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TEEN: Prema Kannagi: Memory of a Ghoul [COMPLETE!!]

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As part of her duties as future head priestess of her revered shrine, Prema Kannagi is sent to handle a restless Pokemon spirit haunting an old warehouse with special significance to her. Though her training and blood make her one of the most capable diviners in Sinnoh, she faces a challenge harder than any she's experienced...

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This is the fifth fic or so chronologically of a metaseries. Actually mostly complete as of posting, with one last scene that needs to be converted from script format.

This fic runs concurrent with Nori Carino: Blade of the Blackout Killer. There is one plot beat only gone into detail in the other fic. Other than that, they are separate plots besides shared scenes from different perspectives. Reading the other is unnecessary to understand this one, not even the one scene in question, but I encourage you to do so anyway as it'll enhance your enjoyment of both fics.

Due to the unique nature of these fics, if you want to read in publication order, here it is so far. There's warnings in notes a chapter before spoiler spots, that said.
N1 -> N2 -> N3 -> N4 -> P1 -> N5 ->
P2 -> P3 -> N6 -> N7 -> P4 -> P5 ->
N8 -> P6 -> N9 -> P7 -> N10 -> P8 -> P9 -> N11 -> N12 ->
P10-> P11 -> N13 -> P12 -> P13+N14

There are some bad things in this fic, including the following:
Mild language, mild violence, mild depictions of people with disabilities, showing handi-capable people, sadness, scariness, dunking on the usual suspects, and parental abuse (but only if you have really strict ethics over strict parenting)
 
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Anima of Wrath (recollection I)
A thunderous crash followed by a scream of panic echoed through the vacant building. Baram Kim broke from his work-induced trance with a start, on his feet so quickly that he nearly knocked over the small table his laptop was set up on. Before the interruption, he had been feverishly typing the weekly dividends into a spreadsheet.

“What happened?!” he shouted to his crew outside.

“A stack of boxes fell over by themselves!” came the reply of one of his newer employees. A meek and dainty young woman by the name of Tina Evans.

“Nothing just falls by itself, Evans,” he replied. “Tell your Gurdurr to stack them up properly next time.” Pokemon laborers were particularly useful for physical work, but they had their limitations. There was the hassle of obedience, as well as their not being able to follow directions as accurately. Ultimately, there was no replacing humans or even machines when it came to certain things.

Baram Kim sat back down in the office he had commandeered. He was not an unintelligent man, he simply didn't do well in school. His parents were hoping he would become a lawyer or a politician, but he had disappointed them by coming to own a renovation company. The fact that he was as rich and successful as any white-collar worker meant nothing. To them, manual labor was something for Pokemon and people who had nowhere else to go and were too good for the service industry. Their attitude towards him was part of the reason he had moved to Sinnoh from his home region.

He and his partner – Kim Fairplay – built Kim and Kim Reno on the simple concept of hard work and efficiency. If anyone were to ask him what he considered their biggest accomplishment, he would answer it was the former Snowpoint Gym – now a spa resort where you could go for a dip before having a battle.

Their team was presently working at the former site of a Magcargo Express warehouse in Veilstone City. There had been attempts to redevelop in the past, but they had fallen through between lesser companies backing out of their contracts and the previous owners getting cold feet at the sunk cost. So long as the new owners continued to pay them, he intended to see the project through.

There came another crash from outside. He made one quick fix to the spreadsheet, a simple caps thing that could not go ignored. Kimberly would lose her mind if he uppercased the word ‘Pokemon’. Then he rose, adjusting his clothing as he did so. He exhaled sharply and cracked his knuckles before stepping out to speak with his workers face to face.

Befitting a former warehouse, one large room took up most of the building. Baram was uncertain why a restauranteur bought the place, though it was not his job to question their logic. He found his staff and the incident quickly enough, near the center of the room. Accidents came with the job, but two in five minutes was unacceptable.

“Evans!” he barked, eyes almost bulging from their sockets as they flicked at the large wooden crate lying on the floor. “That box has fragile pots and plates inside of it. If those turn out to be damaged, I am going to hold you accountable for all the costs.”

The red-haired woman dropped the broom she had been sweeping with, and it fell onto the table they had set up for tools and beverages. She put up her hands and opened her mouth, yet shrank back behind her Gurdurr. She gave no explanation.

“Mr. Kim, sir,” one of his longer-tenured employees stepped forward and cleared his throat. Hiro Nakamura was a tall yet tough man with a business acumen, who Baram would on certain days trust more than his partner. “They were right flat on top of each other.”

Baram crossed his arms. He spoke slowly and deliberately. “Then can you explain how this box fell over?” he inquired. He turned to each of the five workers on duty, but did not receive an answer. He put his hands behind his back. “None of you?”

A muffled yet mocking laugh rang out in response. A male's voice.

“Which one of you is doing that?” Baram demanded. He clenched his fists. He knew better than to actually swing them, but their sudden audacity was making him wish he could do so.

Nakamura bowed profusely. “Sir, we would never–”

He was interrupted by another laugh, this one more hollow. None of them were hiding their mouths, and none of their lips were moving. It was not just them in this building.

“Show yourself!” he demanded, and to the prankster's credit, they answered. They stepped, or rather, floated out from behind some more crates. Baram Kim was by no means an expert on Pokemon. However, he knew one when he saw one. It was a vaguely humanoid mass of dark mist, wearing a cracked yellow construction helmet as if in mockery of their trade.

“I should've known there would be ghosts here,” mused Nakamura. “The place was abandoned for a year and a half.”

“I don't care who or what they are,” said Baram. “If they're messing with this place, they're messing with our work.”

The Pokemon's mouth curved like a hook. “I wonder if you'll be the ones…” it whispered. Baram involuntarily shuddered. Its lips moved, and yet somehow this Pokemon spoke plain English. What was most unsettling to Baram was that he not only heard it with his ears, he heard it in his head.

He forced a sneer. “Enough, get rid of this thing.” He turned to his employees expectantly.

“You don't have to tell me twice!” Evans said, turning to her Pokemon. “Muscles, Knock Off!”

“Back her up, Rotom!” said Wong, their electrician. “Use Shadow Ball!”

Their own ghost flew up and expelled a sphere of pure darkness, as the burly Pokemon picked up its metal beam and rushed in to swing it. However, the Rotom was intercepted by a fox-like creature who came out of nowhere, the attack fizzling out against its pale body. The phantom lazily floated up to avoid the Knock Off.

A shadow dive-bombed down from the ceiling. It struck the burly Pokemon, making it cry out in pain. The Pokemon twirled as a flourish, revealing itself to be a four-winged bat of some kind. Meanwhile, the fox had pounced on Rotom, striking out with its claws in a way that made the ghostly ball of plasma screech in pain.

“Weak…” the phantom whispered, dismissively waving a hand.

“Discharge, Rotom!” cried Wong.

Evans gasped. “Wait! Get down, everyone!”

Baram didn't have to be told twice, but some of his employees and their Gurdurr were caught in the blast of electricity that went everywhere. The burly Pokemon and the men crumpled over in agony – including Wong himself. To make matters worse, their three assailants remained floating.

“I tire of this,” said the phantom, turning to its underlings. “You know what to do.”

The bat began to flap its wings, and a dark haze started spreading all over the room. The fox moved to continue attacking Rotom, and the humanoid phantom rushed toward them.

“You monster!” shouted Baram. He grabbed the first thing he could get his hands on – a blowtorch. Realizing what he held, he gripped the handle and squeezed it right as the ghost drew near. It growled and clutched at its head in pain as the flames seared its face.

In irritation, it lashed out and grabbed him by the throat. All at once, the air left Baram's lungs. The torch clattered at his feet as his muscles stopped answering his mind's orders.

“Not bad,” it said, eyes glowing violet. “But not good enough.”

A fist slammed into him from behind and knocked the wind out of him. As the dark energy flowed into his body, Baram Kim felt an agony unlike anything he had ever felt in his life. All the feeling left his muscles, all the air left his lungs, his ears felt as though they might rupture, and his heart felt like it might burn through his chest.

---​

There was a voice. Distorted. Whose? Baram couldn't place. He shifted involuntarily. All was a blur. Yet a figure stood before him. Kid-sized? The man's mouth opened. He mumbled a word before everything truly went dark. Despite his state, Baram heard well what he spoke, repeated from what he'd heard echoing through the reaches of his mind.

Ghoul.

##########​

Recollection I: Anima of Wrath

It was a gorgeous afternoon in late September. Autumn was Nariya Yaznik's favorite season. It wasn't too hot, and it wasn't too cold. There was no pollen to make her allergies act up like there would be in spring. The trees were always so colorful. There were fallen leaves to rake up, sure, but the Acolytes and other helpers around the shrine were keeping the ground spotless. Not that she would mind if they asked her to help.

Nariya was sitting patiently on her knees on an outdoor tatami, simply enjoying the gentle breeze. She was a tall girl, 209 cm in height the last time she measured, with black hair and dressed in comfortable sweatpants, a gray jacket, and an orange shirt.

It was perfectly peaceful until a sudden shout pierced the air, startling her. “Read all about it! Renovation Crew Injured in Mysterious Pokemon Attack!”

A short teenager with chestnut colored hair came parading onto the grounds of the Kannagi Shrine, a light blue set of papers in hand. He wore well-worn blue jeans held up by a belt with a gray t-shirt with the logo of Sunyshore Gym on it. His soft red eyes were alight with glee. A squirrel Pokemon was following behind him, his sleek fur a vivid blue and white.

“Oh. Hi, Nori,” she said as he approached. It was not an uncommon sight to see him up at the Kannagi Shrine, despite his apatheism. He was a good friend of Lady Prema Kannagi, her only real friend these days. Nori was more of an acquaintance to Nariya herself, particularly given his personality felt so overwhelming. “Prema had to step inside, if you were wondering.”

He shrugged. “Ah well, I can wait. Oh! And Yumi says hi.”

“Okay?” They had not spoken since Yumi left the activist group they were formerly in. It was a surprise she even remembered her. The little Pachirisu, Pachi, waved to her with his stubby little arms. Nariya waved back before turning to Nori. “Um, sorry if this is impertinent. What was with…the dramatic introduction?”

“Get it from a friend of mine back in Sunyshore. We were in the news club together, and she always did that when handing out newsletters.” He chuckled slightly. “So have you heard about what happened at the old warehouse YAMS used to use last night?”

Nariya shook her head, no. “I don't really…look at the news. I know…um, you and Lady Prema enjoy it, however.”

“You should check this one out. It's right here on the bottom of the front page.” He handed her a sheet which appeared to be his school newsletter. “It has this reporter's firsthand account of happening upon the scene!”

Nariya obliged, simply out of politeness and worrying about what he would think if she said no. Reading it over, it was not difficult to see why he would be interested, besides being the one to discover the incident. It took her two minutes to get through the short article, as she was not a fast reader by any stretch of the imagination. Nevertheless, she was able to glean something from it. “Oh, I see. You're thinking they might be Pokemon you might be rehabilitating?”

“Yup!” he said. "Well, only one of them and now that you mention it, but still!" Nariya didn't quite get what he meant, but it didn't seem her speculation was wrong. That was a relief.

“But you're still…rehabilitating that Pawniard. R-right?”

He paused and turned away. “Yeah, I know. And that's not going so well. I took him to train in the wild yesterday, but…” He shook his head. Nariya may not have been the best at recognizing social cues, but he spelled out his discomfort clear as glass. “Oh, never mind. So how've you been?”

“Oh, I've just been me.” She was uncertain of how to answer that question when it was asked. She didn't feel her life was very interesting. The most that could be said of it was that she was friends with the future head priestess of a major religion. Regardless of that, she still felt an obligation to maintain a degree of professional conduct around someone so revered. It made their friendship somewhat awkward, to say the least.

At that moment, Lady Prema herself exited the shrine. She had an elegant step, her forest green hair billowing as she moved. She was in her formal Kannagi Shrine robe, beautiful violet attire reminiscent of a traditional jōe except with longer sleeves, which had gold trim along various parts of it. Her eyes fell upon the young male at once.

“It is good to see you, Nori,” she spoke, a smile as bright as the sun upon her face. “I was not expecting you to visit today.”

He laughed. “Thought I'd come by. I wanted to talk to you about a few things.”

She lowered her head. “I see,” she said. “What is it that you wished to speak about?”

After a brief pause. Nori clapped his hands. “Well, first,” he said, both hands on the papers he had brought. “Did you hear what happened down near the old Magcargo Express last night?”

Prema looked up. After a momentary pause of her own, she said, “Yes, although I cannot confess to knowing in detail.”

“It's really crazy,” Nori explained, running over to meet her halfway. He practically forced the paper into her hands. “They got attacked by Pokemon. A Crobat, a Sinnohite Zoroark, and one other – might be a Dusclops or Dusknoir from the sounds of it, knowing what's native. I found them by accident! Got some bystanders to help and went right in there to investigate! Some of them were delirious, mumbling about a ghoul.”

“It is not unusual for Pokemon to come to inhabit a place that humanity left behind,” Prema remarked as she read the article. “These miniature colonies gather together for their own benefit and protection, much like groups of similar species in the wild.”

“Still, it's crazy! They attacked unprovoked from the sounds of it, and in the city no less!”

He was correct. Although her parents had yet to permit her to have Pokemon of her own, Nariya had been studying extensively for when that day hopefully came. “They can be territorial, but they…human territory, respect it too…” She cursed her lack of articulation. She knew all these big words, but when it came time to speak, her tongue often got tangled.

Thankfully, both of her friends understood. “Yeah, they don't get this violent in urban areas,” Nori remarked. “Even then, you have to go to the deep wilds to see ones like this!”

“As every person is different, so too is every Pokemon. The ones inhabiting this abandoned warehouse are unlike most urban Pokemon. While I cannot speak as to why they act this way, I am certain they have their reasons.” She moved to give Nori his newsletter back, although he motioned she could keep it. “What else did you wish to see me about?”

“So the second thing is,” he said, “Since you didn't say, what were your initial impressions of Pawniard?”

Nori Carino was a – or more accurately, the – Pokemon Rehibilitator. He thought differently from most people when it came to the eponymous Pocket Monsters. Nori was someone who took troubled Pokemon that no one else was willing to (or able to) touch and gave them a final chance to reform.

Mention of his assignment made Nariya tense up. Prema had voiced her concerns to her in private. She feared the effect it would have on Nori's performance if she was honest with him. She could offer no advice to her friend, and now, he was posing the question at her directly in lieu of her giving an answer earlier. There would be no evading the question this time.

“Nori…” she started, hesitating a second too long.

His expression darkened a little. He took a step closer. “You think he's irredeemable, don't you?” he asked, with unveiled concern and a touch of frustration.

Prema remained still. Nori kept looking, almost pleading with her. Nariya wanted to do something to break the tension, but she didn't know what, if anything, she could do. Thus, she helplessly watched on.

“I suppose it would be for the best to tell you,” Prema soon said. “I sensed an implacable malice within your Pawniard I have felt in but a few Pokemon before. I would not go as far as saying he is irredeemable, however. It will simply be a far more difficult task than with the Demon Nidorina, who was merely misunderstood and seeking a purpose.”

Nori slowly nodded, processing her assessment. He looked up at the skies, putting a hand in his pocket. Prema had explained to her that there were such things as evil Pokemon, despite what some might claim. She did actually not use that word in her description of the Pokemon which once belonged to a serial killer. Yet even Nariya, for all her difficulty with reading others, had a feeling she was simply choosing not to speak it aloud.

Ultimately, Nori grinned and let out a chuckle. Granted, he had experienced situations far more hopeless in the past year, so his positive attitude came as little surprise to Nariya.

“I kind of figured,” he spoke, somewhat subdued but not fettered by her words. “Both from how you clammed up like a Shellder and from what I've been seeing.”

Prema closed her eyes and folded her hands. “Nori. If you at any point feel you are unable to handle this Pokemon, do not hesitate to tell the Officials as such.”

“I know, I know!” he echoed. “I can recall Pokemon really fast if I need to. It won't come to that, though. I'll find a way to rein him in, just you wait!”

Her friend chuckled softly. Nariya had to as well. She had to admit, she wished she had Nori Carino's shining optimism. Even if it bordered on the absurd like it was at that moment. Maybe that stubborn streak was precisely what it took to do what he did.

“We are having a late lunch if you wish to join us,” Prema offered with a bow. She smiled a little. “I take it you also wished to spend time here, given our time the other day got cut short?”

“Yup!” he confirmed, looking at his Pachirisu as he did so. “If you don't mind, that is.”

“Of course.” She beckoned for them to sit down.

Nariya lowered her head. It was not that she did not want Nori to be present, she simply felt overshadowed whenever he was around. She always had trouble socializing, due to being autistic. Plus, he was so good to Prema, bringing out sides of her few others were able to. He was perhaps the only person in the world who was both positive and without predilection for her.

Nariya wished she could do more for Prema, to be a better friend for her…

---​

Prema Kannagi was able to spend an hour with her friends before they had to leave – Nori to get back home in time for dinner, and Nariya because her parents dropped by to pick her up. She was eternally grateful to have both of them in her life.

She had met them in August of last year when attending a youth protest group's meeting. Although her friendship with Nori started at the time, it was not truly cemented until a chance encounter last June, the same month she re-met and befriended Nariya. Until Nori, the only ones she had meaningfully interacted with were family, the shrine's faithful, shrine-goers, or random people who recognized her in public. Even Nariya counted among the second group. Although upon further consideration, there was one more person she supposed could be a friend on their level, whom she wanted to speak with.

She found Priestess Satomi tending to the garden. A woman who was close to eighty years her senior, clad in a robe much like her own save for the trim being silver. She was a mentor figure to Prema, having been with the shrine since her great-grandfather was the head priest. She had served four generations of Kannagis, including herself. Whenever Prema had a question about her duties she did not feel comfortable speaking about with her father, she would turn to Satomi Kurusu.

“Lady Kannagi,” the elderly woman greeted, deeply bowing. As with just about everyone, Satomi regarded her with the highest respect even in informal situations. “Always glad to see you grace me with your presence. To what do I owe this visit?”

Prema bowed in return. “Priestess Satomi, I have an ethical dilemma. I was hoping to have your thoughts on the matter.”

“But of course, Lady Kannagi.” She beckoned for her to come closer to speak privately. In a more hushed tone of voice, she asked, “What's on your mind?”

Prema serenely shut her eyes and lowered her head with shame. The sensation in the back of her throat made it somewhat difficult to speak, but she did so regardless.

“When and how often is dishonesty acceptable?”

Her elderly mentor rolled her head. “That depends on the context, Lady Kannagi. Take it this is about Nori Carino again?”

Prema felt like she might suddenly suffocate. “Yes,” she admitted, not expecting Priestess Satomi to see through her. “Twice now I was forced to speak with him about a subject I wished to avoid.”

“Well, big difference between that and lying. You told him honest when he asked, didn't you?”

“Perhaps so.” She turned away slightly. It still did not feel right.

“There now,” her mentor said, gently massaging her shoulders. “Think of it this way. If you spoke your mind all the time, you're bound to say something you shouldn't. Feelings could get hurt! Secrets could come out! You did not tell him of your position as you were afraid of being judged. You did not tell him what you thought of that Pawniard since you were afraid he would get discouraged.”

The irony therein was that those turned out to be unfounded. He thought nothing of her being a priestess, and was not deterred by her impressions of the Pawniard once belonging to Lochlyn Nuzzo. “I feel it improper to get into the habit of being disingenuous. Yet I also do not wish to say something I should not.” It was applicable whether it was speaking too much about her work or saying something socially unacceptable.

“Lady Kannagi, I believe it's going to take far more than you're capable of to diminish that boy's trust,” she replied at once. “Now if I got him right, he values you far too much to throw your friendship away. Why else would someone who doesn't care for religion as he does – speaking nothing of his mom – hang around with you?” The woman's crooked, wry smirk brought a faint smile to Prema's own lips. “If by chance he does, well. You know what I always say: a Kecleon can't hide stripes!”

“I suppose you are correct.” She prayed it would never come to that, for she valued Nori just as much in return. If only that was the end of it. “Yet I told him an outright lie today, as well.”

She blinked. “Oh? What did you say?”

She averted her gaze involuntarily for a fleeting moment. “He had brought a news article he had written on the incident at the former Magcargo Express building. Apparently, he was also the one who discovered it.”

“Ah, now that's quite a coincidence, is it not?” She laughed, although Prema failed to find the humor in it. “The very place you will be going to for a little exor-cise in a couple days.” She laughed again, this time at her own pun.

“Yes. He asked if I had heard of it, and I told him I had not.”

“Maybe you could ask him to lend a hand!” She once again chuckled. “You should know he's a bang-up Pokemon Trainer himself!”

“You know I cannot do that, Priestess Satomi.” Nori was not a member of their shrine. He would not be permitted to accompany her on this excursion, and he had made his stance on religion perfectly clear. Moreover, part of the reason why she had lied was that he would surely insist on helping if he knew of her involvement.

Priestess Satomi rolled her shoulders. “Well, in any case, I am certain that if and when he finds out, he will understand,” the elderly woman assured her. “He has his own job to attend to. You can later tell him with honesty that you did not want to worry him.”

“I was not considering it from that perspective. I was thinking of stating it was shrine business.” A groan escaped her, spawned from discomfort. She was discussing excuses for dishonesty. If you were a beggar for three days, you could not stop. Therefore, it was not something Prema wished to make habitual.

“Besides, the mayor said to keep it hush. For all the public knows, a trainer's coming in to deal with rogue Pokemon.”

Having to lie to cover for others' lies. Her father had once spoken to her about that issue. It perhaps was the most absolute reason, yet one that left the most bitter taste in her mouth. “I suppose it cannot be helped.”

She winked. “If it's still that big a worry, just tell him. I'm sure he'll keep quiet and respect your decisions. And don't forget, you got your friend Nariya to lean on too for these things.”

Prema nodded. “Thank you, Priestess Satomi.” Her word was implicit permission, should the need and opportunity arise.

“Anytime, Lady Kannagi.” She gave a salute.

Her mind was as eased as it could get over the matter. A necessity. For in two days' time, she would be performing an exorcism. She could not afford to have any doubt in her heart when it came time to soothe the restless spirits haunting the old warehouse.
 
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Man, you're just banging out new stories this year, aren't you? It's nice to see Prema in a starring role again, as I had been curious about her since her return in Official-In-Training. I do like that she trusts Satomi enough to be open with her about things she can't bring herself to tell Nori, and Satomi is right in that dishonesty isn't always a bad thing depending on the context. Personally, I'm of the mind that I'd rather tell people the truth than lie, but I've also had people tell me I'm too blunt for my own good even when I try to be nice about it, so I often don't always tell people how I'm really feeling about things, whether to spare their feelings or because it'd cause more trouble. And it's always good to see Nariya again. Can't wait to see how Prema deals with having to exorcise the so-called ghoul who messed up the warehouse.
 
Man, you're just banging out new stories this year, aren't you?
This was developed together with BotBK due to their natures, hence why they're both "new".

It's nice to see Prema in a starring role again, as I had been curious about her since her return in Official-In-Training. I do like that she trusts Satomi enough to be open with her about things she can't bring herself to tell Nori, and Satomi is right in that dishonesty isn't always a bad thing depending on the context.
As mentioned, Priestess Satomi is a very fun character to write. Prema in a starring role is also very different from Nori. Besides the very different personalities, she isn't a trouble magnet and has a better support network. Things can still go wrong for her, of course...

Personally, I'm of the mind that I'd rather tell people the truth than lie, but I've also had people tell me I'm too blunt for my own good even when I try to be nice about it, so I often don't always tell people how I'm really feeling about things, whether to spare their feelings or because it'd cause more trouble.
Sometimes, honesty is the best policy! It's all about how you word things, of course. You have people are are rude on one hand, and on the other you have people who don't want to say anything. Of course, on the other side you have people who don't want to hear any sort of criticism.

And it's always good to see Nariya again.
Fun aside, dunno if I mentioned before but I probably did, she wasn't meant to have as big a role as she ended up having in the earliest drafts, see also, having to edit mention of her into The Inteview. I put her in to give Prema a friend besides Nori, who isn't always going to be available. I'm sure she's also interesting for being elsewhere on the spectrum. She's sort of a blend, but two things influenced from me are sometimes stumbling over spoken words (weird since I'm good at acting), and not liking sudden noises
 
Name of Respect (recollection II)
Recollection II: Name of Respect

There was a small training room in the Kannagi Shrine used for various purposes by the senior members, a holdover from the old building. A group of roughly seven onlookers had gathered to watch an impromptu sparring match. On the sidelines stood Priestess Satomi, acting as the referee.

Nariya Yaznik had eagerly jumped at the opportunity without fully knowing what it entailed. Now that she was standing across from Lady Prema herself, her stomach was in knots. She could barely see, her muscles felt rigid, and the pressure alone was weighing her down. She hadn't made any progress, royally messed up with the one blow she did get in, and was close to losing. Through it all, Prema's bright smile never left her face. Nariya had difficulty reading other people, unable to tell if that was out of comfort or her friend enjoying this in some – hopefully not twisted – capacity.

“Hya!” Prema swung, aiming for her wrists.

Nariya took a step back, nearly tripping over her own legs. Her hands were shaking, both out of nerves and from gripping her stick tighter than an Arbok coiled around its prey. The protective mask and helmet was obstructing the tall girl's vision. She cried out, stomped a foot, and swung her weapon down.

“Haa!”

Suddenly, a sharp and stinging pain shot through her torso. Nariya let her weapon clatter down, clutching the point of impact while fighting off sobs.

“Point!” declared Priestess Satomi. “This match goes to Lady Kannagi!”

The result didn't matter to her. She knew a loss was inevitable against an experienced practitioner of kendo, but she thought the protective pads were going to make it painless. But it hurt, not only physically, but mentally too!

“Nariya, are you all right?”

She looked up to see Prema had removed her helmet. Her friend was standing nearby, watching her with concern.

“I…I don't…it hurts, but…”

“Don't you worry about a thing,” Priestess Satomi assured her. “We'll look you over and patch you up if we need to!”

“I apologize, Nariya. I suppose I got carried away.” Prema softly chuckled.

“It's…quite all right, Lady Prema!” She found it in herself to stand up straight, although she continued to massage the spot where Prema had last struck her. Nothing felt broken or bruised, fortunately. “I just…I'm just glad I could do this.” Her friend needed a sparring partner, and she wanted to volunteer. It was all there was to it.

“We will sit down for tea after the medics examine you for injuries,” said her friend.

Nariya forced a smile. “Can I try preparing?”

She received a nod in response. “If you wish.”

---​

Prema Kannagi raised the yunomi to her mouth. At once, she noticed how warm the cup was. Nevertheless, she made to gently sip the tea, hesitating when she felt the steam rising out of it. She allowed the liquid to graze her lips. The cup was too hot to hold, so the tea was too hot to drink.

She peered up at the tall girl standing beside her, watching with equal measure anticipation and dread. Reconsidering her actions, she forced herself to take a small sip of the beverage. The sweetness was distinguishable even while the tea seared her tongue. Prema tried not to react to either issue as she gulped it down.

“W-well?” Nariya stammered. This had been her first attempt at preparing and pouring tea. “Is it…all right?”

She was only able to give her friend a comforting smile as she placed the cup back on the tray. “The taste is acceptable. You did well to bring out the natural flavoring of the leaves. However, you must not add more than a little sugar initially, and ensure the temperature is right before serving.”

As soon as she said ‘however,’ Nariya's shoulders dropped. As Prema explained what went wrong, her friend slouched further. “I knew it…” she said, a groan escaping her.

“Do not feel discouraged,” Prema comforted her. “You did well for your first time preparing tea traditionally.”

“Th-thank you, Lady Prema!” Her friend bowed repeatedly and profusely. “I've been trying my hardest to learn all these things!”

“I understand for a while you have been attempting to involve yourself more in the shrine in attempt to do more for me.” With these words, Nariya froze up with a stunned expression. Prema elaborated. “I appreciate it. However, you should not feel compelled to perform activities you are not comfortable with for my sake.”

Nariya exhaled, leaning back into the zabuton. “Thank you. I like making tea, but I don't want to…do kendo again.”

Prema could only fold her hands and smile. “You also did well for your first time there.”

“I just never liked fighting,” she said with a heavy sigh, putting a hand over her heart. “Lady Prema, why do you practice kendo? Um, if you don't mind my asking.”

“It is part of our tradition. My ancestors learned swordsmanship as a means to better protect themselves and their followers. While we primarily use it for ceremonial purposes, self-defense is still a useful skill to have.”

“Do you…anticipate…having to…?”

Prema answered with a proverb, “Knock on a stone bridge before you cross it.”

Nariya understood its meaning. “Because even if things seem safe, they can still collapse. So it's good to know if you need it, is what you're saying.”

Prema nodded. “Prevention is worth far more than any cure.”

“It would be easier to save…well, yourself than having to be saved.”

“Yes.” The world was far safer in present times than it was back in wartime, feudal times, or even earlier. Regardless, it was always beneficial to know how to defend oneself, particularly for those in positions of power.

The future head priestess once more picked up her cup. It had cooled enough to begin drinking, and a careful sip fully confirmed as such. The tea had more sugar than she was used to; thankfully it was not excessive. Nariya beamed with satisfaction, sitting a little taller. Prema speculated she had prepared it how she liked it, a common mistake which even Prema would admit to making before.

Her friend stole a brief glance at her watch while adjusting her bangs. “It's half an hour before mom picks me up. Do you have any plans before dinner?”

She did. It would be something Nariya would not be able to participate in no matter how eager she might be, due to her parents' strict rules on her and Pokemon. Moreover, given how it was scheduled, her spectating was also out of the question.

Prema inhaled slightly before she said her words. “Yes. I will be doing a bout of Pokemon training. To be specific, we will be practicing against another member of the shrine.”

To her surprise, Nariya reacted not with dismay at being unable to join her or interest at getting to see Pokemon, but by narrowing her eyes ever so slightly and lightly biting her lip. Suspicion?

“Um, Lady Prema, it's Thursday. You're busy for a Thursday,” she noted. She nearly raised her voice initially, although reverted to her usual unsteady tone.

She lightly shut her eyes, placing her teacup back down. There was no sense in not telling her the truth.

“I am preparing for tomorrow.”

“Why, what's happening tomorrow?”

Prema folded her hands. “Do you remember the article Nori showed us yesterday?” she asked. When Nariya showed little sign of remembering, she fully clarified. “On Friday night, I will be heading to the old warehouse we met to deal with the restless spirits within.”

Nariya's eyes stretched wide. Her voice quivered, “Wait, you're going to…the spirit, there?!” She rocked slightly on the cushion.

“As the heir to the shrine, my position is not simply that of a religious leader,” Prema spoke softly yet confidently, as to tell Nariya that everything was going to be all right. “It is a position that comes with many responsibilities. One of these is to assist in handling supernatural or Pokemon-related incidents across the region. This is nothing new to me.”

It was part of what made their shrine so revered. The Kannagi family had true spiritual power. Few others could make that claim, the Mitsutri family being about the only other prominent one. That was also ultimately why the two of them carried far more respect and influence than their religious rivals. Being turned to by governments for matters such as these was not uncommon.

“Deal with?” Nariya abruptly asked, an understandable measure of hesitation in her tone.

“Ideally, I will either understand the situation of these Pokemon or put their souls at ease.” She pursed her lips. “Failing those, capture or exorcism are options.”

Nariya relaxed. After ten seconds of thought, she spoke up “So…this training is in case…”

“In case I need to battle them, yes.” And Nariya had seen how talented she was. Prema was taught by senior members of the shrine, including former Celestic Town Gym Leader Warutsu Amaya, how to raise Pokemon and battle effectively. Her tutelage was not, on say, the level of someone such as Nori, but was a cut above most of the rest. The Kannagi family raised Pokemon not only for similar reasons as to why they practiced kendo, but it was as much a way to bond with Pokemon as friendship.

“They didn't give a lot of notice…” Nariya voiced an observation. “You probably got told about it yesterday.”

“That is correct. It was something the city wanted to be dealt with as soon as possible.”

She was used to having a week or two to prepare. The suddenness may have been part of the reason for their assigning her the task, as a test. Prema was ready to meet the challenge. What kind of priestess would she be if she failed?

“Um, Lady Prema?”

“Yes, Nariya?”

“Your tea…”

A sudden change of subject. Yet Prema had to admit, she was so engrossed in that explanation she had momentarily forgotten. “Oh, I suppose I should drink it before it gets too cold, yes.”

---​

The Kannagi Shrine in Veilstone City sat on the former site of a radio station. The shrine's faithful repurposed it and the surrounding area to suit their needs, save for a radio dish that was too costly to remove. The area behind the building was a gated-off space for people and Pokemon alike, which included a battlefield. It was as much for training as it was a source of entertainment like a kagura-den would be.

Prema had her personal quarters for raising Pokemon in private, but today was about practical experience. After all, knowledge and potential mean nothing without application. Therefore, one of the shrine's senior members would be coming by in a short while to challenge her and her faithful friends.

Before getting into that, however, she had something that needed taking care of. Thankfully, she had the opportunity to do so while waiting on the benches for her sparring partner to arrive.

“Nariya, I have a request of you,” she said, humbly turning to her friend.

She shuddered. “Y-yes? Lady Prema?”

“Please do not tell Nori about what I will be doing on Friday.”

“Oh, um.” Nariya turned away, awkwardly shuffling her feet. “It shouldn't be a big deal, since we rarely…”

“Thank you, Nariya.” Prema bowed lightly. It was something she had been considering, and thought of as for the better.

“Can I ask you something, though?”

“You may,” Prema affirmed. She already had a feeling about what it was, why she did not want Nori to know of her task.

“Well. I can understand the etymology of both Taiyoko and Yahata, but I'm not certain what Shu means.” She glanced at the small pink fae wearing a bird-like mask sitting between them.

That was an unexpected question. Albeit one that was far simpler to explain. “It is derived from the term shigeki-shū.”

Prema patted her Pokemon. She would have liked to have Shu out of his Poke Ball more often, although she knew he could not always control his scents. It was not something she personally minded, yet she knew others found his presence disruptive indoors.

“Oh! So, pungent odor! That…” She shuddered a little, chuckling nervously as she tried not to point her nose in the Spritzee's direction. “That would make more sense for you.”

Nariya had a wide vocabulary in both English and Japanese, so it was not surprising that she understood at once. Her friend was someone who read dictionaries for fun. Even Prema had learned a few words because of her, although she would admit to not wishing to use them in common speech.

One thing she said intrigued Prema. “I am only curious. What did you mean by that name making more sense for me?”

“Well, I thought it might have been derived from Shushupu. It seemed too simple, though. And um…wouldn't have fit if he…evolved.”

The traditional Japanese name of Spritzee. Prema nodded, then shook her head. It was not something that crossed her mind when conceiving the nickname, although it was also not the first time she had been asked if it was her inspiration. A younger boy in the shrine by the name of Ken had believed it was because Shu was a human name; he was not incorrect in how that cemented the choice.

“Lady Kannagi.”

Prema turned to such a surprising sight that she could not help but rise and blurt out their names. “Father? Maiden Kaede?”

The ruby-haired Kaede Minmei worked as a gatekeeper, and was one of the shrine's most experienced Pokemon Trainers. Priest Warutsu and Priestess Satomi both personally tutored her. She was presently dressed in her Iga clan ninja attire, albeit dyed in violet colors to match the shrine. She may have only been twenty-two years of age as of last week, yet Prema felt it was only a matter of time before she was granted the title of Priestess.

“Prema.” The sound of her father's voice, Master Haruto Kannagi, made her stand tall. Much like her own, his robe had elaborate gold trim. Prema had speculated Kaede was a candidate for the battle, but she did not anticipate her father's presence.

“Yes, Father?”

“Tomorrow will be one of your greatest challenges yet as the future Master of the shrine. I hope you understand what this battle is about.”

She understood at once. They had a reputation to uphold, and this was one of a few tests she needed to pass before performing her duty. She could not afford failure. Prema bowed heavily. “I will do my best, Father.”

“Good luck, Lady Prema. I wish I could watch, but…” Nariya trailed off and shuffled her feet. No doubt her mother would be arriving soon. She weakly raised an arm. “I need to get going.”

“Thank you, Nariya.” She watched until her friend had walked out of sight, before taking her position.

Her father stepped to the sidelines to act as the battle's judge, or at least as an observer. She could not afford nervousness with his watching. “You will be having a series of one-on-one battles with Maiden Kaede. You will have the advantage of choosing second each time.”

“Understandable. All of my Pokemon will need an opportunity to practice.” Shu floated by her side. Although not yet evolved, he was just as capable a battler as her other friends.

“It's best of three! I won't hold back, Lady Kannagi,” said Kaede, brandishing her first Poke Ball. “Even if I'd been asked to.”

“I would ask you do not,” Prema plainly replied, folding her hands and smiling coyly.

Kaede grinned, flipping her scarf behind her as she sent out her first partner, a small black insect with long antennae and four wings with an ice motif: white dots like falling snow on the upper two, and a gradient on the lower two.

“Paparism!” she called the name of her Vivillion.

Prema was well aware of the fact that going second was not necessarily a boon. Maiden Kaede had chosen her Pokemon, and now she had to choose her answer. Whichever of her friends battled now would not be able to battle later. It was sensible to save Taiyoko for last. She glanced down at Shu. Either of her other Pokemon would have their own problems against the lepidopteran. The primary threat of Paparism was the myriad of powder moves which he knew. But while the little Spritzee would be exposed to status ailments, Yahata would be highly vulnerable to damage.

“I trust in you, Shu,” she ultimately decided. Her companion nodded, floating forward into position.

“I expect both of you and your Pokemon to battle to the fullest of your abilities,” said her father, more still than a royal guard in Galar. “May the best pair of partners emerge victorious.”

Their primary disadvantage in the first match would be speed. Shu was as swift as a Spritzee could be, which was not significantly much. Precise strategy would be required for victory. If Shu landed enough strong attacks, they could win.

“All right!” Kaede did not give her the chance to make the first attack. She swung a leg out. “Kick things off with Electroweb!”

Prema's arm and leg muscles tightened. Already, her Pokemon's weakness was scouted and poised to become a greater one. As expected of someone as talented as her. “Evasive maneuvers, Shu,” was her request.

It was as such, but as she well knew and was reminded of, telling a Pokemon to dodge it was not necessarily a guarantee. Kaede wagged a finger as the electric netting caught and wrapped around the little fairy. “Ooo! That's too bad.”

The green-haired girl huffed. She made a mental note to attempt a counterattack when faced with such a situation in the future. For now, it was time to make their own first move: “Echoed Voice, Shu.”

Shu shouted, a light reverb in his cry. The reliable thing about sound-based moves is how difficult they were to avoid. It made them an excellent choice of attack against Pokemon who rely upon evasion. Indeed, Paparism shuddered at the noise.

“Clever girl…” Kaede chuckled mirthlessly. “But it will not work!”

When Shu looked back for confirmation, she lightly nodded. “Continue with Echoed Voice.”

“Stop it cold with Gust!”

Paparism flapped his wings vigorously. Although hurt by sound waves once more, he managed to blast the little fairy across the battlefield. He hit the cage wall, thankfully, with no real force behind the impact. Prema's shoulders dropped with her relief.

“Once again, Shu.”

Her Pokemon floated a little closer before letting out the vocal attack for the third consecutive time. While difficult to find the echoes to reliably power up the move, it was nevertheless growing stronger with each use.

“Base strategy,” Kaede said, cranking the sarcasm in her tone all the way to the maximum.

“Yet reliable,” she calmly answered, folding her hands. One could not overlook simplicity.

“How about this?” the ninja said, pirouetting as she pointed. “Blow some Rage Powder their way!”

Prema could only smile at Kaede's ingenuity. It would be an excellent counter. “Evade,” she said for the sake of posterity. Shu was attempting to dodge of his own volition, but was nevertheless caught by the powder propelled by the wind.

One whiff drove the Spritzee berserk. In a furious rage, he fired a Charge Beam at Paparism. It was their other best offensive option in this battle. Yet at the current range, Paparism had no trouble escaping, guided by a wave of Kaede's hand.

“I am not surprised one as talented as yourself could break our momentum,” she complimented their opponent.

“You have to do better than that, Princess,” replied Kaede. “Set up some Infestation!”

They had set the traps, whirling vortexes of grubs and tiny insects scattered between the two Pokemon. Shu's Fairy Winds were falling short, and he was going right for one of the whirlwinds.

Knowing she had to act at once, Prema shut her eyes and held out a palm. “Shu!” she called to her friend.

At once and just in time, Shu snapped from his trance. He looked back.

Kaede pounced. “Now, Paparism, Vivid Wings!”

Vivillion's signature move, and the main reason why she did not use Yahata. Paparism spread his wings wide. They took on a faint, pale-blue glow as the essence contained within emerged in a lustrous flash. The wave of Ice-type energy caught Shu unaware, sending him careening to the ground.

“Shu, are you all right?” Prema asked, leaning in.

“He won't be soon! Poison Powder!”

Paparism made a bombing run, scattering specialized wing scales as he passed over his target. Shu went into spasms as the toxins entered his body.

“Using your powers to help break the rage,” Kaede chuckled with glee. “Can't see I saw that one coming.”

Prema could only smile. “Press your advantages.” Calling out to your Pokemon was surprisingly effective. She only wanted to be certain of success.

“Let's see how well that works when he's asnooze!” Kaede performed a backflip, to the amusement of the crowd that was gathering outside the cage. “Sleep Powder!

Blow it back with Fairy Wind? No, now was the time to go all out. “Psychic, Shu!”

With all his mental might, Shu reached out and grabbed hold of Paparism, who was miming his trainer's motions with aerial acrobatics. He pulled downward, slamming their opponent onto his back.

“Bleh! Vivid Wings!”

While tempted to have Shu recover with Aromatherapy, Kaede remaining on the offensive made her think better of doing so. “Use Charge Beam.”

While the Vivillion was able to get up and execute the move, this also left him in no position to evade the Electric attack. Moreover, Prema witnessed a bit of sparkling around her friend as the attack concluded, the telltale sign of a stat boost.

“Crap!” Kaede winced, taking note of it as well. “Ah, to hell with it. All or nothing, now. Hurricane!”

“If you are using your strongest attack, we will answer in kind.” She turned to the lightly glowing Shu who had sensed her intentions as she was mid-sentence. “Yes, Moonblast.”

The two Pokemon prepped their strongest moves, both executing simultaneously. Shu was sent flying back uncontrollably. However, the windstorm halted as his own move made contact, before he tumbled into the cage.

Paparism was knocked down. He strained, pushing up. His feebly fluttering wings barely kept him aloft. He was not yet unconscious.

However, Kaede – who had been squinting and looking at the ground – shrugged at her partner's continued gusto with her hands in her pockets. “Welp, know when we're beat,” she stated with irreverence, eventually taking out her partner's Poke Ball. “You did great out there, man, but looks like Lady Kannagi wins this round.”

Prema nodded at the conceding. Her father did so as well, with approval toward both sides. “So be it. The score is one for Prema, and zero for Kaede.”

“Shu, you did a fantastic job. Thank you for coming through for me.” He answered by flying directly for her, which she met by catching him with a light embrace. He let all his scents out in his delight at being held. She would likely need to wash her robe, but Prema didn't mind.

“Enjoy this victory while it lasts!” Kaede declared. “For it shall be your final taste of it today!”

Prema nodded as she let go of Shu, not only as an acknowledgment, but as an indicator of satisfaction. The first point was the most critical. It was not a guarantee of victory, yet it gave her the advantage.

Kaede twirled. “Citroushee, it's your turn!” Out came a small pumpkin Pokemon carved like a jack-o-lantern. An umbra ghoul rose out from within. A Gourgeist.

She could assure her victory in the best of three by using Taiyoko next. Yet she suspected her father wanted to see a clean sweep. No, it was more appropriate to use her own Grass type. She asked Shu to observe from outside the cage – just to be certain he was not caught in any crossfire – before the battle resumed.

---​

The faux mad cackling of Maiden Kaede echoed everywhere. “You are in MY domain now, Princess!”

The battlefield was a convoluted mess. It was enclosed within a golden-yellow box whose walls consisted of countless polyhedral shapes. An artificial sun was scorching down from above, and the ground was coated in violet energy. There was no sign of their foe, using her inherent abilities to hide amidst the haze of mist and heat.

“Bug Buzz, Taiyoko!” Prema called out to her strongest companion, her own papilio Pokemon, which had six orange wings, white fluff around her thorax, and blue-hot eyes. The majestic Volcarona's cacophonous screeching rang loud enough to make everyone watching cringe at least slightly, yet there was no sign of whether it affected their opponent.

“Smite her with Mystical Fire, Fohoshi!”

Prema watched closely. A flame spouted from the tip of a barely visible stick.

“There, Aerial Ace!” Taiyoko spotted it as well and was already on her way, but she was not quick enough. She was struck by the magical flame, which was aimed with masterful precision.

Prema knew she needed to find some way of stopping the assault. Her father had continued after Yahata's victory for good reason. It would not reflect well if her strongest friend fell.

Kaede giggled wickedly. “Fire Spin!”

Taiyoko kept on guard, yet from behind her materialized a bipedal vixen with an orange and red body. With a twirl of her staff, she entrapped Taiyoko in a vortex of flame that went all the way to the top of the Wonder Room.

“Taiyoko!”

Kaede performed a little dance with a singsong. “You-are-too-late, Princess.” She wagged a finger. “Psyshock!”

The fierce winds of the move were making it difficult for even a Fire-type to escape – and of course, Taiyoko's Bug-type did not help their cause. She was helpless to resist the blast of psychokinetic energy.

“What, I say, what will you do now?” the ninja woman asked, performing an impression.

Prema pressed two fingers to the bridge of her nose as she weighed her options. One swiftly came to mind. It would work if Taiyoko could execute it.

“Taiyoko, Fiery Dance. Spin in the same direction.”

Kaede's bravado faltered for a fleeting moment. “Not a counter-spin, huh?”

Prema knew full well what she was doing. Taiyoko enveloped herself in flame as she twirled in the direction of the Fire Spin. Soon, she herself became a swirling, burning mass. Already anticipating her intent, the fiery moth charged. As she did so, she carried the Fire Spin with her.

“What in the–” Kaede was cut off as the overpowered move ravaged her Pokemon. Even through the Light Screen, it dealt a respectable if not incredible amount of damage to Fohoshi.

“Shoot her down with Psybeam!” growled Kaede.

The battle was won. “Swoop in with Aerial Ace.”

With the Fire Spin now gone, used as fuel for their attack, Taiyoko flew at their foe in an erratic pattern. She avoided the laser en route and slammed into Fohoshi, sending the vixen into a stumble.

“Get back into cover!” warned Kaede.

“The final move, Hidden Power.”

Taiyoko focused and unleashed her inner essence. A mysterious light appeared, imbued with strength akin to the stones of the ancient castle they met in. Prema remembered it well. She owed it to her father knocking the rampaging Volcarona out when negotiations and battle failed, yet regardless of how it came to be, they were now true companions. Ones who had just claimed another victory together.

“Well…” Kaede shook her head at herself. “Actually, I was pulling my punches a bit there, but wasn't expecting you'd be THAT good. Might've had trouble even if I was going all out.”

Prema smiled. “It is all right.” She was only expecting Maiden Kaede to fight well enough to give her a challenge. “Thank you for the battle.”

“Three for three.” Her father voiced his approval, even as he stood stoically. “Well done, Prema.”

“I thought you might expect that of me. Thank you, Father. And thank you, all of you.” She sang praises for her Pokemon. Taiyoko fluttered above. Shu flew into the cage and started encircling Prema, chirping all the while. Yahata remained outside, but put a proud wing on his hip.

“I was no match for you, Lady Kannagi. Nice going.” The ninja walked up to her.

“It was all a matter of adapting to your strategy. You were a worthy opponent.” Her opponent bowed as they shook hands.

She had come to understand why Maiden Kaede was chosen to face her. The Pokemon she would encounter on Friday evidently specialized in deception and indirect techniques, just like Maiden Kaede. She was the most sensible opponent on hand.

Her father crossed his arms. “We will be practicing your meditative and spiritual techniques tonight and tomorrow.”

Prema nodded. “I understand, Father.”

The ninja woman smirked. “But first, you need to get ready for dinner.” Although usually laid-back, she was enthusiastic when it came to meals. She always claimed eating was the best thing before and after working. “Told'em to make it fit for royalty.”

She smiled warmly. “Of course, Maiden Kaede.”
 
A pretty good chapter, if I do say so myself. I really like Nariya and Prema's dynamic here. I especially love that while Prema does point out that Nariya did wrong in making tea, she doesn't do so in a demeaning or cruel way, remaining polite as she does so while praising what she's able to do right. People on the autistic spectrum, myself included, tend to respond better when we're explicitly told what we do wrong and how we can improve, step by step, rather than being simply berated for it. I also like that you had Nariya understand Prema's proverb. Certain neurotypicals like to parade around the stereotype that autistic people are always literal-minded or never understand things like jokes or proverbs, when it's possible for them to learn and understand what's being said when it's explained to them. I admittedly still have trouble with the phrase "Don't throw stones at glass houses" myself, but I do get the gist of it, "People who have faults should not criticize other people for having the same faults." Thank you for avoiding those stereotypes in regards to Nariya!

The battle Prema had with Kaede was pretty good, too. But I do have a question: What Pokemon is Yahata supposed to be? I don't remember it being mentioned in your first Prema story, and for all I know I could be missing something here like I usually do, but not once is Yahata's species ever mentioned, aside from being a grass type. Also, did you make up the attack name Vivid Wings? I don't see it in any of the attack databases. Or maybe it's an attack used in the card games. I know the card games tend to make up attacks that don't exist in either the game or the anime. But that's really it as far as critiques go. Anyway, another good chapter like always! Curious to read more!
 
So first, your question about where the name Shu came from has been answered in this chapter. It comes from a Japanese phrase. Shu being an actual name also helps. Aside, Nariya's muse about thinking it came from the Japanese name of Spritzee like you did was the thing I mentioned adding.

I really like Nariya and Prema's dynamic here. I especially love that while Prema does point out that Nariya did wrong in making tea, she doesn't do so in a demeaning or cruel way, remaining polite as she does so while praising what she's able to do right. People on the autistic spectrum, myself included, tend to respond better when we're explicitly told what we do wrong and how we can improve, step by step, rather than being simply berated for it.
Yeah, I know that feeling. Although the amusing thing is, it's just Prema being Prema. She's pretty much max or close to max politeness at all times. The next chapter has at least one example of the opposite, although very minor and not purposeful, since it's still Prema we're talking about.

I also like that you had Nariya understand Prema's proverb. Certain neurotypicals like to parade around the stereotype that autistic people are always literal-minded or never understand things like jokes or proverbs, when it's possible for them to learn and understand what's being said when it's explained to them.
This as well. Funny enough, it's Prema who can be literal-minded and not understand jokes. Usually when it comes to colloquialisms. I'm trying to figure a scene where it's Nariya who has to explain something, but she's not really a jokey or colloquial type. A difference from me, I was absolutely a class clown sometimes. Aside, I do research on Japanese proverbs and sayings. Besides the stated one, there was also, "If the cup is too hot to hold, the tea is too hot to drink," which is a real thing.

I admittedly still have trouble with the phrase "Don't throw stones at glass houses" myself, but I do get the gist of it, "People who have faults should not criticize other people for having the same faults." Thank you for avoiding those stereotypes in regards to Nariya!
I mean being autistic myself and having read your fic, wasn't going to make that mistake. ;) We can in fact be bad at some things, yes, but we can excel at others. Nariya's about as good as language as I was at math. Although she doesn't have logarithms to kill her interest

But I do have a question: What Pokemon is Yahata supposed to be? I don't remember it being mentioned in your first Prema story, and for all I know I could be missing something here like I usually do, but not once is Yahata's species ever mentioned, aside from being a grass type.
It's not explicitly stated for now. There's hints, though, besides stating the type. Prema's naming pattern being Japanese is a big one. It might be hard to search. And bigger one, don't click if you want to play the guessing game (or if you need the super hint): There's a detail you missed near the end that all but spells it out. I'll explain it after C6.

Also, did you make up the attack name Vivid Wings? I don't see it in any of the attack databases. Or maybe it's an attack used in the card games. I know the card games tend to make up attacks that don't exist in either the game or the anime.
Nope, it's an original signature move I made up for Vivillion (yes it has Powder but this is another one). It's a move of good strength, that unleashes the power of nature within its wings, and varies by pattern. This is what I had written up, subject to change.
- Grass: Garden, Jungle, Meadow
- Fire: Elegant, High Plains, Sun
- Water: Archipelago, Marine, Monsoon, River, Ocean
- Ice: Icy-Snow, Polar, Tundra
- Ground: Continental, Sandstorm, Savannah
- Steel: Modern, Poke Ball
- Fairy: Fancy
- Copied: Mimic, Mirror Move, Sketch, etc. use the target Vivilion's type.
- Random: Metronome, etc. uses a random type
Basically, it's giving the patterns purpose and badassification of a Pokemon. :p
 
Aims of a Friend (recollection III)
From here on out, expect spoilers for Blade of the Blackout Killer to start showing up. If it's a problem and you want to read both fics, read up through C4 of BotBK beforehand. That said, it's foreshadowing by design here (what it alludes to hasn't been dropped as of this chapter's publication). I'll have explicit WARNINGS later on for more serious instances.[

Also I added a title card, brought to you by AI generation and MS Paint.

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Recollection III: Aims of a Friend

As usual, a white Rondo Accord was waiting for Nariya in a parking lot near the base of the shrine. Every school day, her mom would drop her off at Veilstone Hills High School on her way to work at the Pokemon Disease Research Institute. Her dad would pick her up after classes ended, and would drive her home or to the shrine, depending on her plans for the day. Her mom would pick her up after work if necessary.

Nariya opened up the right rear passenger door and slowly got in. Her parents had both taken her height into consideration when buying their cars. But even with a lot of headroom, she needed to be careful while getting in and out of vehicles. She never saw herself driving, but if she did, she was definitely buying a convertible.

“So how was your day today, Nariya?” asked her mother, Quinn Yaznik.

“It went okay,” she said. Nariya was always unsure how to answer that question whenever she was asked it.

“Anything interesting happen?”

“Kind of. But…not really.”

Her parents were very supportive of her. They wanted what was best for her, yet respected her wishes foremost. She once read a story online about another autistic person's parents trying to ‘fix’ him. Thankfully, people raised enough of a stink that the extended family stepped in to help.

“Nariya, what happened?” her mom insisted, giving her a mildly stern glance through the rear-view mirror.

She winced. They could be a little pushy. It was just their way of caring, and they weren't intrusive – if she didn't want to talk about something, they'd wait until she was ready. Nariya had to admit, their attitude did help sometimes. It sometimes spurred her to speak up about things she otherwise wouldn't.

“Well…Prema's going to…help a spirit. You know, the one at the warehouse?” she cautiously explained. “I was thinking of…going.” After a second, she added, “If it's okay.”

There, she'd said it. She wasn't expecting anything, though. Her mom always let her go along with Youths Against Mistaken Society to their protests, yet this was asking for too much more. She got into trouble on a couple of occasions with Louis and the others, but she was never in danger. They said it never hurt to ask, but it actually did sometimes.

“Have you asked Lady Kannagi?” To her utter shock, her mom didn't say no outright. She instead made an inquiry.

Nariya was forced to shake her head. “No…not yet.”

She received a nod in response. “If it's all right with her, you may go. Just follow her instructions.”

Nariya gasped. “Thank you! I will, mom! Don't worry!” She was planning that anyway!

Yes! Step one completed! Now all she had to do was convince Prema! Which…might be a harder sell, come to think of it. Maybe this was more foolish than she thought. Still, she wanted to do something for Prema, even if it meant just being there to support her! Nariya hoped her friend would understand.

“So how was work today?” Nariya asked. A lot of it went over her head, even though she understood most of the terms. But it was always nice to hear about it.

Her mom grumbled. “It was way less productive than I wanted it to be. We spent most of the day helping a student intern get acquainted with the software and machines.” She grumbled lightly. “I can't fault her for being polite or eager, but we had to walk her through everything.”

“Well…um…” Nariya was always hesitant to speak her thoughts about matters. “Better that she knows than…”

As she trailed off, a combination of fear and being unable to think of the right words, her mom said, “I just hope she's worth the trouble. Let's put it to you that way.”

Nariya quietly conceded. Her mom could be very utilitarian. Then again, it was not necessarily a bad thing. She was all right with her being friends with Louis and Mariko, just because it meant having friends to socialize with. In the same vein, she took no issue with her breaking it off when it became too toxic. That same attitude was probably why she was tentatively allowing her to accompany Prema tomorrow.

The tall teenager sighed. She desperately wanted to expand her world and come out of her shell. She hated being in a rut. Maybe that was another reason why she wanted to go through with it.

##########​

Nariya spent the rest of Thursday stressing about how she was going to word it to Prema. She eventually took her mind off it with homework and watching her dad play a computer game. School flew by on Friday, and before she knew it, her dad's truck was parked near the shrine's steps.

Owen Yaznik was the regional director of Sofmap in Sinnoh, which meant he set his own schedule. He was a hobbyist photographer on top of that. He'd even set up a small lab for film development in their house, occasionally helping people develop photos for a fee. Nariya wanted to be like him, though she knew she'd have to work hard to be her own boss some day.

“So, you ready?” her father asked, not looking back at her as she got out of his truck.

“I guess.”

“Want me to wait? So you can leave if you can't go?”

He didn't really look at her while he spoke. Sometimes, Nariya pondered if her dad was autistic as well. It was not necessarily a hereditary condition, but it didn't mean he couldn't be. There were a few signs, but he didn't care whether he was or not.

She shook her head. “No, if she says I can't, I'll just wait for mom.”

“All right. See you tonight or tomorrow.”

“Thanks, dad.”

Nariya got out and gazed blankly at the steps. She took a deep breath. She personally found it difficult to speak with others even if she knew them well. After all, it was difficult to say how or even if her words would come out, no matter how many times she went over them in her mind.

“Everything fine?”

Nariya winced, nearly jumped at her dad's words of concern. She hated sudden noises. “Yes, it's fine!” she insisted, starting up the hill.

She would have to bring it up before five. Nariya knew she needed to say it and get it out of the way as soon as possible. That would be for the best.

As she made it through the torii, there was no sign of Prema. It was not unusual for her to be indoors or even away from the shrine, but it sure put a damper on her plans.

She awkwardly shuffled around. What to do? She was always at a loss about what to do whenever her friend was not present. Priestess Satomi was purifying herself at the chōzu-ya. Maiden Kaede and Acolyte Jirou were standing by the entrance. Others she'd seen but didn't know by name were doing various things, like meditating on the grass.

About a minute passed, with Nariya simply pacing around near the torii. It was seeing Priestess Satomi start moving towards the shrine's entrance that finally got her to take action. Her slow walk turned into a run, and before she knew it, she was shouting for her.

Nariya covered her mouth. It wasn't appropriate to yell like that. More than one person glared at her, yet mercifully, the elderly woman was not one of them. She turned to her with a grin. “Yes, Nariya?”

“Um…” Nariya was momentarily distracted by Acolyte Jirou's harsh visage. Her eyes were on him as she asked, “Is Lady Prema busy?”

“She very much is, Nariya,” came the reply.

Nariya turned away from the man, although she could not look Priestess Satomi in the eyes, either. “Is it okay if I speak with her? Please?”

“After she is finished.”

“Please, I need to tell her by five.”

The elderly woman nodded, seeming to get it. “I'll be heading in to assist her. I can pass a message along if you'd like.”

“Well…ummm…”

“Speak up,” snapped the male gatekeeper. “She doesn't have all day.”

Priestess Satomi shook her head. Even Maiden Kaede frowned at him. “Acolyte Jirou. Give her time. You know she sometimes has trouble talking to others,” she gently scolded. His lip curled, and that was the extent of his reaction.

Okay, step one, completed. Step two was to take a deep breath. Nariya inhaled deeply. She held it in as long as she was able to before blurting out her question.

“Is it okay if I go with her tonight?!”

Simple and to the point. It did not take long for the elderly woman to flash a thumbs up. “Yes, I'm sure that can arranged. I will let her know.”

“Th-thank you!” She never actually believed they'd agree to this, let alone so easily!

“Just enjoy yourself until about, say, dinnertime or thereabouts.” Priestess Satomi winked before entering the shrine, the door guards parting to allow her entry.

Nariya hummed. It would be hard to enjoy herself, given she didn't know anyone else here well enough. But the wait was going to be worth it!

---​

Prema departed her personal meditation room after two hours within its soundproof walls. Her serene calm belied her intense focus, for she was aware of the importance of tomorrow evening. It had ramifications not only for herself, but for the Kannagi Shrine as a whole. Failure would bring immense shame upon them, not something that could be afforded at the juncture they stood at.

She passed by a small group of shrine-goers in the halls while heading to meet with Priestess Satomi. The Kannagi Shrine could be considered unusual given people being permitted inside (albeit only trustees with the usual rule of cleansing oneself). Yet to the knowing mind, it was not that strange, given they had always been something of a progressive faith. Their detractors would call it abandoning tradition, yet they saw it as evolution.

One of the young followers abruptly jumped out and waved at her. “Um. H-hello, Lady Kannagi!” he said, stepping forward and bowing. The blond boy wore a pink t-shirt stylized with a Lickilicky, and was nervously fidgeting with his clothes and shuffling his feet – bare, though wearing geta.

She gave him a smile of assurance. It was acceptable if he wished to speak. “Hello, Kento.”
Kento Aiushi, who often went by Ken. His parents originally lived in Ecruteak before moving to Celestic to be closer to the Kannagi Shrine. While not among those who resided on the shrine grounds, they nonetheless moved to Veilstone alongside them. Prema had a certain admiration for Kento. He had easily adapted to being uprooted twice in his life, despite only recently turning eleven years of age.

“So did your meditating go well?” he asked.

“It did.”

“So will you be talking with real ghost Pokemon tomorrow?”

“It is probable, yes. Only the gods know now how I will be received, however.” Communication itself was not difficult. Much of the training she was presently undertaking was if it did not go well.

“Will you have to battle them?”

“Possibly, yes. I would prefer to avoid it, however.”

“But why not just use your Pokemon in the first place? Yours are super strong, aren't they?”

“Ken, leave Lady Kannagi be.” Kento jumped, startled by the sudden appearance of his father, who had an appearance much like his own. “I can explain anything you don't understand about the shrine's customs.”

“It is all right,” she verbally assured. “One of my duties is to always be willing to educate followers about our shrine.”

Kento bowed profusely. “I don't want to keep you, 'cause I know you're busy. But thanks anyway!” With an eager wave, he followed his father away.

Prema continued toward her destination. The average person would think much like Kento would, so she did not blame him for his misunderstanding. But there were a number of reasons behind battle not being their first resort. Besides ethics, the Kannagi Shrine did not make use of Pokemon as extensively as some of their contemporaries. This was a purposeful decision. They taught followers to rely upon, yet not depend upon Pokemon. She made a mental note that it would make a good thing to go over in a speech.

She was already waiting for her near the room where the senior members of the shrine held meetings. Prema greeted her at once.

“Priestess Satomi.” She bowed lightly to her elder. “I am prepared for your training.”

“And I'm ready to help you with your training!” she said, hopping to her feet and clapping her hands. “I also wanted to let you know we've selected the three people who will be accompanying you tonight.”

Yes, that would be important as well. Whenever the head or heir to the shrine went on a task – the Rite aside – they were nearly always accompanied by three other members. It was as much for protection as it was an honor and privilege for those selected.

“Very well. Who are they?”

“The first is, of course, Maiden Kaede.”

“Yes.” She was aware of that. A senior, or at least, talented member of the shrine was always in attendance. Her particular talents made her a logical pick for the situation. She sometimes even watched over her father and herself from the shadows.

“Next, the name Jack Bryell ring a bell to you?”

“Yes, although I have not gotten the opportunity to speak with him personally.” She was aware that Acolyte Jack was a follower of the shrine who lived in Veilstone prior to their moving. His work as a Pokemon caretaker only allowed him to visit Celestic Town on holidays, but he had since become a regular. Prema supposed he was the customary lower ranking member, being tested to see how reliable they were.

“And the last person is one you know very well. You see her often, after all, heh.”

“Yourself?”

“No, I decided I'd sit this one out.” She chucked. “Therefore, the last member of your party. She is a certain Miss Yaznik.”

“Nariya?” she repeated, astounded at the decision. Nariya did not have a formal title, only being a follower for three months and some weeks. It must have been both a personal request on her friend's behalf and something her father approved.

“Is this acceptable to you, Lady Kannagi?” asked Priestess Satomi, noting her shock.

“It is. I simply did not believe she had the interest.” She was under the impression that Nariya only wished to involve herself with the shrine as a means to repay their friendship. Perhaps that was still part of her motivation. “So long as she understands the responsibilities involved, she would be welcome.”

“I'll make sure she knows-it-all before tonight. And ask Kaede to keep an eye on her, just in case.” Priestess Satomi smirked.

The other question she had was why her father would approve of such a thing. She trusted he had the sense of sound judgment, although she had to admit to being curious. It would be something to ask at the appropriate time.

“Well, let's get to it,” said Priestess Satomi. “Gotta practice to keep your abilities sharp, after all. Ready to roll?”

“Yes, let us proceed.”

“Good thing those teen protesters don't know what you're up to, eh?” The elderly woman chuckled. “They'd throw a fit about this just to be petty!”

Her hyperbolic joking aside, that was another case in point. No doubt, there were going to be those insisting they leave the warehouse alone, as it technically was a Pokemon habitat. Others, like the city councilors who made the request, wanted them expunged without a thought or care. The shrine's stance was more rational and deterministic. Perhaps these phantom Pokemon had solid motivations. Yet they could well be viciously territorial, not having any regard for humanity. Such Pokemon did exist, unfortunately.

“No matter,” assured Priestess Satomi. “You must do what you must, after all.”

“Yes.” The fact remained it had to be done, but there were many ways to go about it. The ideal case would to find a new home for them in the wild. Forcible removal would be her last resort. She did not feel it would have to come to that, mercifully.

---​

After getting confirmation that she would be able to attend, Nariya set about attempting to pass the time until Prema was prepared. It was eventful, yet she was unable to do anything but sit and watch. She would not see her friend until after 5pm. After she told her mom, there was no going back short of sleeping overnight at the shrine, and that was not happening.

Dinner was teriyaki chicken served with bread rolls and miso soup. It was always a delight to eat at the Kannagi Shrine, since they had great cooks. Nariya cleansed herself and stepped into the shrine to see Prema.

The green-haired maiden was sitting on a zabuton in a quiet corner, completely engrossed in a binder. While she had been given Priestess Satomi's blessing, Nariya was uncertain if she should interrupt.

It was ultimately a decision she did not have to make as Prema briefly glanced at her. “Hello, Nariya,” she greeted.

“Um, hi.”

“I am glad you decided to accompany me tonight,” she said, still poring over what she was reading. “We will be leaving at 8pm. Do your best to ready yourself before then.”

“Okay.” All-business, even when expressing her joy. Nariya should have expected that. Nevertheless, she could not help but tell her, “And thanks so much! I promise to stay out of your way! And I know I have to help and support you no matter what!” Priestess Satomi had given her a briefing on what her responsibilities would be.

Prema nodded. “I will clarify only one further thing in that case.”

“What's that?” Nariya decided to sit beside her.

“Tonight is as important for you as it is for myself. Your performance will determine how worthy of trust you are.”

“Huh? What do you mean it's…” Her words slowed until they were at a halt. What did she sign on for? And what did Lady Prema say just now? “I didn't want this! I thought we were friends!”

“We are.” Her friend looked up. “I apologize if I was unclear. I was speaking strictly in the opinion of the shrine.”

“That's…I guess that makes sense.” That reminded her of something that happened when she was waiting, but she was unsure if she should mention it. Instead, she continued the line of conversation. “If I pass…what happens then?”

At this question, Prema folded up her binder. “To accompany the head or heir to the shrine on a task is among the highest honors for a member, one that is granted only to trustees. They serve a secondary purpose, however. That being to determine how reliable these individuals may be in higher positions. While you would be precluded from immediate promotion due to your joining the shrine only recently, it would mean much for your future prospects, should you choose to pursue such a path.”

A career of serving at the Kannagi Shrine. “I don't know…” she admitted. Nariya wasn't sure what she wanted to do with her life. “And what if I don't? I mean, what if I…”

Prema understood. “The least that can happen would be your no longer being permitted to accompany me on shrine business, regardless of our friendship. In the worst case, expulsion from the shrine is possible.”

What did she say!? “Wait! But if they…what about…I don't want to not be friends anymore! I–”

“Nariya.” Her friend suddenly spoke in a serious, almost chilling voice. She'd never heard Prema take on such a tone before. “If you have doubts that severe weighing upon you, then I ask you do not accompany me tonight. They could render you ineffectual, if not detrimental. For instance, it could be something these spirits could exploit, depending on their nature.”

“No, I should…be okay…”

Prema met her eyes, which made Nariya more than a little uncomfortable. “Are you certain?” she asked. “There will be no consequences if you wish to back out.”

“Y-yes. I can…push it out of my mind by then.” Besides, if she went through the trouble of asking and then just decided not to, it wouldn't reflect well on her. She might not even get another chance. “Just one more thing is bothering me.”

“What is it?”

With what had been said about not having things weighing on her mind, Nariya felt it was best to get it off her chest after all. It took her a few moments for her to decide how to best articulate it. She thanked her lucky stars that Lady Prema had saintly patience.

“Well, Nori came by. He really wanted to see you.”

“I was informed as such, yes,” came the aloof reply.

“He got turned away.” She couldn't help, she couldn't even say anything to him. It had bothered Nariya immensely, even worried her. “Maybe you should go…see him?” she idly suggested, pressing her index fingers together.

Prema closed her eyes. “I cannot do that.”

“But…he was really upset!” Her heart fell into her stomach. Nariya protested, her words coming out louder than she intended. “What if Nori…”

She was only trailing off, thinking about her words. Prema spoke up in her lull. “Nariya, it is not that I do not wish to see him. I must focus on my duties tonight.”

Nariya fidgeted uncomfortably. Duty. Maybe it was important, but it still felt bad for her to leave a friend in the wind. Couldn't they at least stop by and see him on the way to the warehouse?

“Any doubt or distraction will not only affect my abilities, but may be something that could be turned against me.” Prema tilted her head. “A lesson for you about spiritual power.”

“I…see.” It would make complete sense for one's will to need be unfaltering. “But Prema,” she said, addressing her friend more personally. “Aren't you worried?”

“I am unconcerned.”

“Why?!” she squinted and protested. How could she say that?!

“As I said, I cannot afford to think of this matter for now. My thoughts are strictly on tonight. Moreover, I have confidence Nori can make it through whatever troubles him,” she said, standing tall and smiling away. “By chance that he still needs to speak with me, I will be able to do so tomorrow. If not then, Monday.”

Nariya blinked. She reluctantly sighed, expressing her agreement with a slump. Her friend's apathy was not out of callousness, but faith. She supposed all she could do was trust in it. Prema did know Nori better than her, after all. Plus, he survived Sunyshore Gym. One more day of waiting for Prema shouldn't hurt him. As long as he wasn't discouraged from seeing her entirely.

“It will work out, Nariya,” her friend reassured her.

“I guess you're right, Prema.” She had lingering doubts, but it was nothing that could be helped. Knowing that made Nariya sure she could put them aside for tonight. She said she was going to come along, and she was going to do it!
 
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Oooh, a Nariya episode! Me likey! Definitely liked this chapter a lot. Looks like she's got her work cut out for her, throwing herself into a new situation and finding out later that the pressure on her is more severe than she thought. Can totally relate, and I'm sure other autistic people can as well. It's good that Prema is going to be accompanied by two other people, so she and Nariya aren't going to be completely alone in this. Also, nice for taking a potshot at those awful Autism Warrior Parents. Can't wait to read more!
 
Oooh, a Nariya episode! Me likey! Definitely liked this chapter a lot. Looks like she's got her work cut out for her, throwing herself into a new situation and finding out later that the pressure on her is more severe than she thought. Can totally relate, and I'm sure other autistic people can as well.
It can be hard to get into a new situation, especially when you find out it's not as simple as you think. How will it turn out?! Find out next time!

It's good that Prema is going to be accompanied by two other people, so she and Nariya aren't going to be completely alone in this.
It wouldn't make much sense if it was just Prema, let alone Prema and someone with nothing but enthusiasm. Like she said, it's partially for her protection as well.

Also, nice for taking a potshot at those awful Autism Warrior Parents. Can't wait to read more!
They definitely deserve it, and well, I imagine it would be a fear for some.
 
Means of an End (recollection IV)
Writing on a new laptop, had to get a new one after the fan bearing on my late mother's old one gave out. That and SV, and to a lesser extent, general depression are why this chapter was so delayed in editing. But here it is! Hopefully finally getting to Tactics Ogre Reborn doesn't result in further delays.

#########
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#########

Haruto Kannagi had finished double-checking the tax paperwork for the property. With that, all his work for the day was in order. As if on cue, there was a knock at the door as he filed it away.

“Master Haruto,” came the voice of Priestess Satomi Kurusu. “May I come in?”

“You may.”

The elderly woman entered. She had a peculiar swagger to her every step, the kind only seen in the arrogance of youth or – in her instance – the absolute confidence of old age. No surprise, given she was one of their top priestesses. If the Kannagi Shrine was not led by blood, she would have become Master a long time ago. She was in many ways his mentor, and it pleased him to no end to see that Prema thought of her the same way.

She sat before him, letting out a heavy yet happy sigh. “So the young princess is off, well on her way to come of age.”

“Princess?” Haruto inquired.

“Oh, just a little something Kaede likes to call her sometimes.” Yes, Haruto recalled her making remarks to that effect during their training battle. Satomi shrugged. “Not that big a stretch, is it?”

“I suppose not.” Prema certainly had the qualities of one, although it was not wholly accurate either. “I have utmost confidence in her success tonight.”

Satomi chuckled as she leaned forward. “I remember when I saw you off to your own first task. And when I accompanied your mother on her own when I was that Yaznik girl's age!”

Haruto nodded at the mention of his daughter's friend. “She's been a big help for Prema.” That was part of why he permitted her to attend the task tonight. That, and seeing where their friendship stood…

“She really has been. Don't want her turning out like you almost did.”

Haruto could only huff in irritation. Among those in the shrine, he would only ever allow Priestess Satomi to so brazenly poke fun at him.

“It's good she has real friends.” She tapped the bridge of her nose. “What about Carino? That free spirit of an official?”

Haruto leaned back in his chair. “The same, but in a different way.” There was much to say about Nori Carino, but this was not the time to go over his thoughts.

“Getting back to business though, this is a bit unprecedented,” Satomi remarked. “If something happens to Prema, the shrine will have no heirs left.”

“That's why Maiden Kaede is with her.”

“Better safe than sorry, eh?” Satomi huffed. “Can't blame you for it. You got a bad feeling too, huh?”

Haruto's eyebrows furled. “No, I did so only out of concern as a father. Kaede is there to step in if absolutely necessary.” He paused. He had not given the situation as much thought as his elder had appeared to. “You think this spirit might be dangerous enough that she might have to?”

Satomi scratched her head. “I can't speak to that. Yet Prema's been a little…sheltered, I suppose.”

Haruto paused at the shift in subject. He could not refute that. It was his biggest regret about Prema's upbringing, one he took full responsibility for. She had been studious in her training to become Master of the shrine, yet had little in the way of practical life experience. The head of the Kannagi Shrine pondered if there were any future Masters like Prema who started on their trials this late, barring exceptional circumstances.

“This will be the first time she's done something on her own, for a certain measure of being on her own here,” Satomi added. “Might affect her performance, is what I'm saying.”

Haruto sighed. “I understand that. Even so, she must learn. And I have confidence that she will.”

##########​

Recollection IV: Means of an End

Nariya had been in the old Magcargo Express warehouse many times in the past, when she was still with Youths Against Mistaken Society. Until the property was purchased, the protest group used the space outside as a meeting spot. They went inside whenever they needed privacy from potential eavesdroppers.

The others started setting up the moment they stepped inside. She was paralyzed by nostalgia as she approached Lady Prema. The tall teenager couldn't help but hover around for nearly a minute, uncertain of how to initiate conversation.

“Yes?” Prema eventually noticed and asked.

“This is where we…” she said, trailing off as she tried to find the next word.

Prema understood, folding her hands and smiling. “Yes, it is where we met for the first time. And where we met again.”

“It is.”

“Fate works in mysterious ways.”

Kaede hopped to the side of them. Nariya jumped back, startled by her agility. “That it does. But don't forget, we're here on business.”

Nariya shook her head. “I haven't…”

“And you know what the plan is, right?”

“I know.”

Prema drew her gaze across all of them. Herself, Maiden Kaede, and that third person. A man in his twenties with periwinkle-colored hair. She didn't know his name, and was too meek to ask. Especially in case he was someone whose name she should know…

“My fellows of the shrine,” she formally announced, bowing with grace and pride. “I am grateful for your presence and choosing to accompany me. With your support, I will see to it that the spirits inhabiting this building find peace tonight.”

The other two bowed deeper in return, Nariya hastily following suit upon noticing. She was uncertain how she could help Lady Prema except by giving moral support through her presence. Yet if that was all she was capable of doing, she would do her best to otherwise stay out of the way.

---​

Some amount of time passed. Nariya's mom and dad didn't let her have a cell phone, nor did she have another means to tell time, so she was uncertain of how long it was. Only that it was very late. The future head priestess of the Kannagi Shrine had taken to sitting cross-legged, near motionless in the dead center of the room. Kaede was pacing restlessly, and the third person was sitting on a chair with his head down.

Nariya did not know what the appropriate thing to do was. She was never much of a daydreamer, so when her thoughts ran dry, she simply sat quietly. The room was bland and dull. Just boxes and chairs and tables. She did see a broom on one of the tables, but thought better of touching it. Someone might have placed it there for a reason, after all.

“Gods, I'm bored,” rasped Kaede, all of a sudden. Nariya froze up upon the realization she was speaking to her. “Know you are too.”

“I'm…not…” she lied, unconvincingly. It would be improper to admit that outright, particularly when it was her decision to attend.

Kaede crossed her arms and sighed. “So this is the first of four major tasks Lady Kannagi needs to do to be worthy of the title of head priestess, the Master of the shrine.”

Nariya was never good at socialization, yet even she was able to tell Kaede was throwing things out in an attempt to strike up conversation. Truth be told, what she had mentioned had caught her interest.

“What are the others?” she asked.

Kaede shrugged. “Dunno about the second or third, but everyone knows about the capital-r Rite.”

Nariya glanced away. “I don't…”

She cringed. She knew she should not have said that, and felt the scrutinizing eyes of both of her shrine-mates upon her. The third person whose name she did not know rose from his seat and stepped forth, no doubt to give her a harsh lecture.

“Long and short of the Rite is,” said the man, shockingly not upset, “Lady Kannagi will have to travel to the three lakes of Sinnoh and pray to each of the Essences of the Soul in their chambers. After that, it's off to the peak of Mount Coronet, the Spear Pillar, to leave an offering to the Original One.”

Kaede raised a finger, adding, “Once she's at least sixteen. And completed her other training.”

Nariya silently nodded. Prema would be sixteen come February, but she seemed a long way off from the other prerequisite. So tonight was the first step in a long and arduous path. “Um, do you know what the second and third are, mister…?”

“Just call me Jack,” he said. “Don't know the specifics myself, just that one's more of a curriculum thing. Others can't be as wide-scale as a journey, though!”

He and Kaede laughed, with Nariya nervously joining in.

“Still remember my trip around Sinnoh,” remarked Kaede. “Did Cool and Smart Contests, cleared Master Rank in both, but didn't win the big one in either.” That came as a surprise to Nariya, given her talent for battling.

“I did Gyms,” said Jack. “Did quite a bit of traveling back in the day. Made top 4 in the Kanto League in particular.”

“Have you gone on one, Nariya?” Kaede inquired. “Or are you thinking of going on one?”

She shook her head. “My parents don't let me have Pokemon. Because…well. I'm autistic, and…”

The ninja smirked. “Heh, maybe Lady Kannagi's will be your big chance.”

Nariya glanced up at the roof. She loved Pokemon, but a journey felt a bit much. Even if it was only accompanying someone else, that would be a lot of travel and time away from home. Particularly if she could not think of a personal goal for the journey that she felt comfortable with.

“So…” she meekly spoke up about something that had been on her mind. “Tsukimi, um, the festival, is on Sund–”

“My fellows of the shrine,” announced Prema.

Nariya jumped, glancing away. Should they not have been speaking? It was wrong to talk about someone behind their back, and they were doing so right in front of her.

Her friend stood. “I am prepared. It is now time to call out to the spirits.”

Lady Prema whispered something. Was this part of the process? Nariya glanced over to Maiden Kaede for verification. She was hoping to get it just from her expression, but she couldn't tell.

“Is it…” she tried to ask outright.

“Yeah, it's starting,” came Kaede's reply. “Sit tight and get ready.”

Nariya nodded. The tall girl was uncertain what good she would be, yet…she was here. Whatever she could do, she would do.

Prema clasped a palm over a fist and began chanting in Japanese. “Blessed spirits, I humbly request thee. Reveal your form to us,” she followed up in plain English.

Nariya tensed up. She was about to meet a ghost Pokemon. Not something like a Gastly or Misdreavus, but one that had passed from the world. And one that had assaulted humans and their Pokemon. She had no Pokemon of her own to defend herself…or Lady Prema…if the worst came to pass.

Several long, agonizing seconds followed, which felt like minutes. Yet nothing appeared before them.

“Maybe…they're not here?” Nariya blurted aloud.

Kaede and Jack's disapproving eyes fell upon her at once, nearly crushing her under their gazes. The potential head priestess of the shrine shook her head. “No,” came her soft reply. “I sense the presence of another besides we four. They are present.”

Yet why would they not appear? Nariya did not want to ask another question, just in case it made her feel stupider or look ruder than she already did. Or if it made the others even more upset.

Prema was still. Even if Nariya was any good at reading body language, there wasn't any to see with her. Kaede was occasionally glancing over at a stack of boxes, and Jack was fidgeting and shuffling more than she was.

The green-haired teenager once again put her hands into a prayer position. “Spirits inhabiting this warehouse. If you are there, give a sign of your presence.”

Once more, Nariya held her breath. Yet the only sound she heard was the others' breathing. If there was any motion or mystical thing, she couldn't see any of it. They waited a full three minutes, but nothing came.

“They will not answer…” Prema mused.

“Er, Lady Kannagi?” Nariya jumped and covered her head with her arms as a raspy voice spoke up. She glanced around, thankful that it was only Jack. “Mind if I uh, feed my Pokemon? Around their time. Sorry. Didn't think it'd go this long.”

Nariya was taken aback. It had to be around 10pm by her estimation. That was an awfully late time for a meal. She was always in bed by that hour, and usually asleep.

Kaede crossed her arms and shot daggers out of her eyes at Jack. However, Prema smiled gently after several seconds. “By all means, Acolyte Jack. I simply ask that they do nothing to provoke the spirits.”

“Don't worry, they're as tame as it gets, heh.” With a bow of thanks, Jack went to the far left corner of the room to take care of his business.

Kaede sighed. “Lady Kannagi, you are way too nice sometimes.”

“Maiden Kaede,” came her friend's reply. “While there are moments where one must be firm, to do so without purpose is to be rigid. Each is its own circumstance. There are times when compassion must take precedent over regulation. Even when not necessary, to show it regardless, if of sound judgment, is a mark of good character. If you wish to flourish in your position, you may wish to keep this in mind.”

She spoke with the same air of grace and power to the two of them as she would with hundreds of onlookers. It was enough to make them both shrink back, even though only one of them was being personally addressed. “Ah…” The ninja lowered her head. “Forgive me for stepping out of line.”

Prema nodded. “Think nothing of it, Maiden Kaede.”

“But…” Nariya took a deep breath, not wanting to come across as disrespectful as Kaede did. Her concerns had real merit. “Are you not concerned it could negatively impact, or even outright compromise the exorcism?”

“I would not have agreed if I felt it could.” She smiled. “That is an understandable concern, however.”

“Okay.” If Prema was saying so, that was all she needed to hear.

“It cannot be helped if these Pokemon always eat at this hour. We must take the needs of all into consideration when we…”

Prema trailed off, much like Nariya might when speaking. It was unnatural for one such as her. “When we what?” she asked. She was not as good at finishing others' sentences.

“Something is coming!”

Right as she said so, a black laser zigzagged down from the ceiling, angled at Jack's Pokemon. It crashed into his Venomoth, sending it to the floor.

“What is this?!” Jack got up and looked around. A cross-shaped shadow came swooping down on his Banette. He jumped in the way to shield it, getting hit in the stomach.

“Jack!” Nariya shouted. That had to have hurt badly! He was rolling on the hard stone floor, clutching himself.

Prema was looking around above with intense focus. Kaede was running over somewhere. And Nariya had no idea what to do…but she saw it!

“Look out!” she warned.

Prema turned in time to see another black laser coming straight for her. Acting without hesitation, Nariya threw herself at her friend.

---​

As she was getting ready to shield herself with spiritual power, Prema found herself hurled to the ground by something. She got out her hands in enough time to break her fall, scooting aside as soon as possible. She quickly turned to spot what had blindsided her, her heart sinking as she did so.

“Nariya!” She had taken the brunt of the blast, being thrown a few meters away. She was writhing, babbling incomprehensibly. Prema was about to go help, when someone shouted to her.

“Get back, Lady Kannagi!” It was Kaede. Halfway across the room.

Prema's body listened, even as her mind was screaming to check on her friend. Laughter boomed through the hollow building and her mind. She took stock of the situation. A Crobat and a white Zoroark were attacking Acolyte Jack's Pokemon. He was on the floor in a daze, but a cursory glance said he was otherwise well. Maiden Kaede was in a battle pose holding a sphere in her hands. There was no sign of Nariya's attacker, yet.

“I'll take care of this, Lady Kannagi!” shouted Kaede. “Get out of here!”

“I cannot–” she started, right as the woman wailed loudly. A mere kiai, thankfully, as threw something upward with all her might.

It only struck Prema after seeing the glow that Maiden Kaede was not fighting back with Pokemon. The ball exploded into a spray of flame, which flared up into a scintillating flash of light upon contact with the phantom lurking in the shadows of the ceiling. Prema briefly saw the humanoid-shaped Pokemon as it was hurt by the spiritually-supercharged ninjutsu.

Kaede promptly fell to a single knee, gasping and clutching at her chest. No doubt, thought Prema, she put her all into that.

Prema stood and stared down her adversary, remaining alert for any ambush or sudden attack. The clear leader of the group, the spirit of the warehouse. Despite the blow they had taken, they remained intact. Prema was unable to discern the exact species the phantom was, between the darkness and being unable to focus.

“Why do you do this?” she firmly yet politely asked the restless Pokemon.

In reply, the leader cackled. “How quaint…” he said. Prema's mouth went ajar. It was not rare that a Pokemon could speak the human languages, yet she had not been expecting this one to be able to. None of its victims had stated anything of the sort. “The priestess who hides behind her followers is speaking to me of morality. You're not good enough.”

“Behind you!” Kaede shouted, reaching for her satchel.

Prema turned to see the pale Zoroark about five meters from her. A simple fake-out, or an attempt at one. They halted as she caught sight and flashed a toothy, malevolent smile.

Fohoshi materialized before Prema, waving her staff threateningly. The ghostly Pokemon didn't so much as flinch from the gesture.

“Pathetic. You waste my time, Kannagi,” the leading Pokemon said, deadpan. He addressed the others. “Let's go.”

The spirits started to float away. “Wait!” Prema called out.

The Zoroark sank into the floor, while the Crobat flew up to the ceiling and disappeared. The phantom flickered from sight, and Prema could not so much as sense their presence afterward.

At once, guilt came crashing down upon her. She surveyed the carnage.

Jack was struggling to stand, although he was more concerned about his unconscious Pokemon than his own condition. Fohoshi was ensuring her trainer was okay, which left…

“Nariya!” Prema rushed over and knelt down.

“I saw…it…”

“You saw what, Nariya?!”

“The…gh…ghoul…”

Her friend tried sitting up, only to fall unconscious. Prema put a hand to her forehead. A fever and spiritual damage. This was her fault. Her own shortcomings and hesitations led to her friend getting badly injured.

“Lady Kannagi, we still got company.”

Prema was on her feet at once, eyes locked to where Kaede was gesturing. “Come out of there!” she shouted, tightly grasping Taiyoko's Poke Ball. If it was a person responsible for all this, she would make them pay dearly.

A figure darted out from behind the stack of crates. Acolyte Jack suddenly lurched into action, catching up and tackling them to the floor before they could escape.

The one responsible let out a disgruntled snort as she was yanked up. She was in a black shirt with a dark gray overcoat, with cargo pants and a small bag at her side. “This is assault, I say! You'll hear from my lawyers if I'm so much as bruised!”

Prema and Maiden Kaede both marched over, the latter standing in front. “Who are you?”

“Reporter Akari Schrader!” the woman declared, breaking free of the Pokemon caretaker's grasp and reaching into her pocket. She retrieved her wallet and flashed her ID as well as a proud grin. “And I just got some excellent footage!”

Kaede advanced upon her, grabbing her by the coat. “You'd better not publish it,” she threatened.

“Too late!” the Schrader said, pulling away. “It's already out there! You can't stop the press!”

“If you put anything disparaging towards Lady Kannagi in it–”

“Maiden Kaede,” she hushed, raising a palm. She went silent at once. Prema turned to the reporter. “Mrs. Schrader. I understand and respect your freedom of the press. I will not question your motivations or how you found out we would be present here tonight. However, I must ask why you did not raise a hand to help us when the spirit was attacking.”

The reporter blinked. “Well, that's…” She chuckled, lightly shuffling her feet. “I didn't have my Pokemon on me, you see.”

Prema folded her hands. “Were you not concerned for your own safety?”

Acolyte Jack at least appeared to understand where her line of reasoning was headed. “Yeah, look what they did to young Nariya and my Pokemon. You had to be staking the place out before we showed up, right?”

Akari tensed. Her eyes stretched wide, darting from place to place. Without warning, she shoved Kaede aside and made a break for it.

“Get back here!” The woman with ninja training crouched to pursue.

“Leave her be,” Prema urged. “We have more pressing matters to attend to.” She once more glanced worriedly over at her friend.

“I swear, though,” the ninja grumbled. “Knew she was hiding there, but didn't think she'd do that. I'm gonna make sure she regrets it.”

Prema was unconcerned about the reporter. The media would not open themselves up to a slander lawsuit, and her father would no doubt find a way to handle the situation. Even she was aware of a means to discredit Akari Schrader should the need arise.

Her only concern at that moment was Nariya. Even in the worst case, one could always recover from a scandal. As the saying went, however – life, once lost, can never be recovered. She walked over to check on her friend, again placing a hand on her forehead. Not as feverish. Breathing, but no sign of consciousness. There was bruising on both her arms, and on the forehead as well.

“Nariya…” Prema whispered. This was her fault. There was a part of her that wanted to yell at Nariya, demand to know why she would do something so rash. She had to take pause at that thought, aware it was an irrational thought. Lashing out would not help anyone, least of all the shrine.

Acolyte Jack approached. His Pokemon were back in their capsules. “What should we do, Lady Kannagi?” He scratched at his scalp. “Think my Pokemon will be fine?”

“Your Pokemon should be fine after some rest. But Nariya…” She could not bear to speak it.

The caretaker nodded. “Understood. I'll call an ambulance.”

In life, failure is something one was inevitably bound to taste. Prema was no stranger to it. Yet she had never failed to this degree, when so much was on the line. She had not managed to contain the spirit, and her friend had gotten critically injured. Whatever it meant for her training meant little to her. How was she going to explain this to her father? The rest of the shrine? And Nariya's family?
 
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Ooh, another Nariya POV chapter! Me likey! Is Jack the same guy who was rude to Nori in the recent chapter of Blackout Killer? Or is that a different person? I'd be worried if Nariya is going to be okay, but considering she appears in the recent chapter of Blackout Killer talking to Nori, I have no doubt that she'll come through this and am more interested in seeing how she gets through it and the overall reactions to it. I do wonder why her parents won't let her have a cellphone, though. I'm definitely curious as to who Akari is, since she has the name last name as Arumi. I'm wondering if they're related. I did notice one error with this sentence: "Nariya did not know what the appropriate thing to do." I think you forgot to put a word in that sentence there. It might flow better if you made it something like "Nariya did not know what the appropriate thing to do was" or "Nariya did not know what was the appropriate thing to do." Just a suggestion. That's really the only thing I noticed, though. Can't wait to read more and see what the mysterious group that attacked Prema and the gang turn out to be.
 
Ooh, another Nariya POV chapter! Me likey! Is Jack the same guy who was rude to Nori in the recent chapter of Blackout Killer? Or is that a different person?
Jack Bryell is not Jirou, no.

I'd be worried if Nariya is going to be okay, but considering she appears in the recent chapter of Blackout Killer talking to Nori, I have no doubt that she'll come through this and am more interested in seeing how she gets through it and the overall reactions to it.
Keep in mind that chapter takes place before this one. And after this one, but that part was before this one. On reactions, actually Nori's was more specific at first, but I changed it to be vaguer. Otherwise, you shall see!

I do wonder why her parents won't let her have a cellphone, though.
Loosely based on my experiences. Like I only ever got a cell phone when my mother was in the hospital with her cancer treatment. Then I was sort of forced to get one. Granted I was much older and nothing was stopping me at some point and I wanted it anyway, but still. In short it was an unspoken thinking not responsible enough thing for me, and the same applies here.

(Nariya's basically in the same spot as I was at her age. Her parents may come across as strict in some areas and disallow some things some teens take for granted, but they're also looser in others and ultimately very supportive.)

I'm definitely curious as to who Akari is, since she has the name last name as Arumi. I'm wondering if they're related.
I mean the Schraders were mentioned on several occasions to be a family of reporters. One even showed up in MarAwry, and Akari herself was in The Interview. They're stock characters like Joys or Jennys. Just that they get more characterization, aren't uniformly the same, and I ended up turning Arumi into a major character.

I did notice one error with this sentence: "Nariya did not know what the appropriate thing to do." I think you forgot to put a word in that sentence there. It might flow better if you made it something like "Nariya did not know what the appropriate thing to do was" or "Nariya did not know what was the appropriate thing to do."
Grammar checkers, you have failed me. Fixing up in a few.

Can't wait to read more and see what the mysterious group that attacked Prema and the gang turn out to be.
Definitely different, a gang of aggressive Pokemon.
 
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Nanism of Anguish (recollection V)
Recollection V: Nanism of Anguish

“I cannot see Nariya?” Prema repeated what had been said to her as she stood aghast in the hall of the East Veilstone General medical facility.

The future head of the Kannagi Shrine had resolved to visit her friend first thing in the morning. Priestess Satomi insisted she have breakfast before doing so, which was simply onigiri and green tea. She was not expecting to encounter an obstruction of this nature.

“Yes, Lady Kannagi,” Dr. Whitman answered with an apologetic bow. He had a shiny scalp with a small amount of hair at the back. Adjusting his glasses, he clarified, “I apologize, but it's per the family's request.”

With this, Prema turned to Quinn Yaznik. Nariya's mother, who very much looked like an older, yet much shorter version of her daughter. “Mrs. Yaznik,” she humbly began. “Forgive my impudence, but what reason do you have for disallowing Nariya visitors?”

Her nose curled. “Lady Kannagi, when I allowed Nariya to go with you last night, I did so under the impression it would not be dangerous.” Her words were dripping with more venom than a Muk. “Not only did she get badly injured by the spirit, you also failed to protect her. Is it not your duty to look after your followers?”

The future head priestess held her breath. No, it was the other way around, Nariya was technically to protect her. Yet despite her safety coming first, it was preferable to also keep the safety of the others. Prema felt personally responsible. Were it not for her own shortcomings, she would not have lost control of the situation. She had failed not only herself and the Kannagi Shrine, but worse yet, she had failed her friend.

Prema did something she had only ever done with her father. She knelt down, swallowing the lump in her throat before speaking. “I cannot apologize enough, both to you and Nariya, Mrs. Yaznik,” she said. She was not bowing so much as she was lowering her head in shame. “If I were aware of the severity of the situation, I would never have allowed Nariya to accompany me. I see now that was a mistake, and it was my hesitation that nearly cost Nariya her life.”

“With all due respect, Lady Kannagi, words are cheap.” Mrs. Yaznik shook her head. “This incident should never have happened to begin with.”

Yes, this should not have happened. She should have accounted for the possibility of this much danger. “Again, I can only apologize.” She felt utterly foolish. This was a problem warranting a Kannagi's presence, so there was bound to be that sort of peril. Why did she not see that? Why did her father even allow it? “Though I cannot turn back time, I can promise, I will vow, to do whatever I can to atone for my indiscretion. But if you will simply–”

She cut in. “There is no ‘but’ here, Lady Kannagi. For the time being, I am not–”

Mrs. Yaznik herself was interrupted by a shout from down the hall. “Coming through!”

Prema turned to see a young man in a hurry, weaving around an empty gurney. He apologized before starting into a power walk, coming to an abrupt stop as he got near.

“Ah!” Nori perked up upon catching sight of her, but quickly looked away at the door. “Room C5! This is the one!”

The doctor stood in front of him, holding out his hands. “Hold on, sir, you can't just walk in without permission. Who are you and what business do you have?”

“I'm one of Nariya's friends,” he introduced himself. He gave her a fleeting glance. “I heard she got hurt last night, and I want to go see her!”

The doctor glanced over to Mrs. Yaznik, who harrumphed and moved to block the door. “This is a private ward. Family only.”

Nori stomped a foot. He stepped forward while shaking a fist, and Prema was momentarily worried he was going to strike her. “Do you really think not letting any of her friends see her is going to do her any good?!”

“Considering she is in here because of her so-called friend?” Nariya's mother gave her a dirty look. “I think so, yes. I don't know you well enough to trust you, and Lady Kannagi is clearly a toxic influence.”

Prema shut her eyes. That remark was uncalled-for. As tempted as she was to do so, she was aware addressing it would only further hurt her standing. Besides, Nori was going to do so himself.

“You let her into YAMS, though!” he indeed countered. “You let her be with a toxic protest group!”

Her lip curled as she nearly spit in derision. “Yes, but she never got hurt over the course of their protests.”

Nori glowered at Mrs. Yaznik, silenced by logic that Prema had to admit, was irrefutable. No matter what YAMS did or how they eventually ended up treating her, Nariya's only wounds from them were emotional. Some would argue they could be just as devastating to a person if not worse, but there was no room for debate when it came to physical injury.

Her friend's glare suddenly gave way to a twisted, almost unnerving smirk. He reached into his jacket, pulled out his wallet, and retrieved a card with orange trim. He turned to Dr. Whitman.

“My name is Nori Carino, doctor,” he formally introduced. “SPRT zero-one. I'm requesting permission as an official to see the patient.”

Prema covered her mouth as she gasped vaguely. That was correct! She was not expecting Nori to pull rank for this.

Mrs. Yaznik crossed her arms. She walked right up to Nori, towering over him. “Mr. Carino, what reason do you have for wanting to see my daughter?” she demanded.

The doctor silently looked at him, pondering the same thing. While permissible, officials in practice required good reason to do such things. That said, Prema suspected exactly how Nori was going to justify it.

Indeed, her friend went right into his reasoning. “This incident concerns a highly dangerous Pokemon. As a Pokemon Rehabilitator, it is my job to work with these Pokemon. And as a Special Trainer in the International Police, I have the authority to become involved in Pokemon-related incidents if I deem it necessary.”

He evidently had given this the required thought, although he spoke a little too powerfully and even stood on his toes in his attempt to put on an air of authority. Mrs. Yaznik's dismissive head shake spelled out that she was unimpressed. “And what about speaking with Nariya do you deem necessary?”

“Nariya – er, your daughter, the patient, is an important witness. It is important to know what we're dealing with.” He turned to face Prema. “For the same reason, I'll have to speak with you about it as well, Miss Kannagi.”

“Very well, Mr. Carino,” she agreed, playing along. He should have called her Lady Kannagi – even her religious rivals would show her that level of respect – but this was not the right moment to be pointing that out. “I will do what I am able. However, I am afraid I will be busy for the rest of the day.”

He grinned at her. “That's fine. Do what you can, when you can, as long as you do.”

Mrs. Yaznik sighed, placing a palm on her face in exasperation. She motioned to Dr. Whitman to talk the situation over. It was evident from her rasping that she was displeased. The doctor sharply exhaled, resignedly explaining matters.

“Your request is granted, Mr. Carino,” Dr. Whitman conceded. Prema had to admit, she was impressed at how he maintained his composure. “The patient needs to rest, but I can give you fifteen minutes to speak with her.”

“Thanks a–” Nori stuttered and corrected himself. “I mean, thank you for your cooperation.”

“It is I who should be thanking you,” Prema replied, bowing lightly. “The Kannagi Shrine truly appreciates your assistance with this matter.”

“Happy to help.” He raised a thumb and winked at her as he stepped inside.

“As for you, Lady Kannagi,” said the doctor, bowing deeply. “I apologize. I'm afraid I cannot make an exception for you, despite your status. I'm going to have to ask you to leave.”

She folded her hands. “I understand. I apologize for taking up your time.”

She parted with two sources of relief. The first was how as she was turning to leave, Mrs. Yaznik gave her a benign nod, one free of hostility. Perhaps there was hope yet. More importantly, while she was unable to meet with Nariya herself, she had no doubt seeing Nori would help despite their being closer to acquaintances.

As she stepped into the lobby, she was accosted by the receptionist, a man with navy blue hair and a beige suit. “Lady Kannagi!” he said. “How did your visit go?”

“I was not permitted to visit her,” she had to admit.

“Ah, oh well. Sorry about that.”

“There is nothing for you to apologize about. I thank you for at least allowing me the opportunity to try.”

“The pleasure's all mine!” he said. “Priestess Satomi's over in the waiting area.”

With nonverbal acknowledgment, Prema departed. She found Priestess Satomi was seated without incident. She was reading a gun magazine and – instead of her robes – was wearing slick dark-amethyst pants and a matching bosozuku-style leather jacket with a stylized caricature of a Raitora stitched on the back.

“So! How'd it go, Lady Kannagi?”

“Admittedly, not as well as I hoped. Nariya's mother disallowed my visitation, citing her injuries as fault of mine, which I cannot deny. She referred to me as a toxic influence, although it appears that remark at least was made in the heat of the moment.”

“Ah well, worth a try, was it not?” Priestess Satomi laughed as she folded her magazine. Prema was able to glean that her elderly mentor had anticipated this result. “Y'know back in the day, it'd be you who could stop her mother from seeing her!”

“I would not do such a thing.” While she could not hope to understand Mrs. Yaznik's reasons, she could only respect them and pray that she changed her mind. There was that little glimmer of hope at the end. “In any event, Nori came by. He did manage to get in to see Nariya.”

“Mhm. Saw him walking in. I knew he could pull it off.” They must have spoken beforehand. Priestess Satomi motioned for her to lead the way out. “You just can't stop someone like him!”

“I am relieved Nariya will be able to see someone else she knows.”

Family is fostered by care and time together. However, friends such as herself and Nori had no obligations. His presence in times of trouble made clear his loyalty and dedication. Knowing that would do much for Nariya, perhaps more than she could do.

As they stepped outside into the parking lot, Priestess Satomi snickered devilishly. She gained a spring in her step as they drew closer to her vehicle. She reached into the trunk and pulled out a pair of helmets.

“So, are you ready to ride this time?” she asked with a wild grin. She traced a finger along her motorbike's handlebars and patted the back seat. Priestess Satomi was a real-life Turbo Granny, and she reveled in it.

Prema took a wary step away. “I will sit in the side-car again, thank you.”

---​

Everything hurt. Everything was bright. Everything was too loud. All she wanted to do was lie down and sleep. Yet she was not tired enough for her brain to shut itself off and send her to peaceful dreams. Sometimes, she would hear that voice again, screaming into her mind.

“Hey!”

A voice. Not the one in her mind. Nariya opened her eyes to a squint. The sight of the boy before her made her open her eyes further.

“Nori?” she asked, tilting her head up at him. What was he doing here?

He stole the doctor's swivel chair and sat down, sliding it up to her bedside. “How are you feeling?”

“I have a…” She gripped her head. “Concussion.”

“Oh. I had one of those. Hit my head on a diving board at a water park.” For a second, Nariya felt like she'd done the same. That had to have hurt. “You get told how to handle it?”

“Yes.” She wanted to nod, but she couldn't move her neck. “But, why are…”

As she was tripping over her words, he cut in, understanding where she was going. “I came to see you, what else?”

That didn't answer anything. “Why? Why would you…”

Nori paused. He was quiet for about ten seconds. Had she said something she should not have?

“Well, for one,” he started, “Back in Sunyshore, I had a friend named Lux. His mom didn't want us being friends, sometimes it seemed like she didn't want him having any friends. Plus it was hard for him to make any. I didn't want the same thing happening to you! She didn't want Prema getting in, since she seems to hate her for what happened.”

That seemed…well, not the same thing. “It's not that. Mom's just…she's upset.” If she had to speculate, she was only blaming Prema in her anguish. At least, that's what she hoped. “She wanted me being friends with Louis and Mariko, because some friends are better than none.”

“That's…!” Nori shouted. He paused. “I can't understand that, but okay.”

She hadn't explained it well enough. She was bad at explaining these things. Furthermore, she had a bad habit of taking too long to find the right words.

He sighed. “Well, I was worried too. You are sort of my friend, plus Prema couldn't get in to see you.”

A friend. Nariya had never thought of Nori as one before, only as an acquaintance. He said they were before, and she didn't really buy it. Still, it was hard to refute he could be one…

“But I should get to the half-excuse I made,” he continued. “I'll need to ask you about the incident. As an official.”

“You're not…mad at me?” she asked. She had to ask.

“Why would I be?”

“Because…yesterday…”

Nori blinked. “I get Prema probably told you not to tell me what was happening.”

She could only sigh. For someone who got into serious trouble for being so unforgiving at one point, he was almost absurd in his apathy over it. “What do you want to know about?”

“Tell me everything you can.”

With this, Nariya recounted what she could remember. Her mind was in a bit of a haze, but she did the best she could. She added that Lady Prema could probably give a more accurate account.

“Was there anything else?” he asked. “Did you see what it was? Anything weird?”

Nariya looked away. “Well, one thing, but…” But he probably wouldn't believe her, given he's…well, Nori.

Nori put his hands on the side of the bed. “Please, tell me!” he said, inadvertently jostling it a little.

“O-okay.” This was stupid and a skeptic like him might not care, but he asked, so she'd tell him. “When the spirit attacked me, I heard the word ‘ghoul’ in my head. Shouted suddenly…really loud. Even covering my ears didn't help.” She didn't mind loud noises like some autistic people did, but loud and sudden noises were another story.

He adjusted his bangs. “Ghoul?” he repeated. “That's what those workers were mumbling when I found them.”

“It was really weird. I don't…”

Nariya paused. She was trailing off like always, but her thoughts shifted as her self-doubts bubbled to the surface. She vented to the person in front of her.

“I don't want to do anything like that ever again,” she admitted. “I wish I never went. All I did was cause her trouble.”

Nori sighed. “Hey, at least you tried. More than I've ever been able to do for her.”

“Prema appreciates you a lot,” she assured him. “Even if it doesn't seem like it…”

“I wonder…” he mused.

“Just what she…said.”

“If you say so.” He looked up at the wall clock. “I think my time here's almost up.”

“Are you going to help her?” she asked as he was headed out the door.

“I'll try.”

Try. Maybe sometimes, all you have to do is try like she did. Maybe she failed and caused Prema grief, but Nori did say she had attempted to visit. Maybe she did care. Just like Nori evidently did…

---​

Prema Kannagi's guilt refused to subside. What had happened was entirely avoidable. She was uncertain why her father agreed to the request, but she should never have allowed it herself. Because of her shortcomings, Nariya was hospitalized. Her friend had suffered physical and possible spiritual injury, and there was a very real chance that they would never again be allowed to see each other.

Upon arrival at the shrine grounds, Prema immediately went to her father's office. She knocked upon the door with more vigor than she intended.

“Father?” she said, attempting to contain her anguish.

“Enter.”

She did so, closing and locking the door. The young priestess stood before her father, hanging her head low. Her body was shaking, her knees struggling to maintain her weight. As she went to speak, it felt like someone had stuffed her mouth full of mochi. Her father's steely gaze did little to ease her nerves.

There was so much to talk about. Her words came out all in one blast. “I want another chance,” she said. The way she said it made her want to fade into the background like a Kecleon.

She did not get an answer in words, but with a narrowed gaze.

“Please,” she begged, staring him right in the eye. It was something of a pained stare. “You must allow me an opportunity to redeem myself. I must do this, not only for the shrine, but Nariya. I–”

“Prema!” he barked, making her soul nearly jump out of her body. He gave a simple one-word answer, “No.”

“But, father!” She leaned over the desk, placing her hands on it.

Her father reached a hand out. Prema tensed, knowing she was unable to avoid what was coming. She shut her eyes and winced as he…patted her head?

Haruto frowned, yet there was a gentleness in it. His words were firm, yet composed. “With your heart in that much turmoil, it will only end up as a repeat of last time.”

Prema's anguish reverted to shame. She was unable to refute that. Doubtless many could blame her for being too emotional, but it was detrimental when it came to the use of her abilities. Under these conditions, the likely result would be more people getting injured…or worse.

“So what will happen?” she inquired, shaking lightly.

“We are figuring that out.” A non-answer that did little to ease her nerves. He stood, sliding his chair under his desk. “But never mind for now. We will require your presence for the festival on Sunday,” her father informed. “Make sure you're presentable during it.”

Prema could only stare blankly. “There is a festival?”

He nodded. “Tsukimi.”

“Oh, yes.” It had somehow slipped her mind with all that had been going on. How did he expect her to focus on something else? She only prayed that she could, and that a dark cloud would not be cast over the shrine's celebrations due to her failings.

The festival had been something Nariya was eagerly looking forward to. She was going to miss it, all because Prema could not keep her safe.

“It's a shame, actually.”

She looked up at her father. “Nariya, yes…”

He drummed his fingers, tapping out a rhythm Prema did not recognize. “I suppose her too. But I meant the blood moon.”

“There will be an eclipse during it?” Now she felt even worse.

“A supermoon too. But the eclipse won't be visible here, just over in North America.” He leaned back in his seat. “Simply a curiosity for us.”

“I suppose so.”

“For now, get some rest. I'll instruct no one to disturb you.”

He walked her out the door. Rest. How could she find rest at a time like this? She had disgraced herself and the Kannagi Clan. While she could not argue with his reasoning, surely her father would not allow this to stand, would he? Prema had a sinking feeling the consequences would be further reaching than she had already witnessed. She could only pray to the gods that they would not be too debilitating.

---​

As his daughter went to her room, Haruto Kannagi let out a sigh. Equal measures relieved and concerned. Bittersweet emotions. She had not acted this way since he refused her permission to see her first friend. It was comforting to see Prema so out of her shell, yet it did not bode well for their immediate prospects.

He would need to discuss where to proceed from here with his closest confidants. Moreover, they needed to act soon. It would otherwise be an opportunity for religious rivals such as the Mitsutris to step in. Or further disgrace to fall upon them.

###########
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The Tsukimi festival was a fic idea I had, but with the timing in 2015 I realized I'd either need to push the fic back to allow it or to drop the idea since it'd happen midfic. I went with the latter partially since really, it'd just be a cultural research related one-shot with some early pushing of Nori+Prema I can do better elsewhere. Aside, it really was a supermoon eclipse, but it wasn't visible in Japan. Yes I could've taken a liberty just because like I did with hurricanes, but I chose not to this time due to the other reasons not to write it. It was sensible that it should've be acknowledged in-universe, that said.
 
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Poor Prema. I felt so bad for her in this chapter. Nariya, too. At least it's somewhat mitigated by Nori managing to visit Nariya to both get information and be there for her. She's gonna need it, since her mother won't let Prema see her. Curious to see what happens next. Though I have to admit, I'm not sure your usage of the word nanism makes sense in the context of the chapter's title. I get what you're going for, but I looked up the word and nanism primarily refers to people with dwarfism, or dwarfism in general. But I know that's just my grammar-obsessed brain talking, and I'm not writing your chapter titles, so who am I to tell you what words to use? Great job as always!
 
Poor Prema. I felt so bad for her in this chapter.
Someone who's never tasted failure this bad getting a very bad and very serious taste of it all of a sudden, and also who doesn't know how to express grief properly on top of that. Not good to say the least!

Nariya, too. At least it's somewhat mitigated by Nori managing to visit Nariya to both get information and be there for her.
Yeah, I'm making sure not to have her injury just be something to spur Prema, her side's getting covered just as well. Nori's side of this in the next chapter will reveal more of his motivations in heading there.

Though I have to admit, I'm not sure your usage of the word nanism makes sense in the context of the chapter's title. I get what you're going for, but I looked up the word and nanism primarily refers to people with dwarfism, or dwarfism in general.
But do you get what I'm REALLY going for Yeah, it is a slight stretch, I'll admit. I thought I saw a definition saying it could mean small in general. What I'm really going for makes the stretch a little justified
 
Ens of Faith (recollection VI)
Recollection VI: Ens of Faith

It was not until Sunday that Prema received any kind of indication as to how the shrine was going to proceed. Until then, she had isolated herself in her room, first out of shame and later for meditative silence. She actually might not have eaten if people hadn't brought her meals.

One advantage was that it allowed her to fully prepare herself. By the time she was summoned to her father's office that morning, a calm had drawn over her. It was not to say she was not still anguished, but that she was pushing her emotions aside. She did not even need to breathe in before speaking.

“I am here, Father,” she said, bowing deeply before him. “Whatever your decision, I am prepared to accept it.”

His eyes turned to narrow slits. “Prema, this is out of out-of-character for you. It makes me wonder if you are truly ready for the tasks you must perform to succeed me some day.” Her father sat tall, yet still as a statue as he scolded her.

She should have known. She could not hide anything from him. All Prema could do was lower her head, though she made sure to avert her gaze for only a fleeting moment. She did not dare to answer with words. Nothing she said would have any positive effect.

The hard truth was that there was no excuse for her failure. There was also no excuse for her behavior afterwards. She was above that. She was Prema Kannagi, the future Head of the Kannagi Shrine. Any weakness, perceived or otherwise, could not be afforded. She had to be impassive, or at least put up an adequate facade. Her present feelings were threatening to warp people's perceptions of her and had no doubt already done some irreparable damage.

“However,” he continued. The sharpness of his tone made Prema snap to attention. “Due the danger these spirits pose, you remain one of the few in the shrine with the spiritual power to deal with them. Furthermore, we cannot allow your failure to remain as it is, no matter how well we have handled the media situation.”

She blinked slowly, processing his words. “So I am to attempt the ritual once more?” she inquired for full clarification.

“Correct,” her father said. “I had always intended you to do so.”

Prema closed her eyes. If this was the shrine's decision, she would not let everyone down a second time. It was rare to get a second chance in life. She vowed not to squander this one.

Nevertheless, there was still cause for concern. There were few she could confide in about it. Her father was one of them, but he still had the prejudice of being the Head of the shrine. The same could be said for Priestess Satomi, and to a certain extent for Nariya, those times she understood the issues. And speaking about it with those outside the shrine was not ideal for many reasons, if not forbidden.

“But what of my emotional state?” she voiced her biggest worry. At least this was something he could and would help with. “I must confess, there is a part of me that still wishes to avenge Nariya's injury. And what of tonight? I do not feel as if I can fulfill my duties properly.”

“I am certain you will do fine tonight. As for your emotions, it is not cause for concern. For you of all would know,” he started. He paused to allow it to sink in. Until he started speaking, Prema did not understand where he was going with it. “Let your knowledge guide you, but let not it chain you. Let your emotions push you…”

Prema peered at him as he paused. With a nod, she finished the saying, “But let not them control you. And let your will move you, but let not it force you.”

It was a teaching of theirs. Its meaning was that while the gifts the Essences of the Soul had bestowed upon humanity were to be cherished, they were only part of a whole. There was nothing wrong with acting upon one's emotions, so long as one makes decisions with a sound mind. That was the proper way to approach this situation.

“I will not fail you again, Father.” Though she still harbored doubts, Prema was able to say this with more confidence.

“I'm sure you won't, Prema. You'll be heading back there within the week.” He rose from his seat with a smile. “Go and see Priestess Satomi. We'll ensure you're better prepared this time.”

“Thank you, Father.” With a bow, she set off.

It was not just relief that Prema felt about getting another attempt. If anything, she felt even more pressure. Although she presented a confident front to her followers, the truth was that she had doubts like everyone else. The very future of the Kannagi Shrine was on the line. If she were to fail again, what would become of their storied faith with a millennium and several centuries of history? It was not something she wished to think about.

##########​

Like most streets in Japan, the northernmost main road in Veilstone City had no formal name. Nevertheless, people often referred to it colloquially as Saihokutan Street. It stretched two-thirds of the way across the city and encompassed several block numbers. The steps leading up to the Kannagi Shrine were on the easternmost side, whereas the mansions of Marble Tor peered down upon the west perimeter.

Kaede Minmei and Jack Bryell sat together in a small diner on this street. It was very compact, with just enough room for larger people to walk in the aisles of the L-shaped dining area. There were tables outside, although they had no cover from the elements. In spite of it, the food was good, and the owners kept the place immaculately clean. Because of it, the Hungry Hippodon (sic) was one of the more popular eateries along the road.

“Thanks for taking me up on this,” said Jack as they were waiting for their order. They had not drawn much attention, much to their relief. They were only mentioned by name in the article, and evidently, most people didn't recognize them on sight.

Kaede shrugged. “Hey, gotta hear out those below you. Part of the Kannagi way, after all.”

The man leaned back, nestling into his seat. “I've been a member of the shrine for a decade now. Master Haruto Kannagi and Lady Kannagi took a chance on me because of it, and I failed them.” A small pout escaped him. “I know these are usually tests to see if people can get higher positions. So much for those hopes of mine.”

True. She might get another chance several years down the line, but odds were he would not. The way he said it made the self-styled ninja's eyes narrow. “Why, did you want the power?” she inquired.

Jack shook off. “No. I just wanted to find some way to give something back to the shrine for all it's done to change my life, besides donations.”

“Ah, so you're one of those, eh?” She flashed a knowing smirk. That cleared things up, and put them in a way better light. “I getcha.”

“I was a deadbeat after high school. I didn't get good enough grades to get into college. My Pokemon were too out of shape to make a living off them. The parents threw me out when I was nineteen. I lived as a bum for a while, diving in dumpsters and begging on the streets. Then I wandered over to Celestic. The rest is history, as they say. I managed to get my caretaker's license a little over a year later. Wanted to open a Pokemon Sanctuary actually, but I didn't have the money to go that far.”

She nodded as she took in his story. It was not one she had heard before. She had nothing to say about it, so she just gave him a reminder. “Keep in mind, a lot of your free time's taken up when you serve the shrine. You'd probably have to give that up if you want to serve the Kannagis like you want.”

“I was hoping for something a little lower key than what you do, actually.”

“Yeah, know what you mean.” Kaede looked out of the window, thinking about how she had come to join the shrine. “But well, just because Lady Kannagi failed doesn't mean we did. We gave our accounts of what happened. Just need to wait for the verdict.”

She said this, yet knew better than to be too optimistic. There was still a chance they would be made the scapegoats. No one had blamed them to their faces yet, but it was doubtful anyone would. How people acted would say more than their words.

Jack nodded, his shoulders untensing. “I guess you're right. I hope Nariya gets better soon, so we can find out.”

She was silent for a few moments as she thought about that. As a shadow, she had learned to expect and prepare for anything. She doubted the shrine would cast blame on Nariya Yaznik, although from what she heard, her future with them was in doubt anyway. She could only answer him with an irreverent shrug. “Eh, whatever happens, happens.”

“Glad at least one of us can be so carefree about this.” Jack laughed a little.

It was how she liked to live: in the moment. “We should probably head back soon. Festival planning to take care of.”

“Yeah.”

##########​

The first thing Priestess Satomi did was make her eat breakfast. Prema was not hungry, but Satomi's insistence made it impossible to decline. After a simple meal of rice, sushi, and fresh vegetables, they set out for training.

The Kannagi Shrine in Veilstone City was built on the site of a radio station that had since moved operations to Hearthome City. Some rooms were soundproof – even a screaming Exploud couldn't penetrate their walls. Among them were what were now Prema and her father's quarters – formerly sound testing rooms – and the conference room they were headed to, once used for recording.

Priestess Satomi pulled out a chair for her, which she graciously accepted. The elderly woman sat to her right. It was only the two of them at the table which could accommodate ten times their number. Prema preferred it that way for the time being. There was only one person with whom she could speak openly about one of her current concerns, the only other person in the room with her.

“Before we begin, Priestess Satomi,” said Prema. “May I ask you something?”

Her mentor grinned. “You want to know what everyone thinks about what happened a couple days ago, right?”

“That is correct.” She was unsurprised that Priestess Satomi could tell what was troubling her.

“Well, I'm sorry to say, Lady Kannagi,” she started, pausing to shake her head. Prema felt her chest lightly tighten. “I'm afraid that your concerns are completely and utterly…unfounded.”

Priestess Satomi burst into laughter at her own words. Prema herself was unable to see the humor in it, although she understood that her elderly mentor figure did enjoy the occasional bit of teasing. For her part, she was relieved to hear the news, despite the way it was presented.

“It is a comfort to hear that. I must ask why they are so forgiving, however.” How could people forgive her so easily?

Priestess Satomi smiled gently. “Oh, Lady Kannagi. People respect you, and they're more understanding than you might think. They do not see what happened and think you're weak. They think the spirits are strong.”

“They?” The use of that word stood out. Priestess Satomi never said ‘they’ when speaking of the definite, except when someone used it as a personal pronoun or when she meant absolutely everyone. “So it is a different, if incorrect, interpretation with others.”

“Lady Kannagi,” said Priestess Satomi, suddenly very serious. “This type of self-deprecation is unbecoming of one of your station. You mustn't be seen like this by the shrine's followers.”

Prema was momentarily stilled. Her father had said the same thing. Her bow was reflexive, and almost made her topple over. “You are correct,” she admitted. “I suppose the expectations placed upon me have clouded my judgment.”

“It's understandable. We all feel pressure, and you're under a lot of it. But I can tell you these things taking a single session is the exception.”

So Father knew. Prema immediately understood what they might have been trying to do. The task was not only to prove herself, it was a learning experience as well. It was far from what was expected of her, but she had not failed entirely. At least not yet.

“Now, we didn't expect it to go as badly as it did, but part of that was out of our control.” Prema could not deny that. A lot of it was on her, but the reporter's presence and actions were unexpected. “We put out a statement, and with that? The public's just fine, the Mitsutris aside, of course. Even the mighty Schraders are not immune to scandal.” She chortled.

Prema nodded and shut her eyes serenely. While she had been avoiding the news, Akari Schrader's cowardly method of securing her material and subsequent escape would be damaging to her own reputation. The best case scenario would her article getting discredited altogether, although that was wishful thinking.

She opened her eyes. “One more thing, Priestess Satomi.”

“What's on your mind?”

“What if I do fail again?” The possibility was in the back of her mind.

“We'll manage, we always have. As for the spirits, I guess the city will just trash the building and have done with it.” She shrugged and laughed as if it were nothing.

The heir to the shrine frowned. “That would be inadvisable. The spirits would simply head elsewhere.”

“Not our problem at that point. But anyhow, let's get started!” The elderly woman clapped her hands. “And when the time comes, I'll be coming with you.”

“You?”

“Something wrong with that? Am I unworthy of aiding you?”

A nod. “I can think of no one else I would rather have by my side.” Knowing her mentor would be there set her mind at ease.

Priestess Satomi tapped a finger on her lips. She always did so when considering something, yet she did not voice her thoughts. “We'll start you out by reviewing your communication techniques.”

“Very well.”

This training was to ensure that she would be better prepared the next time she approached the spirits of the warehouse. Prema was determined to succeed. For everyone's sake.

##########​

Her training ended after two and a half hours. Prema decided to step outside when Priestess Satomi left. Although the shrine was abuzz with preparations for the Tsukimi Festival that evening, she knew where she could find some privacy. There was a wooded path behind the shrine. No one went there, neither humans nor Pokemon. It was a good place for a quiet walk, contemplation, or private meetings if the shrine was not sufficient for any reason. There were some particular individuals she wished to speak with. She told only Priestess Satomi of her intentions, who would pass it along to her father.

The priestess walked until the path opened up into a small grove. It had small sprouts of grass poking up from the dirt, a few stray stones lying around, and a fallen tree on the north side. She sighed heavily as she sat upon the latter.

Prema's Pokemon were some of her only friends. She was closer to them than her followers in some ways. Yet, as she had been learning as of late, they were no substitute for those like Nariya. Even without a communication barrier, Pokemon could not understand everything about humanity. Still, there were no others she could turn to at the moment.

The priestess brought out her strongest and most experienced companion. “Hello, Taiyoko.”

She received a polite and formal greeting in return, on the wind of chitters and clacks. Her ability to understand the language of Pokemon was nowhere near the level of, for instance, the Healers of Tokiwa. Nevertheless, her empathy and training – and some pattern recognition – was sufficient to passively understand them for the most part. It was also how all Pokemon themselves could understand humans, no matter the language, or communicate across their own languages.

However, it took something more to truly dispel the language barrier. Thus, Prema shut her eyes. She leaned forward without bending her knees, her fingers slack though bending her wrists up toward the side of her head. Focusing. It was a matter of the mind to let the air flow freely into one's ears. She breathed through her mouth and held it in, before letting it through her nostrils. Let any whisper reach anywhere, let its intent be known to your mind. Even certain Pokemon did things akin to this, such as those considered easy to raise for new trainers.

“Lady Kannagi,” came a familiar voice. It did not come as actual words, but rather, akin to interpreted thoughts entering her mind. They were still bug sounds; Prema only heard them differently.

Prema opened her eyes again, but remained in her meditative trance. “Yes,” she replied to Taiyoko. “I wished to seek your consul.”

“Then these tympanic membranes are yours.” The moth spoke the tongue of the underground in cacophonous dialect, a sign of leadership or the independent. Her formal words belied her harsh and powerful tone, but Prema knew it was merely akin to an accent. “Tell me of your dilemma.”

Prema did so. The Volcarona was far older and wiser than her other Pokemon. Taiyoko once told her she had lived over a century, although Prema suspected it was much more than that. Most importantly, she had a lot of experience living in the wild, in a former human habitat no less. If there was any Pokemon who could give her insight into the actions of the phantom Pokemon, it would be her, one who had seen many Pokemon come into and go from the world.

“Most fascinating…” Taiyoko mused as she concluded.

“Did any part of their behavior stand out to you? Are you capable of providing any insight?”

Taiyoko beat her wings more intensely for two seconds. “The part that strikes me as odd is how three powerful Pokemon of different species have joined together. In the wild, Pokemon colonies are generally limited to their own subspecies, barring exceptional circumstances. There will be some mutualistic and commensalistic interactions, but when it comes to societies, it is never as biodiverse as some of you humans imagine.”

“Yet they are working and living together. That much is a fact,” Prema reiterated. She was aware from the start that this was an unusual gathering. Even if one took into account that interspecies mixing was more likely to occur closer to urban areas, there did not seem to be a logical reason for it. “What could possibly drive them to do this? Pokemon that live in human cities are generally not this aggressive.”

“Indeed, for they know it is your species permitting them in your lands.” Taiyoko let out a vocalization of disgust, directed towards the phantoms' lack of respect. “It is logical to assume that these ghosts and their Crobat companion share a common goal. Yet it cannot be survival, the most common reason to see such a drastically mixed group of Pokemon uniting.”

“Yes, they are both far too powerful for that and would have already departed the warehouse if that were the case.” Prema hummed. It went without saying that it could not have been their types, another common impetus for unity, due to the Crobat. It possibly being the soul of one did not change matters.

“When you confronted them,” Taiyoko said, pausing slightly. “Were there any powerful emotions you sensed?”

“Malice, for one,” came her reply. When she reflected on it, there was one other thing. “I also felt something akin to a sense of duty.”

“The latter is evidence of a hierarchy in their ranks. In which case, you need only negotiate with their leader.”

“That would be the logical conclusion, if it were clear who their leader is.”

“If that is true, perhaps they are indeed equals with a common cause.” What that cause might be, Prema could not say. After a few moments of silent fluttering, Taiyoko inquired, “Do you have any idea as to why these Pokemon attacked? Any clue as to what drew their ire?”

It was as if a light suddenly illuminated her path. “They emerged shortly after Acolyte Jack sent out his Pokemon to feed them. Now that you mention it, their malice was in the form of resentment.” It was different from, say, Nori's Pawniard. The hatred of the spirits had a clear direction.

“So the attack was timed at the appearance of other Pokemon. Perhaps they are seeking worthy trainers, or are otherwise jealous.”

“We can only speculate until we get a clearer picture when next we encounter them.” Nevertheless, she had a clearer picture than before. The timing was too convenient. They did not answer her calls, and immediately went after Acolyte Jack's Pokemon. It could not have been a battle they were after, though, given they left in the face of Fohoshi challenging them.

She bowed in appreciation. “Thank you, Taiyoko. Your wisdom is ever appreciated.”

“I am ever at your aid, Lady Kannagi. After all, I am your laryeique.”

An untranslatable word she heard in its raw form. It roughly meant ‘one who follows and gladly provides unquestioned service’. The closest equivalent in the human languages would be servant or its variants like kenin, but it did not have the negative connotations associated with said words. In fact, it had positive ones. To be a laryeique was to willfully follow a worthy leader, and was a term that expressed deep respect towards that individual, be it a trainer or fellow Pokemon.

“I appreciate your saying that, Taiyoko.” She smiled at the fiery moth. Prema never considered herself worthy of such a majestic Pokemon due to the circumstances in which she obtained her. The fact that Taiyoko thought otherwise due to her subsequent actions always meant a lot to Prema.

With an inhale and exhale, Prema dropped her focus. She felt groggy after doing so, as if waking from a dream, a side effect of using her powers. It was not as simple as deciding to do it, or simply being able to do it, such as the aforementioned Healers.

She retrieved the capsules of her other two companions, sending out Shu and Yahata before her. The Spritzee floated gracefully, making an adorable squeak. The owl, by contrast, stood ready and waiting. This was not necessarily due to his personality, but rather because he had sensed Prema's intentions. She needed to talk with them about something.

“Shu, Yahata.” Her first partner and formal starter respectively. “And you too, Taiyoko. I first wanted to let you know that not a day goes by that I do not appreciate you.”

Shu immediately flew into her chest. Prema met him with a one-handed embrace. She patted him on the backside. His scent was nearly overpowering, but Prema kept her composure.

“As I was discussing with Taiyoko,” she began, still holding Shu. The moth already knew the gist of the situation and the stakes at hand. “The motives of the spirits in the warehouse have become a little more clear. There is a possibility you may have to face them in battle. They will be dangerous opponents who have no qualms about harming not only you, but myself. Are you prepared to battle for me if necessary?”

It pained Prema to have to ask them to endanger themselves, but her two evolved Pokemon understood immediately. After all, battling was one of the many ways Pokemon and humanity bonded. It helped that neither of them disliked it. Shu seemed a little hesitant as she released him, shuffling away. If he was uncomfortable, Prema would accept that. But some encouragement, if not prodding from the others, was all it took for him to do a somersault in the air and cry out eagerly.

She chuckled softly at his sudden enthusiasm. “Thank you. I will do my best to prevent a conflict, but I want you three to be prepared in the event it proves unavoidable.”

Prema believed that there was a way to get through to the spirits. There had to be a reason for their anger towards other Pokemon, and once she knew what it was, they could surely come to an accord. Hopefully, they would find relocation acceptable. Or perhaps their souls could truly be set at ease, and they would pass on to the next world.

“Until then…” She took a short breath in. “Do you mind if we simply spend some time out here, together?” Talking to Taiyoko was very helpful, but Prema had to admit that it did not alleviate all her concerns. She wanted to get her mind off them, if only briefly.

Shu and Taiyoko seemed to be happy about it, the former expressing it more than the latter by circling around her. Yahata waved a wing silently and stoically, perhaps a bit dismissively. Serious as always, but as loyal and caring as any of her companions.

They would have to return before long to serve at the festival in the evening. But until then, Prema would take the opportunity to relax and get into a proper frame of mind to do so.

##########​

Refreshed from a late lunch, Nori Carino walked down the road. He had been having some serious trouble with his own work, but for the most part, that was another story.

While his research on his assignment kept going in circles, his thoughts kept coming back to Prema. If he knew what he was doing, he felt he could find a clear direction to go with the murderous Pawniard he was rehabilitating. Instead, he was thinking about Prema's situation.

It wasn't totally unjustified. Like Nariya said, these were dangerous wild Pokemon. So Nori knew he should be able to become involved! He also knew that he was just using semantics, but he would use any excuse to help. Prema had done a lot for him, so how could he return the favor?

Maybe it was also his curiosity at work. It had started as a distraction at the library on Saturday. He wanted to clear his mind from his own situation, so he shifted gears. He had typed in “Veilstone City warehouse worker accident November 2014” and pressed return. The first thing he saw was a Seenit post, and the second was a small article from the Veilstone Times, dated November 28th.

The latter was vague, perhaps written when it was breaking news. There wasn't any follow-up. The Seenit post seemed to be automated, and had a link to a Sinnoh News article that was now deleted. He was starting to develop something of a reporter's instinct, but as far as he was concerned, it didn't take having one to see something was up.

That was how he came to find himself standing before the Veilstone Times building, ready to do some research.
 
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Yo hey, been a while since I commented on your work. Due to being busy with stuff, but wanted to check this out, so this reviewing event is a good excuse. Luckily, I've been following during most updates and just read the recent chapter of this. I'll just be covering my general opinions on this story.

Prema has been a refreshing take over Nori since we've spent so long with him in Official in Training. I see her more the brains to his brawn, even though Nori has more brain than a typical brawn person. Honestly, don't know where they're brains lie, with both being smart even in Prema gets a bit higher edge on him due to how they were raised. I could argue that Prema is a bit more emotionally and spiritually intelligent, while Nori relies more on logic but can bit more brash in some cases.
-Though not's saying Nori is not involved, they are pretty much best friends. He is involved more than I thought even taking P.O.V status for short intervals despite being a Prema tale. This and Blackout Killer are companion pieces I imagine, so they are probably connected in ways we the reader don't know yet despite being separate plots

I really love learning more about Prema and the shrine though, since spirituality in Pokémon is something we don't cover and you bring an interesting take altogether with it. I'm also realizing how Prema kinda parallels Nori in a way, though I do wish we learn about Prema's mother unless I missed something since I don't want to see the main bulk be a father-daughter relationship since I often feel that's it overdone (and I personally dislike the daddy's girl trope though I know it's not in full swing here).
Though for some reason I compared Prema's relationship with her father something like Kiki and her father from Kiki's Delivery Service, while the shrine is on a radio station I thought something related to radios was something the two bond over or listen to together in one of the previous stories I don't remember.

Anyways, not else much to say for besides thanks for the good read as always and I'm looking forward to coming back.
 
Yo hey, been a while since I commented on your work. Due to being busy with stuff, but wanted to check this out, so this reviewing event is a good excuse. Luckily, I've been following during most updates and just read the recent chapter of this. I'll just be covering my general opinions on this story.
Well this was not anywhere on the list of things I expected to see.

Prema has been a refreshing take over Nori since we've spent so long with him in Official in Training. I see her more the brains to his brawn, even though Nori has more brain than a typical brawn person.
Nori's brawn is kind of weird. He's definitely studious and hard-working, it's just that in Pokemon battles, he's more of a brawny type - and he definitely will throw down with someone. That said, Prema knows kendo, so she has some personal brawn.

Honestly, don't know where they're brains lie, with both being smart even in Prema gets a bit higher edge on him due to how they were raised. I could argue that Prema is a bit more emotionally and spiritually intelligent, while Nori relies more on logic but can bit more brash in some cases.
Yeah, this is on the murky side at the moment, due to their roundedness.. And actually, Prema is more the logical one who follows what makes sense (like how she basically called out Akari Schrader), and knows about some obscure specific stuff. Nori's more the emotional type who follows his heart, and is also more worldly/streetwise. That said, both balance it well; Prema is by no means an unemotional type (even if she tries to bottle them up sometimes), and Nori does know enough to not be too headstrong and when to hold his tongue.

A big example of their similarities and contrasts is the hospital scene, especially if you compare the two perspectives in each fic. I suppose what I'm saying is, the two are brainy and brawny both in different ways.

-Though not's saying Nori is not involved, they are pretty much best friends. He is involved more than I thought even taking P.O.V status for short intervals despite being a Prema tale. This and Blackout Killer are companion pieces I imagine, so they are probably connected in ways we the reader don't know yet despite being separate plots
The last scene here is actually the only POV scene with him so far, and only because there was no one else to POV in that scene. As for the connection...wait and see.

I really love learning more about Prema and the shrine though, since spirituality in Pokémon is something we don't cover and you bring an interesting take altogether with it.
Considering most go the route of basically writing a Christianity-expy, yeah, it's pretty uncommon. In fact, part of Prema's inspiration was to write something that stands out by not being that due to bad fics I read. So I came up with something that's more Shinto and pantheon based, as well as not necessarily being around worship.

I'm also realizing how Prema kinda parallels Nori in a way,
They have a lot of similarities, but some big differences too, including in how they're applied. I think I mentioned a couple times, they're both younger people in adult positions. Of course on the contrasting side, Prema was born into the role, whereas Nori willingly joined it.

though I do wish we learn about Prema's mother unless I missed something since I don't want to see the main bulk be a father-daughter relationship since I often feel that's it overdone (and I personally dislike the daddy's girl trope though I know it's not in full swing here).
To this, I ask you: why do you think Prema's mother hasn't been mentioned yet? Why does there seem to be no sign of her? Something to think about before it comes up in the fic itself

That said, I do try to avoid the typical father-daughter relationship. It's a bit complicated by him being her superior. Both sometimes have trouble separating that. Plus, there's plenty of supporting characters for Prema in the mix like Priestess Satomi (who supports Haruto too).

while the shrine is on a radio station I thought something related to radios was something the two bond over or listen to together in one of the previous stories I don't remember.
You're thinking of Nori and Lux. That said, you're not wrong either: both Nori and Prema listen to the news on the radio, and it was a source of entertainment/being more worldly. It just hasn't been a bonding point for them.

Anyways, not else much to say for besides thanks for the good read as always and I'm looking forward to coming back.
Thanks for the review. Looking forward to seeing you back!
 
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Quite a bit happens in this chapter. I hope Prema's second attempt at the exorcism goes better than the first one. It'll certainly help that Satomi is going to accompany her for it, too. How old is she, exactly? I remember part of the story described her as being elderly, do feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. It was also nice to hear Jack's backstory, too. I do find it a little far fetched that Prema is able to talk to Taiyoko, though. Or is Taiyoko the only Pokemon she's able to talk to? Though who am I to talk, since I had my MC in my fic be able to understand Pokemon speech myself. BTW, it's nice to finally know what Yahata's species is (Decidueye or Dartrix? You mentioned a grass owl). I do wonder how she got her hands on an Alolan starter. Anyway, great job as always! Can't wait to read more!
 
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