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MATURE: Nori Carino: Abyssal Despair

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A beloved nature show host perishes in a freak accident during an underwater filming expedition, shocking the world. Knowing the public will call for the tragic culprit's blood against the host's wishes, his producer appeals to the Officials to have Pokemon Rehabilitator Nori Carino train and 'cure' her in attempt to save her life. With a new assignment cast upon him weeks after his first and word quickly spreading, Nori finds his friends splintering, and his foes using the moment to come after him. But those problems pale in comparison to his crippling fear of water and her not being used to being out of it. What does it take to care for a Pokemon?

Welcome to the sixth fic in a metaseries! Reading any of the previous fics won't be necessary to enjoy this one, I intentionally break them up so the whole thing is not absurdly long and intimidating, and to write shorter stories in general. Speaking of, expect this one to have shorter chapters, but it'll have a comparable if not longer overall wordcount to the previous two. Simply experimenting with different styles because some of my previous chapters tended to have details in them get glossed over.

I wasn't planning on posting this so soon. I wanted to make sure the first twenty chapters were finished (about two-thirds) before I started posting; I only have up to 17 (sans 16 which is only mostly finished) and sporadic stuff beyond drafted. But I figured it was a good day for this, and who knows, maybe this will spur me into action?

Did you know that some studies have shown that trigger warnings don't work? Not only can the trigger warning itself be triggering, but they can increase the effect and even induce a "forbidden fruit" lure. There is little consensus as to whether or not they are effective. But in case you want them, I'll conceal them behind a spoiler just because of that problem.
You can expect strong language, a single use of a slur in another language, violence, meetings getting interrupted, people being jerks, characters angsting (teenagers, you know?), flashbacks to 2006 (actually might be serious), and teenagers hugging, kissing, and holding hands.
 
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Prologue
It was a Monday morning like any other for a traveling trainer. Waking up in the Pokemon Center – thank goodness for free lodgings – and getting ready for the rest of the day. The next step on her journey lay ahead of her.

Well, that wasn’t exactly true. Julia had something of a wait on her hands. The local Gym Leader was going to be occupied (in a sense) until around the end of the month. It was just something she had to make the most of. Her friends weren’t up yet, so she was just enjoying the morning quietly with her Pokemon.

Until the peace was shattered by a screaming boy with spiky, fiery hair.

“Pete Stephens is here! He’s in Johto, filming live!”

Julia hated loud noises! Why was he screaming indoors? “Who’s here?” she asked, amidst gasps of surprise from the people around her.

“The Krookodile Tracker! He’s on TV, right now!”

Oh, that guy. Julia knew him by that name. Her sister used to like him back in the day. But she hated him. She could understand the Pokemon languages like they were English or Japanese. He was not only the kind of person who would poke the Ursaring, but would do a lot more to them as well. And she would hear every complaint the poor Pokemon made about his antics.

More gasps. The other kids around her, and even some adults, reacted with surprise. They asked questions one after another.

“Wow!”

“Where in Johto?”

“What channel?!”

“The TV in the lobby’s showing him now!” Everyone but Julia hurried away with that. The boy did so too, but paused and glanced back. “Come on, you too!” he urged.

“I don’t care about that!” she shouted, perhaps louder than she wanted.

More than a few people took pause. “What?!” an older teenage girl yelled, making Julia’s hands fly to her ears again. “How could you not like Pete Stephens?!”

“I…” There was no good way to explain why. “I don’t mean I hate him, I just…never saw his show.” She tried to make up a lie to get out of it, even though she felt lying was wrong. It would be better than telling the truth. She quickly regretted it.

“Then come watch!” the excited boy urged. “It’s great, you’ll love it! And he’s here! In Johto! It’s once in a lifetime!”

Everyone else still in the room waited for her answer. All the questioning and even hateful eyes on her were making her buckle to the pressure. She wished so much that her friends were awake right now to tell them to leave her alone. She looked over her shoulder just in case, but no such luck.

“Okay…” she mumbled, wandering over to the television in the lobby of the Pokemon Center like a lost Growlithe. Her Pikachu followed idly at her side. She didn’t like this at all, but anything to get these people off her back. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad? That was probably just wishful thinking, though.

“G’day, mates! Pete Stephens, here!”

She arrived just in time to see the program return from commercial. To Julia’s surprise, the Tracker was underwater. He was dressed in a diving suit that looked like a suit of armor, and was wearing goggles with a face mask that had a microphone built into it. His dusty blond hair flowed freely in the depths of the lake he was beneath.

In the background were countless blue and yellow pufferfish. The man verbally set the scene, “We’re here in a lake on Route 32 in Johto. Right smack in the middle of a swarm-a Qwilfish!”

That was from the part of her journey where she was sort of rushing through. She didn’t really remember much about it, other than catching her Ledyba (now a mighty Ledian) there. The fact that it was an uneventful trip, and that it was sandwiched between two major milestones on her journey, didn’t help.

The camera panned across the scene. Julia shuddered at the sight of the Pokemon. She was something of a toxiphobe when it came to Poison-types. Moreover, the murmuring of the countless Qwilfish was like the crowd at a baseball game on TV. It was just as headache-inducing, too.

Some of them in the background puffed up threateningly, but did nothing else. A few swam over to the man out of curiosity. The Tracker showed them no fear, actually reaching out and patting a few between their spines. The reactions were mostly indifferent. One puffed up in surprise and swam off in the tizzy, screeching that the Tracker was a jerk. Another enjoyed the attention and gave a showy twirl before leaving.

“Ain’t he a beaut?” Stephens asked as the Qwilfish swam away. “They huff and puff when you give’em a fright. But believe you me, they’re super sweet Pokemon like any other.”

The man turned his head to the left. Something must have caught his attention, because his eyes widened. “Crikey!” he gasped. “Justy! Point the camera over there, mate!”

The cameraperson did as instructed. Floating alone in the lake was a lone Qwilfish that looked different from the others. Its upper body was black with purple spine tips, and its lips were a different color. The girl would have believed she was looking at a shiny Pokemon on the television, if not for the different tail pattern. Julia had to confess that she was actually interested. Just a little.

That was, until the Tracker swam back into the picture and flashed a thumbs up. She was immediately reminded why she didn’t like the show when he started talking. “That there’s a Sinnohian Qwilfish, all by their lonesome! They’re Dark and Poison variants who dwell in chilly waters, and have a whole different evolution! They were made famous by the fictional Hisui books, but one thing they got right, these ain’t around as much in this day and age. They’re near-threatened on the endangered list.” He smiled sadly. “Needless to say, little fella’s far from home. Why don’t we swim on over and say hi to ‘em?”

Stephens and the filming crew grew closer. As they did, the hollow murmuring of the Pokemon became clearly audible to Julia.

“Alone. Abandoned.” Her words rang with an empty sorrow. “Why, Elle? I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?”

She scrunched her hands. What?! Who would abandon their Pokemon like that?! She almost thought of saying that out loud, before remembering it was unlikely that anyone would believe some random girl could understand Pokemon languages. Heck, even she and her parents couldn’t explain how, she just could.

“Hey, little guy!” The Qwilfish puffed up in surprise when the Tracker suddenly spoke to her. “Whatcha doin’ out here?”

“Wh-who are you?!” she asked, recoiling and trying to look intimidating with a shake of her body. But even Julia could tell from the tone in her voice it was just posturing.

“It’s a’right, fella. Here, lemme give ya a pat.”

“Stay away!” cried the Qwilfish.

“Afraid, are we?” the Tracker mused, pausing as she recoiled. “Guessing you were left here by someone?”

“Yes, and no one here likes me!” cried the black Qwilfish. “They say I’m weird and evil and to leave! How am I supposed to?!”

“Ohh…” Julia’s Pikachu, Hikaru, groaned. “I understood a bit of that. She’s like me.”

Her starter Pokemon’s family had abandoned her just because she looked different. Julia wished she could rush over there and do something for this poor Pokemon! She may have had a fear of Poison-type Pokemon, but even so, this one instantly won her sympathy. No Pokemon deserved to be treated this way!

Stephens didn’t understand, of course. “It’ll all be fine, fella,” he consoled, only aware enough to see her discomfort. “Jus’ come here for a sec, so I can check somethin’. It’ll be quick, promise.”

“No, stop! Leave me alone!” she screamed, desperately swimming backwards to escape the man. She flailed and thrashed, but the Krookodile Tracker grew ever closer, oblivious or uncaring of the Pokemon’s growing discomfort, if not abject terror.

Suddenly, the screen went to darkness. After ten seconds, a commercial came on. A bald, shirtless guy with a trimmed beard started screaming about men’s deodorant while flexing his oversized muscles. Julia had to turn away in revulsion. She hated commercials like that!

“What the HELL?!” cursed the boy who drew her into watching this, stomping a foot on the floor. “Just when it was getting good, too!”

It was weird, yes. Maybe something had damaged the camera? Something felt off about the whole thing. But it didn’t matter, Julia was going to use any excuse she could to get the heck away while she could.

##########​

“This is why you film live on delay, people!”

Manna Schrader had immediately taken control of the situation as soon as it happened. She had security shoo the gawkers away and told them all they needed to know. At least they were easy to deal with. She had her hands full keeping the crew calm. She had to threaten more than one intern not to post about it on social media, else she would make sure they got blackballed from the industry forever. It was a threat she could and would make good on, given her family’s influence.

The situation was utter chaos. Pete Stephens was dead. He had been struck by a Barb Barrage attack that went right through a weak spot in the diving suit and pierced an artery. It was nothing short of a freak accident. He survived just long enough to carry him out of the water and hear his last words. He likely wanted to make sure the Qwilfish was unhurt or verify that she had been released, and maybe get a shot of her swimming away.

When she woke up in the morning, Manna had an eerie feeling about the day. It only got worse when Pete thanked everyone for everything they’ve done before he went in. She didn’t act on anything, since the show had to go on. A gut instinct certainly wasn’t a valid reason to stop it even if that wasn’t the case. She expected an accident, but not this.

People were hurling all sorts of questions at her, and she answered them all one right after another.

“Ambulance is on the way, should I go with?”

“No, I will.”

“There’s this one persistent fisher, Ralph–”

“Keep. Him. Away.”

“You need coffee, ma’am?”

“Black.”

“Should we tell the family, auntie?”

“If you mean ours, absolutely not. Take charge and keep the others in line for me.” She walked away to deal with pressing business.

Although the Schrader family were traditionally reporters or news anchors, she had graduated from that role into a producer. She always felt more comfortable behind the lens rather than in front of it. She had met Pete Stephens on a trip to a region in Australia. When he offered her the chance to produce his new show, she accepted on the spot.

“Mrs. Schrader,” said the camerawoman who had accompanied Pete underwater. Justine Hailey, the best they had. She sprang into action while everyone else was stunned with shock, capturing Pete’s killer with help of her Whiscash.

“We’re back from commercial in one,” she said. “What should we say?”

“Same thing we told the gawkers, he suffered a poison injury while filming,” Manna answered at once. They didn’t need to let people know the extent of what had happened. “Have Phil deliver it over a panning shot of the lake. Go to the footage we’d planned after.”

Her phone started to buzz. She took it out of her pocket and saw it was Nadia calling, from way over in Mahogany. Nosy as always. Manna promptly put it away and let it ring.

“All right,” Justine said, muttering a prayer under her breath. “What about the Qwilfish?”

“Give me some time to think about that.”

She pulled out the Dive Ball that the camerawoman had used to capture the Qwilfish and gave it a thoughtful glance. It was easy to speculate that the pufferfish had been released into the lake. Whoever did it better pray they weren’t found out. There were laws about being responsible for the actions of released Pokemon, but in this case, the court of public opinion would be far harsher than any court of law.

Pete loved Pokemon. He did countless things to help them and preserve their habitats. He always made sure they got the respect they deserved, from their rights to insisting that the P should be capitalized out of respect in response to the strange folk who thought otherwise. As the Krookodile Tracker, he went on record before saying that he’d gladly give his life if it meant saving one Magikarp. He died doing what he loved most. Regardless, the public was going to be out for blood. Especially for this lost, frightened Pokemon. The last thing he would want is for this Qwilfish to be condemned, even if they had taken his life.

She went into her tent to think about the situation. That’s when she saw it sitting on the table. A stapled together set of pages from a web blog. It gave her an idea, a means of salvation.

She picked up the copy of a report written by a far-removed cousin of hers, Arumi Schrader. It documented events that took place at the Sunyshore Gym over in Sinnoh during the first eight months of the year, involving a certain Pokemon Rehabilitator. Someone who could handle Pokemon that no one else could – or would. Not even the most powerful Champions or best care facilities. It struck like a bolt of lightning called down by Raikou. Yes, this was a perfect idea. They could use him. If anyone could turn public opinion around, it was the Demon Tamer Nori Carino.



Julia comes from the fic of @Juliko , Pokemon: A Marvelous Journey. Used with permission plus with input, partially as a mythology gag in how this series technically started as alternate history (noncanon to this too), and to help set the stage.

If you're wondering about my use of a real world country name, it's just my way of futureproofing. I don't want to spend hours making up a region name only to have it potentially be invalidated by canon, so I sidestep it by not mentioning those and having countries exist as basically-superregions. Which, kinda got screwed up anyway by Paldea encompassing two countries, but I managed a patchjob there. Though it also validated my use of real-world language names (which the games use anyway), so.

And yes. This is a crazy concept I had. Hopefully it's enjoyable for/in spite of it.
 
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Oooh, a new fic from you! Awesome! Definitely appreciate the shout-out and the depiction of Julia from my fic here. You pretty much got her characterization down pat. As fearful as she is of poison types, she would definitely try to overcome her fear if said Pokemon was in trouble. Definitely like the analogy of the Qwilfish talking all at once being as loud as a crowd at a baseball game, since autistic sensory issues can be a real pain. Oh, and I definitely caught the Raikou shout-out, since Raikou plays a large role in my fic as well. I wonder what'll happen this time? Here's hoping Nori dealing with the Hisuian Qwilfish doesn't prove to be as perilous as dealing with a murderous Pawniard. Can't wait to read more!
 
Pardon being late, I didn't notice this was up for a while.

*
Waking up in the Pokemon Center – thank goodness for free lodgings – and getting ready for the rest of the day.
You know, I wonder; are Pokémon centers government funded? A charity that relies on donations? Does the league fund them (though other than Sw/Sh it doesn't generally feel like the leagues would make a lot of money since the championship battles don't have an audience).

*Sounds like an Overqwil (still the best/worst Pokémon name)?

*Ah, just a Hsuian Qwilfish--which I forgot actually existed. I misremembered OverQwil as an Ursaluna style evolution.

*Yes, I am old enough to know what event this whole thing is referring to.

*Another volley in the Great Capitalization War.

*Well, the good news is this Qwilfish seems to have panicked rather than being actively murderous like the Pawniard. The bad news is the PR situation is beyond abysmal, though I guess Nori is shockingly used to that.
 
Oooh, a new fic from you! Awesome! Definitely appreciate the shout-out and the depiction of Julia from my fic here. You pretty much got her characterization down pat. As fearful as she is of poison types, she would definitely try to overcome her fear if said Pokemon was in trouble. Definitely like the analogy of the Qwilfish talking all at once being as loud as a crowd at a baseball game, since autistic sensory issues can be a real pain. Oh, and I definitely caught the Raikou shout-out, since Raikou plays a large role in my fic as well. I wonder what'll happen this time? Here's hoping Nori dealing with the Hisuian Qwilfish doesn't prove to be as perilous as dealing with a murderous Pawniard. Can't wait to read more!
- Well I needed someone, and I didn't want to make a new character. And yeah, she has overcome her fear before so she would here.
- The baseball crowd thing was taken from myself. It used to and still sometimes does irritate me when I hear it on the TV. Though nowaways its mostly the announcers.
- Raikou thing was mostly to show different faiths/beliefs since that's a big part of my worldbuilding. However, I did also imply that Raikou taught Hikaru some aquatic language.
- Well, given the description, it might be perilous in its own ways...

Pardon being late, I didn't notice this was up for a while.

*

You know, I wonder; are Pokémon centers government funded? A charity that relies on donations? Does the league fund them (though other than Sw/Sh it doesn't generally feel like the leagues would make a lot of money since the championship battles don't have an audience).

*Sounds like an Overqwil (still the best/worst Pokémon name)?

*Ah, just a Hsuian Qwilfish--which I forgot actually existed. I misremembered OverQwil as an Ursaluna style evolution.

*Yes, I am old enough to know what event this whole thing is referring to.

*Another volley in the Great Capitalization War.

*Well, the good news is this Qwilfish seems to have panicked rather than being actively murderous like the Pawniard. The bad news is the PR situation is beyond abysmal, though I guess Nori is shockingly used to that.
- It happens.
- It's a very good question for canon. It's an idealistic world though which I carry over, so it's probably a basic human right thing. I did go into some of the Gym funding side of things in Official In-Training, e.g. Sunyshore Gym had a sponsorship with Ollie's family's sandwich shop.
- It is definitely up there. And I call the beta evo Qwilpuff. Preliminarily at least, something very similar and playing off Weavile/Sneasler.
- I actually posted this earlier since it was his day, and I wanted to post it before November was over anyway. Health issues have been tripping up making significant forward progress mostly due to stress though.
- Well, you'll see.
 
Chapter 1
“Hey, guys,” Nori Carino announced his arrival as he strutted through the door to the miniature computer lab which served as a clubroom. The thirteen-year-old was around 140 centimeters tall with chestnut-colored hair and soft red eyes. Besides his job with the Officials, he was the president of the newsletter club at Tobari Central Junior High. Taiiku no hi was today, and they needed to cover the school’s festivities!

He glanced around the room and noticed that there was only one other person present besides him. He considered everyone in the club a friend, although there was only one person he was close to in the traditional sense. She was sitting alone in front of one of the many computers in the room.

“What’s up, Yumi?” he addressed her personally.

His words did not appear to register with her. Yumi Takao was not wearing headphones of any kind and there was no sound coming from the speakers. Her short beige hair was in perfect order, styled in a cute bob cut. Her clothes were as fashionable as always: a long pleated flannel skirt and designer shirt, pink and white respectively. She was staring blankly at the monitor with her chocolate brown eyes. Was she reading something?

“Yumi?” he called to her again, a little louder. She was a lot of different things, but she wasn’t the type of person to suddenly ignore someone. Was she?

“Oh, ah. Nori.” Her hand jerked forward and to the right. Whatever was on the screen quickly disappeared. Nori didn’t get a good look at it, but it seemed like she had been reading an email.

“What’s up?” he repeated.

“Nothing, really,” she told him unconvincingly. He’d learned to read body language as part of his training with the Officials, but he didn’t need to see her twitching and unnaturally rigid posture to know that it was hardly nothing. “What about you?”

“Well, I’m getting close on teaching the Demon something new,” he said. She was one of his Pokemon and where he got his moniker ‘The Demon Tamer’ from. Specifically, she was a battle-crazy Nidorina who had terrorized Veilstone with hit-and-run attacks for many months. “Mostly for her battles and to see if I can. It’s not much, but it’ll be cool if it works.”

“Uh-huh.” She was looking his way, but not at him. Her eyes were elsewhere. Maybe nowhere.

He carefully sat to the left of her. “Is something wrong?” he prodded, leaning in slightly.

She shook it off with a gesture. “Don’t worry about it,” she dismissed, albeit in a hasty fashion that made Nori worry even more.

All he could do was shrug and say, “If you say so.” Forcing it wouldn’t do him any good.

Yumi exhaled, turned away, and lowered her head. There was something wrong. She didn’t want to talk about it right now, that much was clear. Maybe someone said something mean to her, or she found out about some bad news? He could only speculate, but he wasn’t going to dwell on it overmuch.

The young official turned to the computer before him, switched the machine on, and brought up the web browser. He went to his favorite world news site. Nori never had the internet while growing up, or much of anything, really. But he did have the radio in his mom’s trailer. The news was what he listened to the second most. That was how he became so interested in it.

The top headline jutted out like a tall tree in an open prairie. He didn’t normally care for celebrity news, but this one was something big and meaningful. He couldn’t help but read it aloud.

“The Krookodile Tracker, Pete Stephens, passes away at 49?!”

“What?!” Yumi’s reverie broke as she jumped to attention. She leaned over his shoulder. “When?!”

“Five minutes ago!”

“What happened?!”

“I’m bringing it up now!”

Things like radio dramas were what Nori listened to the most on the radio. There was one he had fond memories of which featured a retelling of one of Stephens’ adventures where he encountered a Legendary Pokemon from his home region. Plus, there was that interview on Natureworld with Nami. He had even seen a few episodes of the guy’s TV show, mostly at school. Nori may not have known much removed from popular culture, but even he knew Pete Stephens, the Krookodile Tracker.

Yumi peered over as he scrolled through the pages. He read fast, and thankfully, she read faster. That didn’t surprise him. She liked to read and even went with him to the library on a couple of occasions.

The article explained that he was in Johto to document a mass outbreak of Qwilfish. There was a stray Sinnohian specimen which investigators speculated was released there. It panicked and attacked him when he tried to approach, piercing a weak spot in his diving suit, which was designed to withstand even things like a Sharpedo’s bite. It was nothing short of a freak accident. Attempts to resuscitate him on the scene failed, and he was pronounced dead on arrival to Violet City General.

“You were just in Johto yesterday, weren’t you?” Yumi inquired.

“Yeah, but I didn’t want to stay there longer than I had to.” He could’ve stayed a week, but he decided to fly back on Sunday night, so he wouldn’t miss any school. It was a mandatory vacation that he didn’t get the point of. Something to do with the policy of the Officials. He would have gone to Sunyshore to visit his mentor Volkner and his bestie Arumi, but it had to be out of region. “Even if I hadn’t, I was up near Mahogany and Ecruteak. Not anywhere close to where it happened.”

“Yo.”

At that moment, Reiko Azuma entered the room, followed closely by Terrance Lee. The two of them were in the same grade as Nori.

“Wh-what are you two doing?” Terrance stammered, his chocolate brown eyes darting between them. He wore baggy black sweatpants with an equally loose shirt of the same color.

Nori and Yumi exchanged glances. It was the latter who broke the news. “The Krookodile Hunter passed…”

Reiko stamped a foot. “What?!” she exclaimed with a flick of her fiery orange hair. She had on jeans and a blue jacket. Reiko was short and had a bit of weight on her, though not an unhealthy amount. “Lemme see!”

Nori scrolled to the top of the article. Reiko sat down to his left, while Terrance shuffled up and tried to look over his shoulder. He went through it again.

“Scroll slower!” Reiko snapped.

“Read it up yourself, then!” Nori fired back, getting out of the seat to allow her to do so. It was the best way, anyway.

She took him up on it. When he turned away with a huff, Nori noticed Terrance’s expression. His eyes were watery, not to mention distant. His mouth was hanging open.

“What’s up?” he asked, with a bit of concern.

“That was my favorite show…” he spoke flatly. He shook his head and took a step away from the computer.

“The Krookodile Tracker?” he said. “Wasn’t my favorite, but I liked it too.”

Reiko grumbled. “Hard to find someone who didn’t,” she remarked as she continued to slowly make her way through the article. “You’d have to be a bigot or a freak to hate the show.”

“That’s taking it too far,” Nori commented. “Not everything’s for everyone.” He was pretty sure just about everyone disliked at least one thing most people loved. Like for him, it was Pokemon journeys. A lot of people wanted to experience one at least once, like Reiko or his former friend Claris, but he never had any interest.

Yumi looked between them. “I think most would like Pete Stephens himself, at least.”

Nori couldn’t disagree there. As he was about to speak up, a faint sob came from a table behind them.

Reiko stood up immediately, maybe reflexively. “Terrance, you okay?” she said, placing a hand on his shouder.

He and Yumi exchanged a smirk. Those two had been friends since they were little, and the only ones at the club not aware of Reiko’s feelings was Terrance himself. Or if he was, he did a good job of ignoring them.

“No,” came a huff. “I…I don’t know what…” He laid his head on the table, burying it under his arms.

The two waited. When Reiko remained silent with uncertainty, Nori spoke.

“It’ll be fine, Terrance,” he assured him.

Yumi concurred. “I’m sorry. I know, it hurts me too. But we can’t…” She trailed off, uncertain of how to put it to him.

Nori sat up straighter as a realization struck. “Actually, we can do something.”

“What, necromancy?” Reiko spat.

“I meant, write an article.”

“Oh.” She slapped herself and smirked. “Yeah, we could. And you know him best, Terrance.”

“It’d be a good way to honor him,” Yumi agreed, nodding at the idea. “You know?”

Still using his arms as a chin rest, he peered up at them. Nori maintained that it was a good idea anyway. They would technically need the others to agree, but he was sure they would like it too. That is, if Terrance was comfortable writing about it so soon.

He finally sat up. It took a few seconds longer to give his reply. “Okay…”

##########​

The atmosphere at school changed with the news of the sudden passing of a beloved celebrity. It was a subtle shift, yet it was not lost on Nori. Aside from the talk about it that he overheard in the halls, there were fewer smiles on faces and people were moving slower. It was clear to him that the Krookodile Tracker meant a lot to almost everyone in the school. The others unanimously agreed to write an article about him. Their weekly newsletter always had one global story anyway.

After what they managed yesterday, they had one day to hammer it out and get it to print, since they published on Wednesday. Their two fieldworkers were out getting quotes from their peers for the article. Adelle and Yasmin were ninth-years who tended to be inseparable. Saqid, an eighth-year like Yumi, was in the school library looking for some books that might be relevant. That left the rest of them to begin the brainstorming portion.

It took Terrance several minutes to compose himself after sitting down. He fidgeted and inhaled. Three of them were looking at him with expectant encouragement. The other, Mitsu Chisaka, was hunched over a monitor as usual.

“I think, well.” Terrance huffed again. He spoke with slow uncertainty. “We should open with a biography of him and what happened.”

Though it had happened before Nori arrived, Terrance was only in the club because you needed to pick some sort of club to be in at Tobari Junior, and theirs was the first to accept him. His contributions were minimal and limited to only small additions. That didn’t mean they didn’t appreciate him, of course. He was one of them, and every little bit helped. This was the first time he was taking on a leading role, and as far as Nori was concerned, he was doing fine. Reiko beamed. Yumi couldn’t help smiling either. Nori opened his mouth to say something, when a sneeze interrupted his train of thought.

They turned to the source, Mitsu. The teal-haired teenager let out a sheepish chuckle as he wiped his nose with his hand.

“Did you really have to come in here when you’re sick?” Reiko snapped. She turned away with a grimace, but kept her narrow eyes leering at him.

“I’m not that sick…” Mitsu replied with a sniff as he wiped his left eye. “Some of this is from crying.”

Nori had to agree with the orange-haired girl. “You could at least wear a mask,” he said. He respected that Mitsu came to school anyway, but that was just common courtesy.

He reached for the roll of toilet paper in front and to the right of him, next to his green water bottle. “It’ll be fine.” He blew his nose.

“I don’t want to catch your damn cold, dumbass!” Reiko shouted the thing that was on everyone’s mind, but only Nori himself would’ve said it to him outright too.

In fact, he said so too. “Yeah, no one does. And put that rag in your bag.”

Yumi giggled at his unwitting rhyme. Reiko continued to glower. Mitsu eventually groaned and put the tissue where he was asked, instead of the wastebin. He was a good person and a hard worker, but sometimes he seemed off in his own world.

“Hey!” Terrance squeaked out. “Does that…sound good?”

“Sorry. It works,” Nori confirmed. Stupid interruptions. “It’s simple, but simple is best sometimes.”

“Then after that we can put some of the stuff others said,” Terrance continued. “Like their memories about him.”

“I’m not sure if we can print some of it,” Yumi said grimly. Nori glanced at her as she elaborated. “I overheard some people in the halls saying they felt like going out and beating up Qwilfish.”

Reiko snorted, giving her head a toss. “That’s stupid. They should be blaming the one who killed him, not all of them.”

An uncomfortable silence drew over them. Even Reiko, realizing what she had just said, crossed her arms and turned away with a frown. But the fact remained that a lot of people were going to demand justice. And at the most extreme, some might take matters into their own hands and exact it upon proxies. Nori hoped those people were outliers and not the norm. No, he hoped people weren’t stupid enough to do that.

“I wonder what’s going to happen to that Qwilfish,” Terrance mused the question on everyone’s mind.

Yumi turned to him. “You would know, Nori. Right?”

“Yeah. It’s case by case,” he told them. He had to extensively learn Pokemon-related law as part of his studies to become an official. “Typically, a wild Pokemon that kills a human is sent to assessment, and if deemed necessary, put down. But there’s two things complicating this case. The first is the argument that he provoked the Qwilfish. The other is that it may have been a released Pokemon. That changes things.”

“Wait, it does?” asked Mitsu.

He confirmed. “Trainers who release a Pokemon into the wild are responsible for its actions for at least six months afterward.”

“So they just need to find the bastard that did this!” Reiko declared. She rubbed her hands together.

“Right!” agreed Mitsu with a sniff. It wasn’t clear if it was from his grief or the cold. Maybe it was both.

But Nori had to burst their bubble. “I don’t think they’re gonna find whoever did this.” They were looking, but no one had seen anything. Time would tell if whoever did it would come forward out of guilt or be exposed because of it. “Even if they do, the first thing I said, the provoking aspect, might be their defense like the Qwilfish’s.”

“That’s dumb!” snapped Reiko, slamming a palm on the desk. “And why don’t they like, get someone to ask the thing who its trainer was?”

“There’s a lot of reasons why they don’t often do that.” On paper, getting someone who could talk to Pokemon was simple and obvious. But it wasn’t that simple from a legal perspective. “Most of the reasons why were because of a high-profile case from the 1960s. An interpreter – Kentaro Kannagi – got accused of fabricating Pokemon testimony.”

His fellow club members all reacted with varying degrees of surprise. But he’d caught all of their interest. Especially with the part about the Kannagis. “What happened?” Terrance asked.

“A real mess happened,” Nori said. “They eventually found out that the Pokemon was the one who lied, but not before a media fiasco nearly destroyed Kentaro. He left the Kannagi Shrine anyway despite getting cleared. It ended up exposing a lot of the flaws with Pokemon witnesses. It wasn’t used much before, but there’s been more restrictions put upon it since then, like special permission and multiple interpreters being needed.”

There was much more to Pokemon-related law than one might expect. It wasn’t like, super restrictive or anything like that. A little kid could still own Pokemon, and once they turned ten, they could get a license to participate in officially sanctioned activities throughout most of the world. But there were still rules, both obvious and obscure. If someone didn’t follow them, they could get put on a blacklist and be legally barred from ownership.

“You’re really smart, Nori,” Yumi said, leaning in with a soft beam.

“Oh, uh,” He could feel the heat rising in his face. “It’s nothing special, really.”

Reiko, Terrance, and Mitsu only laughed a little. It wasn’t clear if it was at him or what. The point became moot when a buzzing sound from his pocket interrupted them. Nori reached in and retrieved his radio. A small rectangular earpiece that worked as a very limited phone, could tune into emergency scanners, and served as identification.

“What kind of ringtone’s that?” Reiko snorted.

“I think it’s supposed to be some kind of alarmy noise?” It was annoying, but maybe that was supposed to be the point. “Sorry, I’ll be right back.”

He grumbled. What was he getting a call now for?! It was Tuesday, not Sunday! He stepped into the office at the back of the room and shut the door behind him. Nori put the device in his ear and pressed a button on the side to answer.

“—lo? Sir? Hello? You there?” came the voice of a man with a thick European accent.

“I’m here,” Nori answered.

“Ah, it is good that you had answered! I am right that it is lunch hour at your school, yes?”

“It is, but I’m busy with my club.” He didn’t hide his impatience. This guy liked to ramble a lot.

“Oh, sorry sir!” the man said. He didn’t sound very apologetic, but that was just how he spoke. “Okay, briefly. I was just calling to say to you, a new assignment is on the way!”

“What?! Already?” He hadn’t had his first one for a month yet! He got Pawniard on the 21st of September, and it was the 13th of October!

“It was a surprising matter for me too! Sorting out will need to happen. But two days! Friday! In the usual place! Prepare yourself.”

“But Friday is three days from now?”

“I mean Friday!” he quickly spoke. “Three days! Be pre–”

“Fine. See you then.” He hung up, pocketed it, and went outside.

“That your handler?” Reiko quipped with a smarmy smirk.

“It feels like the opposite sometimes,” he answered, returning her expression. “But yeah. I’m getting a new assignment.”

Reiko arched an eyebrow. Mitsu, as usual, was too engrossed to react. But Terrance and Yumi both recoiled. The latter’s hands flew to her mouth.

“Another one?!” she shuddered. “But Pawniard’s… You’re still…”

Terrance was able to speak. “Has he been rehabilitated yet? Pawniard, that is?”

“No, not yet.” He was comfortable enough to have him battle random trainers like he did on that vacation, but not enough to say he had finished his job. Actually, he wasn't sure what counted as being done.

Nori was a Pokemon Rehabilitator, or rather, the only one. His job was basically to rein in the nastier parts of his assignments’ personalities to acceptable standards. Some might say that could be done by any good trainer or care facility, but that simply wasn’t true in practice. It was like his close friend once said, it wasn’t like you could tame a Pokemon just by owning and being nice to it. Sometimes, it took an unorthodox approach that conventional trainers couldn’t give. Or had no obligation or time for. Case in point, Pawniard had previously been taken in to be tamed by a police officer who had been a trainer for forty years. It didn’t turn out well, to put it lightly.

Reiko crossed her arms. “Well, hopefully you don’t let this one almost kill anything.”

“Hey!” He appreciated her criticism, but she took it too far sometimes. “Not going to let that happen again! Not after that! But I’m hoping this isn’t the usual pace I get assignments.” He paused, then added, “I better ask about that.” It seemed it wasn’t the case from the man’s reaction, but who could say?

“But we should get back to work,” said Terrance. “I’ll start…trying to make a draft. Points to hit on, and…stuff.”

“Right,” concurred Reiko. “I’ll help if you need it.”

“Mhm.” Nori had to agree. Whatever this was, it wouldn’t be a thing to worry about until the weekend. Not that he was going to let it get in the way of the article anyway.

Yumi fidgeted in her seat, drumming her fingers together. “Yeah,” she said, although she was glancing at him instead of Terrance. He could only nod at her in assurance for now.

As Terrance dug into his bag to find a pen and some paper, Nori thought a bit more about his impending assignment. Whatever it was, it was hard to be worse than a serial killer’s Pokemon. And he was up to the task! Not like he had a say in the matter. So, as he always liked to say, there was nothing to do but do it!
 
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Another good chapter like usual. I like your explanation on how hard it'd be to get someone who actually understands Pokemon to partake in legal matters. It is kinda sketch that the guy who was involved in said incident was related to the Kannagis. Wonder if he was the guy who founded the Kannagi Shrine or something? Definitely a morsel to ruminate upon. Also, "You’d have to be a bigot or a freak to hate the show.” Uh, Reiko? As shown in chapter one of this, Julia from MarJour would like to have a word with you. Great job! Wonder how Nori will be able to handle the Hisuian Qwilfish?
 
Another good chapter like usual. I like your explanation on how hard it'd be to get someone who actually understands Pokemon to partake in legal matters.
Legal stuff is a big part of this ficverse given some of the inspirations (you), so I decided to explore that side of it. Mostly in the quashing it, but still, explaining why it's quashed.

It is kinda sketch that the guy who was involved in said incident was related to the Kannagis. Wonder if he was the guy who founded the Kannagi Shrine or something? Definitely a morsel to ruminate upon.
The Kannagi Shrine was founded way way before that. This is alluding to things I've only alluded to so far through implictness and only outright mentioned in a bunch of prompts. The Kannagi Shrine has gradually been bleeding family members. Making it a Kannagi is certainly for reasons besides tidying the narrative.

Also, "You’d have to be a bigot or a freak to hate the show.” Uh, Reiko? As shown in chapter one of this, Julia from MarJour would like to have a word with you.
Reiko would stand by it. Probably with a side of disbelief, and likely criticism if she's thinking clearly enough which may or may not be completely rightful.

(She is not a nice person.)

Wonder how Nori will be able to handle the Hisuian Qwilfish?
Heh heh heh.
 
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Chapter 2
A small building sat at the top of a tall hill on the northeast side of Veilstone City, the first branch location of the revered Kannagi Shrine. It originated in Celestic Town over fifteen hundred years ago, and actually provided the traditional Japanese name of the settlement. It was not hyperbole to say that they were a major influence on Kodo beliefs, and that many modern sentiments toward Pokemon could be traced back to the Kannagi clan. Though not as prominent as they once were, they were still of the most highly respected families in Japan.

A small and empty knoll sat in the shadow of the cliff. That was where the sole heir to the shrine, Prema Kannagi, stood on a makeshift wooden stage before a crowd of over two hundred people that was rapidly growing. It had been two days since the world had lost one of the greatest Pokemon conservationists of the modern era. All the priests and priestesses agreed that the shrine should do something; they and Pete Stephens stood for much the same things, and honoring the deceased was a large part of their faith. This was the best they could arrange on such short notice.

Two others were on either side of her. Acolyte Jirou Jinnai wore a kasa on his head and a jacket over his violet robe to shield himself from the rain. The man held a large umbrella over Prema. To her right, a tall elderly woman with silvery-green eyes stood proudly as drops fell on her face and body. Prema might have feared that someone her age would catch pneumonia, but it was Priestess Satomi Kurusu. One who had served four generations of Masters and showed no signs of slowing down even in her nineties.

So many people had come by despite the fact that their only advertisement for this was word of mouth. There were even several unfamiliar faces that she had never seen on the shrine grounds. It was evidence that he had touched the lives of so many people, and that they were looking for any form of closure they could find. Prema was unable to help herself from scanning the crowd. There was a person that she was hoping to see there. There was no chance Prema would have missed her given her height, her fashion, and her face. The only reason she was not disappointed was that it was a long shot to begin with.

She felt an elbow brush against her. Her mentor was smiling. “When you are ready, Lady Kannagi. Just don’t keep’em waiting too long!” The elderly woman chuckled.

Prema nodded. “Yes, Priestess Satomi.”

Ordinarily, it would be Father who would address an audience under these circumstances. Instead, he had given her the task and was standing somewhere in the crowd. Prema was no stranger to such speeches, and she fully intended to see it through. She took a deep breath and began.

##########​

The rest of the week sped by like a Ninjask for Nori. Their article turned out to be a smash hit, receiving praise from both peers and teachers for its quality. The immensely positive response left them all with huge smiles, but none more than Terrance.

The news club often stayed after school on Friday to talk about the newsletter for the week and continue work on the next edition. The meetings usually lasted no more than two hours, and not everyone could attend every week. This was one of the rare times Nori could not make it, but he stopped by after the last bell to check in on everyone regardless. The guy who handled his Official’s stuff had asked him to meet after school in the usual spot in order to pick up his next assignment, as soon as possible. He already knew of one other person who would be absent as usual, but he was surprised to find only four people in the room.

“Hey,” he announced his presence. Mitsu was at his usual computer, while the other three sat around a table that they had seemingly moved further away from him. “Where’s Adelle and Yasmin? They’re usually here first thing.”

Reiko rolled her eyes. She had on a light blue shirt and her usual jeans. “They think they caught Chisaka’s cold.” She looked towards the culprit with an ‘I told you so’ expression before shaking her head and turning to Nori. “So they went home early.”

“Don’t friggin’ blame me,” Mitsu uncharacteristically fired back, slamming a fist on the desk and jostling his green metal water bottle.

Before Reiko could open her mouth to retaliate, Nori shouted, “Whoa!” He usually let the older girls play peacekeeper. But they were sick. So he instinctively sprang into action without much thought despite him being the one to get angry half the time. “What was that for?”

Mitsu held his head high. It was a relief when he sighed through pinched lips. “Sorry, I’m just still mad,” he admitted. “I grew up on the Krookodile Tracker! And some bastard releases a Qwilfish that kills him? Why haven’t they found them yet?”

“Mitsu.” The orange-haired girl stood to address him. Her fingers curled. She exchanged a glance with Nori before speaking with a blunt edge. “He’s gone. Staying pissed about it isn’t going to help.”

“Ah.” Terrance turned to face the wall. After some hesitation, he made an uncharacteristic remark. “That’s coming from the great Reiko Azuma.”

Reiko recoiled, her mouth falling open as she took a step back. “T-Terrance!” she stammered, turning faintly red.

Nori couldn’t help but laugh. Everyone actually laughed at least a little, except Mitsu, who gave a false smile given away by resting his arms on his legs and the cold, distant look in his eyes.

Saqid had laughed the hardest, a hardy guffaw. He actually had to wipe a tear from his black-tinted eyes. “Okay,” he said, adjusting his thick black sweatshirt. “If you are cracking jokes Terrance, you are over it.”

Reiko sat down next to her close friend and gave him a light pat on the back. He looked away again as she made physical content. “Not really,” he forced out, squinting tightly as he did so. “I hope they find who did this, too. Just so we can get a bit of closure.”

“I know, right?” Mitsu said, “It’d be one thing if this was an accident, but it wasn’t.”

“They’re actually saying it was a freak accident,” Nori spoke up. That’s what was being reported, and that’s what they had reported. “The Qwilfish attacked in panic and hit in just the right spot.”

“But if it wasn’t released…” Terrance squeaked.

“Yeah.” Mitsu stomped a foot. “Doesn’t matter. If it wasn’t there in the first place, this wouldn’t have happened. I don’t even think it was an accident. The Dark-type is traditionally known as the Evil-type, after all.”

Reiko nearly leapt out of her seat again. She gripped the side of the table, her arm shaking. She turned to Nori with a twitching lip and empty retinas. It was a look that pleaded, ‘Please get him to shut up before I say something that might make Terrance upset by proxy.’

The Evil-type thing wasn’t even true; it was much more nuanced. But pointing that out wouldn’t do any good. Instead, he took the most basic approach to the problem. “All right, enough about him,” he ordered, in the sternest tone of voice he could. He stood tall and put his hands on his hips like his mom would. “Just focus, people.”

“Agree,” Reiko instantly chimed in. Mitsu and Terrance reluctantly nodded. She changed the subject. “Hope those two get over their cold on the weekend.”

Everyone was with her on that. Their skills at getting info from the student body were unparalleled. “Speaking of, I’m still surprised they got an interview with the battling team,” Nori made a random remark, rolling his right ankle. “No one else could’ve gotten that. I didn’t think those guys would want anything to do with me after what happened with Pawniard and Anthony.”

“They apparently volunteered,” Saqid said with a shrug. “It was not a factor, though they said you still have a couple supporters. But one against you, that Emi chick, really liked the Tracker. And you kept hers in editing.”

He smirked. “Yeah, I guess.” He hadn’t interacted with Emi Pikaru in any meaningful way during or after the incident, but he knew who she was from reputation and research. The team having hard feelings didn’t shock him, but some not having any was a small surprise.

“Hit everyone hard, they shouldn’t be exceptions,” Reiko remarked, shaking her head.

“Definitely.” That much was clear from the response to their newsletter. In fact, they had so many statements from people that many of them had to be cut. Him keeping Emi’s was mainly since it stood out. “Anyway, gotta get going. Saqid, you’re in charge.”

The tan-skinned teenager saluted. “I will not let you down.”

“Later.” Reiko gave an idle wave without looking up. She momentarily glanced in his direction. “Good luck with whatever the hell they’re throwing at you this time.”

“Thanks. See you guys next week.”

Nori walked powerfully through the halls until he reached the front doors of the school. He shoved them apart and stepped out into the brisk autumn air. He zippered up his earth-brown jacket with black sleeves and approached the person sitting on a bench near the flagpole.

She was lightly slumped, not noticing him at first due to looking down. Her hands were folded between her knees and her ankles were crossed. She wore knee-length purple shorts, warm black leggings, and a nylon jacket which was pink on the outside and white on the inside, as well as her usual white sneakers. Her hair swayed gently in the breeze.

“Hey, Yumi,” he called to her.

She uncrossed her arms and legs at the sound of his voice. The teenager rested her hands on the cement beside her as she looked up at him with somewhat distant eyes. “Hi.”

They had made plans to go for a walk together after school, since Nori’s destination and Yumi’s home were in the same direction up to a point. “Ready to get going?”

She stood. “Okay.”

They set out together, wordlessly enjoying spending time together for the first couple of blocks. After that, when they were further away from the noise of the schoolyard, Nori started speaking. “Another week, another newsletter in the books.”

“Yeah.”

“Woo!” Nori pumped both of his fists, resting them at chest level. “That was our best yet, I think. Only problem now is, how do we follow up from that? We need to put 110% into next week now that we got a lot more people’s attention. Any thoughts?”

“I don’t know.”

Nori took momentary pause. Yumi wasn’t looking at him while she was speaking. She was staring at the ground and gradually falling behind.

He slowed to keep pace and segued into something related, but even more positive. “You notice how Terrance has, like, been eating Blissey eggs over it the whole time?” Sure, there was his subtle elation over how well the article was received, but even before that. He was stressing sometimes over the quality, but he was refusing to let grief get the better of him.

“I know…”

Five terse responses in a row was too much. Nori felt a light quiver in his stomach. “What’s wrong?” he asked. Was it something he said or did? Or if not, what was bothering her?

Her response was to stop in place. She clasped her hands together, pressing them against her upper body. “You’re getting another assignment,” she elaborated, her voice shaky, “That’s what’s wrong.”

“Hey, it’ll be fine!” he assured her. It wasn’t the first time she’d been worried about one of the Pokemon he’d been rehabilitating. “I really appreciate that you’re worried about me! But whatever it is can’t be any worse than Pawniard, right?”

“Those are famous last words,” she replied, her unsteady legs slightly swaying.

Nori snorted. “Maybe,” he giggled.

Okay, point taken. That was a pretty funny way of putting it. But she didn’t laugh with him, only huffing and fidgeting. Her concern was totally real.

“Hey. I think I’m right about this,” he said, squatting down in front of her, so he could look her right in the eyes. He flashed the best smile he could muster.

“Why’s that?” she asked, her voice monotonous but curious.

He had several days to think about it and finally came to a conclusion. “I dunno.” He stood and shrugged. Nori could admit, part of it was just instinct. But that was a big thing. “It’s just weird I’m getting another this quick. It’s like something just came up, and they needed me for it.”

Yumi shook her head. “I don’t think that’s a good sign,” she said while rubbing her arms.

“Uh, maybe?”

Okay, that was also right. It could also be a very bad sign. It was one of the two. The thing that stood out was his handler’s (as Reiko had eloquently put it) surprise. He gave the kooky man enough credit to be aware of the usual tempo of assignments and all signs pointed towards this being abnormal. Whatever the case, Nori was sure about one thing: whatever this was needed immediate attention. For some reason, it couldn’t be held off until later.

Yumi started to walk again, mumbling dreadfully to herself in Japanese. He followed her while thinking about the situation. He would get his answers soon enough. But maybe Yumi getting answers would at least put her mind at ease? She was worrying about all the different possibilities, maybe to an irrational degree.

It came to him in a flash. “Do you want to come with me?”

Yumi stood up straight so quickly that Nori thought for a moment that she would leave her feet altogether. She again stopped dead in her tracks and whirled to face him. Her eyes were round as Voltorbs and her hands were in front of her defensively. “W-what?!”

“I was allowed to bring others last time I got a Pokemon.” The guy hadn’t complained at all when he showed up with his friends Prema and Maylene. “I don’t see why not this time. It might help you if you know.”

Yumi’s tongue nearly tied itself into a knot as she sputtered. “No, I don’t…” She winced and waved her palms wildly. “I mean, I can’t!”

She was about to say she didn’t want to. But she said she couldn’t? “Even if you wanted to?”

“Yeah.” She huffed and took a deep breath to compose herself. “You know how my parents are.”

“Really strict, right.”

He’d forgotten about that. Everything had to be planned out well in advance when it came to Yumi’s parents. They even needed to get permission for this walk! If she was late because they went and did something different, well. Nothing good could come of it, that was for certain. If he could get away with giving them a piece of his mind, he would in a heartbeat. He might anyway even if he couldn’t, knowing himself.

“I guess I could come by and show you later,” he instead offered. He was sure if he phrased it right, they’d give him a few minutes.

“It’s okay. I’m not in any rush to know.” Yumi exhaled deeply. She shuffled forward vaguely and looked skyward. “I’ll find out eventually.”

He gave her a clap on the shoulder. She stiffened at the sudden physical contact. “Whatever it is, Yumi, I’m sure I can handle it.”

She nodded lightly, face flushed. “I hope so,” she said, leaning toward him. The faintest smile was on her lips. She was fearful to the point of anxiety, sure. But deep down, she had faith. And he was going to prove it was not misplaced.

After a few silent moments between them, Nori gave her a pat and let go. They started out again. They walked another block without speaking to one another. Yumi kept fidgeting, but their talk had improved her mood. She was walking a little closer, her steps were more lively, and she was smiling softly.

“I guess my weekend’s set,” Nori mused aloud. “But what about yours?”

“My grandfather has family activities planned for us.” She gave her shoulders a roll. “No, it’s more like a big family gathering. A few of my aunts and uncles, and…” She paused for three whole seconds. “Even great-grandma is coming to visit. I won’t have time for anything else.” Her tone faltered for a moment, but otherwise it was matter-of-fact.

It sounded like he wasn’t going to be able to show her his next assignment after, even if she wanted to see it. Not before the weekend was over, at least. “Well, I hope they’re fun,” he said.

“I hope so too.” She chuckled lightly. “And please. Be careful, Nori.”

“I will be, I promise!” Even if it did turn out to be a dangerous Pokemon, he wasn’t going to let it get the better of him. Nor would any of his other Pokemon let it.

They walked on. Nori lightly tilted his head, looking at her as they walked. He was glad to have a friend like her. Actually, he was glad to have friends at all, but that was another facet altogether. All her worrying meant that she cared. Maybe others were worried too, but they never spoke their minds like she did. It was a nice contrast to simple trust and encouragement.

Yumi stopped abruptly again and turned, her feet and body pointed at him. “Nori?” she said slowly.

He paused and faced her. “What’s up?”

“I…” she squeaked, but her voice left her. Her tongue flitted out from her closed lips as her eyes darted away. “Sorry, it’s nothing.”

He blinked. “Oh, okay.”

What was that about? It could have been any number of things. Nori had an idea, but like on Monday, he wasn’t going to stress too much. Worst case, it was wanting to vent about her family and thinking better of it.

Yumi wore a contented smile, the type one has when happy to be with someone. Nori sort of felt the same. It would be several more blocks before he would have to head up Crescent Hills. The questions about what kind of Pokemon he would be receiving burned at the back of his mind. But until that time came, he was going to enjoy this walk.
 
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Chapter 3
After parting ways with Yumi, Nori sent out his Pachirisu, Pachi, to walk with him. Unlike his other Pokemon, Pachi was a gift from Volkner. He usually had the Electric-type squirrel Pokemon out of his ball, but Nori didn’t want him spoiling the mood. He’d been sick last week and couldn’t come along on the forced trip, but had now fully recovered. The squirrel was eager for some fresh air, and practically led the way.

Tomas Martins – codename Studd – was Nori’s senior official, to whom he reported into every Sunday to give updates on his active assignments. He came from the Portuguese part of Paldea and was fluent in the region’s two official languages, but somehow not the global one. Some of what Nori saw made him wonder how the guy became an official at all. Even if he was a low-ranking official, there had to be something. Right?

Their meetings took place in the park near Crescent Hills Elementary. It was a good twenty-minute to half-hour skateboard ride and walk from Nori’s home at the Veilstone City trailer park. The young official’s attempts to meet closer to where he lived were always brushed aside by Mr. Martins. Even going inside the school itself like they did the first time would be better.

He spotted the man easily enough. His dark gray coat with rips was unmistakable. As was his hair, which was like an unkempt ginger-brown bush. He was approaching a woman Nori didn’t recognize.

“Children, am I right?” the man struck up conversation.

“They’re just having fun,” she commented without even looking, instead keeping a watchful eye on her kids. She wore dark blue jeans, a padded jacket the same color, and a hair-covering gray cap with ear flaps and a puffball on top.

“I am waiting for one myself.” Nori almost opened his mouth to yell at him. He wasn’t a kid. He was thirteen! That’s a teenager. “The name’s Studd.”

She spun around. “Excuse me?” She quivered, eyes wide yet narrow.

“Agent Studd.” He flashed an attempt at a charming grin, sabotaged by him forcing it too wide. “It is, of course, a fitting nickname for one such as myself.”

The man received a slap that nearly took him off his feet. Nori’s hand flew to his mouth to suppress the burst of laughter that flew out.

“Agent Creep would fit you better!” the woman snorted. She stomped off to the opposite side of the park, muttering to herself.

Nori took that moment to approach the man. He contained the amusement he had. “Hey,” he said.

“What is the smile for, sir?!” Agent Studd seethed, trying to stand with an air of authority.

“Just a smile.”

“Do not be lying! You were laughing!”

He shrugged. He wasn’t going to bring it up to be polite, but Studd had done so himself. “Okay, but only a little.”

He felt a tugging at his pants and glanced down. Pachi was gesturing. Nori made a motion, go ahead and play. The squirrel dashed off into the field between the swings and the woods.

“Pish-posh!” The man raised his right hand and wiggled his fingers. “You have no right to laugh! It is not as if your luck has seen as being better! Do you get what I am saying, you never had a chance with women like me!”

He actually almost did, several times. He even attracted the interest of at least a couple boys. True, nothing had actually started for various reasons, like screwing it up badly or the other person moving away abruptly. But he could have a girlfriend tomorrow if he really wanted. He decided to only tilt his head and smirk in reply.

Studd’s lip curled. He crossed his arms. “Now what is that smile for?”

“Oh, nothing.” Nori waved it off. He didn’t want to make the guy feel worse.

The man grumbled. “Fine then. We do have business to be getting down to. So I will let that go.”

There were a number of benches and picnic tables in and around the park. The agent made a beeline for one of the former between a tall, fenced-in tree and the swings. Nori was going to sit down, but the man stretched out across the whole thing, propping his head and legs on the armrests.

“Ah, comfy!” he sighed, much to the boy’s surprise. Even he wouldn’t consider a wooden bench to be comfortable. What was he comparing it to? “Tell me, sir! Have you been paying attention to the news?”

Nori could only stare blankly. He was never the snarky type, but Mr. Martins sometimes made him want to be. He gave a simple answer. “I work on my school’s newsletter. I’m the president of the club! Knowing the news is sort of my job there.”

“So you have paid attention!” Studd folded his hands and rested them over his hips. “That makes things easier!”

Agent Studd reached into his pocket and retrieved a black jewel case. A simple container that prevented a Poke Ball from opening accidentally or by internal means. When Nori had received Pawniard, the sadistic Pokemon not only had one of these, but Studd had a cage for him as well. The absence of anything like the latter came as a sign that this one wasn’t as dangerous.

The scruffy man sat up and opened it without care, revealing a sea-blue Poke Ball with a wave pattern on the upper half. “I need not tell you what this is, yes?”

“Um, you kind of need to,” he replied. “You implied it’s related to the news, but that’s it. There’s lots of it in the world, what are you specifically talking about?”

“The Krookodile Finder!” he said wrongly. The man threw up his arms and raised them to the sky. “It is all anyone has been speaking of!”

First of all, that was an exaggeration. Maybe for the first two days, but after that, it tapered off. Secondly, Nori instantly picked up where it was going. “Oh no, don’t tell me,” he said, his legs feeling like they were stuck in a snowbank.

“Don’t tell you what?” he asked, continuing without giving him the slightest chance to answer. “Anyhoo, you’ll be rehabilitating the Qwilfish that killed him!”

He said that so loudly that anyone in the park could have heard him. Nori stamped a foot. “I knew it.” He looked down and brushed some dirt aside with his foot.

An aquatic Pokemon. One that would have to be in the water sometimes. Meaning he would have to be near the water. Meaning the water–

He jolted upright. What was that white and blue thing rushing over?! It took a second to register that it was only Pachi. The squirrel’s tail was swishing in concern. Nori shakily exhaled. “Why am I getting another one so soon? Pawniard’s not done yet.”

“I know, right?!” Studd actually agreed. “I was told it would be months between, but a thing came up!”

So he was right about the odd timing! And that thing that came up was Pete Stephens’ untimely passing. And they were expecting him to help the Qwilfish?! How was he qualified to handle this? No, no, never mind that. How could he handle a Qwilfish?

“Isn’t there another Rehabilitator to handle this?” he protested, maybe pleaded. Pachi stood in front of him, leering at the man before them.

The agent shook his head. “No, sir!” If Nori hadn’t already expected that answer, it would’ve hit harder. Yet it still felt like getting struck in the face. “It’ll be a while before any more like you get found!”

The young official could only wince and shut his eyes tight. “Why this?” he asked no one in particular.

“What is the matter, if I can ask?” came the reply, in a tone that nearly sounded like a childish taunt. “Are you being the scaredy-Sprigatto all of a sudden-like? Is it the hate you might get?”

Pachi growled lightly. Even he could be as fearsome as his other Pokemon when he was angry. But Studd was oblivious. Nori bit down on his lower lip, shaking his head. His limbs quivered. Ostracism wasn’t what he feared. He’d been through so much of it at one point in the past that it meant little. But he was afraid of something else.

His voice eventually came to him. “Not really, but–”

“Then there should be no problem!” Studd chimed in before he could speak up about his discomfort. He lunged his arm out, almost a punch right into Nori’s gut, although it sure felt like he was getting one anyway. The man dropped the ball into his palms.

The young official initially cradled the capsule, making sure he couldn’t fumble it. He took it in both hands and raised it to eye level. Pokemon were conscious to some degree while in their Poke Balls. As he stared at the button, he wondered if the Qwilfish was looking back at him, and if so, what was going through its mind.

He remembered something an old adversary had once told him. That he might need to rehabilitate a Pokemon like this one day. Now, that prospect was staring him in the face, sooner than he expected. Between this and the murderous Pokemon of a serial killer, he had more doubts about being able to rehabilitate the former.

Because this was an aquatic Pokemon. And he had a fear of water. He clutched at his ribs. Just so much as thinking of it could make him squeamish. Seeing it was worse, even if it was in a Pokemon battle. And being near lakes and rivers and pools and–

“Are you fine, sir?”

He blinked out of his reverie to see Studd waving an open palm in front of his face.

“Not really…” he openly admitted.

“Well, buck up, blossom,” he said, giving a goofy, tooth-filled grin. “You have striden well on rehabilitating the Blackout Killer’s Pokemon! This should be no worries!”

No worries. He chuckled bitterly. Even if he wasn’t an aquaphobe, there was still a lot to worry about with this Pokemon. He could name three more things! Like what if it wasn’t already trained to be out of water?

“Now this is a scoop!” came a woman’s voice.

Four more things. He was sure the news would spread anyway, but he thought he’d have a bit of time before that happened. He glanced at the source, just in time to see a woman with wine-red hair and eyes climbing down a tree in the bushes. She was wearing a green and brown trenchcoat as makeshift camouflage. She pulled a handheld video camera from her outfit.

“No interviews,” Nori said as she was hurrying over. He grabbed his Pokemon, glared at Studd and said, “I told you so,” and walked away. He wasn’t in a mind to talk to a reporter, least of all Akari Schrader. Especially with what she’d done to his friend Prema.

“Mr. Carino,” she ignored his declaration. She ran to catch up and pointed the camera in his face, walking in front like the paparazzi would. “What are your thoughts on the Officials giving you this Pokemon?”

“No comment.”

She stopped and scoffed. To her credit, she immediately realized that it was going to be futile. “Damn. Arumi taught you well.”

No, saying that was just basic common sense. But yes, Arumi had explicitly told him not to accept an interview with her aunt. He trusted his bestie on that one.

“Excuse me!” the scruffy man called to her, a hint of excitement in his tone. Nori slowed down a little, so he could listen in, although he continued to leave the park. “Agent Studd, International Police! If it’s a private interview you wish for, I can give you it!”

He heard Akari sniffing the air. She let out a loud, maybe exaggerated grimace. “Put on some cologne, then I’ll see if I can make room for you. I have a busy schedule.”

Nori couldn’t even crack a smile at that. It was almost sad. But not as dreadful as his situation. There were times when he was lost with Pawniard’s rehabilitation, but at least he had direction with him. With this new assignment, he had no idea what to do or where even to begin.
 
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My reviews for these chapters are kinda short, so I'm gonna post them both here.

Chapter 3: Not much to say about this chapter other than it's another good one like usual. Nice to see Prema again, though! I will say this though: I really hope Yumi's parents aren't anything like Luz's mom.

Chapter 4: So Nori gets the Hisuian Qwilfish at last. Now that I think about it, since Hisuian Qwilfish is a dark/poison type and not primarily a water type, can it survive without being in water? If it's able to handle being out of water, it'd be a work-around for Nori's aquaphobia, but I doubt things are gonna be that simple here. Heh, Studd utterly fails at talking to women. Can't wait to read more!
 
My reviews for these chapters are kinda short, so I'm gonna post them both here.

Chapter 3: Not much to say about this chapter other than it's another good one like usual. Nice to see Prema again, though! I will say this though: I really hope Yumi's parents aren't anything like Luz's mom.

Chapter 4: So Nori gets the Hisuian Qwilfish at last. Now that I think about it, since Hisuian Qwilfish is a dark/poison type and not primarily a water type, can it survive without being in water? If it's able to handle being out of water, it'd be a work-around for Nori's aquaphobia, but I doubt things are gonna be that simple here. Heh, Studd utterly fails at talking to women. Can't wait to read more!

C2
  • The scene at the start with Prema wasn't originally in. I added it because her role grew much greater in-planning and I wanted to cameo Priestess Satomi early just because she features in the RP thing I mentioned.
  • Chapter 2 (what it's canonically called since "1" is the prologue) is more of a setup and detail chapter than one in which things happen. There's lots of little things going on in it, that said.
  • The fact that Yumi is showing so much hesitation is a sign that her family can't be good. As for how bad they are compared to Lux's mom? Well, that remains to be seen.

C3
  • Water-types aren't always depicted as being dependent on water, at least for me. However in a similar vein, there are aquatic Pokemon that aren't Water-types. H-Qwilfish is one of them, and there'd be less tension if not for that fact. Of course, they still can be trained to be outside of it for extended periods: like Ollie's Lanturn back in Official In-Training is a big example. It's just a matter of making it through the training.
  • Even if he was the stud he claimed to be, he still has personality problems, yeah. Not the last time he'll utterly fail, either.
 
I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I hadn't even realized that Qwilfish being a Water-type would also be an issue, but of course things can never go less than terribly.
Studd is trying to be encouraging, so there's that, and it seems they agree with my initial assessment that Qwilfish is probably less dangerous than Pawniard.

Unfortunately a tree-reporter ambush means poor Nori will have no time to get progress ready before it's all over the newspapers.

One thing I'm curious about is that Pete Stephens comes across fairly negatively in the prologue but pretty much everyone else afterwards has a very high opinion of him. It could be a bit of a Kallisto scenario, certainly.
 
I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I hadn't even realized that Qwilfish being a Water-type would also be an issue, but of course things can never go less than terribly.
Just aquatic since it's Dark/Poison but same difference.

Studd is trying to be encouraging, so there's that, and it seems they agree with my initial assessment that Qwilfish is probably less dangerous than Pawniard.
Of course as the premise indicates, that doesn't mean she'll be easier to rehabilitate.

Unfortunately a tree-reporter ambush means poor Nori will have no time to get progress ready before it's all over the newspapers.
Indeed. Anything he has to do has to be quick.

One thing I'm curious about is that Pete Stephens comes across fairly negatively in the prologue but pretty much everyone else afterwards has a very high opinion of him. It could be a bit of a Kallisto scenario, certainly.
A bit unintentional since it's through the eyes of someone biased, it's exaggerated a little of the inspiration's personality, and it's a little bit of a worst case scenario type thing.
 
Chapter 4: Plans in Hand
Nori made his way through Veilstone City, skateboarding through the streets with purpose. He had forgotten what brand the green and black board was, but he got it since it suited his needs, and it could be disassembled to fit in a bag. It was good for getting around quicker, and technically, he didn’t need a helmet. Pachi ran alongside him, easily keeping up and stopping at a crosswalk whenever they needed to.

He wasn’t too miffed about what had happened. He was sure that word would eventually get out that his next assignment was another infamous Pokemon. Still, as a newshound, he knew this one would be different. The Demon was infamous locally, but she’d never actually killed anyone. Pawniard was a sadistic killer, but he was from across the ocean and old news. This Qwilfish had slain a beloved celebrity less than a week ago. He would have kept it quiet if he could. Why they were giving it to him so soon after the incident was beyond him.

But he was an optimist at heart. Akari Schrader was going to publish a report soon that was going to complicate things. That much was a fact. But after a bit of thought, that inevitability had given him some immediate direction.

Nori slowed down as he approached a small shotengai. It was the closest one to the trailer park where he lived with his mom. He had known about it since he was a little kid who liked exploring the city, but he had never been able to visit any of the stores until he became an official and had money to spend.

The young official flipped up the board, took it apart, and placed it in his bag as he stepped into the plaza. He ignored the people gawking at him and walked up to Daikatsu, a manga café. The sign was decorated with half a dozen different characters, but he only recognized the muscular guy with spiky golden hair. He wasn’t interested in reading, though. The place had internet, and that’s what he needed to use.

He opened the door, held it for his Pokemon, and stepped inside. The entrance was modest, a simple carpeted lobby decorated with posters of anime and manga characters. There were a few tables and seats for hanging out at. A hallway to the right led to the common areas. The one to the left had restrooms, lockers that could be rented, and the staff facilities.

There was no line, so Nori was able to walk to the front desk unimpeded. The teenager sitting there had slicked-back cream-colored hair and teal eyes. He was wearing a wrestling shirt instead of an anime one, though Nori knew even less about that. But he had picked up enough from anime fans from his periodic visits to the café to understand the shirt’s possible appeal. It had a golden design depicting two bare-chested guys in an embrace, saying they were lovers.

The clerk called out to Nori before he had made it in front of the desk. “Konnichiwa, Carino-sama!” he greeted warmly.

“Oss,” he replied. It was weird to be welcomed like a friend and not as a customer. The clerk was familiar with him, but not vice versa. Maybe he could? No, now was not the time to get to know people. “I’d like a private computer room, please.”

“O-of course!” he replied, fumbling around on his messy desk to find the right papers. “As usual, it’s 200P for 30 minutes at the VIP price.”

Nori didn’t actually have a membership to the place. They just considered him a VIP because of his fame. He wasn’t going to complain about getting a lower price though! The crazy thing about it was that cafés across the country had low prices.

He reached for his wallet and retrieved the necessary amount. “Here ya go,” he said, handing it over.

“And here’s your pass,” the clerk said. When he placed it in Nori’s palm and held his hand there for a second too long, the young official wondered. He attracted a lot of people, and given that shirt, was this one of them? Well, there was no use making assumptions. “I'm always happy to serve,” the clerk declared with a light bow. “So what’s the occasion?”

He smiled and shrugged. “Just need to check my email, maybe browse a little.”

“EEEEEEEEEE!!” someone shrieked with joy. “It’s Nori Carino!”

With that, a bunch of people came hurrying over from the hall. Even some of the people who had been sitting idly at the tables in the lobby rose and approached him, albeit not as hastily. Judging by how loud that person yelled, Nori had no doubt that more people were on their way.

“Wow, I never thought I’d get to meet you in person!” said an adult otaku with thick glasses.

A thin teenage boy who was maybe a little older than him grinned. “It’s always good to see you!”

“Hi, Pachi!” They even knew his Pokemon by name. The little squirrel waved back to the admiring crowd.

“I…I really like you!” a younger girl he didn’t even know straight-up confessed to him.

“Um, er…” No matter how many times this happened, he doubted he’d get used to it. “Sorry, sorry. I really have things to do here, and I already paid.” He was sure they’d let him stay a little longer if he needed to, but still. It was an excuse.

“What about after you’re done?” one of them pleaded.

“Can we at least talk after?” the girl who was in love with him asked. She was cute, but he didn’t know her at all!

“Sorry!” He tried not to yell. “I’m going to see Prema Kannagi right after this!”

It wasn’t technically a lie. After he finished his business, he planned to head straight to the Kannagi Shrine to speak with the future head priestess. It wasn’t planned in advance or anything, but they didn’t need to know that.

Saying her name and his intent was enough to make everyone understand. They wished him well and got on their way. The girl in love with him hung her head as she walked away. Only two teenagers stayed behind, a guy and a girl, leering coldly and hotly respectively.

“Carino,” the male huffed, rubbing a hand along his teal crew cut while slipping the other into his black dress pants. Accompanying him was a slender girl with crimson hair done up in a ponytail. She wore a navy blue dress shirt that matched her friend’s polo and feminine knee-length denim shorts.

“I wasn’t expecting to see you guys here,” he commented, genuinely. Something clicked, and he defensively added, “Or were you somehow waiting to yell at me?” His muscles tensed a little.

“Don’t flatter yourself!” Mariko Urusai snapped. “You’re one of the last people we want to see!”

“Not here, Mari.” Louis Trussel placed a hand on her shoulder. They were the same as always, levelheaded and hotheaded. He leaned into her slightly. “This isn’t the place, and he’s not worth our time right now.”

She grumbled and shook her head before she walked off without waiting for him. Louis opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something more, but Nori whistled for Pachi and left the lobby. He did not bother to look back.

Louis and Mariko had once formed an activist/protest group called Youths Against Mistaken Society. It was actually how Nori had met several of his friends. As far as he knew, it was just the two of them left. They had driven everyone else away. It was something of a shame too, because there had been a time when Nori had greatly respected Louis.

Now was not the time to reminisce, he thought to himself. He had come here to send some emails.

He entered his booth, slid the screen shut, latched it, and sat down at the computer. Pachi, for his part, plopped on a cushion that was designed for small Pokemon and began nestling into it. He opened the browser and brought up the ElectronMail site. He typed in his address and password and loaded it.

There were a bunch of messages from someone he had met at his news club in Sunyshore, but he pushed them to the back of his mind. No, not now. As much as he needed someone like that right now. He composed one new message, and then another.

He kept them short, simple, and to the point. For Arumi Schrader, he told her what her aunt had done and asked for advice and help in handling the fallout. She was his bestie, she would help in any way she could. For Volkner Denzi, the one who the Officials had him train under, he briefly explained the situation and asked for advice on training aquatic Pokemon out of water. The Sunyshore Gym Leader had a few of those, like his Lanturn and Octillery. He was an experienced trainer who would’ve been in the Sinnoh Elite Four if it wasn’t for a scandal. If anyone Nori knew could help with Pokemon, it was him.

After sending the last one, he crossed his fingers. If he was lucky, he would get a reply from one or both of them before his allotted time was up. Only then did he check his inbox. Nori figured he might as well do so while he was there.

It was a simple ‘how are you?’, the words having a still-affectionate tone despite Nori’s rejection of him. He sent a similar message to what he had sent to the others: “Bad. I just got a new assignment not even an hour ago. The Qwilfish that killed Pete Stephens. Going to be tough. Not much time to say much more. Hope you’re doing okay.”

He hit send, and kept the email page open as he went to the search engine. He had done research on his last two assignments, and this time he needed to do that more than ever. News articles, species information, and so on. There was little time to waste. Once his time was up, it was straight to the Kannagi Shrine.

###########​

Louis calmly walked out of Daikatsu, Mariko leading the way with powerful strides. They had known that Nori Carino was a regular at the manga café. For his part, he was glad that Mariko had grown enough not to cause a major scene there. However, he was greatly concerned about what she ended up doing.

“Mariko, slow down,” he urged, jogging to catch up. She was peering down at the ground while grumbling, walking with a swift and rigid gait.

“Seeing him pisses me off.” She did not look up.

“Just the sight of him shouldn’t be triggering to you.” The encounter was admittedly unexpected and unpleasant for him as well, yet he was not about to let that drag down his mood.

She slowed, but kept her sneer and clenched fists. “I’m sorry,” she stood her ground, giving her head a firm shake as she squinted her eyes shut. “I know you feel different. But to me, he’s where it all went wrong.”

He had to take pause at that. She had always blamed Nori Carino for convincing the Takao twins to leave their now defunct protest group. Louis felt he was only a catalyst at best; disagreements, if not the twins’ parents, would have caused it in time regardless. He still had a negative opinion of the Pokemon Rehabilitator, but it was nothing personal, like Mariko had a habit of taking things.

Yet this was new. She had previously blamed a variety of people for each instance of their dwindling numbers. Nori Carino for Yumi and Touya. Prema Kannagi for Nariya’s departure, until she reflected and blamed herself. Arnie for not having the courage to continue.

“For the sake of clarity,” he started to ask, preparing himself for a blow to the heart. It would be best to clear this up for relationship purposes. “Do you blame me for inviting him to that meeting in the first place?”

“No. You couldn’t have known,” she assured him, albeit with a bitter edge. She leaned in a little closer, her eyes dropping as she lamented. “None of us could’ve. Gods.”

They walked on in silence. There was an irony as bitter as a cup of coffee that both were well aware of. Nori had befriended everyone else there that day. The Takao twins, Nariya Yaznik, and the other person they had invited. He had at no point expected the future head priestess of the Kannagi Shrine to join YAMS. It was a shock that she even agreed to observe their meeting. Louis did not believe in destiny, but he could not think of any other explanation for their meeting that day.

“And he’s headed to see her after,” she spat, placing emphasis on the pronoun. “The fuck does she even see in him?”

Louis stood upright. She must have been thinking the same thing as him. Although she had jumped to a strange conclusion in the process. “I don’t think it’s how you’re thinking between those two.”

“Not that I care.” She waved a wrist. “Just thinking that if it weren’t for us…”

“They never would’ve met,” he finished her sentence. Louis had to restrain a laugh in case it was misinterpreted. That’s why he fell for Mariko. As different as they seemed on the surface, they were often on the same page. They thought the same things, they liked the same things, and they wanted to do the same thing: make the world a better place. They had their differences, sure, but it was in a way that complemented each other.

“Can’t do much about her, though.” She grumbled. “Much as I wish we could.”

“We shouldn’t.” Not just because of the futility – they had attempted it before; it only ended in humiliation and Nariya’s frustrations with their treatment of her boiling over. But Prema Kannagi truly was a good person, as far as he could see.

“Yeah,” Mariko sighed. That incident had shaken her badly. But it also led to a lot of personal growth for both of them. She suddenly stopped and gave a frank look. “Hey. Is it wrong I want to see him go down?”

“Not at all.” There were plenty who disliked Nori Carino for far worse reasons. “I would just be disappointed to see it happen. I know how it might happen, too.”

Her gorgeous sapphire eyes lit up, sparkling in the sunlight peeking through the clouds. “Oh yeah?” She rubbed her hands together. “Do you have something in mind?”

He crossed his arms. There was a tightness in his chest. “Just one thing,” he admitted. “I’m hoping I don’t have to be the one to point it out, however.”

“What is it?”

He paused in place. After a second to think about it, he shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about it here. Or in public at all.”

Mariko nudged arms with him. “All right. My parents aren’t coming back for another hour.” She compounded this with a wink.

He felt himself twitch below. “Let’s go, then.” Her apartment was in sight, towering over the other buildings in the area.

Louis instinctively reached for her hand, only for her to playfully bat it away with a giggle. Affectionate, just never in public. If only people knew this side of her. But before they got to any of that, they had plans to go over.

He had heard about an incident with Carino’s previous assignment. They had critically wounded another Pokemon in a battle. The opposing trainer had signed a waiver absolving Carino and the Officials from any legal liability. But therein lied the means of attack. The Pokemon hadn’t agreed to fighting a homicidal monster. They were the one who suffered a permanent, crippling injury as a result of their trainer’s ill-advised decision. Louis was somewhat surprised that Pokemon rights activists weren’t all over it already. Or perhaps some of them had, but didn’t have the courage to speak out.

He already knew what Mariko would want to do. Personally, Louis wanted to leave that part of his life in the past. There were better ways of making a stir than loudly and in public. But if they were the only ones who could make a difference, he’d gladly bear the burden that came with it.
 
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To be honest, I completely forgot that Mariko and Louis existed after a certain point. But thank you for reminding me how much I don't like them. It's kinda funny how Louis sees himself as the more rational half compared to Mariko when he's honestly not much better than her in how he's not only enabling Mariko's petty grudge, saying that she's right to want to see him go down, but actively conspiring to ruin Nori's reputation and possibly his life. Sure he may think he's doing the right thing, but Arceus only knows just how his so-called plan will play out. It is kinda nice seeing Nori reach out to Volkner for help in regards to dealing with the Qwilfish, though I'm not sure Volkner's methods will help with this one since it's a Hisuian Qwilfish, and I'm not sure what your plans are in regards to peoples' knowledge of Hisuian form Pokemon in general. Anyway, another good chapter! Can't wait to read more!
 
To be honest, I completely forgot that Mariko and Louis existed after a certain point. But thank you for reminding me how much I don't like them. It's kinda funny how Louis sees himself as the more rational half compared to Mariko when he's honestly not much better than her in how he's not only enabling Mariko's petty grudge, saying that she's right to want to see him go down, but actively conspiring to ruin Nori's reputation and possibly his life.
And yet it's clear they've gotten character development since then. Enablers can indeed be a problem, but she did listen to him when he said to not make a scene. And he is reluctant to get involved in things now rather than doing them just because. (Of course I'm making their involvement pretty obvious so)

As for whether Mariko's grudge is petty or not...Louis' thoughts are more that it isn't wrong rather than it's right. There's a distinct difference between the two. This gets explored later.

Sure he may think he's doing the right thing, but Arceus only knows just how his so-called plan will play out.
Well, the crux of his argument is that Pokemon don't sign on to potentially fighting dangerous killers. It indeed remains to be seen how people will take their point.

It is kinda nice seeing Nori reach out to Volkner for help in regards to dealing with the Qwilfish,
Don't forget Arumi. Showing that Nori absolutely still considers her to be his bestie.

though I'm not sure Volkner's methods will help with this one since it's a Hisuian Qwilfish, and I'm not sure what your plans are in regards to peoples' knowledge of Hisuian form Pokemon in general.
Keep in mind, Hisui is fiction here. I never liked the idea of long long ago exclusives from a game mechanics standpoint and it never worked with my plans and it always read like someone's ascended fanfic of Arceus is the one capital-G God. Like, even Pete Stephens doesn't really make any fuss about it. They're just Sinnoh-exclusive, it's no big deal. That said, he has never trained a Qwilfish, no matter where it's from. So...
 
Well, the crux of his argument is that Pokemon don't sign on to potentially fighting dangerous killers.
I don't think they're wrong there, to be honest. I think I may have pointed it out in a post on the Blackout Killer's thread--of course Nori did get a warning after it but that isn't exactly public knowledge and a lot of people wouldn't be satisfied with "don't do it again".
 
I don't think they're wrong there, to be honest. I think I may have pointed it out in a post on the Blackout Killer's thread--of course Nori did get a warning after it but that isn't exactly public knowledge and a lot of people wouldn't be satisfied with "don't do it again".
Might've been you and kintsugi, but yes, this fic is in-part going to tackle this issue.
 
Chapter 5: Trusting
Nori skateboarded his way to the northeastern part of Veilstone City. He didn’t care about religion one way or another, but he was close friends with the sole heir to the Kannagi Shrine. It did not take him long to reach his destination, whereupon he was forced to dismount and disassemble his ride before continuing up the hill.

They had evidently been making sure to superbly maintain the path. Autumn was in full swing, but there were only a few stray leaves scattered along the lightly forested path. Nori speculated they cleaned it daily if not more often. He slowed his ascent as he reached the apex of the stone staircase. It was more caution than necessary, but he wanted to ascertain something before he passed under the red arch. Torii, was that what it was called?

A fair number of visitors and members (some of whom apparently lived there) were in front of and to the side of the large building which was now a place for the gods. The only way you would know it used to be the JSPR station was if you had seen it before. Or maybe you could piece it together if you saw the gated off radio dish on the left side. On the right was the place you washed yourself at before you could go inside. Nori never had, not since it became the shrine anyway. The back had some open space, a place to battle, and a trail through the woods that wasn’t open to the public.

He was in luck! A bright-eyed woman in the shrine’s long-sleeved violet robe was standing watch near the front entrance; her outfit had elaborate silver trim (especially along the shoulders) which served as a denotation of her rank. She was in her nineties, but she hardly looked it. She had wrinkles, but not as many as one would expect from a woman her age. Her dark hair was only faintly gray. Granted, the middle-aged man with ragged black hair and brown eyes did make him worry a bit – his robe had simple and plain white trim – but Priestess Satomi Kurusu was here. Him being here didn’t mean a thing because of it.

She greeted Nori when he was halfway to them. “Well, look who it is!” she said, giving Acolyte Jirou a nudge.

“Someone who should not keep coming here,” the man snarked in reply.

This guy had always had it out for him. Nori reflexively leaned forward to shout back. He would have too, if Priestess Satomi hadn’t preemptively intervened.

“Now, now, Acolyte Jirou,” Priestess Satomi wagged a finger at him teasingly. “Remember what Master Haruto said about Nori here.”

Jirou stiffened. “To treat him properly,” he grumbled through clenched teeth.

“Well, close enough.” Mrs. Kurusu rolled her shoulders before turning back to him. “So, what brings you here today?”

He didn’t even try to hide his light smile over Jirou getting shut down. It felt like there were too many people at the shrine who didn’t like him. It was a relief that the people in charge thought otherwise, at least enough to allow him to visit despite not worshiping. “I got a new Pokemon,” he explained to them, keeping a cool head. “And I really need Prema’s opinion on something!”

Jirou crossed his moderate-sized arms. He lowered his gaze and moved in front of the door. “Didn’t you just get one?” he lowly inquired.

“I did,” he replied. For a moment, he thought about showing the ball as proof, but he didn’t want to chance that just in case. “This was like, something imminent. It’s way different, too.”

“How so?”

“That’s not your concern,” Nori harshly replied. Then he giggled. He had been waiting to throw that one back at him. From how Jirou turned away, it seemed he had no good response for it either. “Sorry. But I can say I need a bit of help on this one.”

Jirou turned back and seethed. “Lady Kannagi is not your personal assistant.”

“I know that!” he argued. “I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t think I’d need her help!”

Priestess Satomi was about to speak before he cut in, and did so after he finished. “Now Acolyte Jirou,” she said, before pausing and tapping her chin with her palm. “Well. I’m sure you know. We’re always willing to help trainers connect with their Pokemon. No matter who they are!”

“This might not be connecting, but…” Nori said under his breath.

“But it doesn’t matter.” She started her sentence where he stopped and snapped her fingers. “If not as a diviner, then as a friend!”

He slowly blinked. Yes. Him and Prema were friends. He was actually her only real friend at this point. They trusted each other more than anyone else in the world. That was why he was here. If he could share this with anyone before it got out, if there was anyone who would never ever judge him over it, it was Prema Kannagi.

“I’ll let her know you’re here,” Mrs. Kurusu said. “She’ll be out to join you shortly.”

The elderly priestess left, leaving Nori with a man whose lip had curled so far back into his mouth that he was sucking on part of his five-o-clock shadow. The bitter acolyte turned his nose up and glared, as if daring him to try to make conversation.

Nori did want to. He rubbed the nape of his suddenly prickly neck. “Mr. Kannagi said that?” he inquired. He supposed it was a bit of a rhetorical question to ask, given the man’s response and the fact that Priestess Satomi would not lie about such a thing, but he was curious.

Jirou turned his head away. “Unfortunately,” he snorted, without giving any details.

“Do you know why?” That was why Nori was asking. There were signs that Prema’s dad was a silent supporter of their friendship, but he had never taken any action against their detractors. Until now, it seemed.

“All he said is because you are Lady Kannagi’s friend,” Jirou answered. “If he had a deeper reason, and I trust that he does, he didn’t tell us.”

Nori silently nodded. Was it just a matter of being utilitarian? He supposed he could only speculate along with the others, but it was not something he was going to question. There was a saying about not looking a gift horse in the mouth. With some of the trouble he had in the past, he was glad about it.

“Well, thanks,” he said with a tiny nod. “It helps put my mind at ease about being here.”

“I am just doing my duty.” Acolyte Jirou shook his head with utter derision. “Even if I disagree with it.”

“But why?” he decided to prod. “Is it because I’m not a worshiper?” This guy had given him flak in the past for that reason, although the fact that he was chatting with him was a step up from before. “The way I’m treated sometimes doesn’t really make me want to be a part of it.”

Jirou’s arms and face dropped. He recoiled a little, as if in realization. However, he stiffened and forced himself to glower.

“Not that you ever would,” he growled.

Nori could only smile a little. The guy felt a little bad about it. “Yeah, probably not,” he confessed. It’s not that he wasn’t interested in learning about the teachings of the Kannagi Shrine, especially considering their mark upon the world. He just didn’t believe in the rigidity that came with religion. “But you didn’t answer my question.”

Jirou harrumphed. “I just don’t like you.”

Nori shrugged. It was personal, and the guy didn’t feel like sharing. He got that sometimes. But he could gather enough from the context in this case. It probably had something to do with his personality and thinking he was a bad influence on Prema.

He glanced at the door, pacing a couple steps. A sharp exhale escaped him. He was hoping it would be quick, and evidently, so was Jirou.

“So how was taiiku no hi?” he decided to make some idle banter in the meantime. “I was thinking of coming by, but I had to cover it at my school.” Of course, it was overshadowed by world news, but still.

“Health and Sports Day?” the man asked, rolling his head and crossing his arms again. He gave a furtive scowl. “That isn’t something we celebrate.”

“Oh. I thought you would. I know you hold festivals around holidays.”

“That shows your ignorance of our faith. We don’t throw a festival for every holiday,” the man smugly quipped. He turned up his nose and looked down at him with a smirk thin enough to cut vegetables on.

“I guess not,” Nori shrugged off. Most of what he had learned about the shrine had come from his law textbooks. Apart from that, he knew that they were polytheistic and of their general beliefs in respecting all Pokemon, just not specific nuances. He had to laugh a bit. “Would’ve been so embarrassing if I came by without knowing!”

Jirou’s eyes darted away with his next words. “Not that it would have mattered.”

“Why not?”

The guard leered. He heaved through his pinched lips. It turned into a sharp sigh as he conceded. “We had someone pass on Monday,” he explained, his gaze dropping to the ground for a moment. “We held an informal sosai for him a couple of days ago.”

“Oh. Sorry to hear. That had to be hard.” That was not something he expected to hear. Odd coincidence they had someone significant pass away as well. “Who died? Um, if I might ask?”

Jirou furrowed his brow and took a step closer. He took a deep breath. “Who else?” the man slowly asked. Nori only stared blankly. It was a valid question. Was it something he was supposed to know? Jirou eventually gave the answer, “Pete Stephens!”

Before he could even begin to process that, the door opened. His friend was standing there, but nothing was registering. They were mourning the Krookodile Tracker? Was he one of them?! Was coming here a mistake?!?!!

“Nori?” Prema asked, leaning towards him. “Are you well?”

“Did Acolyte Jirou cause you any trouble?” came the voice of Satomi. He heard her, but he couldn’t see her. His head was spinning too much! He was probably going pale too. And it felt like bile was about to rise out of his throat.

“No, no! I mean yes, he did fine. I mean, he’s…” He clapped his hands against his face. “Focus, Nori!” He vigorously shook his head and did a double fist pump. “I need to talk and Mr…whoever did fine.”

For a moment, he thought about brushing it off and leaving. But no, it was too late. Doing that now would just make things worse.

Prema smiled gently at him as their eyes met. “Let us go behind the shrine,” she said, offering for him to lead the way. “It seems that you are unwell, so I will prepare tea for you.”

It felt like a bit of the weight lifted off his back. It was weird how just a look and an offer of hospitality helped put his mind at ease. He quietly nodded, returning her expression as he started to walk to the back. Things were going to turn out fine. She would help him.

##########​

The thing that Nori liked most about Prema Kannagi – at least at that particular moment – was her empathy.

Through rigorous training and some kind of inherent powers in her blood, Prema had abilities that normal people didn’t have. But she certainly didn’t need any to tell that he was on edge. He was rarely one to hide how he was feeling from others. He accepted her offer of tea to buy himself a little more time to think about what he wanted to say to her and how he wanted to say it.

The two were on an outdoor sitting mat with a tea table set up between them; Pachi and Shu (her Spritzee) were off playing together in the nearby field. Prema had a cup of her own, but she had not drank much from it. She was dressed in the traditional attire of the Kannagi family: the same kind of robes Priestess Satomi and Acolyte Kirou wore, except with elegant gold trim with a vague floral pattern to indicate her position as heir. A tiara made of wood and metal bound together was in her shoulder-length hair, which was a forest green color. Her retinas were a deep cyan.

“How is it, Nori?” she asked. She had a gentle if flat tone, although Nori knew she could be emotive.

“It’s really good,” he replied, taking another sip. He carefully placed the cup on the tray on the table before them, making sure not to drop it or spill any. There were no handles to hold, but he could put it down at least. “The temperature’s just right, and it’s really helping me relax. What’s in it?”

“I prepared it using chamomile and peppermint. Both are herbs renowned for their calming effects. I added lemon to balance the flavor.”

“Wow.” He’d made tea before, but this wasn’t something you’d be able to get from a bag of tea. “I know what peppermint tastes like, but I didn’t taste like, the minty flavor. You’re great at making tea.”

“Thank you,” was her response, in a polite fashion that told him that she got that compliment all the time to the point of where it didn’t mean much, even coming from him.

Nori rested his hands on his legs. There was still some tea left in his cup; he was keeping it in case he needed it. He leaned back and wiggled into the cushion to get a bit more comfortable.

“How’s the situation with Nariya? Have you heard anything from her?” he inquired. She was a mutual friend of theirs. However, Nariya’s parents had forbidden her from visiting the shrine after she had gotten hurt helping Prema.

She sighed, taking a sip of her tea before she answered. “I have heard nothing.”

“That figures.” He moved his hands to his knees. He could relate to Nariya in a weird way. Both of them had trouble making friends. For different reasons, but still. If he knew where she lived, he would go say hi faster than a Pidgeot diving on its prey! “Have you tried reaching out to her?”

“Reaching out?”

“That is, have you tried to contact her?” He chuckled softly yet with reassurance. It always amused him how Prema failed to understand colloquialisms sometimes.

“Father has written a letter commending her performance that night. We do not know if she received it.” Prema sat fairly still as she spoke, evidently suppressing any emotions she might have had.

“Maybe she might come by on Halloween?” he put forth, folding a palm outward. His arm suddenly dropped. “Uh, if you celebrate Halloween. If not, maybe some festival. It could be they're waiting for a good moment.”

Prema closed her eyes. “Yes, perhaps then. We can only pray,” she said, a palpable touch of regret in her tone.

A thought occurred. Maybe Yumi would know how things might go with the parents? She and Nariya used to be friends too before things went crazy with YAMS, and there was an indication they still could be. Actually! He clapped his hands. “Maybe she doesn't know how to approach and mend things. It’s like that between her and Yumi.”

Prema remained stone-faced. “Regardless, we will find out in time.”

“Yeah. Oh!” He snapped upright as he remembered what he had come by for. He paused before he could speak about it, better judgment taking over. There was something he needed to get clarified first. “So I heard you had a…” What did they call it again? “Um, some sort of funeral? For Pete Stephens on Wednesday?”

“We call them sosai,” she clarified to him in a gentle tone. “They are rituals to help souls reach the other side in peace. It was not a proper one, but we chose to honor him all the same.”

So that guard didn’t make it up. “I guess I did kinda the same thing in a way, since we wrote about him in the school newsletter. It hit a lot of people hard.”

Prema nodded slowly. “Truly, it did.”

Nori suddenly felt a vice on his heart. “What did you think of him?” Was he reading that right? Did it hit her hard too?

“I met him once, when I was very young.” A neutral tone. No, rather one of quiet admiration. “Even then, I could sense he was a wise and wonderful soul. He created his television program with the intent of spreading awareness of Pokemon and animal conservationism to the masses. That was his life. It is unfortunate that he is no longer with us.” She sighed heavily and took a sip of her tea. “He had planned to visit the shrine here as part of his tour, before his passing.”

Nori put a hand on his hip. He couldn’t help but crack a grin as he felt a tingle in his chest. “I knew those convert claims were made up.”

“Convert claims?” Prema asked, leaning in while blinking.

“Nothing much, just people spreading rumors.” He snorted, reveling in the minuscule bit of joy. The young official elaborated, “When we were doing research, we found some people online saying he became a Ceutholic two weeks before he died. We didn’t print it, and if he was planning on coming here, we were right not to!”

She chuckled softly. “As far as I know, Mr. Stephens did not adhere to any one faith. It was his way of appealing to more people. But our values aligned, and he was a friend of my father’s.” She surveyed their surroundings, leaned closer, and spoke quietly to him. “Do not tell, but the sosai was partly a way for Father to get closure.”

Nori made a lip-zipping motion. Prema fully trusted him, which is why she confided that. He wasn’t going to betray her trust. “I can get that,” he chuckled nervously. “Not getting a chance to say goodbye to someone is hard.” He knew that well, namely with his friend Lux Blomgren. Lux only moved away abruptly, but still.

Reality came crashing down on him. He glanced over at the shrine’s battlefield, a currently unoccupied area cordoned off by a tall chain-link fence. This was bad. He couldn’t help but wince at the predicament he had thrown himself into. If the head of the shrine was fricking friends with the guy, they’d hate this Qwilfish no matter what! He let out a small wheeze and sniffed.

“Is something troubling you, Nori?”

Prema shuffled a bit closer as he turned back. Her posture was open, and her eyes were soft.

“Yeah, something is,” he admitted.

She sat up taller. “Priestess Satomi has told me you have received a new Pokemon in need of rehabilitation, and that you require my assistance.”

It hit him like a slap to the face. So much for avoiding the subject. He gave her a blank stare, yet her radiant smile softened his guise. She silently and patiently waited for him. He brushed his hair behind his ears and straightened it.

It wasn’t just she who trusted him. He trusted her completely as well. She hadn’t told anyone about how his Pawniard had killed a Ninetales to protect him, he hadn’t spoken about her self-doubts that she felt were unbecoming of her position. They could talk to each other about anything, as long as they understood the subject. Prema wouldn’t judge him, he knew that at the back of his mind. The problem was everyone else here, especially her dad. But they were going to find out anyway! No, he was going to talk about it here and now!

He gulped down the rest of his tea, hoping it would help get him through this. Silently, he reached into his pocket and took out Qwilfish’s capsule. He liked the design of it. The whole thing was blue except for a wavy pattern on top like foam. Apparently, it was called a Dive Ball, which was weighted specially to be thrown underwater.

After staring at it with a thoughtful expression for several seconds, Prema frowned and nodded with understanding. “I see,” her words echoed with kindness. “An aquatic Pokemon would be difficult for you.”

Nori felt a slight tingle in his feet. Prema remembered? It had only come up once in passing. “That’s just part of the problem,” he said, rubbing his cheek with his free hand.

“Is it one that could be considered dangerous?”

“I really don’t know, but I, well.” Nori had seen the video of the Krookodile Tracker’s final moments. His initial impression was no, it wasn’t dangerous or anything like that. But that was just going to make things worse. Pawniard reveled in his infamy, but this…

He shut his eyes and clutched the capsule tighter. He knew in his heart that Prema wasn’t going to think ill of him, so why was he so worried? Did his subconscious know something that he didn’t? “No, no, get it out of the way, so you know, Nori,” he mumbled to himself. “Just say it. It’ll be fine.”

The self-encouragement worked to invigorate himself, and he powerfully scooted next to her. Prema blinked rapidly and tilted her head.

“It’s the Qwilfish,” he whispered close to her ear. “You know.” He didn’t need to say which one.

Prema’s reaction was quick and instant. Her eyes shot open, she recoiled backwards, and she covered her mouth. When she stood and didn’t respond verbally, Nori smacked himself. Had he made a terrible mistake coming here and telling her? Prema glanced around. Her expression and body language gave no indication as to her true feelings, but the initial expression of shock was not a good sign.

He opened his mouth to protest in anguish, but the words were choked away from him.
 
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