos Cheren, Saylee recalled from the police reports, and Arathos Carlotta. Which makes the other boy Arathos Warren, Carlotta’s twin brother, and the girl D’Artagnan Bianca…

“They’re only sixteen,” she muttered to Blue.

“When did we get old enough for that to look too young for this shit?” Blue grumbled.

“We weren’t anywhere near that young at that age.”


Alder was hailed by the Orren ambassador and waved to the kids before heading off in a flurry of fringes and feathers, leaving four very starstruck teenagers in his wake.

Dammit, where did Key go? Saylee thought as she fumbled for her translator, not confident enough in her own shaky Unovan to say what she needed to say. The currents of the gala had dragged Key off elsewhere early on, and Saylee had only managed to catch a distant glimpse of her friend. She had faith that Key would be setting the record straight with anybody who brought up the news to her, but right now Saylee could really use her best friend’s prowess with languages.

Warren noticed her first, frantically patting Carlotta and Cheren’s shoulders to pull them out of their Alder-induced stupor as he spotted Saylee and Blue approaching.

Saylee smiled, consciously focusing on stamping down the murderous mood she was in to keep it from showing up in her eyes. It was aimed at the media, after all, not these kids. “Hello,” she said, switching on her translator. “It is you, isn’t it? From the cave?”

“Y-yes, Sar Kanto… Sir Viridian,” Cheren said in his best Fairlan, giving a proper formal bow, which his friends imitated. “Good evening. How is your daughter?”

“Very well, thanks to you,” Saylee said, as she and Blue gave them a much lower bow back. “You saved her life. Thank you!”

“We were glad to help,” Carlotta insisted, grinning nervously. “Really. We, uh. Weren’t really thinkin’ ‘bout it. We just saw a man runnin’ off with a kid and, uh…” The translator stumbled a little over her mumbled Unovan, but the gist was clear.

“You didn’t have to think to do the right thing,” Blue said, nudging Saylee with a smirk. “You just jumped right in without thinking at all, huh?”

“You have good hearts,” Saylee assured them, hoping the translator wasn’t communicating that Blue was gently making fun of them. They didn’t know him well enough to know he was doing it in a positive way.

“You’re very, very welcome,” Cheren assured her.

“I can tell you two are good kids as well,” Saylee added, gesturing to Warren and Bianca, who both looked startled to be addressed. “Even if you didn’t fight yourselves.”

“Th-thank you!” Bianca squeaked. “I-I mean, I wanted to help, but, ummm…” she looked aside. “I got lost. In the forest. Sorry…”

“But you saw something in the forest, didn’t you?” Saylee asked, dropping her voice. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Blue scanning the people nearest them, but he didn’t look concerned by anything so she continued, “something you can’t quite explain?”

Bianca gasped, clasping her hands to her mouth. Cheren edged a little in front of his friend, asking, “forgive me, Sar, but how could you possibly know that?”

“The same way I know that you’ve seen something too,” Saylee said, nodding to Warren, and fighting back a reflexive frown as her pokegear buzzed in her sleeve. I though I put that thing on silent… “Not at the same time, but a little later?”

“No…” Warren began, but Bianca shook his arm.

“In Pinwheel Forest! You kept sayin’ somethin was watchin’ us, but that other trainer and I didn’t see or hear nothin’!” she reminded him. “But they said there were magic things in that forest, right?”

“You didn’t see anything, but it sounds like something saw you,” Blue commented. “And you’re gonna see it again.”

“It was just a funny feelin’,” Warren protested. “I’m sure it wasn’t anythin’…”

“Listen,” Saylee said urgently. She was going to have to step aside to politely set her pokegear back on silent, and it was important that she got to talk to them about this first. “I can tell… you kids are going to see things you don’t believe. And when you do, for your own safety… you need to have an open mind. You need to remember that whether or not you believe something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not true. And you have good hearts, and they’ll lead you to jump into things without thinking, for the sake of doing the right thing… but please remember to be careful with yourselves.” She bit her lip in worry. “Be safe. Doing the safe thing sometimes feels like not doing the right thing, but it’s not the wrong thing. If something happens that you really can’t understand, and you need help…” She held out a hand. “Give me one of your phones and I’ll give you a number to call, but only in emergencies, okay?”

“You, uh… what?” Carlotta said in surprise as Cheren and Bianca openly gaped. Warren was the first to get his head together and hand over his c-gear. “You’re just gonna… just like that? Give us your phone number?”

“Not my number,” Saylee said, typing the number in. “Just a number, for me.”

“If you go spreading this number around or sell it to a news outlet, one of them will find you,” Blue said, gesturing to Janine. She and a couple other members of the security team were skulking nearby in dark suits. Saylee was pretty sure they’d drawn lots for who had to put on suits to come down to the party and who got to stay up in the hotel part of the building with Koga, watching the kids. Janine, at least, seemed determined to extract some fun from the evening, lowering her dark glasses and making very slow, deliberate eye contact with each of the kids in turn until they flinched, then put her sunglasses back with a nod of satisfaction.

Saylee handed back Warren’s c-gear, frowning as her pokegear went off in her sleeve again. She glanced down at her sleeve, as if she could glare the device back into silent mode, and as she did she noticed Blue fidgeting with the sleeve of his formal haori, up which he’d stashed his own pokegear. Okay, how are they getting through to both of us?

“Th-thank you, Sar,” Cheren stuttered in his decent Fairlan, his friends doing their variable best to imitate him.

“Just be safe,” Saylee asked him. “And thank you, again. Excuse me…” She took Blue’s arm as they stepped away, smiling a little as the excited whisper-screaming broke out behind her.

“If that little shit’s blowing up my phone because of that news story…” Blue muttered, looking at his pokegear. Saylee pulled out her own, frowning as news and email notifications flowed by in a silent, steady stream, then—

New text from 🌈🔥

“He’s sending Suicune?” Saylee whispered, unease trickling down her spine. Exceptions! I can’t believe I forgot! Silent mode has goddamn exceptions, and Silver is one!

“He’s what?” Blue muttered back. “Alright, let’s find a corner where you can call him back…”

“This way,” Janine said, closing in on Saylee’s other side. “Form up,” she muttered sharply at the other two with her. Saylee was reasonably sure one was Meloetta, but she wasn’t sure about the other—both were made up to look identical to Janine, as if a black-suited trio of triplets were shadowing Saylee and Blue around the gala.

Once they’d borrowed a corridor for the catering staff, who cut them a respectful and/or frightened berth, Saylee called Silver back. As the screen flashed past, she noted that she’d already missed eight calls, all placed within a five-minute window.

Silver picked up immediately, not bothering with a greeting or giving Saylee time for one. “Red’s hurt,” he said tersely. “Really bad. He’s not responding to me.

“Janine, check in with Koga, now,” Saylee ordered quietly. “When you say not responding…” she whispered uneasily to Silver, not sure what, exactly, it was that she wanted to ask her brother. They’d never properly talked about the odd bond that Silver shared with Red ever since the former had brought the latter back from the dead, though given that Red had been brought back as a baby with no memory of his former life it was perhaps more accurate to call it direct reincarnation. The last time Ho-oh’s restorative powers had been used to that extreme, the result had been three dead but otherwise normal Eevee becoming Entei, Raikou and Suicune. There was no way, really, that Red was a normal kid, but…

If she never asked, if nobody asked, if Silver never did anything with whatever was there beyond display uncanny timing for inviting Red to play video games with him when the kid was feeling down… they could all pretend that Red was normal. That one of them would get to live a normal life, finally.

Look, I dunno how much we can communicate, I’ve never pushed it before,” Silver sighed. “No experimenting, not when it could fuck with his head. But I know how he’s feeling, even when I’m not really trying, and I got whammied with fear and anger and pain and now… this fuzzy kinda, I dunno, not exactly nothing, pretty sure he’s not dead, I feel like I’d know that. I think he’s unconscious. So what the fuck?

Saylee looked up at Janine. “No response,” the ninja muttered, gesturing to her comm. “Melody, stay here with Sar Kanto and Sir Viridian. You remember the evacuation signal, right?” One of the other two, humming gently, nodded. “Linda, alert hotel security and get them up to the suite. We have a situation.” The other nodded and ran off down the corridor, dodging around a waiter with a tray full of empty champagne glasses. Janine just nodded to Saylee before vanishing herself.

Blue put an arm around Saylee, leaning his head close to hear Saylee talking to Silver over the pokegear. “Janine’s going to check it out,” Saylee murmured. “She’ll let us know what’s happening.”

She’s checking it out? No response on the comms? From Koga?”

“We’ll call you back when we know,” Blue said, hanging up the call for Saylee. He hugged her tightly, leaning his head on her shoulder. “Could just be shitty equipment,” he muttered. “Koga’s still up there. He’s as good as it gets with unarmed combat short of actually being a fucking Pokemon."

They’re fine, he didn’t say. They’re fine. They’re fine. They’re fine…

{Reshin 23rd, 19:55}
{Castelia City}

Never go in alone.

Janine had been drilled in that from birth, when their home was a poison swamp full of angry wild Pokemon. Never go anywhere alone. Your partner may not be able to save you, but at least they can give your family the closure of knowing where you died.

The other side of the equation was the first rule of rescue—don’t become another victim. Which meant that, once she got up there, she had to assess the situation fast, and if she didn’t immediately get some assurance all was well…

She’d known Blue and Saylee long enough to know that the odds of that were low, but dammit, she had to hope. There were children involved these days.

Her earpiece was picking up nothing but static, and her pokegear blanked out once she was a floor below the suite. She was climbing up the elevator shaft, because it was a point of pride for her clan that they did not use stairs, and if anybody was in the hallway, it wouldn’t do to give them the warning of seeing an elevator approaching the floor.

Jamming, she thought, checking the blank screen. Dammit. There goes the hope that the earpieces were just failing…

The hallway was empty of movement or breathing. The hall security measures were in place, the suite door locked.

But as soon as she opened it, she smelled blood.

She couldn’t see anything past the entryway—the suite was designed that way, to protect its occupants’ privacy. Back away. Don’t become another victim.


“Dad?” she called back, recognizing the voice, even hoarse and faint. Security checks. Dad’s been drilling this into you since you learned to talk. Any fool could steal a set password, but exchanging personal information… “My daughter was born on Kyonua fifteenth,” she called through, “but she was due eight days before that.” Plenty of people knew her daughter’s birthday, but only a handful knew her original due date at the time and likely very few of them remembered. It wasn’t the sort of information anybody in Unova could easily get.

“In the hosp’al… doc was worried…” There was a bubbling sound. Blood in his throat. Janine forced herself, with training and practice, to remain calm, to not move until she had the all-clear, because if she did either a hidden enemy would kill her or her father would for risking her life by breaching training. “But I said… this one… waitin’ for the… right time… just like… you…”

“Clear?” Janine asked hoarsely.

“Clear… aid… needed…”

I know, Janine thought, heart in her throat as she rounded the corner to the suite’s main room and stopped de—came to a complete standstill.

Alice was dead, her corpse draped over one of the overturned couches, empty eyes gazing blankly at Janine. Not now. You’ve known each other since you were three. Not now. Find Dad. Find the kids!

Koga’s legs, one bent wrong, were protruding from the doorway to the kids’ room, the endpoint of a trail of blood smudged into the carpet. “Dad, don’t move,” Janine told him as she ran to him, pushing the door further open so she could crouch at his side, assessing wounds. “Linda’s bringing backup, hang on…”

“I’ll… live,” Koga mumbled as she turned him on his side to ease his breathing. He was pale, bleeding from several places but most worryingly his neck. When his hand slipped away briefly, though, the blood only seeped sluggishly from the wound rather than spurting, so thankfully the artery had been missed. He probably would live, with emergency services arriving imminently. “Help… Red…”

Janine looked up, realizing that her father had been trying to reach Saylee’s teenage brother. The boy was curled on the ground in a terrifyingly large puddle of blood, clutching his stomach and unmoving.

No, no, god no, please no, Janine thought frantically, moving to Red’s side, trying to assess his conditions clearly. He’s a kid, he’s just a kid, there’ll be fucking war over this, if Saylee loses this one too, and Silver, fuck, he could and just might literally burn this country to the ground…

“…!” Red gasped, his eyes flickering open briefly when Janine touched his arm, then sliding closed again. His breathing was shallow but steady. Janine carefully moved his arms aside and tugged his shirt up, breathing a sigh of relief when she saw that, despite all the blood, it wasn’t deep. Maybe he was one of those people that just bled a lot, even for a papercut, and the shock had caused him to black out, or he’d been knocked unconscious. He would live, that was what mattered.

“Scarlet?” she called, looking around the room for the younger child. It was trashed, just like the main room, with the door entirely torn off of the closet.

Her scope of the room brought her gaze back to her father, and the sight of absolute, agonizing failure in his eyes nearly knocked her flat.

Alice was dead. Red and her father were seriously wounded. And Scarlet was gone.

I am going to find whoever was responsible for us being banned from bringing Pokemon, and I am going to fucking kill them.

not least so Saylee and Blue don’t cause an international incident by doing it themselves…

Cheren, Sherlock, Poncho, Rocky, Lilli

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden, Roland, Thamina

Bianca, Tiberius, Wilhelmina, Penny​

So, Japanese family registries were explained to me in more detail recently when a coworker whose home I was visiting showed me hers. They’re a fairly significant form of record-keeping and tracking family relationships, featuring marriages, births, deaths and adoptions, but are still generally kept on paper books and not digitized in anyway because Japan is… weirdly skeptical of technology for a country with their technological renown. Disowning somebody can involve the legal step of having them removed from your family registry, which is apparently a pretty significant shame if you were part of a prestigious family.
Adoption in Japan also has forms that don’t really exist in the West, because “adoption” is really the only translation we have for adding somebody to a family registry without marriage. To adopt somebody in Japan, you need only be one day older than them. In the past, this was most commonly a way for the head of a family who didn’t have any kids to designate an heir in a way that couldn’t be contested after his death, or if all his kids had already married off into more prestigious families (until the late nineteenth century, only wealthy/significant families had family names, and when a couple married whether the wife took the husband’s name or vice versa commonly depended on who was from the “better” family, and this persists in upper-class Japanese circles to this day). These days this still occasionally happens as a way for an aging CEO to designate a successor, but is also, to my personal great amusement, how gay couples circumvent the lack of gay marriage in Japan. If the older partner adopts the younger, they are legally family and have medical rights if one is in hospital, inheritance/life insurance rights if one dies, etc etc etc.
So, the “scandal” around Saylee. Giovanni, her father, was publicly disowned by his father and head of their family, Arthur Pryce, a little while after the end of Blood and Bond. This was generally understood as the Pryce family condemning Giovanni for his many, many, many, many crimes and making it clear he had no safe harbour with them should he ever resurface in the Fairlands. However, they still wanted Giovanni’s children—Saylee and Silver—to be part of the family, and since Saylee’s mother Johanna has no known family… boom! Helen and Arthur Pryce adult-adopt Johanna, which also ensured that Red qualified as related to them when he came back a couple years later, too. As well as keeping Saylee and her brothers in the family, it was a show of emotional support for Johanna. While adult adoptions generally don’t carry the expectation that the adopter and adoptee will genuinely regard each other as parent and child (especially in gay adoptions), Arthur and Helen treated Johanna like their daughter to the end of their days and it meant the world to her.
But Unova, like America, doesn’t use family registries the way Japan/The Fairlands does, and to a culture unfamiliar with them, it would be very easy to represent Giovanni’s disowning and Johanna’s adoption as a scheme to hide the fact that Giovanni was ever part of the family at all, if you wanted to make it look like Saylee was hiding sinister secrets… If you had an agenda that benefited from discrediting her, perhaps…

Angus the Audino

Owain the Dewott, Loyal the Herdier, Paden the Simisear, Roland the Boldore, Thamina the Gurdurr
RIP Pijon the Tranquill, level 8-22

Tiberius the Tepig, Wilhelmina the Woobat, Penny the Tranquill

Sherlock the Servine, Poncho the Simipour, Rocky the Boldore, Lilli the Petilil

Cheren, Sherlock, Poncho, Rocky, Lilli

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden, Roland, Thamina

Bianca, Tiberius, Wilhelmina, Penny​

{Reshin 24th, 05:48am}
{Castelia City}

“Wake me when the bus gets here,” Carlotta mumbled, slumping on the bus station bench and pulling her baseball cap over her eyes. Bianca sat down next to her but didn’t close her eyes, instead releasing Tiberius and hugging him like a soft toy while the Tepig snuffled inquisitively at his trainer’s red-rimmed eyes.

Warren sat next to his sister, leaning back to let her flop her head onto his shoulder for a more comfortable sleep. Cheren did the same thing on his other side, falling asleep almost immediately. Despite the heavy-eyed feeling of exhaustion—the police hadn’t started letting people go until past three in the morning, and they’d only gone back to the Pokemon Centre long enough to shower, change and check out—Warren couldn’t bring himself to sleep.

He got out his c-gear, automatically opening the news app to scroll and then almost immediately closing it. He couldn’t look at the endless repetition of articles headed by the sole photo the press had been given of Scarlet Oak-Pryce, aged six. Missing. Kidnapped.

He opened his contacts instead, finding the new number, labeled only “Help”. He hesitated for a moment, then selected the messaging app and typed a quick text.

I’m so sorry about your daughter.

Does that sound too much like she’s dead?
He thought fuzzily, staring at the message, then deleting it and trying again.

Do you have any idea who took

No, what was he, a cop? And that kind of thing was probably classified information anyway.

Can we help?

Short. The answer was probably no. But he was too sleep-deprived to think of anything better, and it was the most honest message he could think to send.

He sent it, then tried opening a game, figuring that all of his social media notifications would be overflowing with chatter about the kidnapping, too. At least it had pushed whatever that thing was about Sar Saylee having a supervillain dad out of the news.

But if it were me, I guess I’d rather have the news about my dad than a missin’ kid…

He nearly jumped when he almost immediately received a reply, auto-translate kicking in beneath the Fairlan characters.

Be careful.

Well, I guess she ain’t sleepin’ either,
Warren thought, staring at the brief message. Of course she ain’t. Her daughter’s missin’.

Having a head of state or supervillain’s daughter in his phonebook made his head spin. He could just about process knowing a mother whose child was missing, even if that thought hurt. He’d never known a missing kid before. He was aware that it was a thing that happened in the world, sometimes, but not to people you knew.

Was everybody’s first trip away from home this… much?

He opened his mother’s contact page. She takes night shifts sometimes, he recalled. She’s probably workin’ right now, ain’t supposed to have her personal phone on while she’s got her security guard hat on…

He wanted to talk to someone. Carlotta and Cheren were dozing and he didn’t want to wake them, and Bianca already looked upset enough that he didn’t want to ask her to make him feel better.

That was the problem with being the guy who was good at making others feel better.

And on top of all of that, something was watching him again.

He kept finding himself drawn to looking out the bus station windows. There was nothing to see out there except the bus lot, currently empty except for one idling bus getting checked over by its driver. The driver wasn’t looking their way, but nevertheless Warren felt a prickling feeling that something out there had its eyes fixed very solidly on him. He wanted to tell himself he was imagining it, but he kept hearing Sar Saylee’s warning in his head, her certainty that something strange would find him again.

“Hello?” he whispered, with no idea why he was doing it. Nothing out there would hear him, and he was probably imagining—

Something definitely moved behind the decorative trees on the far side of the bus lot.

Bianca gasped sharply. Warren looked over and saw her staring at the same trees he’d been staring at. Tiberius was looking that way, too, unusually still, his ears sticking up straight and snout pointed directly at the trees.

“B?” Warren whispered.

“Y’all saw that, right?” Bianca whispered intently. “Don’t go tellin’ me I was seein’ stuff, War, y’all saw—!”

“Saw what, B?” Warren asked her. Bianca bit her lip, but didn’t answer. “I dunno ‘bout you, but I’m too damn tired to go worryin’ about somethin’ in the trees, so unless it’s a gondamn ninja—”

There was a loud yell from outside as the bus driver went tumbling away from the bus he’d been cleaning the side of. Both Carlotta and Cheren jerked awake, nearly knocking Warren off his chair as they stumbled to their feet.

“Whazzup? ‘Zit ninjas ‘gain?” Carlotta muttered, rubbing at her eyes. The bus driver was running back towards the depot.

“What’s he yellin’ ‘bout?” Cheren mumbled sleepily, straightening his glasses as he squinted after the running man.

“Dunno, but we ain’t gotta go check—alright, guess we do,” Warren sighed as Carlotta strode outside, releasing Thamina and Owain, since the Dewott and Gurdurr were her two heaviest hitters.

“…It’s probably not ninjas at the bus station,” Cheren mumbled, following after her and releasing Sherlock, Poncho and Rocky on the way.

“What in the—that’s what he was so darn scared of?!” Carlotta yelled incredulously as she rounded the bus.

“Well, guess it definitely ain’t ninjas,” Bianca giggled weakly, running out to see what the fuss was. With a sigh, Warren gave in and followed, throwing a last suspicious glance at the trees as he crossed the bus lot in the grey light of barely-dawn.

Rounding the bus, he saw Carlotta, Cheren, Bianca and their Pokemon encircling and staring quizzically at a trio of thug toddlers.

“They’re a Pokemon called Scraggy,” Cheren sighed, rubbing his eyes as he looked up from his pokedex screen. “They like to wander around in groups and headbutt anybody who makes eye contact. They probably got into the undercarriage of the bus for warmth overnight and the bus driver spotted them while cleaning.”

“So why ain’t they attackin’ now?” Bianca asked, starting to back up before Cheren grabbed her arm to stop her.

“They act tough in a group, but they get easily intimidated by larger numbers,” he advised. “Don’t back down. Perhaps we ought to catch them. They are tough fighters, trained right, and I’m not sure what this depot’s policy is for getting rid of invasive wild Pokemon. They’re classed as dark and fighting types.”

“Heh, so Penny an’ Pijon’ll be best to—” Carlotta began, reaching for her pokeballs and freezing halfway there, face falling as she remembered. “Oh. Yeah. I, uh… shit.”

“The Pokemon we have now are more than enough to handle these three, I think,” Cheren said quickly. “Sherlock, Vine Whip that one in the middle!”

All three Scraggy squealed as Sherlock whapped the middle one between the eyes almost gently, sending it rolling backwards into its friends, who caught it and started yelling.

“Try Flame Charge, Tibby!” Bianca suggested, crouching to let her Tepig hop out of her arms. Wreathed in flames, the little Pokemon knocked one of the three Scraggy away from its fellows.

Carlotta handed Bianca an empty pokeball with a grin. “Good plan, separatin’ ‘em!” she said. “Thamina, Wake-Up Slap that one!”

Cheren yawned. “Sounds good,” he said, throwing a pokeball at the middle one as soon as Thamina had used her club to sweep the other two apart. Bianca and Carlotta followed suit, and all three Scraggy were captured, pokeballs locking as a new bus driver came running back across the parking lot with a security guard in tow.

“Did you kids catch the Scraggy?” the security guard called.

“Sure did!” Carlotta said, picking up her new Pokemon.

“Hey, thanks for that,” the new bus driver sighed. “I wouldn’t wanna handle the damn things myself, not with Dave resting off a bit of a concussion in there… you kids got tickets?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Warren said, showing the passes they’d been given in the depot.

“It’s early, but you kids head in and pick your spot,” the bus driver encouraged them. “You’ve earned it with your good deed for the day. We should be leaving about seven and get to the Desert Resort about eleven, alright?”

“Thanks, ma’am,” Carlotta said, giving her a salute and returning the rest of her Pokemon before climbing into the bus.

“Oooh, this is so much comfier than the depot!” Bianca cooed as she sank into the soft, plush bus seat. “I’m kinda excited. I ain’t never been on a bus before!”

“Gondamn, B, I know I’ve known you forever an’ all, an’ I know how gondamn sheltered you’ve been,” Carlotta sighed, flopping into the seat next to her, “but sometimes, y’all still manage to say stuff that really fucks me up.”

“Sorry, that’s weird, ain’t it?” Bianca mumbled, excitement visibly draining as she sank further down into her seat and tried to hide under her hat.

“Good goin’, Carly,” Warren muttered, giving his sister a light shove on the arm as he sat down in the aisle seat across from her, next to Cheren.

“Aw fuck, I didn’t—B, ain’t nothin’ wrong with bein’ excited about your first bus ride, I promise!” Carlotta exclaimed, giving Bianca a one-armed side-hug. “I’m excited for ya! I just wanna fight your folks, is all.”

“Didn’t you already wanna do that?” Bianca asked, emerging from her hat with a little giggle.

“Well, yeah, but even more now,” Carlotta insisted, hugging her tight.

Cheren put his head back down on Warren’s shoulder and they all fell silent as they drifted back off to sleep, jerking awake half an hour later when the bus started to fill with the rest of the early-morning tourists. Some were sleepily chatting in a variety of languages, while others made a direct line for an empty seat to fall asleep in. The bus was full to bursting by the time it left at seven, but mostly quiet due to people either sleeping or talking in hushed tones.

Warren stayed awake, staring out of the window over his boyfriend’s head as Cheren slept on his shoulder again. The suburbs gave way to an old industrial area, and then to the deserts that were such a draw to the tourists. He saw Pokemon flying overhead, or scurrying into the sand away from the roar of the bus’ engine, but nothing felt like it was watching him anymore. Before long, he was sure he’d imagined it.

“I don’t get it,” Bianca mumbled after a couple of hours, when more people were starting to wake up properly.

“What’s up, B?” Carlotta asked, jerking out of a doze.

“The news before the party was all ‘bout how some evil guy was Sar Saylee’s dad, right?” Bianca said, pointing at the article she was reading on Carlotta’s C-Gear. Apparently, she hadn’t been sleeping either. “But at the party, she was real nice to us, an’ she got us that hotel after Lilith died, too. Seems like she really cares. It don’t match.”

“Your parents are a coupla pieces of shit, but you ain’t,” Carlotta pointed out. “It don’t have to mean nothin’.”

“She wasn’t even raised by him,” Cheren added, yawning as he woke up and started scrolling through his messages, finding whatever conversation he’d been having between police interviews. “I got my mother to send me the details, since I’m not sure any media outlet did enough research before hopping on the outrage-wagon. Sar Saylee herself, reportedly, never knew she was related to Giovanni until nearly two years after he was last seen. She saw an old photograph of him with her mother and DNA testing later confirmed her relationship to the Pryce family and her younger half-brother, but Giovanni himself has never resurfaced. Also, he was disowned by the Pryce family, which is apparently a major legal process in the Fairlands and a sign of great shame. It means they no longer consider him related to them at all.”

“And… it don’t mean nothin’ to her that he’s her dad?” Bianca asked tentatively.

“I can’t imagine it means nothing, but since they were already enemies I doubt it endears him to her,” Cheren said, rolling his eyes.

“You don’t gotta love folks just ‘cause they’re your folks,” Warren said gently.

"Don’t you, though?” Bianca said uncertainly. “Y’all love your folks, right?”

“I love my folks ‘cause they’re fuckin’ awesome,” Carlotta declared. “They’re boss-ass security guards, they’re funny, they’ve always supported me an’ War doin’ what we wanna do…”

“I love my parents because I like and respect them as people, in addition to them being my parents,” Cheren added. “But I don’t judge Sar Saylee at all for not loving a parent who didn’t raise her and who she only ever knew as an enemy.”

“You alright, B?” Warren asked gently. “Y’know, however you feel about your folks is—”

“I miss ‘em,” Bianca said, her voice cracking. “What’s wrong with me? I was scared of ‘em all the time an’ they told me every day how everythin’ I liked or wanted or felt made me evil b-but I… they’re my mom an’ dad an’ I love ‘em an’—wh-what’s wrong with me?”

She buried her face in her hands as she burst into full-on sobs.

Carlotta looked helplessly at Warren and Cheren as she put an arm around Bianca. “Aw, fuck, B,I… I don’t know?” she said. “I mean, you ain’t evil, duh.”

“But… am I supposed to hate ‘em for treatin’ me like that?” Bianca wept. “Or am I supposed to love ‘em ‘case they’re my folks? I don’t know!”

“Fuck how you’re s’posed to feel,” Carlotta said stubbornly. “Don’t go worryin’ ‘bout that nonsense. How you feel’s up to you, got it?”

“It’s not easy, but please don’t tie yourself up in knots worrying about how you should feel,” Cheren added. “Just… focus on how you do feel. That’s what matters.”

“I… I dunno,” Bianca hiccuped, burying her face in Carlotta’s shoulder. “I dunno…”

“Well, shit,” Carlotta muttered, rubbing her back. “Wish I knew how to help, B, but this is some complicated emotional shit you’re layin’ down here…”

“I ain’t sure there’s anythin’ we can do about you missin’ your folks,” Warren said, scratching his head. “I mean, we can’t go see ‘em without ‘em tryin’ to take you back and makin’ it harder to get away again… and we ain’t gonna let that happen to ya, B. But… I dunno, do ya think if our folks came out fer a visit while we’re in Nimbasa, it might help? Mom’ll sure mom your ass if we ask ‘er to.”

“Oh man, she’s waitin’ by the dang phone for us to call ‘er in to mom your ass,” Carlotta cackled. “Dad’s got so many jokes you ain’t heard a million times before, he’ll love it!”

“They don’t have to come all the way out for me,” Bianca sniffed. “They’re… I’m sure they’re busy, an’ I ain’t even their kid…”

“I mean…” Carlotta exchanged a look with Warren. “Shit, B, we… we did tell you how they said they’re happy for you to come live with us when you’re ready, right?”

“Yeah, but—” Bianca began.

Warren held up a hand. “B, that ain’t just bein’ polite, that’s our whole family offerin’ you our home ‘cause we want you there,” he interrupted. “Bein’ so near your folks might be a problem a bit, but we’re willin’ to do that, okay?”

“You don’t have to love the family you were born to just because you were born to them,” Cheren added, “but you can love family you weren’t born to, as well.”

Bianca burst into tears all over again.

“Next time I see her folks, I’m gonna fight ‘em,” Carlotta whispered loudly at Warren over Bianca’s head, making her giggle.

“No, don’t, you can’t, oh noooooo,” Warren droned in a flat, blatantly insincere tone.

{Reshin 24th, 12.36}
{Desert Resort Museum}

Whoa,” Bianca whispered, wide-eyed as she walked around the miniature model of the former glory of the Relic Castle, complete with tiny holographic animations of servants, guards, lords and ladies going about their day. “It’s like somethin’ outta fairy tales!”

“Naturally, as it’s based on the construction of Kalosian castles,” Cheren said, nodding. “But the Kalosian colonists only ever built one castle here, one seat of power as a clear extension of the Kalosian throne…”

“Y’all!” Carlotta yelled excitedly as she ran across the museum floor, slaloming among the displays of priceless antiques and drifting groups or pairs of tourists. “We’re trainers!”

Cheren looked at Bianca, then at Carlotta, then pulled his pokeballs out of his pocket and squinted at them. “My goodness,” he drawled, “I hadn’t noticed.”

“Hush,” Carlotta said, flapping a hand. “We got trainer’s licenses. That means we can go on the trail out to the real castle!”

Cheren’s eyes widened, nearly dropping his pokeballs when he realized what she was getting at. “What?”

“We can go to a real castle?!” Bianca squealed.

“It ain’t gonna look too fairytale,” Warren warned her as they set off across the museum floor. It was more crowded than he would’ve expected, but then again, most of the tourists were likely coming down form Nimbasa City, which was much closer, rather than taking the scenic desert bus up from Castelia. And it was a beautiful day, the tinted windows protecting their eyes while giving them an incredible view of the rolling dunes and the sheets of sand blowing smoothly across them in the apparently endless winds. More than a few people were simply sitting on benches, watching the moving sand, either lost in meditation on the unspeakable beauty of the natural world, or getting a moment of exhausted peace amongst a hectic traveling holiday.

“Yeah, it’s kinda sinkin’ into the sand and it’s lousy with wild Pokemon, that bein’ the reason they only let folks with trained fightin’ Pokemon hike out to it,” Carlotta said, pointing to a pair of lean, tanned, toned men in ranger uniforms standing by the entrance desk. Both had shoulder-length black hair, but one’s ended in curls that bounced on his shoulders, while the other’s was straight with purple and silver tips. “These two rangers are workin’ here today. They’ll give our Pokemon a look-see an’ decide if they can let us out or not.”

“Afternoon, kids,” one of the rangers said, nodding to them. “I’m Beathan, and this is Desi. We’re the rangers on duty around this area today. So you want to head out to the old castle, huh?”

“See the real thing up close? Hell yeah!” Carlotta exclaimed, going for her pokeballs. “See, I’m thinkin’—I got me a Boldore an’ a Gurdurr, an’ they’ll be fine for the sandstorm, won’t they?”

“Let’s see ‘em,” Desi asked, pointing at the pokeballs. He started examining Thamina and Roland as soon as they appeared, running his hands over Thamina’s club and Roland’s stone hide while murmuring quietly to the Pokemon. Whatever he was saying looked like it startled Thamina, who almost dropped her club on her own foot.

“And the rest of you?” Beathan asked quickly.

“I also have a Boldore,” Cheren said, releasing Rocky, “and Carlotta and I both have water-type Pokemon, so we can stay hydrated.”

“I ain’t a battler, but I ain’t goin’ far from my friends anyhow,” Warren assured the rangers. “And I got me an Audino, so we oughta be able to keep anybody gettin’ hurt too bad.”

“Well, that’s fair,” Beathan agreed, smiling fondly at Desi as the other man began giving Rocky the same gentle examination. “And you, miss?”

“M-me? Um… all I got now’s Mina an’ Tibby an’ Penny… oh, a Woobat, Tepig an’ Tranquill,” she explained, twisting her bag straps nervously in her hands. “And them Scraggy we caught this mornin’, I guess… are they anythin’?”

Beathan frowned, looking up thoughtfully. “I would say keep your Tepig safe from the sandstorm, and the winds will cause your Woobat and Tranquill difficulty, so only get them out if somebody gets lost and you think the Woobat’s psychic powers might help find them,” he said after a moment. “And don’t use brand-new Pokemon to try and do something like this. Stick close to your friends instead.”

“Thamina here looks good and strong, so she should be able to defend you pretty well from most of the Pokemon you’d encounter out there in the desert,” Desi said, standing up. “Both of your Boldore should love it out there—by the way, why not evolve them?”

“You mean, trade them away?” Cheren said in surprise.

“I mean trade them to each other,” Desi said, patting both rocky Pokemon on their heads. “Just for a while. It’s the variety in experience that helps some Pokemon evolve, and it shouldn’t make too much difference to them so long as you stick together.”

“And you must stick close together,” Beathan emphasized. “Return your Pokemon and follow us through here to the dressing room and we’ll get you set up…”

“We’re goin’ to the Castle!” Bianca squealed excitedly as Carlotta and Cheren returned their Pokemon and the four of them followed Beathan and Desi through a side door of the reception desk.

The dressing room had another big window with a view of the road down to the canyon, bright sun reflecting off the ever-shifting sands. “Right, let’s get you all sized…” Desi murmured, beginning to dig through a closet full of jackets.

“We’re gonna have to ask all of you to swipe your trainer IDs in here,” Beathan said, pointing to a swipe reader on the wall. “All the protective gear we’re gonna give you is museum property, so we will want it back and you’re liable for any damages that aren’t incurred in the form of the gear protecting you from unforeseeable danger. Meaning that if the boots get chewed up a bit protecting you from a real pissy Sandile, that’s fine, we’re not gonna charge you for that. If the goggles get cracked because you decided to try parkouring around the cliff edge, we’re gonna charge you for that. Clear?”

“I don’t wanna play on the cliff edge,” Bianca said anxiously.

“Crystal clear,” Carlotta promised, accepting a jacket from Desi and trying it on. “Gondamn, you got a good eye. Ain’t this a li’l heavy for that desert?”

“The material will protect you from heatstroke,” Desi explained, showing the inside of another jacket before passing it to Warren, “and if you plan to camp out, it’s got heating elements in it too.”

“Deserts get cold at night,” Cheren said with a nod. “I’ve heard that. Do people often camp out?”

“Sometimes,” Beathan said, passing out pairs of boots. “It’s a long way out, and some folks want to take their time exploring the castle. Some folks want to explore the desert a little more, too, and it’s better to do that when the sun’s down, it’s cooler and most of the wild Pokemon are sleeping. I won’t say don’t explore—we’re sending you into the canyon, so there’s only so far you can go before hitting a cliff wall, it’s unlikely that you’ll get incredibly lost. But just in case, all of your gear has two things in it; a tracker, and an emergency button.”

Desi showed them a tiny red switch on the side of each pair of goggles. “Press this and we’ll come find you. Press it just for shits and giggles and we will find you. But if somebody’s injured, or you see something suspicious, or you’re getting overrun by wild Pokemon, or you’re just plain lost and scared, don’t hesitate to call us in. It’s what we’re here for.”

“I’ve got a Conkeldurr of my own and a Gliscor for tracking you down,” Beathan said, tapping the pokeballs on his belt, “and Desi’s got a damn Garchomp. We can take pretty much anything you’ll encounter in there. In all likelihood, though, you won’t run foul of more than a few pissy Sandile and maybe a territorial Darumaka. Okay?”

“Plus, your Gurdurr’s just raring to attack anything threatening her friends,” Desi laughed. “I think you’ll be fine.”

“And the Castle?” Cheren asked. “I heard it’s sinking into the sand…”

“It is, but Historic Unova spends a LOT of money on energy shielding for that place,” Beathan assured him. “They’re checked up on regularly. You won’t be able to physically access any dangerous areas. Feel free to explore as much as you like, but again, common sense warning that still has to be said: do not try to breach the energy barriers. They’re there for your protection. Understood?”

“Loud and clear,” Warren said in a muffled voice as he pulled his scarf up over his mouth.

“Last thing,” Desi said, fastening something to a clip on Carlotta’s jacket and then unwinding it to reveal some kind of thick cable that he attached to each of them in turn. “You won’t be able to go more than ten feet from each other, but when you get into the wind and sands, you won’t want to. You can unclip the rope yourselves, but I advise not doing that until you’re at Relic Castle.”

“And on that note…” Beathan opened the door next to the window, letting in the noise of howling wind and more than a bit of sand. “Have fun stormin’ the castle!”

{Reshin 24th, 13.51}
{Relic Castle}

“Ta-daaaa!” Carlotta gasped as they stumbled through the doorway, out of the sand and into the shelter of the ruins. “Welcome to the greatest castle in Unova!”

“The only true castle in Unova,” Cheren added. “All others are technically only forts, as they were not residences of the royal family. As Unova was colonozied after the invention of plumbing, only one royal castle was ever constructed, as opposed to the multiple castles used by the royal families of Galar or Kalos.”

Bianca pulled off her hat and hood, peering around the cavernous space that they’d wandered into. She could hear the wind blowing sand around outside, and a steady trickle of the pale grit was drifting down through holes in ceiling and through the doorway. The floor was buried under drifts of sand, though it was possible to kick away enough to find the cracked flagstones beneath. She wandered over to a wall, brown with age but in faded tones that suggested there had once been colourful frescoes. When she reached out a hand, though, she met resistance, glowing blue in the air briefly.

“There’s them energy fields them rangers mentioned, keepin’ folks from damagin’ any of it,” Warren explained, “and to keep folks from gettin’ hurt if any other bits fall off, I guess.”

“Is it gonna keep fallin’ apart?” Bianca asked, looking up nervously at the distant ceiling.

“It’s safe, B, don’t worry!” Carlotta assured her. “C’mon, I’ve watched documentaries an’ stuff ‘bout this place before, but I ain’t never been here for real! Let’s explore! I wanna find the dungeons!”

“I think the dungeons are buried, Carly,” Warren pointed out as Carlotta led them off down a side corridor, dark except for the light from an occasional lamp set against the wall, tall enough to keep it out of the drifts of sand blowing in through the empty windows. They all pulled their hoods back up over their faces to keep the sand off as they walked down the hall, peering through empty doorways into sand-buried rooms.

Cheren tapped Carlotta’s shoulder and pointed at a branching corridor. “Down this way to the royal chambers, I think,” he said, his voice muffled by his hood. “It’s more concealed, so they actually have some reproduction furniture in there.”

Aside from the grinding wind and their own muffled footsteps, the castle was empty and silent as they walked down the bare corridors. It made Bianca shiver, a little. It seemed wrong for such a big place to be so empty. “How come this place got abandoned?” she asked.

“It was used into the Civil War,” Cheren explained. “Interestingly, neither Eduard nor Dilwyn ever constructed their own castle, they simply fought over this one and it changed hands multiple times; ownership of this castle was key both symbolically and strategically. Eduard himself died here, and while the castle was still used for some years thereafter, it gained a reputation as being terribly haunted by him, Dilwyn, or both. About thirty years after the deaths of the twin princes, it was completely abandoned, though the Civil War continued on for several generations from other power bases.”

“Oooh! I know ‘bout Prince Eduard an’ Prince Dilwyn!” Bianca gasped. “They were born together an’ died on the very same night, way I heard it…”

“Same minute, some say, though no knowin’ that for sure,” Warren said with a nod. “Ain’t nobody quite sure what happened to this day, but rumour is they had each other assassinated.”

“Ain’t that some twin shit, givin’ up on honourable war an’ hirin’ assassins at the same damn time?” Carlotta laughed.

“I dunno… I think it’s kinda sad,” Bianca said mournfully. “I mean, they were brothers, an’ they wanted to kill each other…”

“It’s been said that Eduard and Dilwyn were the truest example of people hating each other because they were too alike,” Cheren said, glancing through doorways as they passed. Some of the rooms had small placards with codes on them on the wall, to be checked in a tour guide app on the C-gear. “They had different ruling philosophies, but ultimately many of the same goals and desires. They both inspired mass loyalty in their followers, and such similar styles of rule that a great portion of the populace in all likelihood could not have told you who was ruling them at any one time. They also both had…” He grimaced. “Let’s say unfriendly attitudes to the concept of sharing land with the Native Unovans. Or not doing so. I sincerely doubt they knew or cared about the different sides of the Civil War. Ah, here we are…”

At the end of the hall was the first door that Bianca had seen in the whole castle. Cheren pushed it open, causing an effect much like falling back in time.

There was glass in the tall windows, sealing the room off from the sandstorm outside. The floor was clean of sand, the tiles faded but uncracked, covered in a plush rug. The room was hung with elaborate woven banners depicting black and white dragons, all centred around a huge, soft canopy bed. On one side of the bed was a wide fireplace, and next to it a high wingback chair in front of a low table. Against a window stood a writing desk, with some blank parchment and a quill pen lying on it.

“Gondamn, this is fancy,” Carlotta whistled, reaching out to run a hand down the carved posts of the bed. “Reproductions, y’all were sayin’?”

“Not the original furniture, naturally, but sturdy imitations,” Cheren said with a nod. “And there wouldn’t have been banners of both Zekrom and Reshiram at the same time, of course, it would’ve changed depending on which king was in residence…”

“They even slept in the same room?” Bianca asked quietly. “They were all that alike an’ they couldn’t even… I dunno, rule together?”

“Generations of war just ‘cause their mama ain’t never teach ‘em to share,” Warren sighed, peering up at one of the banners. “I mean, bein’ fair, if we got in a war Carly’d definitely kill me ten minutes in an’ rule the world.”

“Except I wouldn’t, ‘cause we wouldn’t go to war,” Carlotta said stubbornly, clamping her brother in an arm-pinning hug that lifted him off his feet with a squawk. “We got different strengths. I’m good at punchin’ folk. You’re good at lookin’ after ‘em. Rule together, apply different strengths, problem solved!”

“Yes, but bear in mind they were devout Taotri,” Cheren said, sitting down at the writing desk and running a hand over the parchment. “All of the colonists were. Their faith in their Grand Dragon was absolute, and the Grand Dragon only ever chose one heir. When the Grand Dragon split into Reshiram and Zekrom, that was seen as an indicator that both princes were worthy of being king, but it was inconceivable that there should be two. Their faith meant they had to fight, regardless of how they felt about each other…”

“Fucks me up every time,” Carlotta muttered. “Alright, never mind all that shit. If the dungeons are buried, what the hell else is there to see around here?”

Is the castle haunted?” Bianca said nervously as Cheren loaded up the tour guide app and led them back out into the hall.

“I mean, probably,” Carlotta said with a shrug. “There were a whole loada battles here. Probably a buncha ghost Pokemon around somewhere. But hey, them Scraggy we caught oughta have Dark attacks, right?”

Cheren nodded, tapping his newest pokeball thoughtfully. “But those rangers were right—we should probably avoid using them until we’ve had a chance to train with them,” he reminded her. “Alright, these rooms were the King’s private chambers…”

There were a few other rooms that had been sealed off and decorated with reproduction furniture, making them at least bright and colourful again, if still as creepily empty as the rest of the castle. The sheer age of the place was staggering, as were the number of stories about battles fought on the grounds, in the halls, spies caught and fought and killed, criminals and servants and slaves punished or executed in the castle grounds…

All because their faith said that they couldn’t have two kings. All because their faith said they had to have a king at all.

That really what their gods wanted for ‘em?

They wound up back in the Great Hall, though from a different entrance. A few steps into the room, Carlotta stopped dead in her tracks, stiffening and looking around. “HEY!” she yelled sharply. “WHO’S THERE?!”

“Carly? What is it?” Warren asked, turning and looking around, edging closer to his sister as he did so. “Somebody there?”

“I can’t see anybody,” Cheren said cautiously, also growing closer to his friends.

“No, I didn’t see nobody, but…” Carlotta rubbed her head. “Argh. Y’all ever get a feelin’ where you’re really, really damn sure you’re bein’ watched, even though theres no accountin’ for it?”

“Yeah… I know what you mean,” Warren said, frowning thoughtfully.

“Weren’t you sure somethin’ was followin’ us in the forest, too, War?” Bianca asked nervously. “What if it’s the same thing?” A sharp fear struck her. “What if it’s one of them ninjas?” she asked quietly, clinging to Carlotta’s arm.

Cheren looked at Bianca, took a deep breath and released Sherlock. “They’ll regret it if they attack us,” he declared firmly, even as he surreptitiously gripped Warren’s hand so tightly that his boyfriend could feel his rushing pulse in his palm.

“They didn’t even seem to have any Pokemon,” Warren added, contributing to the brave front and squeezing Cheren’s hand tightly. “They probably attacked Sar Saylee’s bodyguards ‘cause they knew they wouldn’t have no Pokemon neither.”

“We can take ‘em,” Carlotta said, releasing Owain and Thamina, all three of them flexing fiercely.

“Should we call in them rangers?” Bianca asked, reaching up for the goggles hanging around her neck.

“Deep breaths,” Cheren said, taking one himself. “We aren’t the only tourists in the area. We’ve gotten ourselves worked up over some other historical enthusiast, or some minor wild Pokemon. Look, down this way we can visit the old kitchens…”

“Sounds good,” Bianca said anxiously, hurrying off down the enclosed corridor, even though it didn’t seem to have lights up like the others—

Suddenly, Bianca was falling.

The world was a confusing mess of sharp, tearing sand and darkness and light and falling and then she wasn’t falling but rolling down a pile of scratching, tearing sand and then hitting flagstones with an elbow-jarring crash.

Her ears were ringing and her head spinning so much that she wasn’t sure how much time passed before she became aware of Carlotta desperately screaming her name.

“Carly…?” she called weakly, wincing at the pain in her skinned arms and hands as she pushed herself to her feet. Carlotta kept yelling. “Guys! I’m okay!” Bianca shouted, looking up at the faint light filtering down through the hole down which sand and rubble was falling in a steady trickle.

“B! Bianca!” Carlotta shouted. “Stay where you are, ‘kay? Cher’s hit the emergency button! Them rangers’ll be on their way!”

“’Kay!” Bianca shouted, reaching her hands out to find her way, in the dim light, over to a wall. She leaned against it, shivering as she ran her hands up and down her arms, feeling all the scrapes and tears in the protective jacket she’d been given. At least it didn’t feel like she’d broken—

Something snarled in the dark, and that was all the warning she got before jaws snapped around her wrist.

She screamed, swinging her arm and whatever heavy, sharp-toothed thing was attached to it against the wall until it let go with a grunt. Bianca staggered away from where she heard it fall, but she could hear something else snarling in the darkness, and she was alone.

But I don’t gotta be, right? I got Pokemon!

She fumbled in her bag for her pokeballs, grabbing and opening the first two she could find. In the flash of light from the pokeballs opening, she recognized Penny’s silhouette taking shape, but she didn’t recognize the toddler-sized figure that appeared on the floor.

That ain’t Mina or Tibby—wait, didn’t we catch them Pokemon at the bus station this mornin’? I ain’t even trained that one!

“Penny? Uh… new Pokemon?” she called. “There’s somethin’ out there in the dark, watch out!”

There were more snarls, snaps, screeches and crashes as the Pokemon fought in the dim hallway. Bianca backed up against the wall, fighting tears. I can’t even see! Ain’t I supposed to be their trainer? Ain’t I supposed to tell ‘em how to fight? What’m I gonna do?

In the darkness, something gave an awful scream.

{Reshin 24th, 14.22}
{Relic Castle}

Warren had to lunge forwards and grab his sister around the waist to haul her away from jumping into the hole in the floor. Her infuriated yelling mixed with Bianca’s frightened screaming.

“LEMME GO, WAR!” she bellowed. “Can’t be that far to fall, B’s alone down there, we gotta—!”

“You’re gonna break your gondamn neck, jumpin’ in there blind!” Cheren yelled frantically, his own composure slipping at the sound of Bianca screaming. “Just hang on and wait for the rangers—”

“Somethin’s attackin’ her NOW!” Carlotta bellowed. Thamina suddenly yelled, poking Carlotta with her club to get her attention before turning and running away down a side corridor.

“Thamina—where are you goin’? Not now!” Carlotta yelled, elbowing Warren in the ribs and taking off after her Pokemon when he gasped and dropped her.

“Carly! CARLOTTA!” Warren yelled, but Carlotta didn’t look back, focused on trying to chase down her Gurdurr, who kept glancing over her shoulder and then squeaking when she saw her trainer following, leading her around a corner and down a stone staircase slick with sand. Carlotta slipped when running down them, but her forward momentum kept her going and she grabbed the crumbling walls to steady herself, following Thamina down to a darkened corridor—

It was dark, but she could still somehow see something standing at the far end of the corridor, some dark bulk that vanished through a side door.

“HEY!” Carlotta yelled, chasing after it. “Are you watchin’ us—?!”

Thamina yelled, now the one chasing after her trainer. As she reached the door she’d seen whatever it was vanish through, Carlotta heard Bianca crying, and Thamina shot off past her in the direction of the sound.

“B! Bianca! I’m comin’!” Carlotta yelled, all mysterious figures forgotten as she followed her Pokemon’s lead and the sound of Bianca sobbing. She turned on the flashlight in her c-gear—gondammit, we gotta get B one of these!—to light up the pitch-dark corridor.

Bianca was crouched over, clutching a limp, unmoving bundle of grey feathers in her arms as she cried. In front of her were two small Pokemon, standing between her and a group of snarling Sandile, half of them already unconscious. One of the Scraggy they’d captured this morning let out a blood-curdling battle cry as she leapt forwards and smacked a Sandile in the snout so hard that it cracked off the floor.

The other, Carlotta didn’t recognize; it was like a wisp of black with huge red eyes, clutching something round that glinted dull yellow in the light from Carlotta’s c-gear. This one moved between Bianca and Carlotta protectively, making Thamina skid to a stop and chitter nervously as the sight of the ghost.

“Bianca!” Carlotta yelled. Bianca looked around, shielding her eyes from the flashlight and wiping tears on her cheeks.

“C-Carly…” she sobbed, holding Penny’s body tightly. “I-I-I couldn’t see… I-I couldn’t h-h-help her… I… I…”

“Shit, B,” Carlotta said, brushing past the ghost and crouching down to hug Bianca. The Scraggy cried out as one of the Sandile bit her, and Thamina jumped in with a furious cry, sweeping three of them aside at once with her club. “I’m so gondamn sorry.”

The little ghost floated over to croon over Penny’s body, huge red tears rolling down its cheeks.

{Reshin 24th, 20.00}
{Nuvema Town—Tohjo Embassy}

Blue glanced down at his pokegear as it buzzed, then wordlessly walked into Red’s room to hand it over, glancing out the window. They’d left all the curtains open, on instructions, so that whoever was outside could see Saylee answer her pokegear.

Blue looked down at Red, sleeping with a slight frown. They’d opted to bring him back from the hospital because his injuries had already been barely there by the time the surgeons saw him, leaving them nonplussed as to how exactly he wound up unconscious. The teenager was sleeping deeply as he healed, but nevertheless he had healed, already completely unmarked as if he hadn’t nearly bled out on the hotel floor.

There was a tap on his shoulder as his pokegear was handed back. “Thanks,” he said, looking at the text from Saylee that had come up on the screen.

They don’t want Meloetta. They said they’ll call again when they have need of us, so long as I stay in the embassy. They bought it.

Be careful
, he texted back, turning around to look at Meloetta. “Thank you,” he said sincerely. “It’s working.”

Meloetta nodded, but didn’t cease the humming causing them to appear as an exact duplicate of Saylee.

{Reshin 24th, 20.00}
{South of Nimbasa}

Saylee put down her pokegear with a stormy expression.

“What do they want?” Key asked in a grim tone. She was leaning against Suicune’s side, and though her face was impossible to see in the dark, Saylee could well imagine the concerned frown.

“They… let me hear her voice for a moment so I could hear she’s alright,” Saylee said shakily, sinking to the ground. Key put an arm around her, giving her a warm hug, and Suicune brought their head around to gently lick Saylee’s cheek. “She said she wants to go home and then they took the phone away—” She took a deep breath, steeling herself. “And then they said they believe me that I don’t know where Meloetta is, but they’re going to need something from me later, so to stay in the embassy until called. They commended me for following instructions so far,” she spat poisonously.

“At least that means they believe that Meloetta is you,” Janine commented. “Get some sleep. I’ll keep watch.”

“Two and a half hour shifts,” Saylee said firmly. “Wake me in two and a half hours.”

“I’ll be fine all—” Janine began, but Saylee shook her head.

“Ninja training or no, you need sleep,” she said sharply. “When we find my daughter, I want all of us at our peak, not making sloppy mistakes because we’re too exhausted to think properly. Okay?”

“You can all sleep and I’ll keep watch,” Suicune offered, shaking their head so their soft purple mane draped over Saylee and Key like a blanket. “I genuinely, biologically don’t need sleep.”

“I’ve seen you sleep,” Saylee pointed out.

“Naps are recreational. I’ve gone hundreds of years at a time without shutting my eyes. I think I slept when I was dead.”

Janine closed her eyes and grimaced at the word dead. They’d left Koga in critical condition, with no updates yet from Blue. “Then we’ll all get six hours and get back to searching in the morning,” she said roughly. “I’ve got a pouch of Sleep Powder and I’m not afraid to use it.”

“We’ll find her,” Key promised, putting her glasses in her pocket. Saylee put her own glasses in a pocket of her dark coat. Despite the warm weather, she was wearing long sleeves and a hood to hide her scars, which stuck out all the more in Unova, where people never kept scars.

“We will,” Saylee whispered back. She felt familiar feelings—rage, determination…

And fear. So much fear.

She closed her eyes, fighting not to see Red’s body behind them.

We have to find her. Because… I can’t imagine living through that loss. I just can’t.

Cheren, Sherlock, Poncho, Rocky, Lilli, Sandy

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden, Roland, Thamina, Sable

Bianca, Tiberius, Wilhelmina, Sgain​

Beathan and Desi both belong to Balthazarssass on tumblr!

There are quite a few catches that don’t appear in the chapter because they’re not story-relevant. In Key’s runs she tended towards only catching as many teammates as she needed, as she needed them, whereas I caught EVERYTHING. Also, the wild Sandile around the Relic Castle are goddamn LETHAL. I had a ton of near-misses before finally losing Penny…

Angus the Audino

Owain the Dewott, Loyal the Herdier, Paden the Simisear, Roland the Boldore, Thamina the Gurdurr
Name: Sable. Species: Scraggy. Nature: Naive. Ability: Shed Skin. Location: Route 4. Level: 17

Tiberius the Tepig, Wilhelmina the Woobat
Name: Sgain. Species: Scraggy. Nature: Modest. Ability: Shed Skin. Location: Route 4. Level: 16
Name: Mandy. Species: Maractus. Nature: Bold. Ability: Chlorophyll. Location: Desert Resort (Entrance). Level: 20
Name: Dave. Species: Dwebble. Nature: Modest. Ability: Sturdy. Location: Desert Resort (Desert). Level: 22
Name: Cleo. Species: Yamask. Nature: Calm. Ability: Mummy. Location: Relic Castle. Level: 19
RIP Penny the Tranquill, level 15-25

Sherlock the Servine, Poncho the Simipour, Rocky the Boldore, Lilli the Petilil
Name: Sandy. Species: Scraggy. Nature: Bold. Ability: Moxie. Location: Route 4. Level: 16

Cheren, Sherlock, Poncho, Rocky, Lilli, Sandy

Warren, Angus

Carlotta, Owain, Loyal, Paden, Roland, Thamina, Sable

Bianca, Tiberius, Wilhelmina, Sgain​

{Reshin 24th, 20.00}
{Desert Resort}

“Sorry, kids, but visiting hours are over,” a nurse said as she stepped into Bianca’s room. “We’re just keeping her for observation, so you can come pick her up in the morning.”

“Wait, I gotta stay here alone?” Bianca said anxiously, hands fisting in her sheets as she sat bolt upright.

“It’ll be okay, B,” Warren said gently, putting a hand on her shoulder. “They gotta keep an eye on you, case you bumped your head, but ain’t nobody but nurses gettin’ in and outta your room ‘til we pick you up in the mornin’, okay?”

“On that note, if anybody asks after her, claiming to be her parents, please don’t tell them she’s here,” Cheren asked the nurse. “She absolutely does not want her parents finding or contacting her.”

“I’ll make a note, hon,” the nurse promised, picking up Bianca’s clipboard, “but I’m afraid you’ve all gotta go now. We’ll give you a little something to help you sleep,” she promised Bianca, “so they’ll be back in no time at all, I promise.”

“We’ll be back first thing in the morning,” Carlotta promised, hugging Bianca fiercely before stepping back to let Warren and Cheren each have a hug. “Soon as they discharge you, we’ll be here, got it?"

“Got it,” Bianca sniffed, lying back in bed and wiping her eyes after Cheren let her go. “I’ll… see y’all in the mornin’, then.”

“Eleven o’clock, on the dot!” Cheren promised as the nurse chivvied them all out of the room. “It is eleven, right?”

“Discharge’ll take a while longer, but that’s when visiting hours open, yes,” the nurse promised. “Now, I have to tell you that I can’t guarantee she’ll be discharged, but so far it just looks like a little twist in the ankle, a lot of bumps and a bad fright. Head on down to the hostel and don’t you worry, okay?”

“Sure,” Carlotta mumbled as they walked out of the medical centre attached to the ranger station. Bianca hadn’t been deemed to be suffering from any injuries serious enough to warrant a transfer to a major hospital, but given the chance she’d hit her head, the on-call doctor had ordered her kept for observation. “Don’t worry ‘bout Bianca bein’ there on her own. Gonna s