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MATURE: Broken Things

Normal 1.1
The Vulture Queen
Joined
Apr 12, 2014
Messages
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Reaction score
209
This is a story about not being okay. There will be attempts to recreate the language of downward spirals, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, , anxiety, and possibly other things. I will do my best to provide chapter warnings for chapters dealing explicitly with suicidal ideation. If there are other notices you would like me to add, feel free to ask.

Note on Representation
This story deals with analogues to real world groups, albeit through an alternate universe lens. I have personal experience with some, but definitely not all of the things this story deals with. I have tried to read enough to not make big mistakes in my knowledge gaps, but I'll probably screw up. Feel absolutely free to point out any portrayals that don't sit well or quite work. As a minor disclaimer, not all POV characters are terribly knowledgeable about things. There are some "mistakes" made that I know full well are mistakes. And also the usual "no character could possibly encompass all aspects of an identity" thing.



Mission One: Normal

"Times of transition are strenuous, but I love them. They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want."
-Kristin Armstrong


Normal 1.1: Silver and Lead
Rachel

The room is cold and clean and empty.

You drum your fingers on the table and hear the sounds of metal being struck and all the little echoes bouncing off of the glass and the walls. It fills the room but hurts your hand; you stop and the room is empty again. You think about going back to swinging your legs and sometimes kicking the side of the chair on accident but that hurt, too.

It has been a long time since the police officers left you in here. You don’t know how long. You’re pretty good at reading clocks now, even the old ones with the moving sticks, but there isn’t one in this room.

This is maybe the longest time out you’ve ever been given.

You’re cold. You’re cold and you want to cry. You’re cold and you want to cry and you want Dad to come and hold you but he can’t because Dad’s

The door opens with the sound of metal scraping across metal.

Two police officer men walk in. Their footsteps echo on the floor and fill the room with a power that none of your sounds ever matched. They sit down across from you and the door swings shut.

One leans forward and he clears his throat. Then he presses a finger against the part of the shirt right over his heart like he’s pressing a doorbell. “This is Sergeant Rick Johnson of the Virbank City Police Department. The time is 14:29 on May 11th, 1999. Can you state your name for the record, ma’am?”

You stare at him until he clears his throat again and you realize the last part wasn’t directed at the air or his pocket, but at you.

“My name is Rachel Eliza Bell.”

You speak as clearly as you can, but your voice doesn’t come close to filling the room.

“And what’s your date of birth?”

“Um…”

“What’s your birthday?” He clarifies.

“April 16th.”

“And how old are you now?”

“Seven.”

The other officer pulls out a notepad and a pen and starts writing on it. Did you say something wrong?

“Miss Bell, do you have any idea why you’re here today?”

Dad.

You try to put words together but the officer gets bored first and speaks up.

“The department has been looking into a murder. Husband of a police officer found dead in the woods outside of town, anti-police graffiti on the trees around the area. The deceased was Marcus Bell.”

He looks you dead in the eyes for a few seconds. Was… was that a question?

“Yes,” you say.

“What was your relationship to the deceased?”

“I’m sorry—”

“How did you know Marcus Bell?”

“He’s my father.”

Everyone else keeps using past words. Was. Were. It’s… he’s still your father. Even if

“Right. Miss Bell, do you know what ‘death’ is?”

“Yes.”

Your herdier (Fluffy) was playing in the street and got hit by a car when you were six and a half. You know what death is.

The man keeps going, barely letting your tinny echoes ring out before he smothers them.

“We still haven’t found a suspect in the case. Now, your teacher says that you have an… interesting theory on the matter.” You don’t like his eyes. At all. They’re the eyes your mom has when you spill things or interrupt her while she’s on the phone. “Well, we’re here now. And we’d certainly appreciate it if you knew who did it.”

The other police officer has put the notebook down. He’s also showing you mean eyes, but… less. More like Dad’s mean eyes than Mom’s.

“Mom did it,” you whisper. It’s so quiet that there isn’t an echo at all.

“Can you speak up, miss?”

“My mom did it.”

“Your mother is Evelyn Bell, correct?”

You swallow down nothing and try not to cry. Your mom hates it when you cry and it might be a police thing.

“Your mother is—”

“Yes.”

It’s a quiet yes, but he doesn’t make you speak up again.

“She is currently an eleven-year veteran of the Virbank Police Department, correct?”

“I… I don’t know how long she’s been your friend.”

Officer Johnson sighs, rolls his eyes, and leans back into his chair.

“And why do you think Mrs. Bell killed her husband?”

You squirm in your seat. You just know. The feeling in the back of your head that tells you who took your pencil, or that Ms. Bethany thought you were annoying, or that Officer Johnson doesn’t believe you, or that the other police officer does but doesn’t care.

“Well, speak up.”

“A feeling,” you say. “In my head.”

Officer Johnson smiles. It’s very… wrong with the subject and the feelings.

“Rachel, I can’t imagine what you must be going through right now. But your mommy loved your daddy very much, and she has an alibi. Unless you have some real proof…”

He trails off. Gives you a chance to prove it to him. Which you can’t.

Even if you know that you’re right.

*​

It’s always fascinating watching the espeon eat, even after seventeen years. He nudges a treat into place with the tip of his claw, steps back, and lifts the treat just a little bit into the air. Then he pulls back his whispers and brings his mouth around it before swallowing it whole. No crumbs ever touch his fur.

With his food eaten, Espy levitates the crumbs off the desk and into the wastebasket. Then he stretches out, walks in a circle, and gracefully sits down with his tail outstretched and a paw on your hand.

{You’re tired.} he says.

“I could use a nap.”

{Mind tired.}

You pull up your schedule instead of giving him an answer.

New journey group initiation today. You should stop by that, scan for potential problems before they blow up in your face.

The governor’s having a fundraiser tonight and you’ll be there. He’s a nice man. Genuinely likes you. Has a tendency to talk a little too much when he’s lonely and just a little bit tipsy and thinks he can trust someone. And given the way that things seem to be going at home and in the polls, well, he’s very lonely and probably drinking a little more than he should. And it’s your job to be likeable and trustworthy. When the public thinks of your company, they should think of their beloved sports star and hero. When the investors, reporters and politicians do, they should think of the pretty blond girl who either kind of flirted with them in just the way they liked or who gave them the kind of compliments they needed. Put a pretty face on your operation so no one ever wants to peel off the surface and look beneath.

Between the two meetings? Email. Hours of email. And maybe a quick nap, if you’re lucky.

*​

It’s an hour into orientation. Sometimes you’ll stay to watch the full thing, make sure that you know what’s being taught and how. Saves you time when the wrong person leaks the wrong thing (that they remembered wrong) and you have to figure out what really happened before you can tell the press what pretty much happened.

First few hours are nothing important, anyway. Here’s a little about Alola and the island challenge. What are tents and why should you use one? Like your food? Try not to get it stolen. Budgeting could maybe be helpful. This predator lives in these places and here is how you avoid it. The basics of life on the trail, with or without VStar.

The sensitive stuff—payment methods and tables, how to stay within the letter of capture limit laws, corporate facilities and affiliates, mortality rates, advancement paths, mission assignments, legal duties to the company—that all gets crammed in at the end.

Room’s emptier than usual. Only eight initiates, most mid- to upper-teens. It’s to be expected. October is a garbage month for starting a journey since it’s in the middle of a semester and right at the start of the rainy season. Most of your new trainers come to the April, May, and June sessions. The people who come in October are the really over-eager ten-year-olds who can’t wait to get on the trail or teenagers who can’t stay in their home a second longer.

Group isn’t bored yet. Doesn’t pay you too much mind when you sit down in a corner chair. Half of them look at you for a moment before glancing back to the presentation. One girl’s eyes linger for a little until she makes eye contact and immediately turns away.

Okay. Time to start scanning.

A lot of telepaths just read minds like a book. Or as a monitor with code shifting faster than you could ever hope to read, as a former roommate put it. Your talent doesn’t work that way. It’s more akin to sonar. Send out a wave, wait to see what image you get back. Usually it just dredges up a secret or two: the thing that there’s the most resistance to you knowing. If you really focus you can get a basic overview of their personality.

Theoretically you could have your scan bring everything back, but it’d probably take you a week to process and land you in a hospital bed for a few months. If you weren’t lucky it would land you in a coffin.

You click your tongue on the roof of your mouth (not necessary, but it helps you focus) and look at the first kid. And he is very much a kid. Ten, probably. Biggest secret is that his parents don’t want him to do this. Definitely an overeager child whose family won’t or can’t pay for the journey. No security risk, as long as someone sits him down and explains what the non-disclosure agreements mean.

Second ping. Another boy, late teens this time. Got a girl pregnant and ran away to avoid the fallout. Probably doesn’t have the money to pay for a journey and parental assistance is very unlikely. Moderate security risk. He shouldn’t be told anything really sensitive, but you’ll greenlight him.

Third kid. Girl, mid-teens… scion of one of the Big Six landowning families. Why is she even here? VStar gives structure, but it’s not the most efficient way to go on a journey. And the money can’t possibly matter to her unless she’s been exiled or she ran away.

Exile is unproblematic, although it’s the type of gossip you’d like to be aware of. If she did something bad enough that her family would bring hell down upon you for sheltering her, you would have heard what she did by this point. If she’s a runaway her family might give you endless PR and legal hell until you give their daughter back.

Supplemental scan doesn’t dig up much. Kid’s kind of flighty, kind of lonely. Cautious and kind at her core. Very recent trauma with a trail of shame before and ahead of it. And maybe something buried. Supports either theory, but her temperament makes you think she’s not a runaway. Minds like hers are allergic to rebellion.

Fourth is an addict to harder stuff than anything you’ve ever dared experiment with. Only mid-teens, too. What a waste of a life. Moderate security risk.

Fifth is female, probably native. Kleptomaniac. Old enough to have been involved in Skull back in its heyday. Very high security risk. Shouldn’t let her download the app or sit through the last hour of the presentation.

Sixth. Young girl. Probably ten, maybe eleven. And she’s… oh. Abuse. Probably getting away as soon as possible. Smart kid. You’ll look the parents up so you have blackmail at the ready if they try and take their kid back. Low security risk.

Seventh is… familiar? You try to never forget a face but it still just eludes you. By the second minute of staring he’s (she’s?) definitely noticed and you avert your gaze. Secret dredging time then. See what you missed…

Yup. You recognized her. Jabari’s little sister. And for some reason she really, really doesn’t want you to know that. Definitely need to look into that situation. Could be a high risk or a very low one. Probably shouldn’t do a further scan. Jabari might take it the wrong way.

The eighth is in her mid-teens? Early teens? Very short and still rather thin, but her features make her look a little older. Deep set eyes, angular face. Native girl, if you had to guess. Jade green hair. If it’s natural, it’s rare but not unheard of. If it’s dyed, then you need to ask her where she got it done. Kind of weird colorful dress. Probably wool Might be handmade. Big thing? She’s blind. Clouded eyes, white cane, whole deal. Can she really do this? You aren’t going to send a kid out into the woods knowing that she’ll get killed by the first predator she can’t see coming.

Still, in case you don’t rule her out, a secret scan can’t hurt.

A moment later alarm bells of panic and despair and random memories and pain rock your mind. The thoughts came back to you after the scan but it’s like they were cut up in a blender, sharpened into daggers and then launched straight back into your brain. An attack? How? She’s…

Your eyes open wider as it dawns on you. She’s psychic. Probably another telepath. Strong. And not trained in any style you’re familiar with. All that? And native? And blind? This definitely shouldn’t be the first you’ve heard of her. You like to think that you’ve met every other psychic in the commonwealth and not a one has ever brought her up.

You got her attention. She’s slowly rotating her head to survey the room with either sound or some remaining vision, her foot tapping nervously the whole time.

How do you salvage this? It’s literally never happened before, and that’s not something you can say very often these days. Thought process isn’t helped by the thrum of pain in your head, alternating sharp and dull so you never quite get used to it. You breathe deeply and send her a special ping, one with a message attached.

{Sorry. I’m Rachel. Work for VStar. Talk after this?}

Short, simple concepts. They translate best. Especially if she mostly thinks in Alolan. And it’s all you’re really capable of now after the beating you just took.

There’s not an immediate response, but you can feel her mind through the partial connection. It’s a terrible risk, leaving the connection open. If she’s a stronger telepath than you are, and you just gave her an access point to your mind… well, who knows what she could do with that. You’ve seen enough telepaths in your life that you don’t even want to imagine it.

{…hi?} You let out a sigh of relief. She’s not hostile. Not yet. {Are you human?}

You smile in spite of yourself. She might be strong, but she’s either bluffing or she has absolutely no idea what she’s doing. You could probably take her in a fight in your own mind while injured, if you had to. And it’s kind of cute; it’s fun watching the babies learn.

{Yes. I’m Rachel. Work for VStar. Talk after orientation?}

{Okay,} she shoots back almost immediately. A second passes as you ready your response. {Am I in trouble?}

{No. Want to talk.}

{Okay.}

She leans forward in her seat and sets her arms down on the table and sends no further messages. You should probably leave her now. Let her pay attention to the boring travel stuff. She, of all people, is going to need it.

*​

Your alarm goes off at 3:00 P.M. and you swear at the ceiling before awkwardly rolling over in your pop-up hammock and turning it off. It had been a ninety-minute nap (really forty-five since you replied to some emails while lying still with the lights off). And you still feel miserable. How does that work?

Well… part of that’s the mental bruising. A cold and empty memory that keeps resurfacing, feelings of panic when looking at random objects, a slight fog over everything, and random sights and sounds getting turned into metal walls and tinny echoes. Plus you have an absolutely brutal headache. You make a point of taking an aspirin, knowing that it won’t really help but hoping the placebo effect does enough to make you comfortable. Which might negate the placebo effect. Is there a placebo effect where you know that the placebo effect does make people feel better, but that it doesn’t actually do anything physically, but the thought that this might make you feel better even though it doesn’t work makes you improve anyway because you half-expect it to? A placebo placebo effect.

This definitely isn’t making your headache any better.

First things first. You text the instructor to make sure that the possible Skull defector gets kicked out before the mortality tables come up. VStar’s mortality rates are lower than the general journey-goer rates, but dead kids are dead kids and it never feels like there’s anything to say, much less anything good.

Second: a phone call. Two rings. Voicemail. Saw it but can’t or won’t answer. Understandable, since his job involves herding dragons. The room is cold and clean and empty. Focus. Deep breaths. The third ceiling tile diagonal from the corner does not want to kill you. Voicemail. You’re in your office, the year is 2019, and you are leaving a voicemail. The metal—not metal—walls have light blue wallpaper. “Hey, Jabari. This is Rachel. Call me back when you get a chance. It’s about your sister.”

Third: daughter of Ernest Gage, the spider silk magnate. That one you might have to deal with in person, or at least at the fundraiser tonight. He and his wife will probably be there. It would be rude to get the information directly on such a sensitive subject, but there will be other attendees who love nothing more than swapping secrets. The room is cold and clean

Fourth: You pull up the new trainer’s files. Abused girl is Aiko Katou. Mother is a barber, dad is a plumber. Good news is that they can’t really go after the company—the men will never believe you—Bad news is that if the family’s got nothing, they’ve got nothing to lose. Blackmail won’t do much. It might only succeed in letting them know where their daughter went. Still might try and get your hands on Why does the ceiling have teeth? By kings, this headache sucks.

Sixth: Blind girl is Cuicatl Ichtaca. From Anahuac. Fifteen years old. Here on a challenge visa. Explains how you’ve never heard of her. Didn’t report any pokémon. You’ll need to start her off slow or put her with some strong teammates for her protection, but if she’s psychic then she might be worth keeping around. If your interview checks out. Moles can be annoying; a telepathic mole could be a catastrophe of the highest order. The room is cold and. Stop. Breathe. You can’t find anything online about her and the commonwealth’s immigration services can be annoyingly leak-proof on minors, so that’s the end of that investigation. For now.

Seventh—something brushes against your leg. You look down to see Espy looking up at you, holding his leash in his mouth.

Seventh: Go outside. Take your fox on a walk. Stop thinking about work for a minute. Make new memories. Be calm. Outside is warm and dirty and open.

*​

You pull two water bottles and two packets from the refrigerator tucked under your desk and place them on the table. “Water, if you’re thirsty. I know those meetings last a while. And I put some gummies there, too. Good to eat every two hours or so. Good for your brain.”

Her hand freezes in midair right before taking the water. It’s only for a moment, and she proceeds on like nothing had happened.

“Hey, it’s fine. You can’t be responsible for things you didn’t know to do.”

She doesn’t answer that. Natural shyness? Nervousness? Poor English? You never realize how much your scans are a crutch until you find yourself without them.

“Who are you? Besides your name,” she asks.

You smile. Uselessly. Doesn’t matter either way.

“Right. I’m Rachel. I’m one of the Vice Presidents for VStar. I handle new recruits, among other things.”

“…and I’m not in trouble?”

“No. No, not at all. Just don’t get many psychics passing through. I try to meet with them individually.”

“I meant for the, um. Did I hurt you?”

Yes. Yes, you did.

“Not very much,” you say, bringing a smile into your voice. “Napped, took a walk, cleared my head. It’s fine now.” And it mostly is. Espy could help a little once he had some sunlight to power him up.

Her head dips a little. Shame, probably. “Okay. I’m sorry.”

“No, no. Don’t worry about it. I’m the one who,” time to take a drink of water and figure out how to finish that sentence without coming off wrong, “reached out to your mind first. Should have asked. Standard for new psychics.” You set the bottle down. Nailed it.

“Oh.”

Is there a polite way to ask her about her English skills? Because you don’t actually have a Nahuatl speaker in the building. That you know of. Might be a good idea to check.

“You don’t have much training with your powers, do you?”

She gently shakes her head. “No. My mom’s reuniclus taught me a little. I figured some of the rest out. Never met a psychic but my brother.”

“You grew up around pokémon, then?”

Her lips curl into a smile and she makes (near) eye contact as a hundred tiny things change in her expression. She goes from sullen and afraid to absolutely adorable in the blink of an eye.

“Yes. My mom’s team lived near the house. I took care of them. She had a reuniclus, a heatmor, a swanna, a ferrothorn, a conkeldurr,” she really is infectiously cute when she’s excited, with her kind of high pitched voice and its rapid pace, “and a hydreigon.”

Your heart skips a beat. Her face is the exact same but all of the cuteness gone.

“A hydreigon?”

“Yes! Her names are Alice, Dorothy, and Ilsa. Alice was first and is in the center so that’s her one name. But she prefers her three names.”

A wild hydreigon flew within thirty miles of the academy once and they shut down classes for a week. Parents accused them of underreacting.

“Uh huh. And, um, you took care of her? Them?”

“She likes ‘ellas.’ She doesn’t know that there’s more than one language and they have different words,” she says. As if this is just a normal thing.

“I see.”

You are very, very glad that she can’t see the color of your face right now. You know full well that your alakazam is a telepathic monster that can fry a man’s mind in seconds, but you will never, ever be comfortable with dragons. And why should you? You’ve seen one absolutely shred a tank without breaking a sweat. Do dragons sweat? You have absolutely no desire to look that up.

Focus. You need to change the subject a little. Useful information in those statements? She has a brother, but he’s presumably not here. If Cuicatl cared for her mom’s hydreigon, her mom also can’t be in the picture anymore. Or she was horribly irresponsible. Either way? Dangerous topic. She speaks Spanish and seems to have a decent grasp on English. Cuicatl said she doesn’t have any pokémon on the form. How did that happen? Did it happen? She wouldn’t be the first kid to tell a lie on their paperwork. Okay. Alice. Ellas. How did she find out that Alice liked ellas?

“Can you speak to pokémon?”

“Sometimes. Not with Alice. In her mind, at least. But we understand each other.”

“I see. What all can you do with your mind? I can tell secrets and foresee pain.”

“…secrets?”

She runs a shade paler and you can hear her foot tap against the side of the chair. Nervous tic that you share.

“Not yours. Your shielding is very good. Not trained, but effective.”

“Oh. Thank you. Renfield—reuniclus taught me that.”

That wasn’t an answer. But it does explain why it felt so much like the headaches Espy can give you when she’s really, really angry.

“Talking to pokémon is usually telepathy, then. Projecting and reading thoughts. Empathy is sensing emotions. There’s usually some overlap, but not always.”

She frowns. “I think I just have telepathy. Do people usually only have one thing?”

You shake your head. Um. Time to fix that. “Sometimes. You don’t see things before they happen? See things you shouldn’t? Move things with your mind?”

“I don’t see anything.”

Poor wording. Anne would’ve torn you a new one if she’d heard. But Cuicatl doesn’t look too offended. Even smiling, just a little. But not nearly as brightly as before.

“But you can’t do any of those things?”

“Right.”

You give her a chance to follow up. She doesn’t. Just shifts in her seat and idly taps a foot on the floor, soft enough that she probably doesn’t even know she’s doing it. Whatever rapport you built talking about her pokémon, it’s gone now. Time for another subject change.

“What brings you to Alola, then?”

“I wanted, um, to go on a journey? And Unova didn’t want to take me. I don’t have much money so a girl in the Pokémon Center said I should come here.”

There’s a shred of truth in there, but she’s an awful liar. Don’t even need your telepathy to see through that. New topic options: PsiTest scoring seems a little too close to the last question and she doesn’t want to talk about why she’s here so… old pokémon.”

“Did you bring any of your mom’s team with you?”

She freezes up. Full deerling in headlights. Shit shit shit shit abort abort abort.

“Hey its—”

“No, I didn’t.” Speech is off. Breathing is erratic. Approach and escalate? Keep quiet and seem callous? Response depends on the type of breakdown you’re seeing.

…the kid has to be alone here. Half an ocean from home, at least one parent out of the picture, apart from her pokémon for maybe the first time…

She shouldn’t have to have panic attacks alone.

You get up from your seat and move around the desk to kneel beside her. Then you put a hand on her shoulder and press down a little bit. “It’s alright,” you whisper, “we can get you new friends and a new pokémon.”

The waterworks open in full. Before you can decide if you should hug or not, Espy jumps into her lap. Kid didn’t mention owning a dog, fox, or cat, but she’s still a gentle petter. Holds out her hand for a second for Espy to sniff. Then gently pets the ears and runs her hand back in slow, light strokes.

You take the moment to think as Cuicatl’s breaths get steadier. You remove your hand from her shoulder to avoid smothering her. Homesickness? Trauma? Other mental illness? Kid needs emotional support in any case. Ideally something intelligent enough for her to talk to, social enough to cuddle, and fluffy enough to pet. Difficulty of care and bonding shouldn’t be problems difficulty of bonding if she kept herself and a hydreigon alive. Maybe something a little difficult to distract her. Eevee would work. Not big enough to be a good guide, though, even when fully evolved.



There is a pokémon that fits all of those criteria, but she’s trouble. She’d either be a silver bullet for Cuicatl’s problems or a lead bullet straight to her heart.

You put your hand back on Cuicatl’s shoulder and she flinches from the touch.
 
Last edited:
Normal 1.2
The Vulture Queen
Joined
Apr 12, 2014
Messages
858
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209
Normal 1.2: Firemane
Pixie

They’re talking about you again.

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

But you don’t care. You don’t really care about anything anymore, except maybe for Avalanche. You wonder if she’s thought of you in the last few… days? Weeks? Months? Between the capsule and the trailer you haven’t had many chances to be outside and count the changing skies and you aren’t sure how often the humans leave and make it dark.

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

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

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

There’s a new human talking with the faux-ice humans. Young and female. Like you. You catch a glimpse of her mane when she walks in. Thick, curly and went a little past her shoulder-blades. Light-yellowish, like the fire-tails in the stories Avalanche told you. It has leaves in it, some dirt. Even from a distance it smells unclean, although humans seemed to have a higher tolerance for that. It would be pretty if cared for and you want to run your paws and tongue through it to clean it up like you would for your own coat. Like Avalanche did for you.

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

New human approaches you again, with the other humans behind her. She walks up to your table, looking away like this isn’t premeditated, and stops at the edge. You cast him the sort of wary, frigid look that only an ice-type can manage in response.

“Hey,” she says. “Can I pet you?”

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

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

*​

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

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

“You want to go outside?”

The words are mostly unfamiliar, but you grasp the intent. Yes, you decide, sunlight heat and flower smell would be nice. Rising on your paws is painful as you feel the muscles and skin ripple around your scars and bruises, but nothing tears. One of the humans picks you up gently and cradles you in his arms, like Avalanche would in her jaws when you were a kit. You are unsure how you misbehaved this time. Was it a not genuine offer? A trick?

They set you down in the grass outside. No. Not a trick. Just a different way of communicating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You tilt your head. “Play?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

*​

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not all at once,” Firemane says. You can guess the meaning, and it’s unnecessary. You couldn’t eat this much if you wanted to.

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

Firemane leaves you a while later with a thorough head scratching.

*​

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

And with every day you sit on a table doing nothing, watching the humans care for sicker creatures until they leave and their sunlight stops you start to feel a little bit more like you did before you were healed.

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

You don’t care.

*​

You wake up to the sound of your kennel being unlocked. Odd. You’re usually awake by walk time. Without opening your eyes you stretch out and fluff up your six-and-a-half tails. When you look up you reflexively freeze the air around you. The woman staring at you is the matriarch of the facility, the one that all of the other humans submit to. She almost never comes down here. Why is she here? Why is she here for you?

Matriarch steps back and waves her paw. “Come on, Pixie. We have things to discuss.”

You gracefully leap from the kennel to the ground and trail after her as she walks. She opens the door to the visiting room and you follow, leaping onto the table as she sits down.

You immediately puff your fur up and hiss. There’s another fox here. A short-furred, hideous pink fox with one good tail and a pathetic growth of a second. Eevee. You don’t know what gimmick this one has, but they’re all just eevee to you.

“Pixie, play nice,” Matriarch scolds. Even though that disgraceful asshole is on your table.

You generously let it go with a single scathing huff and look back at Matriarch.

“Good, now that you’re paying attention, let me be brief. I’m giving you your sixth and final second chance with a trainer. Are we clear?”

You blink. She’s threatening you. Can you growl at her? Or should you submit? You don’t want to submit in front of the imposter fox. Or to someone threatening you.

“I’ll take that as a no. What I’m saying is, your shit stops now. No more peeing on pillows, hiding pokéballs in the woods, freezing the ground your trainer is about to step on, letting all hell break loose when you see another eevee, or trying to hurt teammates. Again, are we clear?”

That is a very unfair assessment. You only did the first three things because your trainer was already going to abandon you and your window for revenge was very time limited. And every eevee deserves it, with their tangled manes and their insufferable pleading eyes and their “look at me, I can cosplay as a guardian of the peaks or a firetails or a fish or anything I want” nonsense like that makes them better than you. And you obviously weren’t trying to hurt that rabbit. You were trying to kill it.

Matriarch sighs and cradles her head in her forepaws. “Pixie. I like this one. I think you can help her and she can help you. She’s probably the best trainer you’re going to get. If you’re just incompatible, fine. I’ll sell you off to a zoo on the mainland. But if you hurt her I will personally haul you back to Mt. Lanakila and see how long it takes until the vanilluxe get you.” With that she stands up and walks towards the exit, her eevee trailing behind her. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. You had best prepare yourself to make a good impression.”

Then she shuts the door and leaves you alone. The gall she has. You never even did anything to her and she’s acting like you already killed her kit. Fine. If this goes downhill, she’s given you no incentive to show restraint. She wants a fight, you’ll give her one.

When Matriarch reenters her foreleg is gently wrapped around the other human’s and Matriarch is slowly walking towards the table with her. Other human has a strange white stick. A weapon? It wouldn’t be very effective against you. Foolish to even try. Matriarch walks the smaller human to a seat and gently helps her down before shooting you a wicked glare and turning to leave. Then you’re alone with your last chance trainer.

She’s very small. Even by adolescent human standards. Her whole frame is delicate. Skin is… a little too in the middle. Humans are least hideous when they are very pale or very dark. She’s on the darker end, but not quite far enough to be visually pleasant. Her mane is green, which is a strange and somewhat disturbing color, but it is very shiny and well cared for. Her falsefur is white, which is the best color. Then her eyes… they’re only half moving. And something is off in them. Shimmers over the surface like a barely frozen pond.

The care that Matriarch took, the eye shimmers: she’s blind. What a cruel joke. Sticking you with a tiny, frail human who cannot even appreciate your majesty.

“Hello, Pixie,” she says. It’s soft and kind of high pitched and it flows well. Like the sound that wind makes when it hits the little metal sticks humans hang in front of windows. Except more human and voice-y. Still not enough to make you like her. She extends a paw out for you to smell or rub or whatever but you don’t stand up to go to it and she eventually sticks it down flat on the table. “My name is Cuicatl Ichtaca. I’m from Anachuac. I hope you will be friends with me.”

Nope. You will not give Matriarch the satisfaction. Human does not get the obvious hint and keeps talking.

“I’ve never met an ice-type before. My home town was very warm. There were mountains nearby with snow on top, but they were very dangerous so my dad never let me go. One of my friends could fly up but never did because ellas didn’t like the cold.”

She keeps bad friends. And if she is too weak to climb mountains you do not want to associate with her.

“I read about vulpix once. It was a long time ago so I forget some things. You’re nocturnal, right?”

Obviously. What masochistic creature would ever want to go outside in the Alolan sunlight?

“If you are, then you probably won’t want to be outside in the day when I go places. I am okay with that. I can get around well enough with my cane. We can play and train around dusk and dawn. But I usually try to sleep at night, so not then.”

It is a better offer than most trainers make. But no. Not for the blind kit of an eevee trainer.

“I don’t know what your other trainers taught you. But I have ideas for battle. You could be a really good arena controller and zoner. Using hail and frozen patches to make it harder to get to you, and then hit them with from far away. Or just put them to sleep or trap them and then set up. You’re probably fast enough to be a sweeper. Or will be fast enough when you evolve.”

You are fast enough now to ‘sweep’ anything, whatever that means.

“Do you know roar?” she asks.

You do, just to show her how good your roaring is and maybe make her run away. She smiles, which is not the proper reaction. The proper reaction is terror and reverence. Worse, she giggles.

“Sorry. I’m not laughing at you. You’re just really cute.”

You bark to scold her. It’s very annoying that she can’t just understand your glares and know when to shut up and fall in line. And the bark does silence her and she stops baring her teeth for just a second. Good.

“Oh. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.” You fluff up your tails. Her? Hurt you? Impossible. The most she could do is annoy you. “I think that I went at this wrong. Can we start over?”

…what?

“Hello, Pixie. My name is Cuicatl Ichtaca. I want you to be my friend. If you don’t want to, that’s fine. You can stay here. But if there’s anything I can help you with…”

You harrumph. What could she possibly help you with?

“I don’t know, Pixie. I was hoping you could tell me.” What? “I want friends. And money. And I thought you could help. But if there’s nothing I can do for you, then you should stay here. Maybe someone else will be able to help you later.”

You growl softly and menacingly and the human’s half-smile is just her baring her teeth because she is very afraid of your wrath. You aren’t actually sure what the zoo Matriarch threatened you with is beyond the name being utterly ridiculous, but it was still clearly a threat. So now this human is also threatening you.

“Oh. A zoo is a place where you’d have a big outdoor cage and humans would come to look at you.”

Your tails flex out reflexively in shock. Err, in a temporary blip in your impeccable composure. You bark-hiss, “you understand me?”

“Yes, but it’s much easier if you vocalize somehow.” As you ponder that, she continues, “Why did she threaten to send you to one?”

You flick a tail down and growl, “No reason at all. I am a very good fox. She is a very bad human with a worse fox.”

She bares a little more of her teeth at the injustice. “The horror.”

“Exactly!” This one may be much smarter than the average human.

“I can take you if you want. And then either keep you, give you to another trainer, or release you to the wild. Whatever you want. Or I can leave you to the zoo.”

You flick a tail down on the table. This was not a set of options you were expecting. You weren’t really expecting options at all.

“What do you want, Pixie? What kinds of things make you happy?”

“Cold. Prey. Grooming. Toys. Proper respect.”

“Hmm. The wild would probably have cold and prey. No one else would groom you and there wouldn’t be toys. Don’t know about respect. The zoo would have grooming and toys. Maybe cold. No prey, definitely not respect. I could give you grooming and toys. I’d try to give you respect and you can tell me if I’m not. No cold, though, sorry. Other trainers couldn’t talk to you but if you don’t like me they could give you the toys and grooming.”

Many words. Good breakdown of options. You were going to just pick the one that sounded best, and probably will, but she is good at thinking. Rare in her species.

“What do you mean by respect, anyway?”

This is not an easy concept to express. It’s just respect. Every vulpix understands it. You aren’t even sure how much she understands of your language, but you try to express it.

“I am prettier and stronger and smarter than everyone else and they should recognize it and submit to me.”

“I’m sure you’re very pretty, strong, and smart,” she correctly says. “I would try to help you. Give you food and love and try to make you even stronger. But I can’t promise I’ll do everything you say. You would have to help me sometimes. And sometimes that help would be taking ‘no’ for an answer.”

“I do not need help,” you say.

“Then you’re best off alone.”

Alone.

A shiver wracks your body.

You are not afraid of alone.

The human sighs. “Do you want love?”

You bark, yes, of course, you deserve love.

“Love is help,” she responds. “Do you want help?”

You stare into her awful, foggy eyes. There’s brown somewhere in them. The dullest, worst color.

“Do you want me to hold you?”

Your legs rise up and move towards her and you hate your limbs for it. She extends her forelegs, slowly at first, and then she flips you over and moves you towards her chest all at once. It’s not unpleasant, just unexpected. You yip in surprise and she whispers an apology. Then you’re cradled in her forelegs, pressed against her body. She’s warm. Not too warm, though. And it’s nice to feel a heartbeat.

She is a trickster with clever words and whatever she says, someday, maybe even today, she will hate you and leave you like Firemane and all the others.

But for now Skysong is yours.
 
Normal 1.3
The Vulture Queen
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Normal 1.3: Almost Normal
Genesis

You glance at the cheap cell phone that VStar gave you. It’s got their app, texting, calls, a clock, notepad, and calculator… most of what you need. No space for anything else.

Now you just need the clock. 9:58. Your meeting was scheduled for 10:00 A.M. and you don’t want to walk in that door early or late. Former makes you look like you’ve got nowhere else to be (which is true), latter makes it look like you don’t care. Besides, 10:00 means 10:00.

9:59. The phone’s black screen sort of works as a mirror, and your face looks fine for what you had to work with. There’s a wall of glass separating the hall from a dark, empty conference room nearby. You look in that and find some wrinkles in your blouse that need smoothed out. Pokémon Center didn’t have an iron and, honestly, you probably would’ve burned yourself on it. There’s nothing you can do to keep things smooth for long because at the end of the day everything just gets shoved back into your bag.

10:00. You take a deep breath, release it slowly, slip the phone into your purse, and enter.

The room is nice enough. A whiteboard with markers, a few odd but comfortable looking seats (including a beanbag chair), a table in the middle. There’s a phone charging station in the corner.

Only one seat is occupied. Even though you were supposed to meet two people… Anyway. She’s the blind girl from orientation. Short, sat two rows over, maybe-homemade dress, didn’t really have makeup on, had some killer cheekbones for her age. What are you supposed to do here? Shake her hand? Shake her body? Make eye contact? Would it even

“Hi,” she says.

“Hi,” you respond.

Smooth as ever, Gen. You plop down in the beanbag before things can get more awkward.

“My name is Cuicatl Ichtaca,” Cuicatl Ichtaca says.

“Genesis. Just Genesis.”

You shift in the beanbag and look at her. Something’s… off from how you remember her. Haircut. She got a haircut. Went from chest length to just below her chin.

“You got a haircut,” you sagely proffer.

“Yes. I loved my hair, but it wasn’t practical for this..”

It’s a shame. She had really pretty hair. A bit of curl but straight enough that it fell down in a lot of loose, shiny spirals. Green but not the bright, ugly, obviously dyed green. Almost natural. Maybe it was? You know that some people have that shade, but it’s like a one in a million sort of thing. Is that a common thing in wherever she’s from?

“Where are you from?” Crap that was probably not the right question. She’s going to think you’re some kind of a racist, which you’re not—

“Anahuac.”

“Oh. I know about it. A lot of your people come here. Not here specifically, I actually haven’t met many, but on the mainland. Um.” You stop before you can dig deeper.

She puffs up a little. Which is bad. She’s angry. But it’s also kind of cute.

“My mom was Unovan,” Cuicatl interjects.

Oh. Definitely here legally. That’s good.

“Then you’re a citizen?”.

“…no. Here on challenge visa.”

Maybe not legally. You’ll have to do the talking if any cops show up. Which they shouldn’t, because you aren’t going to do any crimes. Except for the crime she already did.

The door opens again and your other traveling partner enters. He lets the door slam shut behind him with a loud noise somewhere between a click and a clack.

“’sup,” he ‘sups. Then he plops down into one of the firmer chairs, letting his back sink in and his legs sprawl out.

You squirm in your seat. What was his name? He was a few rows over, pretty close to Cuicatl. But you didn’t remember her name either until she told you. Do you offer to share yours? That seems like a good idea. And he’s been quiet long enough that it’s awkward.

“I’m Genesis.”

“And my name is Cuicatl Ichtaca.”

He glances between you two before rolling his shoulders back and somehow sinking even deeper into his chair. “Kekoa. Nice to meet you, Jennifer and Kiwi.”

“It’s actually Cuicatl—”

“Yeah, I heard. Kiwi. Got it.”

Cuicatl scowls.

“That’s not even close.”

Kekoa sighs and gives her the look of an adult answering the same question from a toddler for the fiftieth time that night. “And why should I give a shit?”

“Because she’s your teammate and could be your friend,” you offer.

Your help just seems to make Cuicatl’s frown even deeper. “I don’t need your help against her. But thank you for the offer.”

“Him, thank you very much. I get that you’re blind but that’s no excuse to be a dumbass.”

A small, sadistic smile crawls onto Cuicatl’s face. “Sorry, Kekoa. You just have such a girly voice, you know?”

He doesn’t actually. It’s maybe just on the masculine side of androgynous. Normal enough for a guy your age. Ditto for his face. Still chubby but not unusually so. Maybe with longer hair and different clothes he could pass for a girl.

“Heh. Well played.”

There’s a high pitch growl and a yap followed by the sound of something shaking itself off. Then an absolutely stunningly adorable holy vulpix walks around Cuicatl’s chair with a tiny little frown on its cute face. Cuicatl’s anger seems to freeze, and then abruptly thaw into a feeling that you can’t quite place. Positive and warm but there are a thousand little variations on that and who knows which one it is.

“Pixie,” she calls. The ice pupper flicks its head between Kekoa and Cuicatl, before spitting a cool breeze in Kekoa’s direction and jumping into Cuicatl’s lap. She holds her hand out for the fox to rub its face against.

You’re jealous. Your starter is fine but he’s no vulpix.

“Where’d you get her?” Kekoa asks.

“Gift.”

“From whom?”

Cuicatl shrugs. “Why do you want to know?”

Okay, time to put a stop to this before another fight breaks out… whenever you figure out how to do that. Um.

“You guys want to get lunch?” you ask.

“Pokémon Center’s closed for another half hour. I definitely don’t have ‘eat out’ money right now,” Kekoa says.

“Same,” Cuicatl agrees.

Well at least they’re agreeing with each other. Probably also agreeing that you’re hopelessly out of touch.

You belatedly realize that you also don’t have ‘eat out’ money right now. Sure, the Pokémon Center has food for now but soon you’ll be on the trail out in the middle of nowhere. How will that work? That was probably covered in orientation but you were maybe kind of doodling at the time. You read somewhere that humans can take three days before they dehydrate, a month before they starve, so you might be fine if you just bring water bottles. Maybe trail mix. Is that why it’s called trail mix?

Well. You’ve got about a week to figure that out before you’d really need to know it.

No one else tries to revive the conversation. New friends. What do you talk about with new friends?

“Where are you from, Kekoa?”

“Alola,” he answers.

“So am, I mean, I live here. From Galar, I guess.”

He narrows his eyes and draws himself up a little in the seat. “Cool.”

You glance at Cuicatl. She’s off in her own world petting her best boy. White fur is probably getting all over her black tunic in the process. Oh gods she probably doesn’t even know since she can’t see it. She might not even know what color her clothing is, or even what colors are at all and

“Do you know what colors are?”

Cuicatl freezes up. “What?”

“Colors, like, the… um. Nevermind.”

She frowns and promptly looks away from you. “Kekoa, what are colors?” she says with a sense of urgency, almost panic, in her voice,.

He glances at you with his face kinda scrunched up in the middle (what feeling is that?) before he replies to her. “Like texture or flavor, but for sight.”

Huh. That’s a really good answer.

“What color is salty-rough, then?” Cuicatl asks.

“Orange,” he responds without missing a beat.

“Bitter-fluffy?” The vulpix perks up a little at the last word. Yes. Like her. She is fluffy. What a good fox.

“Magenta.”

Cuicatl nods. “Makes sense.”

It really doesn’t.

“Do you need help picking out matching clothes or…”

“Clothes?”

Cuicatl stares at you for several seconds. Well, not stares but she’s looking in your direction with her cloudy, deep-set, unfocused, wrong eyes. Shouldn’t she have sunglasses or something?

She laughs. It’s a tiny giggle at first but it grows into a high-pitched, flowing laugh before long. And then Kekoa joins in with his slightly deeper and more resonant chuckle. What? What did you do?

“Sorry, Pix,” Cuicatl says before gently pushing the vulpix off of her lap. Then she stands up, turns around and reaches down the back of her shirt before pulling out a homemade tag. “Braille description of the item and color. I try to keep good outfits bundled together, but most of the time I just wear… I guess you’d call them dresses. Sometimes shorts and t-shirts when I need to get dirty.”

Oh. The whole color thing had been a joke. At your expense.

“What do you do for fun?” Cuicatl asks as she sits down.

“Running and reading. Sometimes swimming. And I’m in, well, was in, my school’s band,” you answer.

Kekoa snorts. “You would be a band kid.” What’s that supposed to mean?

You stare at him, even if you don’t hold eye contact for long, and hope it’s close enough to a glare. He’s dressed way more casually than you, just wearing cargo shorts with some barely removed grass stains, sneakers a mile jog away from falling apart, and an alola shirt that’s lost half of its color. He doesn’t look at all intimidated by your stern expression, either. “Well, what do you like?”

He shrugs. “Video games, tv, sports. Normal stuff.”

“What games?” you ask.

He shrugs. “Racing, mostly. I like fighting games but my parents won’t let me play many.”

“Ooh. I play Mario Kart.” And you do play it for an hour a day before bed. You’ve gotten pretty good. But you know that it’s not really “cool” so oh crap that might have been a mistake.

Kekoa smiles. “What version?”

Not a mistake!

“Switch, now.”

He rolls his eyes. “Lucky. Still only have a Gamecube at my place.”

“I started on Double Dash, so I should still be able to kick your butt on that.”

“Deal.”

You don’t think he’s looking at you with respect, and he still might be making fun of you, but you think that went well enough. Good job. Unless it wasn’t a good job. In which case, bad job.

Kekoa looks back towards Cuicatl who you’ve totally been leaving out of this conversation. “Back at you: what are you into?”

Cuicatl doesn’t respond. Instead, she keeps scratching the side of her vulpix’s head. The pupper is lying on its side, back arced out and head pushing into its trainers hand as it gets pet. You can’t blame her for ignoring the question. That fox is definitely better than Kekoa.

“Earth to Kiwi?” Kekoa says.

That does get her attention. “Sorry. Don’t see body language.” She, um, she really doesn’t have to apologize for that. “Mostly school, homework, and chores. I took care of the family’s pokémon, cooked most nights, had some weaving to do… that took up a lot of time. Listened to pro battles. Tried to get my brother to read me Battler issues when the library got them. Watched a fair bit of TV, but I doubt we watched the same shows.”

Kekoa groans. “Telenovelas?”

She flashes her sly half-smile again and nods. “Yeah. Learned most of my Spanish from them… they’re, well I won’t actually defend them. He’d kill me for saying it, but my brother liked them more than I did. Used me for cover.”

You laugh. Wait were you supposed to laugh? Kekoa does too, a little, but maybe you went too long even if it was appropriate. Now you’ve not only insulted the blind girl but probably made her think you’re. Well, what would she think? It’s probably fine.

“So, favorite trainer?” Kekoa asks.

“Chirlov. Also Iris, but Chirlov came to Tenochtitlan once and I got my dad to take me so Chirlov wins.”

“Hmph. Didn’t take you for a dragon fangirl.”

Cuicatl tilts her head and then brushes the hair out of her face. Even though she shouldn’t need to. “And why is that?”

“Because your starter is an ice-type mammal.”

“Oh.” She kicks one leg into her other ankle. Looked kind of hard, too. “Yeah, that’s a good reason.”

Kekoa glances at you for a second. Is that an invitation to talk? No. He turns back to Cuicatl. What was that about?

“What brings you to Alola, then?”

“My mom did her challenge in Unova. Did pretty well. Went pro for a little bit. I applied to do one there. They were full so I got assigned to Alola instead. Thought I could make more money here than at home, so I came.”

She is legal, then? Or she’s embarrassed and lying about it.

Kekoa just laughs. Longer and louder than his last few, and a little more mean spirited. “Sis, you wanted to make money so you came to Alola? You know how much things cost on islands, right?”

Cuicatl frowns and looks (well, not looks) into her lap. “I didn’t. Now I do.”

Your eyes flick back and forth between Kekoa and Cuicatl. She’s sad, he’s a butt, and for some reason it falls on you to fix this situation.

“What do you all want to do for the rest of the day?” you ask.

“Just got back from some battles,” Kekoa says. “My pikipek’s at the center now, but once she’s healed up I’ll probably battle some more. Rest of the week is supposed to be hot as shit, so might as well get it done now.”

Cuicatl’s vulpix starts whining at that until its trainer starts petting it.

“It’s okay. We can just train at dusk and dawn and stay inside the rest of the day.”

“Dusk and dawn are also gonna be hot as shit,” Kekoa says.

The vulpix starts whining again as Cuicatl’s face scrunches up.

Okay. Another crisis. You can handle this.

“You want to study together, then?”

“Going for my Class III this week. Pretty damn confident I’ll get it,” Kekoa says.

You look towards Cuicatl. “You want to? Study?”

“I, um, Miss Bell assigned me a tutor since I don’t need to learn much, just local pokémon and laws. I know the general care things. And she doesn’t have braille books and audiobooks are slow.”

“Who the fuck is Miss Bell?” Kekoa asks.

Cuicatl turns to him and… ugh hard to read her face. Eyes are the windows to the soul and hers are frosted over. “Miss Bell runs this building. She gave me Pixie.”

He whistles. “Already brownnosing the bigwigs, huh?”

She shifts and folds in on herself. “We had shared interests.”

“Like?” Kekoa asks.

Cuicatl opens her mouth as if to speak, but then clamps it shut and resumes petting her vulpix. “Like foxes,” she says.

“Uh huh.”

“SO, you wanna battle now?” Ugh. Too loud at the start. Probably sounded desperate. Which you are. There shouldn’t be this many almost fights this early on.

Kekoa shrugs and bends over to pick something off the round desk thing in the center of the room. Envelope. How had you missed that? With an unnecessary amount of care, pomp, and circumstance he takes the letter out and unfolds it.

*​

“Mission One: Akala. Drop-off point: Heahea Beach. Pick-up point: North Shores. Be ready at 5:00 A.M. October 8, 2019. Pick-up will be November 5. Time TBA. Capture targets: Five (5) paras per person. $20 apiece. One (1) castform total. $500.”

*​

Well. That gives you six days to prepare. And there were the $300 signing bonuses in the envelope for supplies. Kekoa slides the letter back into the envelope. “Well, we can deal with that later. Jenny, you said you wanted a battle?”

*​

Kekoa clears his throat. “The battle between Kiwi of Anahuac and Jennifer of Galar is about to begin. Both parties will release their pokémon simultaneously upon the count of three. One, three. Go.”

“Pixie, take the field,” Cuicatl says. Her vulpix leaps from her side onto the sand, kicking up a cloud of dust in the process. The pupper’s eyes go wide and she immediately starts trying to shake some of the dust out of her coat.

“Sir Bubbles, let’s go!” you shout before releasing your adorable poliwag into the arena. He bounces up a few times before turning around to beg with his big, wet eyes. “No food now. Battle time.”

The froggo makes sure you see a few tears fall before he turns back around.

“Let the record show that neither trainer should never be allowed to name a pokémon again,” Kekoa says. It gets a few snickers from the handful of trainers on the bleachers. “Okay, go whenever.”

“Ice Shard.” Cuicatl wastes no time getting her order in, and her doggo wastes even less firing the attack. There’s a cloud of white around her and then crystals are flying out and hit Sir Bubbles bang bang bang. Or, well, plop plop plop. Your amphibian boi doesn’t seem too torn up, literally or metaphorically.

Oh. Orders. You should give orders. Well, he only knows two moves so um

“Hypnosis!” you exclaim.

“Ice Shard, down.”

Sir Bubbles stands as tall as he can on his stubby little legs and does some things that you can’t see because you’re standing behind him. But basically his belly starts to spiral and—the ice pupper just fired a bunch of ice at the ground and there’s a big dust cloud in front of it. You can hear its exaggerated coughs, but you can’t see it anymore.

Huh. Good play.

“More ice shards towards poliwag. Low angle.”

There’s a brief pause before another volley shoots through the dust cloud, some striking poliwag and bouncing off but just as many kicking up dirt when they miss. One even comes, like, six inches from your leg and you don’t even realize it happens until it’s happened.

“Try to keep things in the arena, Kiwi,” Kekoa reprimands.

“Trying!”

Crap you almost got hit by a pokémon attack. That would’ve hurt. Probably. It doesn’t seem to hurt Sir Bubbles very much. But he’s a pokémon and they can take that kind of thing. Unless you overfeed them, which you didn’t do to your brother’s goldeen, whatever he says.

“Another volley,” Cuicatl orders. Reminding you that you should—more ice blasts out of the steadily settling dust cloud and one shard hits right in front of your shoe before breaking into little bits and making your leg cold—order. You should order again.

“Water gun!”

Sir Bubbles inhales and puffs up. For a moment he stays that way, before he abruptly recompresses and a jet of water hits vulpix right in the face. The iceboi blinks a few times and then growls before charging in, ice shards flying off of it as it moves.

“Pix! Last orders hold.”

Wait. Oh man. This is an opening!

“Hypnosis,” you practically sing.

Your froggo perks up on his hind legs again, but this time the fox is staring right at his belly. The ice shards stop coming as the doggo slows to a walk, and then a crawl. And then she finally falls down on her face right at Sir Bubble’s feet.

“Now water gun!”

The holy vulpix gets absolutely drenched for thirty seconds straight but never seems to stir.

“Pixie, please get up,” Cuicatl pleads. But her pokémon doesn’t and eventually Kekoa whistles and holds up a hand.

“I’m going to call it here. Jennifer wins.”

“Yessssssssssss!” you yell, rushing the battlefield to. Wait, no. Can’t hug amphibian friends. Have to settle for kneeling down and telling Sir Bubbles what a good Sir Bubbles he is before withdrawing him, promising food towards bedtime. Your bedtime. He’s nocturnal so you leave him in the Center’s freshwater pool at night so he can play with other frog and fish friends.

Kekoa walks past shortly after both pokémon are withdrawn. “Lunch time now. Then I’m going boot shopping. You can come with if you want.”

*​

Lunch is quiet. Cuicatl seems lost in her own world, and you aren’t sure you want to start a conversation if it’s just going to be you and Kekoa in it. The center is serving stir fry and you think it’s pretty good. Cuicatl got the spam stir fry and barely ate half of hers, though. Which is weird. You liked spam back when you ate meat. But maybe it’s an acquired taste.

*​

Princess Square Mall is easily the best place to shop in the entire commonwealth. It’s got everything from the Gracidea flagship to the usual big box stores, plus actual miles of halls lined with their own quirky shops. You make… made a point of coming here most weekends to try and look through at least three new ones knowing full well that by the time you visited them all some would’ve closed and others opened in their place and you’d have to do it again. You got some good stuff out of it, though, like a stuffed altitlama made with real altitlama wool and a blue snow globe with a faintly glowing horseshoe on the side. No idea why the latter cost as much as it did.

Kekoa powerwalks ahead and ordinarily you’d match him but you have to stay back and help Cuicatl along. He sometimes glances back and slows down a little bit, which clashes with his aloof meanie vibe. Eventually you get to Shaft’s Outdoor Supplies and Kekoa finally stops to turn towards you.

“I’m just going to go ahead and get this done on my own. Leave you girls to do your shoe shopping.”

“Then why are you going alone?” Cuicatl asks.

“Don’t you people all have super hearing? Letting you two have your estrogen party in peace.”

“So why aren’t you coming with us? If it’s a girls thing…”

Kekoa shoots her an absolutely murderous glare. “I’m flipping you off,” he says before turning around and storming off. Cuicatl just has a cute, dumb smile plastered on her face.

“Asshole,” she says.

You shouldn’t giggle but you do.

“So, um, what are you looking for? In boots?”

She doesn’t even take a full second to think it over. “Waterproof, well-fitting, don’t make me look too stupid.”

Okay. You can work with that.

You piece together her style in your head. She said she mostly wears dresses, sometimes more athletic clothing. And she said that she liked her hair long before she cut it. Hasn’t worn much makeup, but that might just be because she can’t apply it. In any case, definitely not a tomboy. Some outdoorsy-but-still-femme look. Hiking boots and whatever she’ll be wearing on the trail probably satisfies the outdoorsy bit, so you’re mostly concerned with the femme half. Ideally you’d get something dark green or very dark blue to go with her hair, but a quick talk with an employee (a talk that Cuicatl seems oddly despondent during) reveals that you’re really color and style limited at her size in the kids section. You settle on a pink pair without laces so that she doesn’t have to fumble around to tie them.

“They sound nice,” she says when you tell her the description. Her face is guarded so it’s hard to tell if it really does sound nice. Or if she cares about style at all. She rises up on the balls of her feet and then settles down and tilts her shoes to the sides. “Fit well enough. Should be fine after a little breaking in.”

And that’s that. Even before the two-thirds discount new trainers get on supplies, hers are just barely over fifty dollars. Yours are about twice as much, but after the discount they still fit within budget with some money left over. Black, kind of shiny, waterproof because Cuicatl thought that was a big deal. You’d be comfortable wearing yours in a city, which is kind of a must because you’re going to have to break them in before going out on the trail. Orientation made a very, very big deal about that, up to showing some blister photos that look like they came right out of a sex ed presentation on some disease that requires genital amputation.

*​

Kekoa fiddles with the screen for a second before putting it on the pile of stuff he haphazardly threw together. Then the movie starts to play on the small screen. Not really big enough for three people to crowd around, but Cuicatl’s sitting a little farther away with her vulpix curled up on her lap. She doesn’t really need to watch.

“You have your own account?” you ask to kill time as the company logos roll.

He snorts. “Yeah, no. I’m sure someone pays for this, but I don’t know them and no one I know knows them.”

Oh. That’s kind of theft, isn’t it? At least, not using it as intended.

The logos stop and the screen shifts to a cage being moved in the rain by a bunch of men with guns. Then something goes wrong and the thing in the cage kills some of the men with guns before getting shot itself.

“What kind of movie is this?” you ask.

“A damn good one,” he answers.

“Seconding,” she adds.

You frown. “Your parents let you watch this kind of thing?”

He looks at you like you’d just asked whether water was wet. “No. My brother let me watch it once while my parents were out since I was going through a dinosaur phase. Now, I, uh, kind of watch what I want now.”

“People don’t really care about sex and violence in movies in Anahuac? They’re a part of life. No reason to keep kids from knowing real things exist. And do you want to talk about the dinosaur phase?” She’s absolutely beaming now. “Because I had a dinosaur phase. Never really left it either.”

The fox hisses and she immediately reaches down to pet her. “I am also in a fox phase. You can have two phases at once.”

Kekoa snorts. “You would, dragon girl.”

“It’s not my fault that we used to have birds that were six meters tall, then we didn’t, then we brought them back, and now no one seems to care that we have six meter tall birds again! Oh, Genesis, the dinosaurs in this movie shouldn’t have as many scales as they do. Except the aurorus, which should have spines and frills. But the dilatosaur shouldn’t have frills. Or venom. They were grass-types. And the pyroclaptors should be half the size. And none of them are actually from the Jurassic. Other than that, perfect film.”

Kekoa leans forward and makes a show of turning the volume up, even though it’s already as high as it goes.

“Fucking nerd.”

She folds her arms and leans back into the wall. “I don’t see what the problem is with liking things. Especially cool things.”

“Well, you missed the flaw that actually matters: tyrantrum were scavengers.”

“You shut up!” Cuicatl practically screams. “That is one scientist’s theory based on snorlax of all things. Sure, tyrantrum could have scared off smaller predators, but then why would they need the neck muscles if they weren’t going to hunt? And what was killing all the prey they ate? Raptors weren’t big enough in most of their home range and the crocodiles would’ve just dragged the food into the water. Maybe other tyrannosaurs, but if smaller tyrannosaurs were killing giant armored herbivores then why couldn’t tyrantrum do it?” She huffs and crosses her legs before glaring in Kekoa’s general direction. “Such bullshit.”

They continue like that for hour, with Kekoa asking short dumb questions and setting Cuicatl off on adorably angry tirades about tyrantrum’s typing (maybe a dragon-type, but definitely not a dragon), tyrantrum-pyroclaptor nest arrangements (the raptors didn’t eat the tyrantrum eggs, they ate the mammals that came for the eggs, duh), and whether blaziken would beat a pyroclaptor in a fight (blaziken one-on-one, but a pyroclaptor would never fight alone so that doesn’t matter). He immediately changes the subject whenever she gives a substantive answer, so he’s always winning the conversation with very little effort. Like Mom. Except Cuicatl doesn’t seem to hate it?

You fall asleep before the movie actually ends. You don’t know if they ever stopped their bickering.
 
Normal 1.4
The Vulture Queen
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Normal 1.4: Period
Kekoa

“Go, Whiskers!”

You don’t say anything as you send Hekili onto the field. What’s the point? She knows her name and what’s about to happen.

“Now, Fake Out!” Just as you see what “Whiskers” is doing a shockwave ripples across the field and smacks Hekili head-on. “Great! Get in close and bite the wing!”

“Retreating peck,” you calmly answer.

The meowth rushes across the field but it’s too slow. By the time that he reaches your pikipek she’s already in the air and gives the cat a nasty peck on the head for its trouble. A few wingbeats later she’s up in the air circling the field.

Perfect.

“Echoed voice.”

The air around you ripples, first towards Hekili and then away. It’s barely noticeable but you know that’ll change soon enough.

“Hey! No fair, that’s cheating!”

You glare at the kid. Some young haole brat. He ever heard “no” before? What does “fair” mean to him? The deck stacked in his favor, but subtly enough that he can deny it? Even odds must feel so unbearably unfair. And to top it all off you definitely aren’t cheating. It’s a perfectly valid, very common strategy that if he’d ever watched a damn match he would know he needed a counter for. But, nope, he’s entitled to win, however little work he puts in.

“Louder, if you will,” you respond. And Hekili answers with a cacophony of sound and a blast of wind. You definitely felt that one and from the meowth’s disheveled fur you’re guessing it felt it as well. “And keep it up.”

“UGH!” The kid actually stomps his foot like it’ll get you to roll over and give you what he wants. “Jump up and use scratch!”

The cat’s legs bend down and it pounces ms one fluid motion. Before you can even order a spiking peck, Hekeli lifts up and the claws only hit feathers. She knows what “up” means, even when other people say it. Clever girl.

Unless the kid’s pulling a spectacular con on you, that’s about as much thought as you’re going to have to put into this. Meowth are frail and devastating up close but if it can’t get a hit in and doesn’t have any projectiles (and you really doubt it has projectiles) then eventually it will go down to echoed voice. Battle’s over even if he doesn’t want to admit it yet. And you hope he doesn’t concede until the bitter end. You want to see him crushed until he cries for his mommy. Keep people off the trails who don’t need to be there.

“Fake Out!”

“Steady.”

Meowth sends off another shockwave, but by now the echoed voices are hitting it five times harder than anything it could send off. The blast wasn’t even powerful enough to disrupt Hekili. You look up in admiration. Your starter’s getting pretty big now. Almost the meowth’s size. And her echoed voice has more sounds in it, more little ripples that draw a little more power in and send a little more out. Not quite ready to evolve but she’s made progress.

“Work up! We can do this!”

Hmm. The meowth is gathering a little double helix of rising energy around itself. Give it a minute or two and it’ll probably be strong and fast enough to get hits in on Hekili. But that gives you a minute or two to think. The cat’s battered and it flinches a little bit more with every burst of sound and air. By the time it can land a hit the match might be almost over. Persian are glass cannons so you imagine meowth are too. You could rush in with a rock smash, disrupt the charging, and maybe score a knockout at the same time. But if you fail, well, then you’re in close quarters. Exactly where you shouldn’t be.

You’ll give it a little bit. Then go in for the kill.

In the meantime, you take a quick glance at the adjacent battlefield to see how Kiwi’s doing. Her vulpix against a pyukumu. The fox is firing off volleys of ice shards at the water-type but it barely even seems to notice. Weak, resisted ice attacks against a bulky water ‘mon? It won’t be nearly enough.

“Rock smash,” you call without even bothering to look back at the field.

“Now’s our chance! Whiskers, use—”

There’s a crack sound as Hekeli’s beak collides right with the meowth’s face and the cat is flung back onto its ass. You almost feel bad for it. Not its fault that its trainer gives pep talks in a do or die situation. A flash of light washes over the field. You compliment it with your own withdrawal. Hekeli can be thanked later; for now you have an image to project.

“You owe me six bucks.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” the kid huffs as he crosses the field. You hold out your hand and he slaps the bills into it. “Someday, I’m going to fight you again and I’m going to win.” He looks at you with an intense gleaming in his eyes, like he not only believes his words are true but knows they are.

You turn away from him and walk towards Kiwi’s battlefield. “I’ll take more of your money any time you want.”

Your match was a one-sided slugfest decided in a nonstop barrage of sound and one good peck to the noggin. Kiwi’s is decidedly more stallish. Her keokeo has the faint purple aura of toxic poisoning around it, which means that Kiwi’s opponent bought or borrowed the TM at some point. The fox is panting from poison and heat and maybe exhaustion. The pyukumuku has some shallow cuts in its mucus from the ice shards but nothing managed to get past the outer layers. Not surprising. Those things are damn hard to hurt. You get your first glance at the pyukumuku’s trainer. She’s female. Asian. Her dress looks expensive, she’s wearing shades that obviously aren’t the cheap kind, and you think she’s got a designer purse. Not that you’d be able to tell the brand or anything, but it looks like something you’d see on TV. Add in the TM and, well, honestly you’re just shocked that a rich bitch uses a pyukumuku of all things. Good taste in pokémon in spite of everything. Rather have her along than Jennifer.

“Ice shard,” Kiwi calls just a little too loudly. You don’t think she’s deaf and her fox has damn good hearing. Not that you’re going to just offer that advice up freely. If she’s smart she’ll figure it out on her own.

A barrage of ice rises up around the keokeo and flies towards its opponent. The pyukumuku takes it like a champ, and its trainer’s self-satisfied smirk deepens. Fuck her. She’s an asshole like you, but she’s not actually justified in her assholery.

“Spite,” she says. In the same calm “I already know I’m going to win” voice you’d been using three minutes ago.

“Now,” Kiwi commands with the exact same tone.

Once the ice shard volley lands, pyukumuku’s mouth opens and its tongue comes out to flip the fox off. Just when its innards are out a dozen sharp ice crystals come out of nowhere to impale themselves in its tongue. The water-type bloats up for a second, its entire body growing a little bit bigger before it hastily pulls everything back inside.

That had to have done more damage than the pyukumuku had taken in the rest of the battle combined and it took some skill and deception to pull off. It was a good play. Doesn’t matter. So long as the pyukumuku never inverts itself again there’s nothing Kiwi can do. Eventually her pokémon will go down to poison or spite, which you didn’t even know pyukumuku could learn. And it was a ‘mon you were hoping to pick up later on, so you’d think you’d know what it can and can’t do.

“Kiwi, you might want to spare your fox some pain,” you tell her. She recoils, either from hearing your voice unexpectedly or the weight of your words. But she slowly nods her head in agreement.

“Good job, Pixie.” Two flashes of red cross the battlefield. The pyukumuku’s trainer crosses the field, smirking the whole time.

“And that’ll be six dollars, if you’d be so kind,” she says with the kind of over-affected false innocence you’d never been able to get away with. Kiwi doesn’t react, just pulling the money out (how does she know which bills are which?) and handing it over. “Thank you kindly, miss,” the girl says before sauntering off.

You’re about to call after her to ask for a battle of your own when you feel something shift, bringing your mood plummeting down with it.

“Let’s go,” you say through gritted teeth.

*​

“How’d it go?” Jennifer asks as the door opens and Kiwi shuffles in. Jenny’s still in her pajamas and rubbing sleep out of her eyes. Probably a good thing because otherwise she’d probably be goddamn chipper.

“Fine,” you grunt. Kiwi just slides into her bed before spreading out on top of the sheets.

“Okay, well, um, if you don’t need it I’m going to get ready in the bathroom?”

Neither of you answers so she rummages through her bag and picks out some things before stopping by the closet to take a top out. She closes the washroom door behind her.

It’s not too bad yet. Soon you’ll need to lie down for at least a day but for now you can awkwardly stand in the middle of the room. You glance at Kiwi. Worth talking? Nah. You can wait a few minutes and call someone you actually like. Not that she’s that bad. Maybe someday you’ll like her. But that day wasn’t yesterday and it sure as shit isn’t today.

By the grace of the tapus Jennifer doesn’t take a shower. Instead she shuffles out after a time that feels both too long and too short, makeup and hair immaculate and sleep either gone or hidden, and wearing a t-shirt and jeans that somehow look like they cost more than everything in your bag combined.

“Alright. You ready to go?”

Kiwi rises and picks up her cane without a word.

“I’m staying,” you say.

“Tutor’s free,” Kiwi says.

“And I don’t need it.”

Jennifer looks at you funny before you dismissively wave her away. Less than a minute later you’re blissfully, finally, totally alone.

You go into the bathroom and let your pants drop before looking down. No stains. Pad’s still holding for now. You’d wondered if it wasn’t coming even though deep down you knew damn well it was gearing up. So you hoped for the best, planned for the worst. And the worst came. You don’t know how long you stand there staring down at your too-flat boxers before your gaze lifts to the mirror.

Turn around. You don’t. You should but fuck you you’re a hormonal bitch and you keep looking. There’s a curve under your shirt. You love your binder more than any single thing you own but you’re big and there’s only so much a piece of fabric can do. Below that, well, your torso curves in before your hips flare out and none of it makes you any less of a man but dammit some part of you feels ridiculous even asserting that you could ever be male with your body as it is. And you know your voice is still higher than Mina on 4/20. Kiwi said as much. Her world is sound and people are voices and your voice is female so you are too. And. She. Just. Can. Not. Stop. Rubbing. It. In. Your. Cute. Rounded. Face.

You turn around without thinking and leave the bathroom. Then you slide into bed and fold half of a messed up sheet over your body. You can still see your fucking tiny toes so you have to actually push yourself up a little to get everything covered up by a blanket. Except for the little bulge on your chest that still perks the fabric up, reminding you that it’s there and will be until you’re eighteen and have real money in your wallet. There’s a phantom pain in your arms and legs like something under your skin is trying to press out but it can’t and you can massage it or hit it or scream or cry or try to ignore it but it will never, ever come out. Never, ever stop.

It gets better. It’s getting better. In three days there’s another shot and then another a week after that and on and on forever. This could be your last period. And your voice is going to change and you’ll have hair and smell different and have almost everything you need to be you. But there’s nothing you can do about that right now. Just lie here and pray that your body turns out okay. It feels like you should be doing something even if you know there’s nothing to be done.

You reach for your phone and unlock it without looking. Best to not stare into the black screen for a second because that second seldom stays as just a second You raise up the phone and move it to your contacts; your finger hovers over the button before you will it to press down.

It rings twice. You take the time to put it on speaker and let it fall back down beside you.

“Mohn Ciel Memorial Home. How may I assist you today?”

“Alola,” you say. “It’s…”

“Allana! Didn’t expect to hear from you so soon!”

You swallow. Do you have the energy to spare today?

No. No you don’t.

“Had a moment. Thought I’d drop in on Manollo.”

“Of course, of course. He’s probably still asleep. I’ll have to go wake him up. Oh! And before I go, can I let people call you at this number?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Okay, one sec.”

You half-smile in spite of everything. There’s no way in hell Manollo is up at this time on a Saturday morning and it feels a little good to force him up. You bet no one does that to him anymore. It would be a shame if he forgot what it felt like.

A few minutes later, there’s a shuffling sound on the other end.

“Fuck you, asshole.”

You smirk. Hard to say that was unexpected “Isn’t Elizabeth right there?”

“Yeah. It’s why…” He yawns. Loudly. “It’s why I toned that down from what I wanted to say.” He yawns again. “Two weeks and you’re already giving up, huh?”

“You wish.”

“Yeah, guess I do. It’s boring without you around.”

“Take it my replacement is no match for the real deal?”

He scoffs. “Dude, she’s some ten-year-old girl. Barely spoken to anyone since she came here. Just sits in the library and reads.”

“Oh, you poor soul. Fifteen whole days with no one kicking your ass at Double Dash. Bet your ego’s flying with the minior.”

He laughs. “Yeah, well, think I’ll live. Enough about me; you’re the one on a journey. Details, now.”

“Fine, sure, whatever. I caught a pikipek. She’s pretty strong, starting to talk more. Maybe a month or two from evolution. Don’t know what the first trial is yet. I’ll let you know when I know. Have two teammates. Both girls, about my age.”

“That a gender thing?” Manollo asks. “Sticking you with other ‘girls’?”

You pause. That hadn’t actually occurred to you. Neither knew your dead name so VStar isn’t too incompetent. But is that why Kiwi thinks you’re a girl? Does she know exactly what she’s doing and fucking revels in it? Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not.

Fuck you hope not.

“Hey, my man, you still there?”

You cough. A high pitched cough. Shit time to plow on.

“There weren’t that many people my age in the group, most of them female. Probably just luck of the draw. Neither’s Kanaka maoli. One’s Aztec. Name’s ‘Kwikit’ or something. She’s smart enough, into battling, probably not a total bitch. But she keeps misgendering me every chance she gets.”

“Kick her ass,” he says, dead serious. “That’ll shut her up.”

“Manollo, she’s blind and only comes up to my chin. I’d feel bad about it.”

“You shouldn’t. She hurts you, you hurt her harder and she’ll stop. Law of the jungle.”

You don’t answer. For a few seconds you only hear your heart beating. Then the cramps flare up and you need to get distraction words out.

“I’ll think about it. Other girl is haole. Probably rich as fuck. Guess? She’s some free spirit out to pursue her passions but her mean daddy thinks she should do something practical so he cut her the fuck off. And now she’s convinced she’s suffering every injustice in the world. I’m trying not to piss her off too badly because we’re going to be stuck together but at some point she’s going to say the wrong thing and I’m going to snap at her and she’ll snap at me and that’ll be it. Good riddance.”

Manollo snickers. “Sounds like you’ve got your whole plan worked out. Still set on your final team?”

“Hmm. Reconsidering. The Aztec bitch has a keokeo and I don’t want to double up.”

“Holy shit.” There’s the sound of movement on the other side as the phone shifts. “How’d she get that?”

“Rich haole running the place gave it to her. Probably a pity thing since, y’know, blind. Still doesn’t feel right.”

“Yeah,” he says. “It doesn’t.”

Keokeo are the watchful guardians of Lanakila and the guides of the dead and dying. They were worshipped as gods in their own right for centuries. Still are by some people. Probably just another dog breed to her.

“Toucannon and hariyama are givens. At least one dark-type for maximum bat slaying. Still not sure which one I’ll go with. Rethinking the rest.”

Two forces pull throughout the call. The first is positive: the conversation flows on its own accord through a thousand subjects, each further off topic than the last. Because the only real thing to be discussed is in the subtext. For a moment you feel like you’re back at the closest thing to home you’ve had since elementary school. And the other force, well, that builds every time your voices echoes on the other end and you hear just what you send like to everyone else. That brings the phantom pain to your throat and head until eventually everything is throbbing and you want to cry but you know that would just make you sound like a scared little girl. Eventually, the second half wins when a phone alarm tells you that your pad needs changed.

You hang up with a mixture of relief and sadness with one thought rising above both: this had better be the last time you have to deal with this shit.

*​

“You may begin.”

The sound of rustling papers fills the room before abruptly dying out.

Class III. Let’s see if this is more of a challenge than Class II or Class I.

Rank the following ten pokéballs based on the quality of life they would give a misdreavus. Awkward wording aside, that’s dusk at the top and dive at the bottom. Wonder if some poor kid believes that luxury balls are always the answer. Or gets caught up in wondering if misdreavus are made of water (they aren’t… right… no, not second guessing yourself).

Briefly describe the laws around vikavolt capture and sale. That’s easy enough. Buggers are nearly extinct in the wild due to overcapture so they let trainers capture one but only sell it if they actually complete the entire challenge.

Which of the following are True Psychics? Hypno and mr. mime. Alakazam is the trick answer.

On and on. How do you treat hyperthermia in ice-types? What islands do these pokémon live on? What happens if a z-move hits a mega evolved pokémon? Briefly explain how oricorio form changes work. Which of the following are invasive? How do you get a pokémon registered as a ride pokémon? Some of its practical, most of it isn’t. Just meant to make sure you know a few things about a lot of pokémon. That you actually care about this shit.

You’re the first to finish. Out of the 100 questions there are maybe six you’re uncertain on. You can miss twenty and still pass.

All in all? Good day.

You step outside and see Kiwi on the bench. Why did she show up? Special needs tests aren’t until tomorrow. You consider just slipping past her and being on your way. She’ll probably just give up and go home eventually and you really aren’t in the mood to get misgendered now. Not when you’re coming down from the high of probably victory.

She stretches and stands up. Her keokeo stirs beside her. “This Room 202?” she asks.

Shit. No dodging this one. “Yes, Kiwi.”

A frown flashes across her face before quickly fading. “Well, how’d it go?”

“Fine.” You start walking down the hall. She follows.

“I went back to Lilypad Square today. I won.”

You glance down at her. She seems very proud of that. Is that her first win ever? “Against what?” you ask.

“Rattata.”

You snort. “Wait, was it held by some preschooler or something?”

She purses her lips and looks away as her footsteps slow down for a moment. You keep plowing on.

“She sounded young. I don’t know how young. Ten to twelve?”

Holy shit. You have to try really hard not to laugh. Girl beats up some kid’s pet mouse and feels on top of the fucking world.

She doesn’t say anything else to you on the way back to the Center.

*​

“We should celebrate,” Jennifer says.

“No money,” you answer.

She honest to gods puts her hands on her hips and pouts. “Don’t need money to go to the beach.”

“No swimsuit,” Kiwi answers.

“Same.”

You do have one. But other people seeing your body is bleck. Even if you weren’t trying (and sort of failing) to go stealth.

“Well, what else are you going to do?”

“Movies. Inside. Where it’s not hot as shit.”

“Chirlov’s battling. There will be a radio broadcast. In Galaran.”

“Oh, come on!” Jennifer huffs. “It doesn’t feel like we’ve even done anything fun together. Can’t we just do one thing?”

Ugh. Fine. Maybe this will get her off your back.

“I’ll go, but I’m not getting in the water.”

“Great! Cuicatl?”

She groans. “ Whatever. But I’m staying on land with Kekoa.”

Jennifer claps her hands and you see Kiwi flinch in your peripheral vision.

*​

“You sure you don’t want to come in with me?” Kiwi shakes her head. You don’t respond at all. “Come on, Kekoa, you’re just wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Nothing that can’t get wet.”

Also wearing a binder. And you’d really prefer not to have your clothing vacuum-sealed and showing all your curves to the world.

“I’ll pass.”

“Hmph. Whatever.” Jennifer turns around and slips her shorts and shirt off, leaving her much more revealing swimsuit behind. She turns around and kicks the shorts towards the bench you’re sharing with Kiwi.

For a moment you’re facing her head on and, ah shit she’s hot. Like you kind of always knew that from the legs and general face but seeing her exposed makes all the things click. She throws the t-shirt at you, although it flies a little bit to the side. “Don’t be gross.” With that she pivots and walks towards the surf.

Kiwi leans back into the bench and crosses her legs. “What’s she like, scale of one to ten?”

“Eight.”

She snorts. “Can’t tell if she’d be more insulted that you answered or that you ranked her so low.”

“I have very high standards,” you respond. As deadpan as possible. Well. She kind of is. Tall and femme. But you like some substance under the surace.

That just earns a wicked smirk. “Really, then? So what am I on your scale?”

She’s not ugly. Her hair is nice. The rest is uh. Too short to pull off anything other than cute, and some of her features aren’t really cute enough for cute-cute or ugly enough for ugly-cute. A couple lighter lines on her skin from old scars, eyebrows that are a little too heavy, a gauntness over everything that brings her muscles into contrast but makes her face look really sharp.

“Four.”

She very lightly punches you. Probably aiming for the shoulder, hits near your elbow instead.

“Well, my voice is a ten and that’s all that matters.”

“Really? Well, what’s my voice?”

“Hmm. Three. Too manly for a girl.”

That sends a stone straight into the center of your feelings. The emotions ripple to the edge of your heart and rebound in and pretty soon there are ripples clashing with ripples as the whole thing threatens to spill over. Into… into what you don’t know. But a lot of something.

She moves on before you can find out. “Very windy today.”

You grunt to test the waters. No emotion bleeds through. It’s safe to speak.

“That’s just the sea breeze.”

“Hmm?”

You sigh. Is this a cultural thing or no? And should you tell her if it is? Ah, fuck it. She could figure it out online in a minute.

“Wind rushes onshore in the day, offshore at night.”

“Huh.”

There’s silence aside from the wind. Jennifer is out there somewhere but you can’t really pick her out in the offshore crowd. As your eyes scan they settle on something else down the beach. A metal framework with the first semblances of a proper building being grafted on. Another resort to bring more tourists and take your kingdom just a little bit further away.

“Didn’t grow up near the sea, I take it.”

“No. Foothills of the mountains. Never been to the ocean until last week.”

Oh. That’s depressing. Being cut off from the water. Although her people are more desert and lake dwellers so maybe it didn’t even matter to her.

She doesn’t talk for long enough that you suspect that she’s probably drifted off. Not a bad place to do it, on the beach with the tropical sun beating down. You’re thinking about dozing off yourself. And then out of the blue: “We’ve never battled.”

You glance over at her. She’s sort of half-lying on her side, facing you.

“Because you have type advantage. Wouldn’t be fair.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t suck at this. So maybe it would be.”

You think about correcting her. But fuck it you aren’t going to pump up her ego for her. She can beat up rattata if she needs the boost. You press yourself up and put your hands in your pockets.

“Okay. You’re on. There’s a battlefield near the surf, looks like that match is about to finish up.”

*​

“The one-on-one battle between Kekoa of Ak/ala,” the kid you roped into announcing has an awful voice break and stands looking stunned for a sec before he decides to power through, “and Kiwi of Anahuac is about to begin. You can, um, I don’t really… send out now?”

Someone’s going to need to teach this kid confidence but it’s not going to be you.

Kiwi actually has to release her keokeo from its pokéball. Guess the beach is too hot for an ice-type. Her loss.

“Pixie, battle time!”

The fox growls as soon as she materializes, ears slicked back and tails pressed down. Does she do that every time she comes out? You’ve seen her actually use the ball so little that you honestly can’t say.

You toss your ball into the air and catch it. When you release this is all going to go to hell and you need a moment to think.

Toss. Catch. No time to set up hyper voice. You’d just get knocked out of the sky by ice shards eventually.

Toss. Catch. She doesn’t seem to have anything to hit up close. Just roar for zoning.

Toss. Catch. Hekeli’s fast enough that roar doesn’t matter. No reason not to get in close and never let up.

Toss. Catc—shit. The ball slips right off the edge of your finger and crashes into the sand. Kiwi smiles. “You going to keep me waiting?”

No. You reach down, flick the ball into the air and catch it before releasing. Need to practice that more. Hekeli materializes and seems to get what’s going on pretty quickly. You glance at the referee and glare to wipe the smile off his face.

“And, uh, begin.”

“Up,” you command. Hekili rises higher as a blast of ice crystals flies right beneath her.

Kiwi’s face is inscrutable. Maybe she doesn’t even know if that hit or missed. “Baby-doll eyes.”

Weird choice but Holy shit that is the cutest fucking fox you’ve ever seen. Were her eyes always that big? Like, does she physically make her eyes bigger or is

Shit closing window of attack.

“HEKILI, ROCK SMASH!” you shout. The pikipek quickly snaps out of the trance she was in before cawing and diving straight down. Kiwi starts to speak and a small flurry of ice rises around vulpix in the fraction of a second Hekili needs to descend. It doesn’t matter. There’s a crack in the air for a moment before a very cute fox with very big eyes is flung up herself. You whistle and Hekili moves. When the vulpix finally comes to earth and stops rolling through the sand it gets another nasty peck on its side. Sometimes there are shouted orders and little glimmers of ice form and sometimes they dig into Hekeli’s side. It doesn’t matter. Too much damage too quickly for the vulpix to cope with.

Kiwi had the better part a week and she hasn’t even figured out how to counter your pikipek? What a fucking loser.

A red flash shines on your smirk. After it fades Kiwi just stands still as a wave crashes into the beach. And another. And another. Then she starts walking across the field towards you as her hand slips into her purse. She drops two bills as she walks by you but she doesn’t stop. You watch her walk up the beach without any words spoken.

For a moment you want to follow, tell her that it’s alright and she’s a special snowflake just like everyone else. Then there’s anger. She’s just doing this for pity points, to make you feel bad that you won. Fuck her. Manipulate bitch. Using her size and disability to take away your win from you and make you give her what she wants. Well, she’s going to learn right here and now that emotionally abusive bullshit will get her nowhere. She wants a win? She can take it from you over Hekili’s unconscious body.

You reach down to pick up the money before it blows away.
 
The Vulture Queen
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The chapter below deals with contemplation of suicide from a stream of consciousness perspective, with a second person narrator acting as the kind of thoughts that spur it on. I understand very, very much if you don’t want to read it.

I will post a summary of this chapter at the start of the next one. I promise that after the relative brutality of 1.4 and 1.5, 1.6 is fairly happy. It contains a scene where a snow fox eats ice cream. Promise.

Additional content notices for discussion of an eating disorder and internalized ableism. And strong language, but that feels like an afterthought given everything else.

Normal 1.5: Until The World Moves On

Cuicatl Ichtaca

Achcauhtli dismisses his friends and walks up to you.

{Hi.}

He sits down and you lean against him, letting your mind fully intertwine with his.

{Hi.}

There’s more kept in his personal sphere than usual. Typically he lets you see about 70% of it, and you let him see almost 90% of yours (pretty much everything except for the feminine and romantic stuff that grosses him out a little). Now you can see maybe 40%.

{Something wrong?}

He groans, physically and mentally.

{Headache. Like yours.}

{Share?} you reply.

{No.}

You get to your feet and give him telepathic and physical kicks.

{You always take mine.}

{I always take one-third of yours. This is my first, so I will keep all of it. Owe you that much. And more.}

You roll your eyes. It took you forever to get that one just right and he can’t even see it now, but he probably knows that you’re doing it. Either via telepathy or normal brotherly intuition. You shoot out a quick, compressed guide to migraine survival. He already knows all of it, of course. He’s had one-third of a lot of migraines. It’s more of a passive aggressive thing. You pain share, so can he.

He stands up and takes your elbow to guide you. You immediately recoil.

{You’re really hot.}

{Am I?}

{Yes. Let me share.}

{No.}

You could force it. You’re the stronger sibling by far because all that brain mass he wasted on vision went straight to your third eye. But you don’t. It makes him really upset whenever you do and then the connection makes you really upset and then it takes months for everything to get back to normal.

Also it’s wrong and stuff.

{I’ll tell Dad you’re sick.}

He actually, physically snorts.

{I just have a fever and a headache. What’s he going to do?}

Nothing. Nothing is what he’ll do. So you shut up for a little bit, making sure that some of your displeasure bleeds into his mind for the rest of the walk.

You know you’re almost at the house long before he tells you. But you let him chivalrously say that it’s approaching and then let you in the door. He does it partially because of his annoying masculinity, partially to keep appearances, partially to ease his lingering anxiety from that one time that you took his sight away for two weeks to teach him a lesson. Gods, he was so adorably helpless.

“We’re home,” you call to the house so that he doesn’t have to. Neck and jaw movements can sometimes be a pain and you don’t know if this is one of those headaches because he won’t show you.

{It is one of those headaches.}

{You’re welcome.}

There’s a fairly long pause.

“Cuicatl Ichtaca, are you still going out tonight?”

You turn towards your stubborn brother.

{Am I?}

{I’m fine. You can go.}

{Do you want me to stay?}

{I’m not going to pain share and I won’t be good company.}

{We can talk. I can distract you.}

{You know I won’t be in a talking mood.}

{But I will be.}

He gives you a mental shove. “She is.”

“Okay. I have a box for heatmor by the door. Can you bring it out to her?”

“Of course,” you say.

A few seconds later it’s clear that’s all you’re going to get from Dad so you generously let your brother guide you to your shared room. He leaves you standing in the doorway, then stumbles forward and loudly crashes into his bed. Which probably doesn’t help the headache.

He grumbles something incoherent aloud and you smile in spite of everything. On your way out the door you slip your mind out of his. With one final gesture you point towards your love for him and he belatedly points you towards his for you. Then you shut the door and walk back towards the front door. You find Searah’s box easily enough by shuffling around near the doorway. You bend down and—ugh shit this is heavy—immediately set it back down. You take a few steps and open the door. Then you bend down again, properly brace yourself, and haul it up, ignoring the burning in your arms. Next it’s a few awkward waddling steps out the door where the arm pain starts to nestle into your back. You’re strong but you’re small and even Dad might struggle with this one. At long last you can feel the sunlight on all of your body. You bend down and let the box go. Maybe ten centimeters higher than you should’ve given the crash. Oops.

“Alice! Dorothy! Ilsa!” you call. There’s a familiar wingbeat and then warm, dry air rustles your smiling face. Ilsa cries out her greetings and you take a few steps forward for a hug. Ellas dutifully complies. Ellas is warm which reminds you of your stupid annoying overly macho twin brother. You grimace but quickly correct it into a smile. Alice is here. This is happy time. “I know girls, it’s been too long.”

Ten days, actually, which really isn’t bad. Alice’s territory is almost two hundred square kilometers so she can be gone for a while if food is scarce or she has a boundary dispute to attend to.

Alice grunts her agreement nonetheless. You slowly step back, making sure to stroke each head in the process. You point in the general direction of the package. “Mind carrying that for—”

There’s a giant rush of wind that almost knocks you off your feet. A moment later you feel Alice’s breathing beside you where the package should be. Ellas barks out a “yes.”

“Good girls,” you whisper as you extend a hand. One of the minor heads reaches out to nuzzle it. As you scratch the cheek you run your fingers across a ridge where the scales don’t quite mesh right. Dorothy. “Now let’s go out back to see your friends.”

You gently wrap your hand around the base of Dorothy’s head and start walking towards the gate to the back lot. Alice glides along, subtly pulling you away from a rock (that you knew was there) at one point. Then you get to the rusty old gate, open it up with an awful screech, and slip inside. Alice just slides out of your grip and floats over the fence. Her wings beat and stir the wind less often and with less power than you’d expect. However ellas stays airborne mechanical flight is only a small part of it. You’ve never been able to find out how that works in all of your reading and you’ve read everything the library could find on hydreigon so you’re pretty sure if there was an answer you would’ve found it.

You close the gate and walk deeper into the lot. “Anyone here?”

Searah squeals and you hear her light, rapid footsteps as she races over. You brace yourself before she arrives and practically flings herself on you, standing on her hindlegs as her long clawed hands rest on your shoulders and her snout presses against your neck. “Hey girl,” you say, before returning the hug. If Alice is warm, Searah is almost uncomfortably so. Comes with her typing. More importantly, she has a wonderful layer of thick fur just long enough to submerge your fingers in. “Brought you a toy.”

She squeaks again, much closer this time, and the intent flashes into your head. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Searah lowers herself to the ground and shuffles towards the box, a steadily quieter string of Thank you!s echoing in your head. Then you hear her shred the cardboard followed by the faint sound of her tongue licking her food. Probably a durant carcass given the weight. There aren’t any down here and heatmor are literally built to eat them. No shock that they’re her favorite treat.

{Hello, child.}

This voice appears directly and exclusively in your mind. It’s distinctly male and very deep and almost echoey. Not threatening just… comforting. Like a warm blanket of words. You could easily fall asleep listening to him (and have several times).

{Hello, Renfield.}

He doesn’t physically embrace you. His body is weird. Squishy. He doesn’t like being squished. Not that it hurts him. You’re pretty sure that even Searah would struggle to burst him open. Alice, well, all bets are off there.

{Is your brother not here today?} he asks, even though he could easily just get that information from your mind. He taught you all of your tricks and he’s way stronger than you are.

“Achcauhtli’s sick,” you respond. Aloud. So that Searah can hear as well. Not that she reacts. Her tongue is probably three feet deep in a giant ant right now.

{Unfortunate.}

Alice growls. Quiet and high, descending in volume and pitch at the end. Jealousy. She’s the only one who doesn’t instantly understand what you say, language barrier be damned. It takes you a second to come up with the words, though. Words that she’d understand. Sickness isn’t really a thing that hydreigon deal with. Their only concept of it is in reference to prey. The same growl can mean very old, very young, sick, reckless, or disabled. Anything easy to kill. You replicate the growl (a little bit too high pitch but you can’t really rumble like ellas can), followed up with your brother’s name in human tongue.

She growls again. This time with a whine at the end from both minor heads.

“No, not like Danielle.”

Alice snorts. Skepticism. Or a request for clarification. Or both.

“Not…” you gesture towards your tummy as you perform the hiss for child. Not pregnant, you mean. Not about to die and be replaced by two helpless infants.

She chuffs understanding.

{Did I do that right?} you ask Renfield.

{You would know better than I.}

{Okay.}

“Anyone else here?” you ask. There’s a faint shifting in the dirt a few meters away followed by a metallic clang. The closest thing to a greeting that he ever does. And even that’s unusually social for a ferrothorn. “Good to see you too, Spike.” No answer. You weren’t really expecting one.

{Charles and ‘chovsky here?}

{No.}

Also not surprising. They stayed on the property after Mom died out of loyalty or convenience but they don’t make a habit of being out back when you get home from school. You’re a curiosity because you can talk to them like Mom did, but you aren’t their trainer and never will be.

{Well, greet them for me.}

{I will do so.}

You take a step towards Alice and ellas swoops up to meet you. When you stand up on your tiptoes ellas presses right up against you and you can feel her low, constant growl of affection through the wall of her belly.

“Ready to go?” you ask.

She responds by yanking you up into the air and soaring off.

*​

The nurse is quiet for way longer than they usually are. Fuck.

“Fought a pikipek, did you?” she finally asks.

“Yes.”

“Did you catch the trainer’s name? Or did you exchange bets electronically?”

“I… yeah. He’s my traveling partner. How bad is it?”

She sighs. “She’ll make a full recovery within twenty-four hours. Could’ve been much worse. Pikipek have a hard time controlling their attacks and I want to talk to the trainer before he gets an excessive force ticket.”

You half-smile in spite of everything. Full recovery. You’re a shitty trainer, but you didn’t break anyone forever. Not this time.

“Can I have his name, please? Again, he’s not going to get punished. Just talked to.”

Heh. No need to worry. He wants people to rise and fall by their own hand, fine. He can take his own falls.

“Kekoa. I don’t know his last name. He’s about sixteen.”

“Has he gone by this center?”

You nod. “He’s staying here. Same room as me.”

The nurse makes a few clicks and keystrokes.

“Okay. I’ll talk with him tomorrow.”

You lower your head and feel one foot pressing hard enough into the back of your leg that there will be a print for a few hours. Weird. Didn’t even notice that you’d started. You press the shoe in a little harder and sigh.

“Take good care of her, please.”

“I will,” she says in a way that sounds like a smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

You can’t bring yourself to answer that. Only nod and turn around.

Hau’oli is a really friendly city for the blind. Much better than Tenochtitlan was. Every curb has the bumpy pavement to tell you to stop and all the crossing buttons have a voice telling you to wait or go.

You ignore it all. There’s a wind on your face and you’re going to walk towards it until you hit the ocean. If someone hits you, well, fuck it. At least your Dad gets some more money to piss away. And you do get honked at a few times or feel a rush of wind uncomfortably close to your body. At the busiest intersections you even stop until the nice robovoice tells you to go. If you get hit by chance then that’s fate. You’re fine leaving yourself to fate, to the gods. But you can’t just walk into a car and let the gawkers see your limp body flung across the fucking street and run. That’s not fate, that’s a choice. Your choice. And there’s no dignity in it.

Everything’s numb. No, not numb. The opposite. You’re feeling everything at once and your feelings haven’t quite decided what to tell your brain. But there’s definitely shame. Maybe anger. Fear? No, not fear. Not much anyway. Hunger, of course, because there’s almost always hunger clawing at your insides and tempting you to give in, to break and stuff yourself and become even fatter and less loveable. But it’s a numb pain right now, the kind that settles in after a couple hours.

By the time you can hear the waves over the cars, you’ve settled on a single thought.

This wasn’t how things were supposed to go.

Your mom was a professional battler. You spent hundreds of hours listening to battles on the radio and hundreds more ignoring lectures and daydreaming about teams and routes and strategies. Hundreds more practicing knots and fire and first aid with your brother. You were never popular, sure, but you cuddled with a fucking dragon. Someday you’d leave town and be someone. Everything was looking up until it wasn’t.

Your dad never blamed you in words, but you’re a telepath and you hear when people think about you like you hear people saying your name from the other end of the room. You should’ve known, should’ve pressed, should’ve stayed, should’ve told him.

You should’ve been enough.

Or at least, it should’ve been you that went instead. He had eyes, a future. He never put his hands on his hips and pouted in a way that reminded him far too much of a long-buried woman, never had stupid unobtainable dreams, never got held back because he couldn’t read the damn books.

You should’ve been enough. But you weren’t when he needed it, which shouldn’t have been a surprise because you’d never been enough before.

There’s another feeling now. Concern, apprehension. A quiet, trembling voice asking, Where’s this going? even though it already knows the answer. Because it’s your voice. The one you use when someone’s yelling at you. Which, fuck it, yeah, you’re fucking yelling at yourself now.

You don’t know when the tears started. Fuck it. Crying in public again. Other people, the ones with eyes, can see you.

…not that you care about the eyes…

You take a deep, steady breath to beat down the ugly sobs. Keep some dignity, at least.

The ocean’s below you. Three to five meters, probably. What would happen if you fell? Probably nothing. Unless there were rocks. It’d just be one of those tall diving boards you’ve heard about on television. If there were rocks, if you fell the right way, maybe there’d be nothing at all. Just the feel of the wind and then silence forever. Or maybe you’d fuck it up like everything else and wind up a damn cripple too. Then you’d deal with three times the pity. One for the jump, one for the eyes, one for the wheelchair. Like you’re not even human. Just some poor sick animal everyone else is supposed to accommodate. And maybe you fucking are.

The only battles you’ve won are the ones you felt bad about winning. Baby humans with baby pokémon. You lost to your partner screaming puppers and bois at the top of her mind. You lost to your partner who you had a type advantage against. If you ever thought you were going to be a good battler you’re thoroughly disabused of the notion now. Emotional support? You shared a damn mind with someone and then left them alone to die. What are you even good for?



Please don’t do this.



What if you did?



You don’t want to die. You just want things to get better.



Well, when’s that going to happen?



How long will it be until someone thinks about you for the last time? Your dad's probably already written you off as an idiot child who decided to throw herself to the dogs. Kekoa won't give a shit. Might even be glad. Genesis will be sad for like three days until she realizes that she's much better off with whoever replaces you. Pixie will be upset until she finds some new trainer to disappoint her. Rachel might show up to the funeral (if anyone even bothers to hold one), but she's a busy woman and you give her two weeks before she realizes how much of a waste of time you were.

Alice, Renfield, and Searah would care.

No. They’ve already found new homes and trainers who won't fail them when it matters most. Maybe they'll think about you in pity or scorn a little bit in the upcoming years, but less and less until not at all.

Three years. You give it three years until the world moves on entirely like you were never here at all.



The narrative demands to continue, to be finished. But everything around it is screaming in fear and concern and… and… the narrative isn’t you. Not all of you. You sit down and the anger breaks and the narrative isn’t the loudest voice anymore.

You sob and choke up and make a scene and don’t fucking care.

People would miss you. The whole town came to… to his service. People you don’t think your brother ever thought much of. And their minds were fucking broken by it, scarred in a way that you’d never seen before. If you could see your mind…

Well, you weren’t like this before.

You miss before. You miss Achcauhtli. You miss sitting next to him on the hill behind the house as the sun went down, and watching his shitty telenovelas while teasing him in your minds. You miss having someone in your head who loved you more than you ever loved yourself. Someone who could take the narrative, shred it, and banish it away.



Minds are fragile and you’ve seen scars that cut right down to the fucking core and turn normal, happy people into people like you. If you sat down next to someone and held their hand and knew that you’d be happy, if you gave them the scar you still… No. You wouldn’t. That’s not who you are. Not who Mom would’ve wanted you to be.

But gods it hurts. It hurts and you want it to stop and you don’t know how to make it go away and maybe it never will.

Footsteps approach and you don’t care because there are two voids inside you tearing everything into them that they can and still never being satisfied.

Someone bends down beside you. “Hey,” she says. It’s quiet and soft and resolute. Like Mom in the memories that Renfield showed you. “I’m Rachel, if you don’t remember,” the voice says.

And then it doesn’t say anything else. But you can still feel her presence. The vague touch of her mind on yours, shying away from the turmoil just inside the surface but still there. It’s… it’s a lot. After what you did to her.

You stick out a hand and she holds it and you keep sobbing but it doesn’t even matter.

*​

She keeps reading through the menu like you care. A dish name, a description, no price. It’s drowned out by the dozens of conversations and the sounds of the wind and waves and the wingull fighting on the shore and the little whispers of thoughts all around you.

Eventually she stops talking and gently but audibly sets the menu down.

“Anything sound good?”

You should respond. Make small talk. Or just give a one word answer. But it feels like you’re lying down half asleep at the bottom of a pit and the answer is so high above you and you can’t make yourself get up and reach it.

“Okay. Mind if I pick?”



Do you?



“Allergies? Dietary restrictions? Things you just don’t like?”



That’s very considerate of her to ask. It’s very inconsiderate of you to wallow in your fucking despair like no one else is hurting. Just give her an answer.



Now.



You worthless piece of shit.



“I’ll take that as a ‘no.’ You eat much for breakfast?”



You ate half an English muffin before it became a ball of mush in your mouth that just got bigger with every bite so you spit it out into a napkin and threw it all away like a fucking toddler.



“Hmm. Fried magikarp sandwich fine? It comes with stuff on the side that you can put on if you want it, but otherwise it’s just fish.”

“Yeah, sounds good.”



Wait what did you just talk. Good job. Doing the bare minimum again.

Rachel shifts her arms. “Perfect. Congratulations on your Class III, by the way.” She sounds like she actually cares.

“Thanks.”

You pick up on more of the whispers and sounds as you slowly pull yourself out of the pit. It takes you a few seconds of conscious effort to banish them again.

“How’s Pixie?”

“Unconscious. In the Pokémon Center. For the eighth time this week.”

Well. It’s out there now and you’re only crying a little bit.

The waitress comes back and sets down a bowl and says some kind but meaningless words and takes Rachel’s orders before walking away. It doesn’t reach her voice, but her mind has words of confusion and concern and pity bubbling up near the surface.

Rachel pushes the bowl closer to you and then slides some small objects across the table.

“Plastic knife. Rawst butter. Little balls of fried dough in the basket. Best if you cut them in half and put the butter in.”

Your arms are heavy. Your mouth is free from of the pit but your body hasn’t quite been dragged out yet. Takes a few seconds just to convince your body that, no really we’re being alive again. You have to very deliberately take control of your arm and take it off autopilot. Then lift it up even though it just wants to stop and rest. Next step: pick up a ball. It’s rough, none of the crumbs really come off, even if you rub a finger along it). Set the ball down. Steel yourself and lift the arm, fingertips reaching down almost to the tablecloth. Find the butter packet and cut some bread in half. By the time you’ve buttered it you feel like you’ve just done twenty pull ups.

Look at you. Eating food. Shit, time to get a podium and a medal and is there a speech you’d like to give?



It is good though. The butter has the taste of preserved fruit. Deeper and richer and almost bitter. Not the vaguely sweet water of fresh fruit. Or the fruit snacks she gave you that tasted like soft plastic feels. The bread is probably too dry in the way that fried dough usually is if it’s not fluffy. Still fried. You can just feel the little ball of fat sticking right out of your stomach. And the hint of food turns the hunger from a quiet ache in the background to a ravenous beast that shant be ignored.

Whatever. You reach for another one.

You can just skip dinner. Fake being sick. But then Genesis would bring you food, because she’s like that. Nevermind. Go on a walk alone at dinner time. Sit on a bench for a few hours. Come back, say that you got food on your way up.

Rachel doesn’t say anything for a while. You don’t think she’s eating, either. Just watching you. Weird.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asks.

It takes you an awkwardly long time to finish chewing and swallow and speak. “No.”

“Okay.” You reach for a third before she can follow up. She does anyway. “You know where you’re starting your journey at?”

You shake your head.

“Oh. Akala. You’ll get the full details at the briefing tomorrow. While you’re there, there’s someone I think you should meet.”

You reach your hand in the basket but there’s nothing left. Fuck, did you really eat all of that? How many? At least three balls three centimeters across. That’s maybe a full centimeter squished across your stomach. Your skin well swell in size as the blubber grows, becomes obvious and hideous and unable to just hide beneath your shirt like it should. They’ll laugh. Leave you. They should.

“I can ask for more if you—”

“No.”

“Probably a good idea. Your sandwich should be here soon. Anyway, Akala. There’s a woman there. She’s sort of the boss of people like us on the islands, even if she likes to say that she’s less of a boss and more of a preschool teacher trying to get the entire class through the day without anyone sticking their finger in a socket.”

You give a “heh” because it sounds like a joke and you don’t have a laugh in you right now. Your mind is still whizzing away in the background, revising your earlier plan from a walk and sitting on a bench to a run. And then figuring out the logistics of going for a run without Pixie in unfamiliar territory. Maybe go to another center and use a treadmill?

“It’s sort of a formality. Meeting her. But we don’t have a {psychic} school on the island and she’s in the best position to talk about options and…” She sighs. “I don’t know everything that you’re going through, but I think it might be good for you to wait a few months and get some training before you start out.”

You frown. Response. Response that needs thought. “Can’t. Time limit.”

“Visa time limit? Because she could get you transferred to the mainland with an educational visa in hand within a day.”

“It’s not the visa.”

“Mission from god? World to save?”

You don’t like the tone. It’s closer to mocking than anything she’s ever taken. Like she saw what you just did with the bread. And you don’t want to explain why there’s a time limit. Not now. Not here. Not when both the hunger and the narrative are feeding off of each other. Not when you feel like this.

The waitress comes back and sets down your food. Words are said. You don’t really pay attention.

“I’m sorry. That was rude. I know the last thing you want right now is probably more school, but trust me: it helps. I wasn’t doing too well before I went. Life sucked, {didn’t understand my powers}. A few years at the academy turned me around. I like to imagine I’m doing pretty well right now.”

“I’m glad it helped you.”

You reach for the sandwich before your finger brushes against the vegetables on the plate. You run a hand along them. Just a tomato slice and some greens. There’s a brief mental struggle and then, fine, it would be awkward to explain why you’re not eating this and she was very, very nice to buy it for you. The vegetables go on and you take a bite. It’s actually pretty damn good. Perks of being on the sea. The magikarp was probably swimming this morning. Still fried on the edges and the vague taste of oil and the knowledge of what you’re eating and the background modeling of the fish spread out on your torso isn’t looking good. Doesn’t sound like Rachel’s moved to touch her food, though.

“Look. I know that you don’t want to talk about it but—”

{If we’re going to do this, and I’d really rather not, let’s not do it where people can hear.}

She sighs, aloud. “I’m not as good at that as you are, but I’ll try.” {You’re not doing well. Second time this week. At least. Can get help before leave. Therapy. Training. Battle practice. Friends. Scared to send you into wild now.}

You take another bite to hide your scowl.

{You going to stop me?}

“Cuicatl, I am worried. Am I wrong to be?”

That is patently unfair. What are you supposed to say to that? Yes and you’re saying she’s crazy. No and you’re admitting she’s right.

“Worried about what?”

You hear her eat a little of her sandwich. Probably buying some time.

“It’s lonely out there. I know. I lasted for all of three weeks in the woods before I decided it wasn’t for me. If you don’t have a support network and aren’t in a good place going in, you’re not going to be able to handle bad feelings well when they come. And they will come.”

‘Will come.’ Like they’re not here. Like they haven’t been here. Like they aren’t the core of who you are.

“I have Pixie.”

She groans. “So your entire emotional support system is a narcissistic fox? That’s your argument?”

And her. And kind of Kekoa when he isn’t being a dick. Not that you can blame him. Pixie started panicking about a male human bleeding from the genitals and now you understand that the dick was you all along. No wonder he hates you.

Rachel has a point. In a better, fairer world you’d even agree with her. But in this one you can’t.

“Compromise: I meet with her at the end of the first island. When I know what I’m in for.”

Your phone buzzes in your pocket.

“Deal. Just sent you my number. Feel free to message me when you have signal if you need to talk.”

You start to pick at your fries. They’re decent. Not as good as the bread or fish. And you aren’t obligated to eat them. But your traitorous fingers start wandering and looking for something to do. You’re quiet for long enough that your phone buzzes again, a reminder that you’ve ignored the message for two minutes.

“Why are you doing this?”

“Doing what?”

That takes a second. What is she doing, in normal people words?

“Food. Talking. You’re busy, you don’t have to—”

“Of course I don’t.” If she was condescending before, now she’s biting. Like she wants you to shut up and go away even if her words say the opposite. “If I didn’t want to do this I could just put it at the bottom of my long, long to-do list. But this is important to me. You’re important to me.”

You only really hear ‘long, long to-do list’ as a spear of guilt impales you right through your overstuffed guts. Right. You’re not only wasting someone’s time, you’re wasting the time of someone important.

You stand up and pull out your cane. She rises to meet you can hear the faint sound bills landing on the table. “Thank you, then. I’ll be on my way.”

You start to walk and she keeps pace. “Where are you going?”

“Pokémon Center.” Probably not a lie. Unless you decide to go somewhere else.

“Good, it’s on my way. Let me come with you.”

How do you say no? How do you say no so that she’ll let you just walk away and give fate a few more chances to take you away? You don’t think you can. She’s perceptive and oddly committed. So you let her guide you and obey all the traffic laws in silence. Because there’s nothing you can say that will get you what you want. That will get her to leave you alone.

You take the time to put your happy face back on. Physical things. Rolling your shoulders back. Smiling as much as you can manage. Trying to take lighter steps even though your legs still feel like lead. Singing a nursery rhyme in your head and even quietly humming it, even though Rachel might notice. Trying not just to smile but to feel it throughout your body. Breathing different. You’ve had practice. Years of it.

Your happy face likes things. Dreams about things. Laughs spontaneously. Thinks she’ll survive the New Fire. Hopes she’ll survive the New Fire. She has friends. Used to have family, but she honestly doesn’t dwell on that. Crushes a little too hard on people she shouldn’t. Likes her showers as cold as she can stand them. Cuddles dragons. Sometimes she even thinks people like her.

She isn’t a fat, useless moron one day away from killing herself.

You don’t know if she’s real. You read once that “we are what we pretend to be.” You’d like to think that’s true. Because you like her. She’s what you should have been. Someday you might even be her. But, no, you think the quote was wrong. There’s what we pretend to be and what we are.

The doors open in front of her and she walks in. Rachel’s footsteps don’t follow. The girl turns her head just enough that the woman will know she’s being acknowledged.

“You going to be alright?”

“Yes,” she says.

She almost means it.
 
Normal 1.6
The Vulture Queen
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The chapter opens with an extended scene of Cuicatl Ichtaca interacting with her brother, Achcauhtli, after school one day. He complains about a headache similar to the migraines his sister used to get. After offering to stay and taking care of some chores, she flies away on Alice the hydreigon for a weekend trip in the mountains.
The story skips to the present, where Cuicatl Ichtaca drops off Pixie after her bout with Kekoa. The nurse says that Pixie will be fine within 24 hours, but Kekoa will need a talk about excessive force before he slips up and gets into real trouble.
Cuicatl Ichtaca wanders the streets of Hau’oli alone and in a depressive haze until she comes to the waterfront. There she breaks down over her chronic depression, her guilt over her brother’s death, her repeated losses in battle, and her loneliness. She ultimately decides that she does not want to die but has no idea how to proceed.
Rachel finds her shortly after. They go to lunch, where Cuicatl Ichtaca struggles with her eating disorder before ultimately managing to get a full meal down. Rachel expresses concerns about the journey and suggests meeting with a politically well-connected psychic to discuss options. Cuicatl Ichtaca tepidly agrees and then spends the walk back to the Pokémon Center pulling herself together.

Normal 1.6: Earthquakes and Breezes
Pixie

What is this?



Is this place a place or not?



How would you know?



Who is you?



You are thoughts.



What are thoughts?



This.



There was something before.



What is ‘befor

*​

Reality reappears. You shake yourself off and breathe before pulling yourself in.

This is.

You are.

Skysong moves to pick you up and you let her. Her grip misses the mark just a little bit before you correct it.

“Hey, Pix,” she says. The words come from her chest beside you and her mouth above you at about the same time. One deep and rumbling and the other soft and flowing. Earthquakes and breezes.

She doesn’t sound angry. She smells like almost all of the feelings at once, but anger is not the main one.

Maybe she’s not upset that she lost. Again.

“They feed you yet today?”

Did they? You aren’t sure. That depends on how long you weren’t.

“Not hungry,” you answer.

Skysong hums and the noise reverberates through her and into you. “Alright. I’m going to eat some toast or something. Then I’ve got a meeting at the VStar building. We’re getting our first assignment today. Should be on the trail before too long.” She resumes humming, this time at a lower pitch. You aren’t sure if you’re supposed to speak over it or not. “I was thinking, maybe instead of battling we could take a few days to teach you to be a better guide fox? So you can help me get around places? You don’t have to if you don’t want to, of course.”

“Want to,” you yip. Even though you aren’t entirely sure what she means. You want to help so that she loves you.

“Good,” she says. Then she bends down slowly before relaxing her grip. You take the hint and jump down. “We’ll start later today.”

*​

Toast, Skysong explains between bites, is the result of humans grinding up strange berries that are always dry, adding small sickness-causing animals, throwing it all in a fire, taking it out and letting it cool, and then throwing it all in a fire again. It seems like far too much effort for something that doesn’t look or smell good. But then she puts on a paste that comes out of milk. It is odd that even adult humans keep drinking milk, but then again they are very weak and probably need all of the help they can get. And the paste smells good, too. Even if you are too strong and adult to want any.

*​

Reality resumes in the blessed cold of inside. You could have walked with Skysong through the metal forest with burning air and hard black rivers, but she wants help later and you can’t do any good if you are literally melted.

The other two humans in her pack are present, the still-wounded Bloodrage and the annoying frog owner Growlsleeper. There is also a new and as-yet-nameless adult male human. Before you can crawl up on the big flat climbing structure to get a good look at Nameless, Skysong pulls you back towards her and starts petting you. Her heart doesn’t sound like Nameless is a threat, so you can put off your reconnaissance mission until after the petting stops.

“Looks like you’ve had a busy week. Kekoa and Cuicatl, congrats on your Class III. Most trainers stop there, but if you want to go higher we’ll gladly help you,” Nameless says in a way that makes it sound like teeth are bared. Not in the “threat” or “happy” sense, but in the “I want to make you think I am not a threat” one humans sometimes use. The scent is always the giveaway. It is strange that humans express so much through their glands but then are not able to smell it. Like they were designed to not understand each other.

Humans must be very lonely.

“Genesis, good job on the Class II. Enjoy your time off from studying, but I would try to get the Class III when you’re back. Lets you take better paying missions later on.”

“I, um, okay,” Growlsleeper stammers out. “Thank you?”

Sometimes you think Growlsleeper is almost smart enough to not understand human communications. Like Skysong! She told you that humans make no sense and she can’t explain them to you because she just cheats and uses her mind. But she’s nice so she did try to answer a few questions before she finally had to give up.

“No problemo,” Nameless responds before clapping his hands together to create a weak shockwave attack. Your ears flick back and Skysong flinches under you. She should work on that. It makes her very easy to take out at the start of a fight. You will help her fix this problem at a later date. Maybe roar in her ear at random times until she stops reacting. “Now! I have an important announcement to make, drumroll please,” he starts banging his forepaws on the board really quickly. You glance up to Skysong and inquiry growl. Is the climbing structure a threat? You know some wood that smells dead is actually alive and moves and should be killed so that it is dead for real.

{Not a threat.}

Oh. Just another inexplicable human thing.

“At the break of dawn Wednesday we’ll pick you up and take you to a secret journey starting ritual—”

“Mantine ride.” Bloodrage yawns and makes no effort to slow or quiet it. “It’s a mantine ride. All over the interwebs”

“Well. We’ll see on Wednesday—”

“That’s actually the problem,” Bloodrage interjects. “Because one of us won’t be seeing anything and I stillswant to make sure that you’ve at least thought about that before dawn Wednesday.”

Skysong’s hand and she moves to cross her legs under you, forcing you to move to the edge of the seat before she abruptly stops. {Sorry.} Then she moves her legs back to how they were. You take a second to make sure that everything has settled again before you quietly yawn an apology and curl back up. She resumes petting you. As she should.

“…I will look into it. If there is a problem with our secret journey starter we’ll find something else for her to do.”

Your trainer’s paw lifts just a bit, one claw curled back and pointed down like a snake about to strike down. “Thank you,” she says, and her claw falls back in line with the rest and ruffles your headfur.

“No problem. Now, we’re going to drop you off in Heahea around noon. Pick you up thirty-five days later at North Shore Resort. We’ll text you more info on that when the date comes closer.”

Bloodrage leans forward and you can hear his hands pressing down on the table, causing the whole thing to creak and shift. “Anything else we need to hear or could this have just been a five line email?”

Nameless answers. He smells a little bit like fear now. Bloodrage smells like anger. They say words. It’s boring. You decide to ask Skysong a question you thought of earlier. “What’s a mantine?”.

“Pixie,” Skysong hisses. Her heart is beating faster. Threat? Is the mantine a threat?

“There a problem, miss?” Nameless asks.

“No, sir. Pixie just got a little excited. Can I go into the hall to calm her down?”

“A-OK with me. I’m sure Kekoa or Genesis can fill you in later.”

“ I will!” Growlsleeper chimes in.

Skysong bares her teeth and nods. “Thank you.” She starts to stand so you jump up and follow her out.

“What’s a mantine?” you bark again as soon as the door is closed.

Skysong sighs. “After we finish guide training, we’re going to work harder on telepathy.”

You hop up into her lap as she sits down on a long climbing structure that’s only a little bit taller than you are.

“Why?”

“Because people don’t like it when pokémon are loud when people—when humans are talking. And if you’re wearing a guide harness it’s really important that you’re quiet when humans are talking.”

You swat your tails at her. “Humans are boring.”

“I know.” She ruffles your headfur before really scratching your cheek and you lean into the wonderful petting. “Humans also have good things that we both want. So we have to be nice to them.”

“I can hunt,” you offer.

Skysong laughs in her high pitch windy way. “Great. Now, can you make blankets?”

“I’m better than blankets.”

“Clothing?”

You stretch out before curling into a ball on her lap. She’s clearly trying to drag this out, so you can afford to get comfortable.

“Falsefur is unnecessary. Sea level is too hot as is.”

She stops petting you, leaving her forepaw awkwardly hovering above your neck, a finger in striking position again.

“I’m thinking that… well, you might be getting some teammates on Akala. But only for maybe two weeks! Then I’ll let them go and you can be my only pokémon again.”

You lift your head and make eye contact. Challenging her. Even if she can’t see it. “Why?”

She leans back onto her forelegs and her head droops until her chin brushes against the base of her neck.

“I have to catch the paras anyway. I could immediately hand them over to VStar, but I think they might be useful in the trial. Assuming we go straight north. I can’t see why we wouldn’t. If we go the long way then, uh, how do you feel about getting lit on fire?”

You huff, “I’d like to see someone try.”

She bares her teeth in either absolute fear or joyous recognition of your power. “Right. I, um, it would make me feel better if we got a water-type friend for that one.”

“No,” you whine. “Fire turns ice into water and then water hurts fire. I win.”

Why is she already trying to replace you? You’ve been a good fox! She’s not going to leave you. She can’t. You’re being nice and everything! Ice foxes are better than fish (they can’t even breathe on land, much less fight there!) and she’s smart for a human so she has to know that, right? So why is she acting like she doesn’t get it. Like she doesn’t love you.

“Just think about it, okay? I will pick up pokémon for two, three weeks at a time if I need them. If you treat them well, I’ll let you veto any permanent teammates you want.” She starts to get up before you can figure out a response. “And you know what bats are, right?”

Yes. You used to sit at the edge of a hole in the mountain and wait for thinwings to fly out in a giant swarm and then you would fire up sharp icicles and sometimes you’d knock one down and eat it.

“Well, mantine are like giant bats that live in the water. Since you wanted to know.”

*​

You still aren’t entirely sure if Skysong is going to abandon you for a fish, but she has started treating you properly. First she took you to a store that smelled like many, many other pokémon and got you a harness. You didn’t think you wanted falsefur, but the harness is sky blue with white curvy lettering and it matches your eyes and fur and it is perfect. You will wear it until it breaks and then scream until you are given one that is just as good.

Then there was practice inside of a giant building with lots of humans that was thankfully kept cool. And then more practice on a road that was not cool. It took you some time to catch on, but now you are an almost perfect guide fox pretty much all of the time. Even if Skysong did reprimand you when there was this big black moon ring eevee and you had to protect your trainer. Apparently you are not supposed to protect her when you are wearing the harness. Even from eevee. And you are not supposed to roar at the giant metal boxes humans send down the hard black rivers, even if they are going very fast and being very loud near your very vulnerable trainer. And one time people were walking very close to your trainer and you almost got stepped on so you jumped in front of Skysong and then she kicked you. She apologized. You weren’t hurt (no human could hurt you). It was fine.

Now you are being rewarded for the excellent job that you did!

Rewarded outside. Which is bad. But there is at least something to hide from the sun under, even if for some utterly unknowable reason Skysong is only keeping her legs in the shade.

Growlsleeper walks back up to you and sets some things down on the structure you’re resting under. “That’s your chocolate, my leppa and,” she bends down under the table and places a small cup down beside you. “Pixie’s vanilla.”

Growsleeper sits down, also only putting her legs in the shade. You approach the cup and sniff it. It feels cold. Smells strange. A little like the paste on Skysong’s toast. Food?

{Yes, food.} Skysong messages. You hadn’t even meant to ask her.

Okay. Food. You stick your tongue out and let the very tip of it sink into the paste. It doesn’t taste like snow. Thicker. A little more solid. It’s familiar, like—oh like the strange floating icicles that showed up right before Thirdborn and Sixthburn got lost.

The icicle tasted very good. It was very mean but went went down easily enough. You start taking very big licks out of the icicle corpse before it starts melting in the unbearable heat. Pretty soon there is nothing left to lick up but the wood pulp container and you sit down, your mouth and throat and belly suitably cold. Skysong loves you! Probably.

“Leppa?” Skysong asks. It takes you a second to realize that she isn’t talking to you.

“Oh, yeah, they’re these really sweet berries. Kind of small—”

“I know what leppa berries are. Never heard of them on ice cream.”

There’s a moment of silence above you. Growsleeper crosses her legs and you have to duck to avoid getting hit by her paw.

“Right. It’s actually super common? Like, leppa, chocolate, and vanilla. Except no one actually gets leppa…”

“Hmm.” Skysong scrapes her hollowed-out-claw against the edge of the wood pulp. “Only one place in the village that had ice cream. Owner made it from scratch. Don’t think she sold leppa, but I could’ve just missed it. Never liked the berries’ taste, anyway.”
It is very hot. Even in the shade. The cold in your belly is still satisfying.

“Chocolate?” Growlsleeper asks.

“Hmm?”

“Sorry. Just. You led by stating my flavor as a question and uh. Yeah. Kinda thought that. Nevermind.”

Skysong laughs. Was there something funny? A threat? Humans are very strange.

“It’s fine. Honestly just wanted to see how American chocolate holds up.” Growlsleeper’s legs uncross and again you have to dodge a paw. “How does it?”

Skysong laughs again. Shorter this time. “It doesn’t. As for the vanilla, I read online that vulpix like white foods and I also wasn’t sure what flavors she can and can’t eat. Dog stomach, you know?”

You are not a dog. You do not have a “dog stomach.” You have a fox stomach. But you are wearing the collar so you should not point this out now. No. You will wait and then make your grievances known. Probably by hiding her white stick while she’s asleep. She hates it when you do that.

“How did you know that vanilla ice cream is white?” Growlsleeper asks? Accuses? Both?

“You know most blind people weren’t born blind, right?”

Another swinging kick from Growlsleeper! How dare she?

“I didn’t know that.”

There are a few more desperate scrapings of a claw on wood pulp above you before something gets pushed across the structure.

“I was, though. It’s not the cataracts. I just leave those because my brother said they make me look like a wizard.”

Growlsleeper giggles. Skysong joins in. It’s short but you’re not sure if they’re arguing or not anymore.

“Anyway. Colors. I don’t see them, but other people think they’re important. That means that they’re important to me. I read about what people think when they see colors. Like, blue is calm, purple is power, yellow is hunger, and red is lust and anger and all that stuff. Fascinating. And most of you sighted people don’t even seem to realize it’s happening to you.”

That is weird. You have feelings about colors, sure, but they’re simple and correct and you are very aware of them. White is the best color. Snow and vulpixes. Red is blood, which is either very good or very bad. Blue is the color of your eyes and also the sky on bad days where there aren’t storms to hide in. Black is the color of prey. Green means that you have gone too far down the mountain and need to retreat back to the cold. There. All of the colors.

“Okay. But how do you figure out what color things are?”

“I ask people. Or read it in books.”

“Oh.” You think about asking what books are. But then you remember earlier and how Skysong doesn’t like you interrupting so you don’t. Like a very good fox she should love. “I can tell you what color clothes are, if you need help now.”

Skysong’s legs start to shift and you stand up to get out of the way. She abruptly pauses. {Crossing legs.} And then she finishes, legs crossed just above the paws. Nice gesture but it would be better if it came earlier. {It’s reflex. Sorry. Don’t think about it in advance.}

“Thank you. I don’t think I will be buying clothes for a while, though.”

It is very, very warm in the shade. You puff out air and shake yourself off, sending shards of ice clattering to the ground. You get down and roll in them, relieved to feel cold outside of your body.

“Oh. Yeah. I, uh, I meant when clothes break.”

“Break?”

Growlsleeper’s heartrate is noticeably elevated now. You look around, making sure that there is not an eevee or other menace that Skysong cannot see.

“Y’know? Tears and stains and stuff.”

“I can sew small ones back together.”

Your gorgeous fur is a prison of fire. But you are a good fox wearing a beautiful harness. You will not misbehave until the harness comes off.

“You can sew?”

“You can’t?”

This is boring. What even is sewing? And your ice shards are almost all melted. Now you’re hot and wet and this is maybe the worst thing to ever happen to you.

“You really can’t sew? No one ever taught you?”

“No. That’s not … okay I guess there are a lot of girls who know how, but it’s not really expected or anything?”

“Huh.” There’s a long-bodied mammal at the edge of the clearing. Yungoos! That’s what Grasseyes called it. Should you tell Skysong about it? You will if it gets closer. They’re known to steal food from the bowls of very good foxes. “It’s one of the first things girls are taught in Anahuac. I just assumed…”

Growlsleeper’s voice gets quiet. “Bad for girls over there?”

“Sort of. Girls have options.” You see Skysong’s leg twitch at the edge of your vision, but she stops herself before it moves. “But boys have better ones.”

Interesting. Humans are patriarchal. That makes Bloodrage the leader of the pack. Does that mean you have to take orders from him. You hope not.

“That’s sort of how it works here. Well, same opportunities. But boys get the best ones because xerneas made them stronger and smarter than us.”

The heat has almost fully evaporated the water on you. Now you are only very, very hot. You accidentally flick a tail against Skysong. She ignores it.

“Kekoa’s smarter than me?”

You flick another tail on accident.

{Yes?}

You whimper in heat-related pain and Skysong seems to get your meaning. She fiddles with her belt and takes your pokéball out.

“I didn’t say—”

“Yeah. You did. If boys are all smarter than girls.”

Growlsleeper doesn’t respond as Skysong leans down and reaches out to you. She runs her hands through your fur more than is probably needed to take the harness off. Not that you’re complaining.

“I don’t want to brag, but I speak five languages and know a little calculus. I like to think I’m smart. Smarter than him.” She finishes unhooking the last strap and pulls the harness off in one motion. Maybe a little too roughly. Then she reaches for the sweet nothingness of your pokéball. “But everyone keeps telling me I’m not. Maybe I’m wrong.”

{You can tell me aloud if you’re hot. Even in your harness.}

You bristle and start to growl right before you un-become.

Now she tells you.

*​

You reform on Skysong’s bed. A quick sniff and glance confirms that both of the other pack members are present, but neither of their pokémon are. Interesting scent though. You turn towards it and take a few small steps forward, nose to the ground. There it is! On Skysong’s pillow. It’s… salt? Like the ocean? Why did she throw her pillow into the sea? Even by human standards that is very strange.
Bloodrage makes harsh throat air. “Well, now that you girls are done with your shopping spree, can we get back to business?”

“Just bought a harness…” Growlsleeper mumbles.

Bloodrage ignores her and Skysong doesn’t say anything at all. “Any objections to just heading up Routes 4 and 5 to North Point? We could go the long way if Kiwi wants to get her pet roasted.”

You are not her pet. You are her beloved fox. And nothing could ever roast you. Much less “the long way,” whatever that is. Probably a weasel or a snake and you can kill both.

“I’m fine going straight north,” Skysong says before baring her teeth and tilting her head. Uh oh. “How was your excessive force lecture, by the way?”

Bloodrage glares. “Next time you want to be a sore loser, please don’t drag me into it.”

“Or what? You’ll beat me up. And get another talk? Almost worth it.”

“You’re right.” Bloodrage puts his paws together and there’s a sharp breaking sound. “It almost would be.”

There’s a fit of coughing from right above you. Growlsleeper.

“I’m also fine going north. We want to talk about tents and stuff tonight?”

Bloodrage lifts his glare a little bit and crosses his arms. Skysong frowns. Did she want to challenge him? Even though she is female and would lose? The stalemate breaks. Bloodrage kicks his hindlegs up into his bed and lies down in it, staring at the platform above him.

“Still more road shit to discuss. One night in Heahea. Anyone insist on staying longer?”

“I’m fine,” Growlsleeper says quickly enough that the words blend into each other.
Skysong shrugs. You flick a tail at her to remind her that she is within petting distance of you and is not petting you. She reacts incorrectly by reaching into the harness bag.

“Okay. With that settled, two nights on Route 4.”

“Why,” Skysong asks as she rummages around the bag. “We could do it in one day and not sleep on the trail at all.”

She finally finds what she’s looking for and pulls out—a brush! Not a human one but one for very beautiful fur. Like yours! You hop up on her lap and she takes a second to feel where you are before she starts brushing.

“Says the—” Bloodrage sighs and says nothing as Skysong brushes your mane. “I want to know if the gear works. It’s also a chance to train and maybe capture some pokémon before the trial gets too close. I’ve thought this through. Trust me.”

You press your cheek into the bristles and feel them slide past you and down your neck and side. You immediately turn around and press your other cheek against the brush before she has a chance to take it away.

“Is there still enough time if we do that?”

Bloodrage shifts onto his side to look at your trainer. “Yeah. Thirty-five nights. One in Heahea. Three on Route 4. Five in Paniola for catching stuff. Two on the lower part of Route 5. Three at Brooklet Hill. Six on the upper part of Route 5. Up to fourteen for training, trial, and castform catching. Whatever’s left at North Shores.”

Skysong sets the brush down and you reflexively rush towards her hand and snap your teeth down a hair away from her skin. The betrayal! She looks at you like she’s annoyed and. Oh no. Maybe she thinks you’re going to bite and kill her and now she hates you and is going to get rid of you as soon as she can.

Your trainer sighs and stands up. “More brushing later, Pix. And Kekoa? Your plan’s good enough for now. We can talk more after my shower.”
*​
When humans lick themselves clean they insist on being surrounded by very hot water that makes all the air around the grooming site get very hot as well. You’ve learned to keep your distance and wait on Skysong’s soft bed for her return. She vocalizes under the water. Something about a “witch” and a sky snake. You could easily kill sky snakes. Snakes hate cold. Birds hate cold. They would run the second they saw you but they wouldn’t because you would sneak up on them so stealthily that they wouldn’t see you so they’d die and you would eat them.

She comes out a little bit later hair damp and her body smelling odd (humans apparently lick something with a very strong scent before licking themselves clean). When she sits down you note that she’s oddly cold. Not embraced by lingering heat. Very strange.

“Now,” Skysong says. “Logistics. Let’s start with food.”

“I have a list,” Bloodrage responds. “Mostly freeze-dried and canned stuff that lasts a long time and can be cooked on a camp stove. Ideally it wouldn’t require cooking at all.”

Skysong shakes her head. “No. Too expensive.”

“Two-thirds discount on camping gear for the first month. Applies to most camping food.”

Your trainer leans back and folds her arms. “And the discount gets cut in half later. Besides, preservation isn’t an issue.”

Bloodrage rolls his eyes. “Now, if you don’t remember you agreed to a seven day segment on the trail. No refrigerators there.”

“Depends on your definition of refrigerator.” You get pulled up rather aggressively onto your trainer’s lap.

Yes. You are a refrigerator. The cutest refrigerator. Also, hiding inside of refrigerators is very fun and maybe the best thing about surface level.

Bloodrage crosses his arms to match Skysong. “By the time you get to the end of a day of hiking you won’t want to cook.”

“All I’d have to do is warm stuff up. Not very hard.”

“Like?”

“Beans, cheese, and vegetables on a tortilla. Cooked in advance and warmed up when needed.”

“Can I jump in?” Growlsleeper asks.

“Go ahead.”

“I think I vote for Kekoa’s plan? I don’t want to eat the same thing everyday. And backpacking food sounds exciting.”

Skysong practically hisses as she exhales air. “Fine. See if I care.”
 
Normal 1.7
The Vulture Queen
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Normal 1.7: A White Muk
Genesis

You aren’t sure what you were expecting to feel. But calm? That never occurred to you.

There’s wind in your hair and you know that your locks are only held in place by the weight of the water in them. You closed your eyes a long time ago because water droplets kept flying into them. And you’re standing up on the back of a pokémon on the high seas with giant waves beside you and you feel nothing at all. You almost want to laugh but that would break the moment. So you’re just grinning like a madwoman as water rushes by beneath you and wind beside you. Hours in the temple every week of your life and somehow? Somehow this is the closest you’ve ever been to Xerneas.

“FUCK!”

The peace shatters. You turn around and the mantine beneath you groans. “Oh. No! Not a command. Stay forward.” The mantine purrs again and you keep moving at a noticeably slower pace. You glance back over your shoulder without shifting your weight and accidentally giving an order. Kekoa’s in the water, a receding splotch of orange with his mantine and the guide beside him. The guide looks at you and whistles; your mantine swerves away from the biggest waves and comes to a stop.

Kekoa struggles to get back on his pokémon and then slips off again while trying to get into the harness. It’s mean but you giggle. He can’t hear you anyway. A thought comes to you, a meaner one, and your smile starts to strain your muscles. You practice the line in your head, refining it and thinking of all the variations for when he finally gets on his mantine and comes over towards you with the guide.

He stops right beside you, the guide drifting in somewhere behind. Kekoa frowns. “What are you so happy about?”

“I just love this time of year, y’know?”

He glances up at you. While he’s really hooked up to the harness and you’re standing you absolutely tower above him. More than usual, anyway. “Really?”

“Yeah. I like watching the fall.”

Kekoa just stares at you. For long enough that your mantine gets a little restless and raises a flipper up before splashing it down. The impact sends water straight into his face. He blinks and reaches up to wipe the seaspray off.

“At least I’m trying to do tricks. You’re just gliding along like an idiot.”

Something wells up in you. Something so foreign you don’t quite have a word for it. “Oh yeah?” You get down and start pulling the straps onto your legs until you match his position. “I was just warming up.” This is dangerous. You know it’s dangerous. And yet you’re too calm, too… something to care.

Kekoa taps twice on the harness and his mantine takes off. You follow suit and then go back to gripping the harness’s handlebars for dear life as you quickly reach your comfortable speed. Kekoa’s going much faster ahead of you and starting to head up the slopes. Two more knocks; your hand flies back to the grips right before you go faster than you’ve gone before. Kekoa does a short jump off the slope in front of you and starts rushing back down. Can you do better? Another two knocks says yes. There’s a lurch forward and a slap of water in your face makes you realize that you totally forgot to close your eyes. Your hand rises and you almost knock once—slow down—but it quickly flies back to the grip. No. No slowing down. You don’t want to accelerate like that again. You blink rapidly, holding your head down and letting your hair fall in front of it in like a solid wet curtain in a vain attempt to keep more water from coming in. It works okay. You’re probably good to go.

The speed is really something. Every time there’s a crease on the surface your body lifts up and then comes crashing down. Your hands are already getting tired and you haven’t even tried to jump yet. You smile. If you’re going to do this, you’d better do it soon. A hard lean to the side sends you sailing right onto the face of the wave. It takes you most of the way there to realize that you’re screaming out some sort of primal war cry. Right as you start to process that there’s a moment of stillness and you realize that you’re entirely out of the water.

You come crashing back down a second later, another jolt coursing through your body. But you hold on even though you can barely feel your hands anymore, just some generalized pain at the end of your arms. You lean left, back down the wave, and mantine follows. A tilt right sends you back up the slope—and you tilt left. No. time to push your limits. You take a deep breath. And then another one. Then you lean right for a fraction of a second, long enough for the mantine to react. Then you shut your eyes and start yelling, yelling to scare the sea or Kekoa or your fears. You feel weightless for a little longer this time before gravity reasserts itself.

Your reaction is faster. One down. One up. One down. One up. One down. One up, roaring again to make sure the wave knows who conquers it. This time you keep your eyes open. It seems you went higher this time. Whether that’s real or it just looks higher because you saw it, who knows? Does it matter?

You can feel the bones in your hand and their lock on the grip. You think your feet are slipping in the harness’s boots. Your knees have taken far more impacts than they’re used too. It doesn’t matter. You lean left and ride on.

*​

Everything is sore, your hands most of all. Yet for some utterly baffling reason you’re still smiling like a kid at a candy store by the time you get to land. It almost feels bad to take the ugly and awkward-fitting life jacket off, and not just because your fingers struggle with the buckles way more than they did a few hours ago.

Kekoa takes his off rather quickly and gets his phone and sandals from the waterproof bag. Without talking to you. Probably still mad that he fell five times and you only fell once (and honestly it was kind of fun once the shock wore off). You stagger back towards the guide’s mantine to return the life jacket and pick up your stuff. He hasn’t actually taken his jacket off yet. And he’s watching you as you approach. Which. Attention. Why? Why attention? Can he not?

“Hey, um, just dropping this off.” Which he knows. Of course.

He takes it as a cue to start talking. “You were pretty great out there.”

“I. What? I just did a flip and fell off.”

The guide laughs. “Okay, maybe not great. But it looked like you were having fun. Sounded like it too.”

You glance aside. Kekoa’s face is buried in his phone. No help. Or hurt. What do?

Your choice is made for you: “We could give you a job if you wanted it.” What. “Twelve bucks an hour. On the surf almost every day. Could be way worse.”

You have to consciously close your mouth. Your toes shift in the sand and you don’t bother to stop that. “But I’m not good at it.” Wait should you be arguing against it? Would it be lying if you didn’t point it out or.

“Oh, we can teach you how to do it. Can’t teach you how to love it. We can give you a stipend as you learn if money’s a problem right now.”

You almost keep arguing. But you don’t. If it takes Mom time to come around a job could be good. And it’s fun. But maybe you shouldn’t drop out of your journey without thinking about it?

“Hey, it’s fine if you can’t take it now. Just give us a call if you want it. Tell them Eric rec’d you.”

“Thanks,” you tell Eric. Because you don’t know what else to say. You pick up your phone and flip flops and drop the jacket before heading to Kekoa.

He glances up at you and then goes back to his phone. “Kiwi’s already at the Pokémon Center. Let’s get lunch there and then split up for the afternoon.

Under the tight shirt his pecs are way bigger than you were expecting. He’s not that buff anywhere else; his arms are actually kind of skinny. Kekoa looks up and glares at you. Oh. Yeah. You kind of are being gross. “Yeah, sure, sounds good.”

There’s a bit of silence. Right up until the concrete stairs rising out of the sand. “You taking the job?” Kekoa asks.

The streets are pretty enough. Cobblestone roads with clean concrete sidewalks. A mix of upscale boutiques and smaller touristy stores with surfboards and leis and inflatable sharpedo in the windows. You know he asked you a question but you still take a moment to look at the world before you answer.

“I don’t know. Maybe?”

You come to a stop at a crosswalk. The red hand is up but there’s not traffic. Kekoa looks at you with an unreadable face and then keeps walking into the street.

*​

You peed an hour ago but you’re still staring at the ceiling. The phone clock says it’s only 1:47. You’ve barely had three hours of sleep and you should get more because tomorrow is going to be a long, long day and you’re tired now.

Not that the tiredness is helping you actually get rest. You’ve snuggled up under the covers, counted 120 wooloo rolling down the hill, closed your eyes and focused on the darkness, said the Resurrection Plea fifty times… nothing’s worked. And now you’re getting worked up because nothing’s worked.

Maybe you need fresh air? Is it safe, though? You know you’re near the beach, near Tidesong, but this isn’t your side of town. You really only came over this far to visit Diana and you never walked here. Or never went too far outside at night. Was that because it was unsafe? Or because you just didn’t want to?

Well. You also didn’t have a pokémon then. Maybe you should take Sir Bubbles out on a walk. He is nocturnal after all. Yeah. Yeah, you’ll do that. Just for a little bit. Then it’s right back to sleep for you and right back to the pool for Sir Bubbles. You slowly roll out, wincing at the creaking noises the bed makes. Right above Cuicatl. And she’s probably really sensitive to that. Your feet hit the ground with a thud after you leave the ladder a step early you glance at her in a panic. She’s somehow still asleep. But her pupper is very much awake and looking at you like you just killed her entire family. “Sorry,” you whisper.

Thankfully you’re already in a t-shirt and shorts so you really just have to grab your purse on the way out the door. And of course you manage to make the door shutting into a whole loud ‘boom’ thing. Of course.

*​

The streets are as dead as the halls and pool were. There’s one restaurant—a bar maybe—two blocks down with lights shining from it and a few people milling outside. Nobody between you and the water. You pull Sir Bubbles a little tighter to your chest and start walking to the coast. There’s a faint breeze, enough to make you a little bit cold. You glance up: the skies are cloudy and you can’t see any stars. Oh. Not great weather for a night walk. At least it’s not rain—you aren’t going to finish that thought. No wood to knock on.

Alright. Quick walk. Just the couple blocks to the edge of the beach. The same shops look almost ominous when the light only reaches in to the display shelves with rope necklaces and tombstones and shark silhouettes in the place of leis and surfboards and pool toys. You find yourself picking up the pace reflexively. It’s still fine. One car rolls past and turns on to a side street in front of you. It keeps moving so you relax. It’s too quiet. There should be birdsong or people or something beyond the rolling of the waves.

By the time you’ve worked yourself up enough that you don’t feel even a little bit tired you’ve made it to the plaza-type area before the steps down to the beach. There’s a short concrete wall to lean on and it’s wide enough to set Sir Bubbles down on. Let him look at the water. Not fresh water but he might not know that. And you can always withdraw him if he does make a run for it.

He doesn’t. He does look at you with his wide, expressive eyes for a fraction of a second before turning back to the ocean. After a second he wiggles and deflates a little bit as he lowers himself down to the railing. You giggle to yourself. He’s so cute. Wouldn’t have thought a frog could be but here you are.

Here. You. Are.

The thought isn’t depressing. Calming, maybe. Takes the anxiety and giddiness away in an instant.

Here you are halfway across town and a world away from where you were a month ago. For now. Mom is moody but she loves you. She’ll realize it was all a misunderstanding and come around. If she can find it in herself to visit Exodus once a month she can find it in herself to forgive you. Still. Being with Sir Bubbles. The mantine riding. The job offer. You giggle again. It’s hard to imagine telling Mom that you’re going to be a surfer girl from now on. Would she even know what to say?

No. You couldn’t accept it. They’d spend all that time training you and then you’d just go back to the other side of town. But it was fun. Might be worth trying to get lessons once everything goes back to normal. It is exercise. At least your body feels like it was exercise. And it’s not manly like basketball or corrupting like cheerleading so Mom shouldn’t have a problem with it.

The wind picks up enough that you can hear it. Nope nope nope. Time to go back to your warm bed. After dropping Sir Bubbles off in the–is it a heated pool? Should it be? You didn’t catch him in a heated pond. Huh. You should do some more reading. Probably need to know it for your Class III anyway.

Oh. Right. Your Class III. That test that Cuicatl spent almost a week studying for. You should probably research for that on the trail but. You didn’t bring a guide book. Were you supposed to? Can Cuicatl and Kekoa just fill you in on the important stuff? Is that cheating?

No. Not now. These are tomorrow thoughts. Or at least bed thoughts. You scoop Sir Bubbles back into your arms and turn around. You immediately realize that you aren’t as alone as you were when you arrived. There are two people in the street. Approaching you. It would be innocent but they’ve got the exaggerated thug walk and. Oh no. This is.

Right on cue one of the thugs drops a boombox and hits a button. Yeaaaaaaah. Team Skull. They step over the boombox and keep walking towards you, their arms joining the exaggerated swinging of their hips. All in time with the beat. Did they practice?

“Did you practice that?”

No. No no no no no no no. Bad Genesis. Get a filter. At least around Skull.

One of the gangsters just laughs. “No practice. We’re just born with the beat in our bones.”

The other looks at him. “Shit, homie, of course we practiced. Drills for days. Making sure we’re bone hard enough to roll with the hardest crew in this whole joint.”

“It’s more intimidating if you don’t mention that,” Skull 1 hisses. Under his breath. So you don’t hear it. You pretend not to, partially out of politeness, partially out of confusion, partially out of fear.

“I ain’t busting my tailbone for a week and not taking credit for it. Shit’s impressive.” He turns towards you. “It is impressive, right?”

“I. Um. Yes?”

“Heh. See? Girl knows we’re professionals to the bone. She’s shaking from her skull to her metatarsals.”

“Metatarsals?” you ask. Your hands immediately fly to your mouth and you kind of accidentally drop Sir Bubbles. He squeaks when he hits the ground. A downward glance shows that he’s very annoyed at you but otherwise unharmed.

The Skulls are nice enough to ignore your mishap. “Toe bones? You been to school right?”

“Yes.” Although you are a high school dropout. Huh. Hadn’t seen that one coming. “And, uh, you?”

“’course I’ve been to school. Dropped out to be a straight up gangsta, no bones about it, but I still got knowledge in my cranium, yo.

Now.” Both skulls hold out their elbows and angle their hands in. “Now we’re gonna get bone—”

Light. There’s light in your eyes until it fades into white spots. There’s a crack like a whip and then screaming in front of you. Rapid blinks do no good. What’s going on? What—there’s a pitter patter of feet on the sand behind you. Sir Bubbles. Running to the water. To the salt water. You reach down and fumble with your purse until you feel a plastic orb. Some color has filtered back into the bright white spots. You run your finger along the pokéball—is this how Cuicatl sees everything?—and find the button. You turn around, hold it out, and with no idea whatsoever if you’re pointed in the right direction you click the button. Red light joins the white in the parts of your vision that are more or less back. You think that worked? Would there be a red flash if it didn’t?

There’s another crack and a flash of light behind you that illuminates the beach. You clench yourself together and stand dead still for one second. Ten seconds. Twenty seconds. Most of your vision is back, but when you blink you can still see the white and when you open your eyes you can see the same pattern in faint green.

You slowly turn around. Both of the Skull thugs are on the ground, sprawled out. It smells like burned food. No, burned hair. Like the litten Emily’s sister—uh, what’s her name?—had. There’s a man and a pokemon standing over them. The man’s tall, a little wide, his hair’s a little too long. No uniform or anything. Just a t-shirt and shorts. Like you. The pokémon’s just a little bit shorter. Glowing yellow stripes mixed in with black strips of darkness. Electa-something. Vire? No, they’re bulkier, right? Electa… buzz then?

You step back reflexively. Even though it’s fine and they just saved you and. Deep breath. Smile. People etiquette. “Thank you.”

“No need, miss. Just doing my civic duty.” He keeps looking at you with a sort of wicked smile. Like he’s laughing inside, but it might be at your expense. “They hurt you?”

You shake your head and mouth “no.” You meant to say it but it just kind of didn’t happen and it’s best to make it look like you meant to do that.

Your rescuer snorts. “Good. Now, you want a walk home?”

You glance between the man and the ‘mon. It’s just a short walk back. And he’s perfectly trustworthy but your heart rate’s still up and everything still feels like danger. “No thank you.”

He shrugs and steps aside. “Suit yourself, then.”

You mouth and whisper something else, honestly you’re not sure what, and step past him. You get two blocks away in silence. You’d have thought that everyone would be in the streets after two lightning bolts went off but apparently not. Maybe that’s just normal in this part of the city. Or they thought it was just really late fireworks or something.

Yeaaaaaaah. Team Skull.

You whip around and. There’s no one there. No, you can sort of see the two Skulls lying down by the beach. But no one else. The music picks up—the music. By. The. Tree. No one turned the boombox off. No one turned the boombox off.

It starts as a giggle. Then it becomes a laugh. Then it gets louder as it reaches your throat and then your chest. At some point you’re laughing so loud that you’re coughing and crying but laughing nonetheless. No one turned the boombox off. It’s probably not funny but it’s two in the morning and your brain is still locked up and seeing white and no one turned the boombox off.

At some point the wind picks up and the euphoria fades into a faint warmth beneath your skin. There was Skull. And you bantered with them. Then walked away. You got a job offer and survived Skull and the music is still playing and your journey hasn’t even really begun yet.

Yeah. It’s not how you thought it would go. But you’ll take it.

Time to get whatever sleep you can.

*​

“You been in it?”

You do your best to blink the sleep out of your eyes before turning to Kekoa. Why did you agree to leave before dawn? “Hmm?”

“The hotel? You been in it?”

Oh. Right. The Tidesong. Big white building made of limestone or marble or whatever. Even the pavement’s made of something similar. It’s right in front of you, can’t miss it. Unless you’re asleep.

“Yes.”

“And is it just as pretty on the inside?”

It is. The lobby is six or seven stories high and has a series of beautiful waterfall-type fountains curving around it with canals and bridges on the floor. Always some beautiful music echoing through it too. Grand Hano’s bigger but yeah Tidesong’s probably prettier. Even if you’d never say that to Dad’s face.

Cuicatl yawns. Probably a real yawn. WIth some extra emphasis added on top for drama. “You two going to do this for every building you see?”

Kekoa half-turns and you can tell that he’s going to start something. But he doesn’t. Just looks at her vulpix. About five feet in front of her trainer facing the big white building with her tails drooping.

It probably reminds her of home.

*​

It’s not that much farther to the gate of Route 4. And it is a very literal gate, ten feet tall and made of sticks and rope with a wooden sign dangling from the top. Is this how all routes start?

Kekoa just keeps walking through with no fanfare. You say a silent prayer for luck as you pass through. You might need it.

The start of the route is classic Alola with palm trees and broad-leaf rainforest plants. Then once you’re… five minutes? Ten minutes? A half hour? Honestly you’re too tired to think about much more than putting one foot in front of the other. Anyway. Once you’re some ways in the plants just die. There’s grass on the forest floor, a few shrubs, even a small fern tree or two. But the tall trees bigger around than you are dead, their bark coated in black, charred ruin.

It’s quieter than you thought a forest would be. Or a route. And in the first however long it is until Kekoa steps off the path to take a break you only see a couple hoot-hoot flying home for the day and a few rattata scurrying along the path. It’s light now so maybe that will wake more stuff up?
*​
Daylight does not wake much more stuff up. A few pikipek, especially around dawn. But as the day wears on and your eyelids get heavier there just isn’t that much going on around you. Cuicatl’s going kind of slow but she’s blind and you don’t really want to go fast so it’s all fine with you.

“What’s it like around us?” she asks from up front.

“Burnt as shit.”

“Controlled burn? Forest fire?”

“Blacepholon attack six weeks ago,” he answers.

You hear Cuicatl almost trip over something—again—before she steadies herself and moves on. “What’s a blacepholon?”

Kekoa sighs. In the dramatic way. “Oh, where to start… so three years back this billionaire chick broke a hole in reality and a bunch of monsters came through. And kept coming through. The bitch is safe in Japan, if you’re wondering. Never going to get at trial. Thousands of deaths and she gets off with less punishment than I’d get for walking past her house.”

You’re pretty sure it hasn’t been thousands. High hundreds maybe. But that’s a bad fight to pick. “Lusamine was sick,” you say instead. “Maybe even possessed.”

Kekoa whirls around to face you. Cuicatl keeps walking for a few seconds before she realizes that the footsteps have stopped. “Who says that? The psychologists she hired?” A step forward. “The politicians she bribed?” A step forward. “Grow up.” He’s staring up at you now, close enough that you can see the sweat rivers on his face and feel his breath. “She was no more fucked in the head than any other asshole with a billion dollars and no real work to do.”

You never met Lusamine. Or her kids (although they’re supposedly nice). His tone still stirs something inside of you. Like you’re the one being attacked. “I choose to see the best in people.”

He actually laughs. Not real laughter. A quick, mocking “hah!”

“Oh man, must be nice being a millionaire, huh?”

“You don’t know me.” Your voice is flat. And… colder than you knew you could make it. You should stop. Draw in someone else to tell Kekoa he’s being rude again. “Cuicatl, you have anything to add?”

“I don’t know the details but I will side with Kekoa here.”

“Eyy, high five—uh, I mean… can I just touch your hand?” Cuicatl holds her hand out and Kekoa slaps it. You’re still registering that she’s on his side? Why? You thought she disliked him?

“I’ve never understood why you let your merchants get away with so much,” Cuicatl answers your unspoken question. “We have businessmen in Anahuac. No billionaires. If someone did that well they’d give the money to the community or the priests or the treasury. The rich serve the people. Not the other way around.” She sounds very proud. Like she built the system herself.

“Yeah, well, that’s why you don’t have any food.”

Crap. Shouldn’t have said that. Couldn’t have. You. You wouldn’t. You’re a good person. And you’re not a racist!

Kekoa stares at you, mouth hanging open a little. Crap. You were mean enough that he’s shocked. Eventually Cuicatl kicks one foot behind the other and spins around in one fluid motion before she starts walking down the trail in silence.

*​

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Kekoa grins. “Hey, don’t worry. Kiwi won’t peek.”

“What’s going on?” Kiw—Cuicatl asks.

“Oh, the only toilet in camp is just a seat on the hillside. No outhouse or anything. Hell, not even a back.”

You make eye contact with him for a second before glancing away. “You sound way too happy about this.”

He sticks out his hand. “Hey, you don’t look at mine, I don’t look at yours. Deal?”

“Deal—” he pulls his hand away right before you can shake it.

“Psyche.”

“Girls,” Cuicatl says, “I know you love each other but if you can keep your hands to yourselves while I’m around—”

Kekoa crosses his arms and takes a step back so he can properly glare at. Glare at the blind girl. He turns on you. “What are you giggling about?”

“Nothing,” you answer. Right before an idea hits you! You start walking up the hill to the toilet, letting Sir Bubbles out as you walk. “Sir Bubbles! Use hypnosis on anyone who looks this way!” He croaks, which honestly could mean anything, and you keep on moving, basking in your brilliance.

*​

There’s a row of stumps arranged around a weird metal ring half-buried in the ground. Cuicatl and Kekoa are sitting on two of them when you arrive so you sit on a third that forms a roughly equidistant triangle for optimal socialization. That is how you’re supposed to sit, right? Or were you supposed to sit between them?

Kekoa tosses you a white bag. And you aren’t good at catching things so it sails right past you. You stand up, pick up the bag, and sit back down. Thankfully he doesn’t throw anything else at you.

“Freeze-dried potato salad. Just pour in some water, shake and, voila, instant haole food.”

You follow his lead. Pour in about a third—whoops—about half of your water bottle and shake it for about thirty seconds. Then you pull out the spoon in your mess kit and. The smell hits you before you even see it. It’s not rotten. Just… it’s hard to describe. And the looks. A few clumps of white powder in a soupy liquid. You take another thirty seconds to shake that out and at the end it’s better, but not good. The smell only got worse. You take a moment to look at the other two. Kekoa has a look on his face that you’ve never seen before. Cuicatl is negotiating with her vulpix; the fox has her fur fluffed up in alarm and her eyes are wide open in shock.

“It’s okay,” Cuicatl whispers. “You don’t have to do it.” She stands up and starts walking to you before dropping her sealed white bag in your lap. “Here. Wouldn’t want you to starve or anything.”

“You know,” Kekoa follows up a bit too loudly, “we have to pack out what we don’t eat. So if you don’t want that to explode all over the inside of your backpack…”

You look down at the bag. The bags. This is fine. You can do this. You put a spoon in and take it out with your eyes closed. It goes into your mouth and. The taste is bad. Like chugging a white muk. Not that you’ve done that. You can still guess how it would taste since smell and taste are linked. It is those two, right? Might be touch and taste. And if the taste is bad the texture is somehow worse. Grains of sand in a watery goop.

You swallow it down and vow to never do a racism again.
 
Normal 1.8
The Vulture Queen
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Normal 1.8: The Rules
Cuicatl Ichtaca

Achcauhtli is staying after for some sports game, your dad’s out of town, and your godmother will want help making tortillas or doing laundry or whatever so you walk over to her house alone. Not that it bothers you as much as your brother and everyone else seem to think it does. It’s just a certain number of steps. A number you don’t even count anymore. Your feet just know the path. Honestly, the everpresent heat and humidity and the rough stone roads and all of the hills bother you more.

You’re interrupted halfway through by a burst of wind behind you. “Hello?” Adult? Pokémon? Car? What are you dealing with here?

There’s a low hiss and a deep grumble in response. You wait for the translation to pop into your mind but it never does. Dark-type. Like mandibuzz. Except far, far bigger. You can feel hot breath hitting your face, the left side of your abdomen, your right elbow. The breath smells like meat. Carnivore. Big carnivore. Big carnivore that approached a small disabled target while she was alone. Does this count as a combat death? Would it count if you hit it? Somehow the thought brings you out of paralysis and you ram your small fist into the belly of the giant beast.

You manage to bust open your knuckles. The carnivore doesn’t make any noise at all. Oh well. You tried. It was a battle. Now you get to meet Mom. It could be worse. Even if part of your gut is still clenched up and you’re crying for reasons you don’t quite understand.

Two rough, scaly limbs rap themselves around you and you can feel two streams of breath on your back. Then the chest pushes in. The warm, rough chest that you tried to punch. Probably has your blood on it mixed in with the creature’s other prey.

You fly. Your stomach drops and you almost vomit. You reflexively hug the giant monster. Maybe you scream. For a moment you don’t exist; there’s just panic and awe where a girl’s mind used to be. Eventually you get pulled back together. She’s bringing you somewhere else. Why? Where? Is she afraid someone would see? Are there even any pokémon in the village that could fight something like this? You’ve heard rumors that a really good battler lived here once. But you’ve never met them. Some of the kids in school don’t even believe he was real.

The dragon lowers and your stomach lurches up. This time you do puke. And then dry heave when you hit the ground. It’s fine. You’re probably in the nest of a giant murder beast but it’s fine. It’ll all be over soon. Just keep it together and you’ll be fine-ish.

{Why is she bleeding?}

The voice is in your head. Only in your head. Your brother can do that but then you both kind of blur together for a bit. You can do it with a slightly smaller headache and less blurring. You’ve never met anyone else who could do it.

There’s a noise that sounds like metal rubbing on metal and the soft thud of something crashing into the dirt. You cover your ears on reflex.

Even with your ears covered you can hear the low groan followed by a long whine. You don’t have a mental translation, but you can guess it’s, “that’s not my fault, she punched me.” Were you supposed to be intact for this? Whatever this is? Why? Do the pokémon predators have rituals like the humans do?

{You can stop shaking. You aren’t being hunted. We just wanted to talk.}

“A-about what?” you stammer out. Your voice is shaking. You realize a moment later that your body is too.

{How much have you been told about your mother?}

You blink on reflex. “I… not much? She died when I was born. And she was from...” The enemy. The northern cowards. The bloodbags. Whatever the playground calls them this week. “Not here,” you settle on. Wait. You forgot, “She had green hair.”

You can feel and smell and hear the predator’s breath coming down on you but the voice is silent. {That’s less than we had hoped.} He sounds sad. Why? {Allow me to properly introduce myself. I am Renfield. Your mother captured and raised me. Your… escort is Alice. I’m sorry that she startled you but I assure you that she’s harmless.

Harmless? She’s giant, tough, powerful, and clearly a carnivore.

Renfield sighs inside of your mind. {Correction: White Alice is not harmless, she won’t hurt you or your brother.} The beast—Alice whines again. The voice ignores her and continues on. {If that tangent is over, we did wish to speak with you. Your father has kept you very isolated. We did not know if you had even inherited your mother’s powers until today.}

“She was…” A witch? Is there a better term?

{Americans call you psychics. And yes, she was. Your telepathy is almost identical to hers.}

Wait. “My what?”

There’s another pause in the conversation. Alice fills it by leaning closer and running one of her scaly arms along yours. You freeze up and let it happen. Better than being eaten.

{Perhaps I can allow her to show you. She archived memories before her demise. I can share them with you now.}

Mom left memories? You can sort of imagine how it would work. You saw some things from your brother’s body while you were blurred once. But it was horribly disorienting and painful and…

{You don’t have to accept today. They won’t decay.}

You have no idea what’s happening so you swallow and nod and pray for survival while bracing for imminent death.

*​

You never sleep well your first night in a new place. Your godmother’s home, hotel rooms, impromptu shelters in the mountains—doesn’t matter. Achca—he was always better at that than you.

This night isn’t helped by the rain. Ordinarily it’s soothing; you love it when you can time your naps so they line up with rain showers. As a young girl you loved rain naps so much your father disciplined you with a cactus spike for being lazy. Even though it wasn’t your fault you lived in a rainforest! Okay, technically five centimeters of rainfall short of a rainforest. In any case he only disciplined you once since you quickly got the point: you should only take rain naps when he’s really busy or out of town.

Rain is good for sleeping. But someone (Kekoa) laid the tarp wrong and now you’re lying down in a centimeter or two of water on the edge of the tent. Maybe Genesis is dry, snoring away on her inflatable mat. Kekoa said you’d only need two for the tent. He sounded certain of it. And you’d let him have his way because he was condescending as hell when you tried to dispute it. Anyway. Genesis is lying down, arms spread out a little to the sides on a mat. He probably has one. You got pushed to the edge of the crowded tent, lying on your side pressed against the wet fabric but still sometimes touching Genesis’s arm. Your only consolations are that Pix doesn’t seem to mind as she purrs away on top of you and Kekoa isn’t sleeping either. You can tell. Enough years sharing a room with—with someone taught you the signs.

You take stock. This sucks. Nothing to be done. How do you minimize the suck that future Cuicatl Ichtaca has to endure? Start with clothes. Kekoa whined “I’m the one carrying this, y’know,” when you were packing and maybe you got a bit too prideful. You have three sets of clothes: sleepwear for sleep; a quechquemitl, tank top, and shorts for hiking; and a tunic and leggings for formal occasions. The sleepwear is going to be wet and unless the rain stops and you can talk Kekoa into staying in camp for a while you won’t have a good chance to dry it. That probably means mildew if you stuff it into a plastic bag and leave it in a dark pack all day. You don’t want to sleep in mildew. You aren’t tracking in the trail scents of the hiking clothes into your tent because that’s how you end up sharing a bed with a rattata and there is not any more room to share. You could just sleep in your more formal stuff. It’s still reasonably comfy but the tunic was a gift from your godmother so you don’t want to ruin it if it rains again. Or get vulpix fur on it. You don’t deserve Pix but there are some things you don’t want taken from you, even by her.

A yawn escapes your lips. Tired. Solutions later. Try to sleep.

You relax and meditate.

At some point it works.

*​

“Get out.”

You yawn and stretch your body out, reveling in both acts. “Won’t look. Promise,” you grumble.

“Out. Not big enough to change in here with you,” Genesis says.

“Yeah, fine.” Another, slightly less satisfying yawn that still leaves you with a grin. “Whatever.”

The tent isn’t familiar yet. Your fingers still struggle to find the zipper out to the rain fly, your boots, the first zipper again so you can close it, the zipper out of the rain fly, and then the rain fly zipper again. Maybe it would be easier if you were fully awake.

Pixie follows at some point, noticeable as a wave of cold air sometimes sliding by your ankle. “Good morning, friend.” She huffs in response. You smile when you get the translation. “Oh, come on, it’s not even that hot out.” You get one good vertical stretch in and then settle, pressing your weight down as far into the earth as it can go. She doesn’t answer in that time. “You want to take me to the latrine?”

Again, there’s no verbal reply but the air currents start moving a little. She’s difficult to follow without the leash because her footsteps are nearly silent. Your only saving grace is that she doesn’t try particularly hard to avoid stepping on fallen leaves and twigs. Honestly she might even be making a game out of dominating as many as she can. It wouldn’t be unexpected from her. Got to show the icky leaves who’s boss.

Eventually Pix stops moving and your boots fall on concrete. “Thanks, girl.” She barks, acknowledging the (barely) sufficient praise. You hold out your arms and feel for the door. Is there more than one door? Like, girl / boy doors? There’s only one toilet inside with a metallic sink outside and you feel a lock, so it doesn’t matter much.

What does matter is that this latrine smells awful. And it feels so cramped. It’s hard to explain it to sighted people but you can tell when you’re in a very tight spice. you hate it. Always have. Especially if all the textures are either cold metal or wood so rough that you’re worried about splinters. And the smell is bleck.

You finish your business as quickly as possible, thoroughly wash your hands, and walk a comfortable distance in the general direction of camp. Then you stop and crouch down, holding a hand out. “I think a very good guide fox has earned some scratches.”

Said fox practically teleports to you and starts rubbing her scent glands against your palm while you dig your fingers into her chin. Eventually she pushes her head down and you move on to cupping her cheek with one hand and scratching her ears with the other. Then she starts moving in circles and you just hold a hand unmoving, letting her continuously scratch her back, head, and tail in an endless loop. You’d think she’d get dizzy pretty quickly but she goes for a full minute or two, chasing her tail ever faster, before she slows down and collapses in a heap.

You gently scoop her up into your arms and hug her to your chest. She’s rather relaxed, occasionally twitching a tail or pressing one of her legs against you and squirming for a better view. Otherwise calm. Close enough you can feel her heartbeat and so much of her glorious fur pressed against your arms. She’s a lot like Searah, but cold.

A pause and a flood of panic.

No. It’s fine. You’ll see her soon. Even a trained heatmor is 250,000 Quatchli, or $10,000, tops. Today is a decent day. Don’t ruin it.
You squeeze Pix tight enough that she whines a little before relaxing. Right. Is not a stress ball. Is a fox.

*​

Dried pink apricorns aren’t terrible. You get the whole pack down before Pixie finishes her bowl.

“You like those things?” Kekoa asks.

“Yeah. Used to love them as a kid. Haven’t had them in years, though. Not quite as good as I remember.”

He walks over to you and shoves something into your hand. Genesis belatedly follows. Your muscles tighten and your breathing picks up a little. It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s fine. Just apricorns. Fills your belly. Almost no fat at all. Keeps you from overeating later. Wins all around. It’s fine. It’s fine. You can relax. Slowly. Breathe. Slowly. Eat. The. Apricorns. You. Sad. Fucking. Excuse. For. A. Human. Being.

You reach into Kekoa’s bag and pull a few out while the narrative starts stirring into gear in the background. It’s fine. You’re in nature. It’s fine. Seven years from now when the world ends you’ll barely remember this at all.

*​

“Okay, so if neither of you two wants to capture a mudbray then—”

Kekoa clears his throat. He then continues to speak with what you’re pretty sure is an exaggerated British accent. Even your mental translation adds the bad accent. “I hereby establish The Rules Of The Trail. Rule #1: Shut up, Jennifer.”

There’s a period of silence. The footsteps continue. You really hate it when they just stop without telling you. They’re much faster than you are since they can just look down and see if there are rocks or tree roots and you have to use a hiking stick to feel that out so you do need the chances to catch up but the social exclusion bothers you.

“Rule #2,” Genesis says in an accent that again makes it into your power. And accent’s never filter in. You’re pretty sure they’ve never even heard yours because then Kekoa definitely would’ve given you shit. “Shut up, Kekoa.” The accent drops from both the real-time English and the slightly delayed Nahuatl translation. “See, I can do that too.”

“Rule #3: Shut up Kiwi.” Kekoa proclaims.

You make a show of groaning. “What did I do?”

“Nothing personal, just needed to complete the set.” You open your mouth and he cuts you off. “Unless, I’m invoking Rule #3, in which case, yeah, it is personal.”

You sigh, bite your tongue, and count down. Not worth pressing this. It’ll just make you upset. “Okay. Fine. Whatever. And Genesis? I’d rather we not get a mudsdale. You ever walked on a horse trail?”

She’s quiet for long enough that you accept that she isn’t one of the “horse girls” that upper class American girls were often stereotyped as being. Fascinating to discover what is and isn’t true about this country after years of hearing the Anahuac view on it (i.e. degenerate misogynist racist genocidal madmen who crush their lower classes) and the American film version (pretty much the same thing).

“No, never been on a horse trail. Why?”

“Well,” you start. “If it’s rained recently they turn the entire trail into mud. And they are big enough that I mean the entire trail.” Your foot catches on a rock and you hold in a curse. It’s fine. Get over it. Barely even hurts. Kekoa snickers behind you so it must have been a visible stumble. Asshole. “Now, that wouldn’t be so bad. Everyone steps in mud eventually—”

“That what your mommy told you?” Kekoa asks.

Your blood goes cold. No. Don’t dignify him with a physical reaction. “No. But I heard your mom shoved you in mud to make you cleaner.” Does that joke even make sense? He doesn’t respond so it either does or really, really doesn’t. Time to plow on regardless. “Horses shit. A lot. All of them. Rapidash, zebstrika, mudsdale—doesn’t matter. They shit. Everywhere. In large amounts. Then they mix that shit in with the mud that, again, is the entire trail.”


“Oh,” Genesis responds. “That’s, uh.”

“Yeah. So let’s not. Not everyone here grew up bathing in that shit, right?”

“Rule #3, Kiwi,” Kekoa finally responds.

“Aw, is someone mommy’s little girl?” It’s a low blow and he’ll hate you for it. But he already hates you and if he wants to drag your dead mother into this, he can deal with the consequences.

“Rule #4: Get new jokes.”

“Because ‘Kiwi’ is still a riot every time, right?”

He doesn’t answer that.

*​

Lunch is decent. Small trail mix bags. Nuts and dried fruit. A lot of dried fruit. No chocolate, either. Not that you need chocolate but it does give more of an incentive to eat it. But those pinap berries, right? Those are good. Sort of. Texture’s weird when dry. Admittedly you’ve only had the canned ones and now dry ones. Wait, this is Alola. Shouldn’t you have fresh ones or. Ugh. It’s decent. That’s what you mean. The nuts have quite a bit of fat but even if you stuck the whole bag right on your stomach it’s not too much of an addition.

“Hey, Cuicatl?” Genesis asks.

“Hmm?”

“Could I borrow, I mean, could I take some kibble at meals? Just a few pieces. I can, um, I can help pay for it once you need some more.”

You take the bag back out from your pack. Pixie’s feet pitter over and you pour her a few more pieces out of guilt. “Yeah, come get it.”

She does and walks away. Is it for Sir Bubbles? Is she going to eat it?

Doesn’t really matter. Just add it to the list of weird American shit.

*​

Your voice dances and you want to move your body with it. How long has it been since you were in the cuicacalli? Would’ve been right before THIS. IS. A. GOOD. DAY. How many times is he going to come up on your good day? You correct your pitch back up and move back through the wordless song. Does that translate?

“Rule #5: No Pirates of the Caribbean,” Kekoa says.

You keep on singing. It is good music. And it’s upbeat enough that it can almost silence your feelings.

“Going to throw in a Rule #3 for good measure now.”

You break off the song. “Well, you brought it up.”

He’d asked whether Aztec gold could make you immortal. You’d started humming, and then singing, He’s a Pirate by way of answer. You’re pretty sure the answer is no, though. theoretically a female pirate could die in childbirth on land and later come back as an undead skeleton pirate at the end of the world, but the Black Pearl crew was way too male for that. Or maybe they were all like Kekoa. You won’t judge.

“Yes, I started it. And I’m ending it. Keep singing and I will trip you.”

Well, screw him. You have a very pretty voice. And nice hair. And maybe you’re a fat disgusting waste of humanity but you’re very proud of those two things.

“Fighting like a pirate, I see? Dun-dun dun-dun-dun-dun-dun. Dun. Dun. Dun-dun-dun—Shit!”

You catch yourself on the way down and your pack isn’t heavy enough to cause serious problems. You can still feel a cut on your thigh and your hands aren’t feeling too good either. Can’t tell if that’s just the aftershocks of hitting the rocks on the trail or something worse. More than that, it had rained last night. The whole trail is coated in mud. Pixie won’t want to cuddle you and damn him you need her.

But you deserved it. For the mama’s girl dig. And just in general you deserve a few trips here and there. Remind you of your place. Might make you prettier. You almost just drop down and collapse into the mud and let your face hit the earth and wallow there forever. They could just hike faster and

“Kekoa, what the hell?”

Did she just… swear? You hear her move towards you and throw her pack off before bending down. At least, you hear her knees crack and feel the moving wind so you assume she bent down.he should probably get her knees checked out. She’s, what, fifteen?
“Well, she’ll always remember that this is the day we established Rule Fucking Four,” he answers.

You feel a hand brush against your elbow. “Need help?

Yeah. More than she can give. You swallow it down. The cuicacalli taught you acting alongside song and dance and legends. Time to act. Not happy. Indignant? Flippant? Scowl a little. Show no real pain.

“Nah, I’m fine.” You push yourself up and make a show of brushing your hands off on your equally muddy shorts. You glance over your shoulder and deepen your scowl. “And ‘this is the day we almost established Rule Fucking Four.’ Which is still a terrible joke. Two out of ten.” That’s the end of that. Now you can go in silence. Manage your steps. Maybe hum a little bit; you doubt he tries that again if Genesis is explicitly on your side. He has to have some shame, right? Eventually you let the humming rise up in pitch. You’re happy. Still a little annoyed, but happy. That’s what a normal person would feel in this situation, right?

Keep your face on. Don’t cry. You’ll spiral downward if you cry. No one wants to see that.

*​

Dinner is allegedly eggs and potatoes. You don’t remember either having sand in them. Definitely more tolerable than the “potato salad” or “spaghetti marinara” from yesterday. Getting food into your mouth is usually an uphill battle and you usually have to establish on your stomach showing up to fight for what your muscles need. Even its turned traitor now as part of a wicked conspiracy with your nose.

Fine. Whatever. You let Kekoa pick this shit because the man had a plan and you’re some blind kid but now you’re putting your foot down. And since the self-loathing rose back to anger when Pix wouldn’t cuddle you until a very awkward shower under a sixty centimeter tall, low pressure water spicket, well, he’s in for it.

“We aren’t doing this again.”

“Agreed,” Genesis adds. Lovely. Starts with Kekoa cornered.

“In Paniola we pick up rice, noodles, whatever. Find seasoning if we can. Keep dried fruit if you two want it. Mince and cook vegetables ahead of time. Toss in nuts or beans or canned meat or whatever for protein.”

Kekoa doesn’t challenge it. Instead he takes another bite of food and carefully chews it for far too long before swallowing. Power move. Ugh. Men. Him. “First, this is why I insisted on spending two nights on the trail. So we could detect problems like this in advance.” Is he really taking credit for this? Why is he being such an asshole, anyway? Do you care? “Second, I can probably win a battle or two and get cheap lunches in town. Take way more condiment and seasoning packets than I’m probably entitled to. Helps if Jennifer gives me cover here. There, spice problem solved.”

“I’m glad you agree—”

Third,” he interrupts. “How do you plan on keeping your vegetables cold? Ice packs are heavy as fuck and melt in a day.”

{Pix, shoot an ice shard at him. Keep it a little weak.}

You can hear the attack and Kekoa’s surprisingly muted swearing. “I told you before,” you answer with a low, measured voice, “that Pixie is a very good fox and can take care of that.

“Still heavier than I want to deal with.”

“Then I can keep it in my pack,” you say.

He laughs. “Oh, like hell you will. You’re, what, ninety pounds sopping wet?” You don’t actually know how heavy a pound is but the telepathic translation puts it in kilograms. You could argue that, but ‘actually you’re a little bit too high there’ doesn’t seem like a winning case. “No,” he continues, “you’ll carry it for half a day, complain about your back breaking, and then put it in my pack.”

“I’ll take it,” Genesis says. “I’m bigger than you and I’m not carrying much so it shouldn’t be too hard.”

Kekoa doesn’t answer. He just gets up and walks away. Eventually the water turns on. He’s washing his dishes. Which reminds you that you still have way, way too much left to eat.

*​

There’s another ‘thunk’ sound behind you followed by a short roll. Fourth this morning. You hate it but you really need to do something about it for your sanity’s sake.

“Rule #5: Keep your water bottle in your pack when you aren’t drinking. Sorry, Gen.”

She sighs. “That annoying?”

“Kind of. Sorry. You’re tossing it up and trying to catch it, right?”

“Yeah,” she responds. Kekoa is being mercifully quiet.

“Maybe you could use a rock or twig or something less loud?”

“Oh. Yeah! That would work. Thanks.”

Why is she thanking you? You told her off.

“What’s it like out there, anyway?”

“Uh. Still kind of burnt? A little more greenery, though. I think there’s a highway nearby.”

You’d heard the road. Not busy enough you’d call it a highway. There’s also a river somewhere near the trail. More pokémon sounds, too. So that description is about what you’d expected. “Getting close to Paniola, then?”

“Should be another or hour or two,” Kekoa answers. You decide to kill the conversation now that he’s joined. You’re in a decent mood today.

*​

Your lunch is interrupted by a long, howling whine going up and down in pitch like a passing ambulance.

“Pix!”

There are loud, rushed footsteps and a “Crap!” said like a curse beside you.

“Jennifer, what the hell!” Kekoa yells.

Pixie keeps screaming.

“Pix!” you yell louder just to be heard. That seems to shut her up, although she grumbles afterward.

{Was helping!]

{I’m sure you were.} “Kekoa, what just happened?”

He stands up and starts pacing. “An eevee showed up to eat the kibble Jennifer put out, your vulpix started screaming bloody murder, the eevee ran away, Jennifer picked up her poliwag and ran into the forest after it.”

It’s generally not a good idea to run off into unfamiliar woods, eve if there aren’t any (wo)man-eating predators worth worrying about. Momma espeon might give her a psychic headache if she’s unlucky.

“I’m going after her. If I call to you, call back.” And then he’s gone. Into the woods. Without asking permission.

Hypocrite.

“Hey, Pix. Want some food?”

She dutifully trots over, her surface thoughts full of rage words and eevee. You scoop out some of the spam. The flavor’s okay. Interesting, even. Texture isn’t the best. Maybe it’d be better if you had a chance to cook it. In any case, Pixie seems to like it.

“I wasn’t going to catch the eevee, you know?”

She hisses between bites. {No eevee allowed.}

“Why, though? Even if I don’t own it?”

Her surface thoughts are a jumble of unrelated words. Not useful. Guess? Jealousy.

“I agree. They aren’t the best. One of the teachers at my school had one and…” How much self-awareness does she have? You think it’s safe to bet on ‘none at all.’ “She was very pretty, but incredibly stuck-up. Only wanted to talk about herself and make everyone appreciate how cute she was. Thought she owned the world. But she wasn’t even that pretty so she was just insufferable. I’d never want to train one.” That seems to calm her. She even purrs a little. “Besides, vulpix are the best foxes and I am very smart for a human so I know not to leave one for an eevee.” You try to pour as much disgust as possible into those words. She seems to buy it. And having a clear job to do as a trained guide fox and portable ice-maker down the line should calm her anxieties a bit. Hopefully even make her amenable to teammates.

It’s taking your partners a while to come back. Was there any predator you forgot about? Too far south for bewear, right? Stoutland are more fond of cuddling humans than killing them. Even the feral ones. Sylveon, maybe? Do they hunt people? Genesis would know better than to tug on pretty ribbons, right?

…right?

No. No she wouldn’t. Kekoa probably would, though.

You’re pretty sure that Pix fell asleep on your lap at some point. You keep gently stroking her fur. She’s so soft. And even if she’s sometimes a literal and figurative bitch at least she has a personality. Besides, your mom’s starter was also kind of a pain in her later years. At least to you. And Renfield. Maybe swanna are only kind to the people they imprint on? No. You remember that Mom gave you the memory of her first meeting with ‘Chovsky. He wasn’t any better back then.

Still, it might hint at a strategy: Find a bird egg, when it hatches make sure it imprints on you. Emphasize to Pixie how unkind it would be to take a child away from its mother. ??? Profit.

It’s definitely not your worst idea. Way better than the “coat a grimer in flour, put it in a refrigerator for a few hours, tell Pix it’s another vulpix” plan you toyed with back in Hau’oli.

There’s a distant “marco.” You nudge Pix awake and move to put your pack on.

“Hey, can you go to the tree line and use roar for as long as you can?”

She clearly pours everything she has into it and it’s very adorable and you already love her more than you love yourself, even if that’s not a very high bar to clear.
 
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