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

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.
Well, Satomi has been around for at least four generations. She has a defined age, it just hasn't been explicitly stated yet, I think.

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.
Huh, and here I thought you were really going to like this part. I made sure to explain it right away and even detail the process she needs to enable it, and I didn't think it'd be that odd given Prema has already been shown to have powers, including empathic abilities she's used on Pokemon before.

That said, it's certainly not easy for Prema to do so. It works on any Pokemon as long as she can focus, but it's implicitly limited. I haven't decided the boundaries just yet, it's probably going to be one language at a time at least, but she probably has room to grow. It's also exhausting for her; it's all but outright stated she's using her abilities to facilitate it and that it takes an incredible amount of focus. I add in a bit of lore as to how she basically does what certain Pokemon do to understand humans.

Contrast fic!Julia or the Healers who get mentioned, who just can without needing to do anything. It's not just something she can pull out on a whim, and indeed, not something that will come up too frequently in-universe. So it's balanced by limitation in a sense.

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.
Probably in a similar way as to how she got her other Pokemon. It's said that Spritzee was her first Pokemon and Rowlet was her formal starter. Given Hisui is fiction here, it may have been a joke on someone's behalf. Or maybe it was because it has a regional form which is a thing! Either way, yeah, it was an exotic starter. And it's presently a Dartrix.
 
That said, it's certainly not easy for Prema to do so. It works on any Pokemon as long as she can focus, but it's implicitly limited. I haven't decided the boundaries just yet, it's probably going to be one language at a time at least, but she probably has room to grow. It's also exhausting for her; it's all but outright stated she's using her abilities to facilitate it and that it takes an incredible amount of focus. I add in a bit of lore as to how she basically does what certain Pokemon do to understand humans.

I understand now. If that's the case, then that's totally fine, so long as it doesn't make her super OP or anything.
 
Finally got here. I'm sorry; last year was easily the worst of my life, and it was often hard to get things done, even simple ones like reading a story.

*Uppercasing "Pokémon" is still better than not capitalizing their names.
*Hmm, the monsters in the warehouse seem to be a Hisuian Zoroark, a Gengar, and Crobat. And so this is what Nori found in "Blade of the Blackout Killer".
*Wait, that was YAMS old base? Huh.
*Huh, might not have been a Gengar, from what Nori says.
*This felt familiar so I double checked and saw that part of this is a perspective flip of what we saw in Blackout Killer.
*Ah, poor Nariya.

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.
Ah, I recall that back in A Move to Adjudicate.

Well, it seems these are not just normal Ghost-Pokémon if they're calling for an exorcism instead of a trainer to clear it out. That use of the word "ghoul" is certainly worrying. Hopefully Prema will be okay-ish. It is good that she has Nariya and Satomi to help her while at the shrine, at least.
 
I understand now. If that's the case, then that's totally fine, so long as it doesn't make her super OP or anything.
I mean she is on the stronger side of the power scale, but the threats are relative and being able to talk to Pokemon with a lot of effort is like the least of things.

Finally got here. I'm sorry; last year was easily the worst of my life, and it was often hard to get things done, even simple ones like reading a story.
You made it! At a very good time too. Even though it seems you've only read the first little bit. Sorry to hear about life, know what that's like.

*Uppercasing "Pokémon" is still better than not capitalizing their names.
I flipped the usual gag here. Now the character's getting yelled at if he does uppercase them.

*Hmm, the monsters in the warehouse seem to be a Hisuian Zoroark, a Gengar, and Crobat. And so this is what Nori found in "Blade of the Blackout Killer".
Heh heh. Of course he only found the aftermath. He's even present, as the figure Baran Kim sees before passing out..

*Wait, that was YAMS old base? Huh.
Yep. They were there during Training a Demon, but by A Move to Adjudicate they couldn't go use it anymore.

*Huh, might not have been a Gengar, from what Nori says.
It's humanoid shaped, and Nori took his best guess. It could well still be a Gengar, since that's also human-shaped.

*This felt familiar so I double checked and saw that part of this is a perspective flip of what we saw in Blackout Killer.
Like I mentioned, there's a couple scenes like this in the fic. The hospital scene is another such instance. There's two more that haven't been published yet.

Ah, I recall that back in A Move to Adjudicate.
Continuity!

Well, it seems these are not just normal Ghost-Pokémon if they're calling for an exorcism instead of a trainer to clear it out. That use of the word "ghoul" is certainly worrying. Hopefully Prema will be okay-ish. It is good that she has Nariya and Satomi to help her while at the shrine, at least.
Of course, you already know from reading Official In-Training how some of it goes. That said, it was pretty obvious, and you get to find out the how. And there's still plenty of fic left. Heads-up, though not to pressure - there will be a point soon in BotBK (chapter after its next) where you'll want to catch up for this fic, or at least up through chapter 4. More details when I get there, though, and it might be a month, month and a half, hopefully not more before then though.

...which reminds me, I should put mention publication order in both. :p
 
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Seams of Truths (recollection VII)
Recollection VII: Seams of Truths

“Thank you for coming to speak with me,” Haruto Kannagi said to the other individual in his office. It was shortly after eleven at night. Almost every other resident of the shrine was in bed.

“No worries, Master Haruto,” Priestess Satomi Kurusu chuckled. He was glad that she had answered his call to meet at this hour. “Good festival tonight, huh?”

He nodded. “That it was.” Each one that the shrine hosted had been livelier than the last. Day by day, they were attracting more regular visitors. Some of whom had even expressed interest in serving the gods.

Satomi grinned. “Gotta say, knew your plan to branch out would work. But didn't think it'd work this nicely.”

“It is, of course, only the first step.”

“Every journey begins with one step. The next one's keeping the new worshipers.”

Of course. But that was not what he wanted to discuss. He segued into that subject. “Prema did well tonight.”

“That she did. She put all her doubts aside and focused on her role.” She drummed rhythmically with her fingers on the side of the chair. “She's made of stronger stuff than she thinks.”

It was promising, but did not dispel all of his doubts. Before he could get into them, Satomi brought it up herself.

“Lemme guess, called me in to talk about how she's been lately?”

“Yes.”

“Well, sometimes, you get something in your head you have to talk about before you can sleep.” She flashed a grin. “Got the gist of your motives here?”

He shook his head. “Only partially.” While it was true that he needed to get it off his chest, it wasn't so urgent that he needed to right away. “It was more a matter of convenience to do it now.”

Her eyebrows raised up for a moment, but she smiled. She understood, this was something for her ears alone. “Well, let's hear it.”

The shrine's Master cut straight to the point. “This primarily regards Prema's second attempt at dealing with the spirit.”

“Say no more,” she said. “I know what to do if things go wrong.”

Haruto smiled at the ever-reliable priestess. “Thank you, Satomi.”

The expectation was that Prema would need more than one attempt. It was not unusual. But that Akari Schrader threw a wrench into their plans. Although they had contained the situation, they could no longer afford to let Prema fail. If it meant covering for her, there was no helping it. This next attempt had to succeed, at least as far as the public knew.

“Of course, we're gonna do everything to make sure I won't have to.”

“Of course,” he repeated. This was one of Prema's tasks. Suitable opportunities for them did not come easily. It was not only a matter of being worthy in the eyes of the public. She also needed to prove herself to the gods.

“Shame it has to be this way, though, huh?”

Haruto lowered his head. Painful memories began to resurface.

“Ah, sorry,” she apologized, rubbing her hair. “I didn't mean why she's an only child, I was talking about the rest of your family.”

He sighed. “I know you meant nothing by it, Satomi.”

The Kannagi family had once been prominent, in no danger of being without a blood heir to the shrine. How greatly things had changed in the span of two generations. Some had split off into derivative faiths or left due to disputes. Others departed for their own reasons. Haruto himself felt responsible for alienating the few who remained. Then, it happened, leaving only himself and his daughter. He wondered what his ancestors thought of his actions. It was difficult to sense them and he could feel neither approval nor disapproval when he did.

They had plans in place, should the worst come to pass. Priest Warutsu's appointment as head of the original shrine was part of a trial run. Though the Kannagi Shrine would persevere even without Prema, it was not an avenue they preferred to go down. The Mitsutri Shrine was never the same after their family stepped back from leadership, even ignoring their actions. There were some family members Haruto had thought of reaching out to if need be. Whether they would accept was another question.

“Thank you for sticking with me, Satomi. Words cannot express my gratitude for all you've done, and have yet to do.” The shrine was not lacking in the faithful, but rare were those like Satomi Kurusu who were truly devoted.

“You're quite welcome, Master Haruto. I am, after all, a humble servant of the Kannagi Shrine.”

He tensed as the elderly woman bowed before him. Perhaps he was reading too much into it, but he wanted to clear things up. “Satomi, might I ask a question of you?”

She gestured almost flippantly with a flick of a hand. “Ask away, Master Haruto.”

Haruto took a deep breath and prepared for the worst. “What are your honest thoughts on how I've been running the shrine the past decade?”

There it was. His greatest source of concern. While almost no one but his remaining family had left the shrine because of him, his decisions were ultimately responsible for this potential succession crisis. Haruto knew there were those who disagreed with his decisions, the biggest sticking point being his expansion. Some hid their discontent better than others. Even some who had supported it had questioned why he had not stayed at the original location, unswayed by his argument that his presence showed investment. Where did Priestess Satomi stand on the matter? She had never given him a clue, and her initial steely silence was unnerving.

“Well, Haruto.” She was one of the few members of the shrine who he allowed to call him by simply his first name. Her frank tone made him sit up and take notice. “There is one thing you must remember. The Kannagi Shrine has always been about breaking new ground and paving new paths. It has been that way since its conception. The way I see it, the decisions you have been making lately are no different. Throughout the history of the shrine, there have been many Masters that simply served. Only a handful can say they made a difference. And as bitter a pill as it was for your present family to swallow, I am sure your ancestors are as proud of you as I am.”

The man exhaled. He had always worried if Satomi stayed on only out of loyalty, and to hear her approval was a relief. He was about to express his gratitude when there came a sudden knock at the door.

“Master Haruto Kannagi!” came a voice just loud enough to be heard. The man used the most formal form of his name.

“What is it, Monk Naito?” A man of great devotion, one who had earned his title by his willingness to serve as a night watch. The Kannagis had a long tradition of respecting sensible sacrifice, and being willing to give up life at normal hours to protect the shrine was one such thing.

“I apologize for the intrusion, but we have a situation outside.” He sounded more frustrated than concerned.

“What kind of situation?” he pressed the guard. “And why did it involve leaving your station?”

“That Nori Carino character's at the gate. He's insisting to see Lady Kannagi and refusing to leave. What should we do?”

Haruto crossed his arms. While he had many virtues, Naito struggled with his anger. He had to grow as a person if he wished to attain the title of Priest in the future.

The head of the shrine didn't even need to glance at Satomi. She asked the question that he would have asked. “So why's he asking to see her?”

Naito was silent for a second. Likely thrown off by Satomi answering. “He claimed,” the guard spat with utter disbelief, “That it's important to what Lady Kannagi is doing. He demanded to see either of you if he couldn't see Lady Kannagi.”

“Seems reasonable enough,” the elderly woman spoke more quietly and threw up her arms. She turned on her heels and almost leaned over his desk. “Well? Whaddaya say? Tell him to come back in the morning? Let him through? Or just throw'em out? Up to you, Chief.”

Haruto took a moment to consider the situation and the circumstances. Nori Carino, the Pokemon Rehabilitator. Prema's first real friend. A passionate individual who could be discourteous, yet was also forthright. He would have known better than to ask to meet this late, yet did so regardless. The question was why? Haruto guessed it was something Carino felt he needed to say as soon as possible.

Haruto gave his answer. “We will allow this. Satomi, go see if Prema is awake. If she is not, I will speak with him and see what it is about.” Carino was claiming he had something important to tell Prema, and Haruto was inclined to believe that it was the case. If it was not, however…

A wry smile fell upon Satomi, as though she had expected his reply. “Consider it done.”

“And, thank you once more.” Her reassurance meant a lot. He would have liked to speak with her for longer, such as about the situation with Ms. Yaznik. But it couldn't be helped.

“Anytime.” She opened the door and strutted out, giving a wave to the dumbstruck guard outside.

“But Master Haruto Kannagi…” Monk Naito began to say, trailing off partway. “This boy is–”

He raised a palm to silence the man. “This is the decision I have made. Go tell him either myself or Prema will be out to join him shortly.” He gave a stern frown, and added, “And do so respectfully.” He had no illusions about who was being disrespectful to whom.

The man bowed. “Y-yes, Master Haruto Kannagi.” He closed the door and hurried off.

Haruto leaned back as he was left in solitude. He supposed another reason for allowing this was to avoid hypocrisy. After all, he had called Satomi here so late. There was a difference in how the Pokemon Rehabilitator was being tactless about it, yet that was part of the reason Haruto why could not dislike him. He sort of reminded him of…well. That was ultimately unimportant at the moment, and again, something he wanted to avoid thinking about.

---​

It was the dead of night, and Prema could not sleep. Her stomach was churning, her head was spinning, and she could not stop thinking about things.

The Tsukimi celebrations had gone well. She managed to perform her duties to the fullest in spite of being unable to personally enjoy the festival. The cloud of her failure did not appear to have a significantly negative impact on matters. Yet she could not help but wonder if it had dissuaded some individuals who otherwise would have attended. After all, who would want to pledge upon a shrine whose heir was inept? At least the visitors were none the wiser about her weak emotional state.

Though the time spent with her faithful companions had done much to ease her anxiety, it was far from a panacea. She supposed it was merely a temporary distraction. Her second encounter with the spirit loomed, getting closer with each passing second, and even with Taiyoko's insight, Prema was uncertain how it would play out.

She was the sole successor to the Kannagi Shrine. Prema believed that was the only reason she was given a second chance. Such an egregious failing could never be overlooked otherwise, in spite of it being the norm to restore lost honor where believed capable. Priestess Satomi's statement was likely only indicative of the situation the shrine was in. Its only heir was woefully unprepared for simple evil spirits. Any competent shrine maiden would have no problem exorcising them. Was all her work these past fifteen years truly for naught? What would happen if she continued to prove an incapable head of the shrine?

“Knock, knock.”

“Ah!” Prema nearly jumped out of bed. What was Priestess Satomi doing here? “Yes?”

A chuckle escaped her elderly mentor's mouth. “Guess you're awake after all. You've got a visitor, Lady Kannagi.”

She sat up properly. “At this hour?” she pondered, staring vacantly at the door. Her mind raced with the possibilities.

“At this late hour!” she verified. “Nori Carino's here, way past both your bedtimes, heh. Says it's important, related to your task.”

Nori, her closest friend. Ordinarily, his presence was a pleasant comfort to Prema, for he was the one person who never judged her for her status. She was unsure if she wanted to accept. Both due to the time, and not wanting him to see her in her current condition.

“I…” She stuttered. “Should I?”

“If you don't want to, that's fine.”

Nori was here with something important. Prema's better judgment took over. Why it had to be now was what intrigued her. Her only guess was that it was an attempt to avoid the day guards. Whatever the case, there was still a part of her that wanted to see him regardless.

“I will,” she said, rising from the futon. “Tell him I will see him shortly.”

A chuckle. “I'm sure he'll be happy to hear that.”

He would be. She had to make herself look presentable first, starting with changing into her robe. As she did so, something occurred to the green-haired girl. She mentally rehearsed what to say if it was what she suspected: that he wanted to accompany her. No doubt, he was going to be unhappy with her answer. She needed to prepare herself for his response.

---​

Nori was standing outside near the door leading in, wearing a jacket and his backpack. He perked up immediately upon seeing her. She nodded at Monk Naito and dismissed him before turning to her friend.

“Prema!” he said. “Um, good…evening, I guess.”

“Good evening, Nori,” she said as Monk Naito moved towards the torii. “What did you wish to speak to me about this late?” She was curious as to why Father and Priestess Satomi permitted this. Did they know what this important thing was?

He tapped his left foot. “Well, I'll get right to it. This is about the thing you're doing at the warehouse. I wanted to help you out.”

Prema frowned. It was what she thought after all. “Nori,” she told him firmly. She needed to shut down this idea as soon as possible. “If you wish to accompany me, I must refuse.”

“That's not what I came here for!” he shouted. Realizing his tone, he turned away and pressed his index fingers together. “Um, I mean, sorry. But if you want me to, I will!”

As much as she was flattered by the offer, she had to force herself to shake her head. “Nori, I…” She exhaled. “I cannot.”

His fists lightly tightened. “Why not?” he asked curiously.

“You do not belong to our shrine,” she explained. She felt a crushing tightness in her throat as she elaborated, “You cannot accompany us on business.” It was best to give a simple justification.

“Forget your rules! Prema, I, well. I just…” Jittering, he glanced back and forth. He huffed, nearly a snivel. “I'm worried you'll get hurt, okay?!”

“I will not,” she said, standing tall yet needing to swallow her doubts. It was a facade he might see through, but she put it on regardless. She followed up with a wholly truthful statement. “I myself do not want to risk another friend getting injured.”

With that, he spun on his heels and began to walk away. For a few fleeting moments, Prema feared she had made an irreconcilable mistake. Her legs tingled and her throat closed up. She thought she was prepared, but she was not.

Until Nori stopped, buried his head in his hands, and shook his head. “Never mind, never mind then. It was just a thought. I have something to show you that's related, that's really what I came here for.”

She froze. He only wanted to show her something? She had jumped to a false conclusion. Prema knew it, she was not in a good state of mind. She pressed a hand to her chest, trying to steady her heartbeat. “Do you mean something related to the spirits at the warehouse?” she asked for confirmation.

He nodded slowly. “Yeah,” he said, wiping a tear from his left eye. “It took a while to dig up, but I think you need to see this.”

The young official reached into his bag and pulled out a stack of papers. After smoothing out the creases, he shuffled beside her. He retrieved a miniature flashlight from his pocket and shone it on the pages as he passed them over.

~~~~~~~~~~~​

Nori thought back to what led to this. He got some help from his best friend back in Sunyshore. Her connections let him do the research he needed to help Prema and sate his own curiosity about the incident. One of the things Arumi had done was help him meet with her aunt. He brought what he had already found to her, with the hope she could fill in the blanks.

“Konrad Guhl. Aged 21,” said Akari Schrader. He kept his opinion on what she'd done to himself. “Passed away in November 2014, along with his three of his Pokemon. Crushed underneath a stack of crates that collapsed on him.” She was reading over some news articles. “That was the first attack.”

“The first of many,” the young official chimed in. She gave him a wry smirk. “It was also the only fatal one.”

“The next attack took place in January 2015.”

“Wait, I wanted to talk about that first attack first.” He knew the gist of the second one anyway. A homeless person and his Houndour got attacked when taking shelter there. “What can you tell me about it?”

“It went largely unreported, at the family's request.” Akari shook her head dismissively. As if the very notion of keeping news quiet was absurd. “What I do know is they launched a wrongful death suit behind the scenes, blaming the owners and construction company.”

“It would've been funny if they tried to sue the ghost. How would they even collect if they won?” He paused, realizing the possible implications. “Is that what you call a cover-up?”

“I guess you could see it as one if you really wanted.” The woman shrugged. “Both parties wanted it kept quiet. Even my contacts couldn't tell me much. A lot of it went on behind closed doors with the lawyers. The two sides reached a settlement on February 17th. The owners resold the property to recoup their losses.”

Nori nodded. “Per the law, property owners are responsible for any wild Pokemon activity on their land. They can and have been sued for attacks that happen there.” He knew facts like that from his studies.

“It's bait for frivolous lawsuits,” Akari dismissed.

True. The law was just vague enough in that regard. Although most judges knew better than to enforce it that way. That said, the fact that the ghosts were still there didn't make the previous owners and the new ones look good.

“Frankly,” the reporter remarked. “I'm not surprised it took the city this long to do anything. They could brush off trespassing youths and bums getting attacked, but not those workers.” Yes, there were several attacks, but none as high-profile as the last two.

Was she trying to get proof the ghosts were there? “Is that why you decided to spy on…I mean, stake the place out?”

Akari smiled shamelessly. “That, and be the first one to report on the exorcism. I wasn't expecting to get a story like that out of it, though.”

Nori's lip curled. He wanted to rip into her, but knew it'd be dumb. Besides, he heard others already were anyway for her methodology and bystander syndrome. He got back on subject. “What else can you tell me about the first accident? Anything about Mr. Guhl?” He was thinking maybe there was some sort of pattern to the attacks.

“I dug into his background when there was nothing better to find out,” the reporter replied. “He was working at a construction firm to save up enough money for a trip to Europe, likely to see his family's home region. He took a less-is-more approach to Pokemon training. He never went on a journey, but people at the battle spots said he'd stated his eventual intent to. His best Pokemon was his Sinnohian Zoroark, but he was also known for his Crobat and Dusclops. Those were his only three–”

“Wait.” He'd heard that before. “A Zoroark, a Crobat, and a Dusclops?”

“Yes,” she confirmed. “Some speculate he was taking inspiration from Agatha of the Kanto Elite Four. Namely, with the Ghost and Poison types. Like I was saying, him having only three instead of at least six got him some attention.”

She went on, somehow not seeing the connection. Which worked for Nori, since she'd probably complicate things by pushing out another article. But those were the three Pokemon in the warehouse! They were his Pokemon!

~~~~~~~~~~~​

Zoroark, Crobat, Dusclops. Prema closed her eyes. Normally, when a Poke Ball is destroyed, the Pokemon within is released as a fail-safe. This was also implemented to bypass irreparable opening mechanisms. But in cases such as crushing where the energy – and thus the Pokemon's physical form – has nowhere to go, the Pokemon can pass on as a result.

There was other information there, such as how the rumors of the warehouse being haunted began and all the known attacks. Some of it appeared to be Nori's own thoughts. But the information on the Pokemon and their trainer was noted as the most important.

“This is very illuminating,” she mused. Could the phantoms indeed be the Pokemon of a deceased trainer? Taiyoko had mentioned the unlikelihood of those three species uniting in the wild. Sharing a trainer in their former life would be a possible connection.

“I had to get some help and really search for this.” Nori had calmed like she had. At least, he was as calm as he normally was. “They sort of buried it.”

“I see,” she remarked. There could be any number of reasons as to why the information was hard to find. The family wanting privacy, for example. “If this is true, it would explain many things.”

Still, there were other unknown variables, such as their motivations or the incongruous emotions she felt coming from the ghosts. She also had yet to see the Dusclops. Prema did believe the case he presented was the most likely possibility. But she could not take it as 100% factual yet.

“Did you see the guy's name, too?” he asked, pointing to it on the article.

Although uncertain of the significance, she nonetheless repeated it aloud. “Konrad Guhl. What of it?”

He shook his head. “Not like gull. It's properly pronounced like ghoul.”

It was like a flash of light had blinded her, yet opened her eyes to reality as the glare faded. “Guhl…” she repeated, the realization sinking in. “Is that what Nariya was saying?”

“Yeah, the construction guy said it too.” Yes, he was the one who found them after the attack. “And Nariya told me she heard it shouted in her head. So that's what I'm thinking it is.”

It could have been a coincidence that the spirits were of the same species. But their victims saying the trainer's name? Nariya hearing it in her mind? That erased all doubt, even with the unanswered questions. “So they are his Pokemon.”

“Not just them.”

Prema could admit to being mystified. “Nori, is there something else?”

Nori put his hands on his hips. He stood up straight, although his eyes flicked away for a second as he spoke. “Well, I'm not sure if this is how ghosts and spirits and stuff really work. I don't even know if this will help you or make a difference. But I think given all these things, you might be dealing with a trainer's ghost.”
 
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And I'm caught up (and to Blade of the Blackout Killer, as well).

This was an interesting look at Haruto with his shields down, and the revelation that it was expected to take several tries but Akari's snooping caused problems that require them to make sure it goes right the second time was nice.
Although I kind of doubt it'll be quite as easy as Satomi being able to handle it herself.
Speaking of whom I always like that sort of relationship in fiction where someone is tehnically outranked but so old and respected they get a ton of leeway and if anything their superior feels put-off by them.

So...I didn't see that twist coming, assuming they're right, though it's certainly nice to see Nori's reporting skills and connections being so useful. We've had Pokémon ghosts since R/B/Y, human ghosts since early anime, but I'm not sure if/when we saw a human ghost with the ghosts of Pokémon (not to be confused with a human ghost with ghost-type Pokémon, which was also pretty early in the anime).
Of course I'm not sure how long this one is going to go but the description saying it's mostly done already implies it's a bit on the shorter side.
 
Ah, the truth behind the ghost in the warehouse is revealed at last! I definitely like this twist for sure, as it makes everything that happened previously make a lot more sense, putting the pieces together. Though the question now is how Prema will deal with it, knowing this new information. Can't wait to read what happens next!
 
And I'm caught up (and to Blade of the Blackout Killer, as well).
Woo!

This was an interesting look at Haruto with his shields down, and the revelation that it was expected to take several tries but Akari's snooping caused problems that require them to make sure it goes right the second time was nice.
I talked about this with Ryoma a bit on Discord, but as an aside, I went in a VERY different direction with Haruto's character from the original plan. Part of it was to be less cliche, like with his opinion on Nori.

Some of this part was intended to be ironic, too. What Haruto is saying runs counter to what Prema is thinking. The poor girl is pretty much on the verge of an anxiety attack. Who'd have thunk all the pressure and expectations on her could cause problems, right? And Akari certainly didn't help things.

Speaking of whom I always like that sort of relationship in fiction where someone is tehnically outranked but so old and respected they get a ton of leeway and if anything their superior feels put-off by them.
I was going in a direction that showed both father and daughter (and probably the generations before) both deeply trust and respect her. But yes, that was also part of where I was going!

So...I didn't see that twist coming, assuming they're right, though it's certainly nice to see Nori's reporting skills and connections being so useful. We've had Pokémon ghosts since R/B/Y, human ghosts since early anime, but I'm not sure if/when we saw a human ghost with the ghosts of Pokémon (not to be confused with a human ghost with ghost-type Pokémon, which was also pretty early in the anime).
Yeah, this was the big spoiler. It's not confirmed yet...although yeah, given story structure, it is. There were a few hints at it, albeit subtle. Some of it also makes more sense in perspective, such as why Prema couldn't identify which Pokemon the leader was...because it wasn't a Pokemon!
- The biggest piece of foreshadowing was a contradiction! C6 (maybe other spots), Prema mentions Pokemon generally don't understand everything about humanity, cultural things being the implication. But in C4, the spirit demonstrates familiarity with the Kannagi family. It also wears a construction helmet in mockery in C1.
- In C1, the humanoid-shaped spirit (also reiterated as being that shape in C4) is mentioned to have eyes. This is very blink and you'll miss it. Dusclops, which speculated as the third Pokemon, has only one. It had to be something else. Behind-the-scenes aside, the third was originally Drifblim, but I changed it to fit this twist.
- More of a thinking about it thing: the conversation with Taiyoko in C6 did a lot to eliminate possibilities. The sense of duty Prema mentioned pointed to the spirits having a purpose and sense of duty. Prema identified there was a leader. These together were more to put the possibility in mind that fit more in retrospect.
- Kind of a very late thing, but I intended that savvy readers might make the Guhl/"ghoul" connection on sight. Of course, they might think it's pronounced like Prema did, so I account for that, too!
- Now I did put in a red herring and consistency for Dusclops. Two moves come out: a punch from behind, implied to be Shadow Punch or/and Shadow Sneak, and a black laser, which most closely fits anime Night Shade. Only a handful of Pokemon can learn the former. Factor in the other two, and it is indeed narrowed to only Dusclops or Dusknoir. Since the latter doesn't have legs...yeah.

Of course I'm not sure how long this one is going to go but the description saying it's mostly done already implies it's a bit on the shorter side.
A little more than halfway done.

I definitely like this twist for sure, as it makes everything that happened previously make a lot more sense, putting the pieces together.
Yet still unanswered questions.

Though the question now is how Prema will deal with it, knowing this new information.
And of course, there's, yknow, whether she can stay in the state to tackle it.
 
Inanes of Mind (recollection VIII)
The ghost of a trainer.

Prema could only gasp lightly. No one in the shrine had even considered the possibility. If they had, they did not speak of it. She could tell from Nori's uncertain expression, tone, and even words that he felt it was speculation on his behalf.

But it fit. Konrad Guhl had perished alongside his partners. The spirits of both trainer and Pokemon remained in the warehouse, attacking others for reasons unknown. In spite of still not knowing their motivations, it would explain both the unidentifiable spirit and the sense of duty she felt from the phantoms. The only other mystery was why she felt that same feeling from Guhl.

“This explains almost everything.” She had to lightly bow. Much as she wanted to express her elation, she contained it to modest appreciation. “I cannot thank you enough, Nori. You have provided the last piece of information I was missing. I feel more confident now that I know what I am dealing with.”

He had given her far more than she was expecting. She would need to speak with Father and Priestess Satomi about it, but she was certain that they would agree with Nori's conclusions as well.

“It's like Volkner always told me, know your enemy!” He gave her a confident grin. “And you're welcome! I'm happy to help!” After a brief moment, he chuckled nervously and put a hand on the back of his head. “But since I know your enemy too, maybe I can help you even more?”

“Nori,” she said simply, perhaps more sternly than intended.

“Come on!” he snapped, stamping a foot. “I don't mind the risk! Besides, you can't invite me, but there's nothing stopping me from going there on my own, is there?”

She smiled, getting to the point she was wanted to make before he cut in with fervor. “You have done more than enough already,” she assured him. “And do not forget, you have your own duties. It would be unwise to be distracted from them.”

“I'm not getting distracted!” he protested, though she could tell by how sharply he insisted that he knew otherwise. “I'm just trying to take some time off to think!”

For a moment, Prema looked only at Nori, a prickle behind her eyes. A mix of emotions came over her, but all positive. That was not the reply she had been expecting out of him. But it was one she could relate to, since she had effectively done the same. Albeit not to the same extent. She felt momentary tightness in her chest, but it was just confidence rising through.

She moved slightly closer and spoke gently, knowing exactly what to say to ease his doubts. “I understand if it is difficult. Yet it is all the more reason to focus your efforts on it. A break is acceptable, but you should not put it off for much longer. As commendable as it is to help others, your immediate goals moving forward should be on your own responsibilities.”

Nori lowered his head and nodded reluctantly. It was evident from his hunched posture he was not confident about his ability to succeed, so she made a vow to him.

“I can promise to aid you however I can, after I have completed my task.”

He looked up at her, eyes full of marvel and hope. She folded her hands. “Thanks,” he said, his cheer returning. He clenched a fist, raising then lowering it. “But if I finish before you, I'm helping you no matter what you say!”

Prema stared at him, unable to prevent a little astonishment from slipping through. “Nori, do you believe you can reform another Pokemon in a matter of days?” she asked, pursing her lips. She did not mask her concern, leaning inward to express it. If he attempted to rush things, the only result would be more Pokemon – or people – getting injured.

“I won't know unless I try!” was his answer, a little uncertainty and self-deprecation in his tone. He shrugged, but kept a positive look. “I guess it's a race?”

Prema could only return his expression. “I believe I will win.” Perhaps this was his way of trying to cheer her up and motivate her. She felt it only natural to return the favor.

He huffed away a small laugh. “Just don't get hurt, okay?” he asked her once again.

“I will not,” she repeated. Yet, unlike the first time she had said this in their conversation, her confidence was not a facade. Now that she knew the nature and identity of this specter, Prema had no doubt that she would be able to emerge victorious.

Both of them were suddenly quiet. Prema did not know what to say next. She had already said thank you, and to say it again would be unusual. She was not good in personal social situations as these…

Nori shuffled his feet, somewhat unsure of himself as well. He was waiting for her to speak, and when she could not, he cleared his throat and asked, “Um, so how was the festival?” he casually asked, glancing over at the moon. “I know you guys hold some here.”

She breathed a sigh of relief at the silence being broken. Although what he said made her involuntarily peer down. “I could not particularly enjoy it,” she quietly confided to him. She supposed it was a combination of her emotional state and not being able to spend it with a friend as she had been expecting to.

“Sorry.” He sighed, seeming to understand why. “If I remembered and wasn't busy with research, I would've come by. Almost forgot about the day, actually.”

He would have come by? There were numerous layers of irony there, if that was indeed the case. “I suppose both of us could not enjoy it, then.”

“I guess.” Nori chuckled softly. “Maybe next time.” Next time? She pondered, was he only talking without thinking as he sometimes did, or did he truly mean it?

Another curtain of silence drew over them. Prema wished she could speak more about the festival. But even if it had not gone by in a blur, Nori would likely have little to no interest in their shrine. The only thing she was certain of was that she had fulfilled her duties properly.

Nori spoke up again. “Well, guess that's it.” He paused for the briefest of moments, before adding, “Good night, Prema.”

“Sleep well, Nori.” He had certainly earned some rest. “And be safe on your way back home.”

“I will be.” He tapped his pockets before turning to leave. He paused halfway, twisting around. “And…good luck.”

She closed her eyes for a moment. “Thank you, Nori.”

It was enough to bring a broad smile to his face. He pivoted around and set out with a puffed chest. Prema watched until he was out of sight before reentering the shrine.

“You two get along well,” said Priestess Satomi as she stepped into the commons area. The elderly woman standing near the door shrugged when Prema glanced at her. “Sorry for eavesdropping.”

“It is all right.” Prema would have been more concerned if she had not kept watch. After all, Monk Naito was disinterested and barely paying attention. She wondered if that was worth a reprimand. “How much did you hear?”

“Mostly just your small talk. But it sounds like he found something big after all. You'll have to show me what he found tomorrow.” She paused and tapped an ear. “But are you sure you don't want him coming with us? We can actually arrange that.”

It was news to Prema, yet she reaffirmed her decision. “No. I believe the risks and negatives outweigh what we stand to gain. After all, you will be present next time.”

She was expecting a grin and enthusiastic agreement, so it was it was a surprise for Prema when the old priestess frowned. “I suppose so,” she replied with a shrug.

“Priestess Satomi?”

“Your mind's made up.” She patted her on the shoulder. “Now work to see it through. I know you have what it takes.”

Prema slowly nodded. Although her elderly mentor seemed to harbor doubts about her decision, they did not seem to be critical. She returned to her quarters and had no trouble falling asleep.

##########​

Recollection VIII: Inanes of Mind

“A trainer's ghost?”

Prema had only seen Priestess Satomi so stunned twice before. The first time she could not remember the context behind, and the second time was when the Silph building in Kanto was taken over. They say that the older and wiser you get, the fewer things surprise you. It made sense, because you would have seen more. Yet this revelation had caught even her off-guard.

“Have a look at Nori's research,” she said, offering up the binder in which she had placed the sheets of paper in for organization and safekeeping. “I believe you will agree with me how much sense it makes.”

She reached into her reticule to retrieve her reading glasses from their case. Prema watched as her mentor's expression turned from confusion to realization, and from there into marvel, followed by delight.

It concluded with a cackle. “I knew that boy was full of surprises, but I never thought he'd be the one to blow this open! I don't know how we didn't see this one coming ourselves!” She clapped her hands together. “It all makes sense when you connect the dots. That's the advantage of having a fresh set of eyes with an open mind.”

Her father was just as surprised as Priestess Satomi when she spoke to him about it. He stoically hid his emotions, yet Prema could tell from the rest of his body language that he was as grateful as she was.

“So, Konrad Guhl, eh?” Priestess Satomi mused, more to herself than to anyone in particular.

It made Prema wonder. “Have you ever had to deal with the ghost of a trainer before, Priestess Satomi?”

“A few times, yes,” she said with a lively nod. “They are no different from any other spirit, even if they still have their Pokemon with them. But!” With that, she clapped her hands and raised a finger. “The big difference between them and Pokemon spirits?”

“It is that you can communicate more easily with some of them,” Prema answered. “Not just with words, but in understanding.” As much as they shared the world and lived together, people and Pokemon had different cultures. There were human customs and concepts that a Pokemon would not understand without study or long-term exposure. Of course, the opposite was also true.

Come to think of it, the spirit had addressed her as a priestess. She had initially thought little of it. It was not impossible for a wild Pokemon to know who she was; her family was prominent and helped lay the groundwork for modern relations between humanity and Pokemon. But the spirit had also mocked her, perceiving her as hiding behind her followers. That sort of grasp on religion was something only a human or a Pokemon who spent time around humans would know.

“Exactly!” Priestess Satomi let out a chuckle. “Nobody considered the obvious up till now.”

“We had been working under a false assumption made by others.” It was sometimes easy to miss things because of accepting prior accounts and not exploring alternate avenues. “I suspect that stemmed from a combination of most not knowing the nature of human spirits and the powers he seemed to exhibit.”

There could be any number of explanations behind the spirit's abilities. It was not impossible that he had acquired them in death, yet it could well be theatrics. Prema had yet to lay eyes on that Dusclops, after all.

One thing was clear. “We will have to completely alter our preparations.”

“Will we?”

Prema was uncertain what to make of the two-word question. “Will we not have to account for facing a human?”

“Ohoho.” Priestess Satomi wagged a finger. “Regardless of who commands this trio of ghostly Pokemon, the goal in dealing with them and their trainer remains the same. Besides, you have soothed some human spirits in the past, yes?”

“Yes.”

“It will be a little different, but not as different as you might think.”

“Yes. Forgive me.”

“Oh, think nothing of it, Lady Kannagi. It's not every medium that gets the chance to deal with a vengeful trainer's spirit!” She laughed.

Yes. It was evident from how seldom they were mentioned during her studies. Spirits could linger on in the world for a multitude of reasons and were capable of interacting with the physical plane. It was by no means an unknown phenomenon. For instance, there was a recorded incident of a Marowak spirit haunting the Pokemon Tower in Kanto three years back. There were human ghosts in the Old Chateau, although the public at large was not privy to that information. And at least one Ghost-type expert had captured the spirit of a Pokemon.

“The question we must ask, then, is the motivations this trainer has.” While it would be possible to simply ask Guhl, any conclusions they could draw beforehand would be beneficial.

“If I had to hazard a guess?” Priestess Satomi leaned in. “You're going to end up battling him.”

Prema folded her hands. “Why do you believe that?”

“Oh, call it an old maid's instinct.”

“Priestess Satomi?”

“Prepare for any possibility, Lady Kannagi.” She winked, not giving a clear answer as she rose. “Come! Training awaits. Tomorrow's battle is won during today's practice!”

Prema was already preparing for potential conflict, though she had not believed it inevitable. Why was Priestess Satomi so sure things would come to blows? Evidently, she had realized something Prema had not, and was leaving it for her to deduce. It would become clear with time and thought.

##########​

Nariya leaned back on the uncomfortable hospital bed. She was so tall that her feet dangled over the edge if she didn't tuck them in. Moreover, the fluorescent lighting irritated her eyes whenever she looked straight up. But physical comfort was the least of her concerns.

A classmate of hers once compared being in the hospital to being in prison. Nariya found it a weird thing to say, especially since how could they know what it's like to be in prison, but now she fully understood what they meant. You couldn't leave your room at all without permission, you ate what they wanted and when they told you, you did what they told you, and if the doctors wanted to walk in and run a test you had to let them. Sure, it was nice and quiet, but it didn't make up for not being allowed any freedom. At least they told her exactly what had happened to her: bruising, a mild concussion, and possible spiritual damage. She hated it when people were vague about important stuff. Her imagination always ran wild whenever that happened.

It had only been three days, and she was already starting to get frustrated with the place. Her mom had managed to talk them into discharging her tomorrow. Thank the gods, since she wasn't sure if she could survive a day longer. She could go home and see her parents and read her favorite books and watch her favorite TV shows and rest when she wanted.

She glanced at the wall clock, the display of which read 6:04. Her dinner would be arriving in one minute. Eight, noon, and six, at roughly five minutes past the top of the hour. It was like clockwork.

Sure enough, the nurse came in on the dot, wheeling a cart. She was a tall woman with indigo hair and eyes to match. “Here you go,” the nurse said. Nariya was bad at remembering names. “Enjoy.”

“Thank you.”

She was always polite about it, even if she hated the food. It wasn't bad, but there was stuff she disliked in it. Every meal came with a serving of rice, except it was all white. Nariya hated white rice, she preferred brown rice. She barely ate any of it as a result. The fruits and vegetables were always nice. The poultry was good, but the other meat wasn't. This was yakitori, thankfully. Beverages were usually just spring water or juice – milk in the morning – which was fine by her. There was a serving of Figy sauce too, which she pushed to the far corner of the tray.

She managed to finish the fruit, most of the meat, and ate just a bit of rice. She gently pushed the cart away, although kept the water by her bedside. Collection would come an hour later.

Vapid and monotonous were the two words Nariya would use to describe her time at the hospital. There was nothing to do. At least she was tired enough to sleep for most of the day yesterday, a side effect of the concussion. But today just stunk. Her mom had brought over her homework and unread library books, which Nariya had finished in record time. She even impressed herself, since she was never very fast at such things. Had it not been for the fact that she was about to get out of here, she might have asked for a dictionary. She loved to read those and learn new words.

About twenty minutes later, there was a sudden knock on the door. Even though it was a gentle tap, it still made her jump.

Dr. Whitman stepped into the room. At least he had a nametag, so that made it easy to remember his name. “Ms. Yaznik?”

She didn't answer. It was a little overwhelming to see him here so suddenly. She'd finished dinner, sure, but it was weird for him to come walking in all of a sudden before the food cart was supposed to get collected!

“It's all right, I just came to give you some papers,” he assured. “They have information on what you'll have to be aware of and watch out for after you're discharged.”

He placed a stapled-together set of pages and a small pamphlet on her bedside table. The former seemed to contain general recovery information. The latter was a children's guide to concussions, which she found mildly offending. She wasn't a kid, she was sixteen years old! She didn't have the courage to say anything about it, though.

“If you have persistent headaches or start to have really bad nightmares, check back in right away.”

Nariya nodded. She never really got headaches; the concussion didn't count because it was her head physically aching. As for the latter issue, the doctors had told her that Ghost Pokemon attacks could have long-term effects on humans. It explained why she sometimes heard that voice again on Saturday, though she'd been fine since.

The doctor suddenly knelt by her bedside. “Are you sure you want to leave?” he asked, tilting his head downward. “We want to keep you in here for the rest of the week to monitor you and run some extra tests, just to be safe.”

She shook her head. “No, I…I want to…go home.” She thanked the gods her mom was willing to help get her out of here.

“All right.” The doctor didn't press the issue, to her relief. He stood and walked away.

The moment he was gone, Nariya felt her muscles relaxing. She was no good at socializing with people she didn't really know, even when they were nice.

Nariya wondered how Prema was doing. She hadn't been able to speak with her after what happened, although Nori had indicated she had tried to visit her. Would her mom even let them see each other again? And what about the spirit she was exorcising? She heard the news it hadn't gone well. So Prema was probably going to have to try and do it again, right? But would it end up the same way? If she kept failing, what would happen to her? She could only cross her fingers and pray things worked out.
 
Now that Prema has the information she needs about what the ghosts actually are, Priestess Satomi does have a point about them needing to completely alter their preparations. Good job on establishing that there are different ways of dealing with actual ghosts and the ghosts of Pokemon. I also love the references to other ghost incidents, like the Lavender Town Marowak, and anime Acerola owning a ghost Mimikyu. Those are nice little lore touches that actually add some credibility to the incident Prima and Satomi are dealing with. The little scene with Nariya at the end was nice, too. Then again, more Nariya is always a plus for me. I also like how you had her be offended at the doctor's paper about concussions. Too often, autistic people in media are portrayed in an infantilized manner, in such ways that either depict them as being little more than brain dead man children, or so implausibly naive and child-like that they're depicted as not caring about or even aware of any cruelty being done to them, often denied agency or autonomy, or just used as props to inspire the neurotypical audience. That awful movie that Sia made called Music is one of the more recent examples of this, and considering the track record of poor portrayals of autistic people, it's not gonna be the last. I know this is a weird thing to harp on, but even showing Nariya doing something as simple as being offended by the doctor's infantilization of her, even if she doesn't outright say so due to shyness, shows that you as an author are treating her with respect. Anyway, another good chapter like always. Can't wait to see how Prema handles the situation with the ghost!
 
Now that Prema has the information she needs about what the ghosts actually are, Priestess Satomi does have a point about them needing to completely alter their preparations.
No, you have it backwards. Prema is the one who thinks that they need to change things, Priestess Satomi instead goes "nah it'll not gonna change much, also I probably already know what'll happen"

I also love the references to other ghost incidents, like the Lavender Town Marowak, and anime Acerola owning a ghost Mimikyu. Those are nice little lore touches that actually add some credibility to the incident Prima and Satomi are dealing with.
I had to include those details, especially after finding out about the latter during research, though given timelines it might not be her yet. Don't overlook the other one either, the public doesn't know that yes, the ghosts in the Old Chateau are real. But they're keeping that to themselves, likely so the peaceful ghosts don't get disturbed. It's another little touch and worldbuilding.

The little scene with Nariya at the end was nice, too. Then again, more Nariya is always a plus for me.
Like I mentioned. Did I mention? Well, I'm mentioning. I wasn't going to just let her get hurt for drama. I'm covering her side of what happened too.

I also like how you had her be offended at the doctor's paper about concussions.
...
I know this is a weird thing to harp on, but even showing Nariya doing something as simple as being offended by the doctor's infantilization of her, even if she doesn't outright say so due to shyness, shows that you as an author are treating her with respect.
I mean this takes influence from me. I hate it when people do that. Some of the little details about Nariya are from me. For example, the rice thing. I can't really stand white bread, it has to be something fancy for me to prefer it over whole wheat. Or how I don't mind loud noises as much as some, so she doesn't either (as long as she knows it's coming). Of course not entirely inspired by me. Take influence from various sources.

Can't wait to see how Prema handles the situation with the ghost!
You would've found out next chapter, but I expanded things slightly. So the chapter after next, though there will be some Nori in between, so it's really more like three chapters from now.
 
Sins of a Memory (recollection IX)
Recollection IX: Sins of a Memory

The meals at the Kannagi Shrine were wonderfully varied. The expansion into Veilstone did not change this. They grew most of their own food on or within the premises. Fruit, vegetables, berries, wheat, rice, and so on. The chefs occasionally served eggs from common chickens. Of course, meat was an important part of a healthy diet as well. They got theirs from the store or donations, and although it was not frowned upon in their faith, they made it a point to avoid consuming meat which was Pokemon-sourced whenever possible. Beverages were tea, water, berry juices, milk, and occasionally (though Prema could not yet partake), sake.

They served food to the public during festivals. Otherwise, it was for anyone with a title in the shrine as well as invited visitors, typically regulars and full-time members. Any leftover portions were given to wild Pokemon or charity (they donated produce in exchange for the meat) as appropriate.

Today, they had a low-key meal, which was typical in the wake of festivals. It consisted of a mixed berry medley (as the chef had dubbed it), rice balls wrapped in lettuce, and yakitori.

Prema had arrived with Priestess Satomi after the training and had taken a seat across from her father. There was not much more to the altered preparations; they talked about it over the meal. She and her Pokemon had a few sparring matches with members of the shrine, including with Monk Naito, who himself owned a Crobat. They also went over various techniques for handling spirits, both human and Pokemon.

She was nearly finished when the elderly woman glanced at her curiously. “Are you sure you don’t want more?” she asked.

Prema had light portions along with a glass of spring water. “Yes,” the young heir confirmed, gently wiping her lips with a napkin. “I want to get back to preparations as soon as possible.”

“It's not good to overwork, y’know,” Satomi remarked. “Or undereat. Two of your Pokemon aren’t even done yet.”

Shu and Taiyoko were still enjoying their meals; Pokemon usually ate at the same time as people. They were served as appropriate for their tastes and species. In their case, they received leafy greens, processed dirt (for Taiyoko), and nectar. But Yahata had finished his seeds and meat even earlier. He moved silently to her side in response and put a wing on his hip.

Abruptly, Priestess Satomi burst into laughter, though was cognizant enough to muffle it with her palm. Yahata lowered his gaze and seemed to squint at her, in the process looking like most of his species except less jovial. Anyone who knew them found his face unusual, and in one instance, unsettling, for it appeared like a perpetual glare. A normal Dartrix could see as well as a Makuhita or a Skitty, but Yahata had mentioned alertness and dignity as reasons for keeping his eyes wide open.

“Is something the matter, Priestess Satomi?” Prema asked, more for the sake of her Pokemon than her own curiosity.

“Oh, nothing bad.” She brushed it off with a wave of her hand. “It’s just that how serious he is reminds me so much of an old Pokemon of mine.”

The elderly woman peered at a Blastoise over where the Pokemon were eating. Like animal turtles, they were known for their longevity. Still, her age was obvious. Her shell was a weathered beige with some stray cracks and rings in the scutes. The tortoise’s skin, however, remained as vividly blue as the day she evolved. Otohime was one of two Pokemon Priestess Satomi still had. The rest had either passed on or were passed down.

Prema hummed. It was an unpleasant topic, even if it was a fact of life. Humans could outlive their beloved Pokemon. Pokemon could see their allies – or even their trainer – leave the world ahead of them. The modern Poke Ball can prolong lifespans by lowering metabolism while within, but not all Pokemon like to be in them.

“I miss them every day. I know she does too. In a way, you kind of have to envy that trainer,” the elderly priestess remarked, shaking her head. “He and his partners got to go to the other side together.”

Prema shook her head. “I would not wish that on anyone.” It was far too grim a fate.

Priestess Satomi leaned back. “Then again, you're also right,” she concurred after several seconds.

The green-haired girl looked around, noticing that they were getting more than a couple of uncomfortable glances. It was taboo to talk about death openly in the country’s culture, and were it not they or others of equivalent respect doing so, they might not have gotten away with it. Their views on the afterlife were not as well-defined as in other faiths, with more of an emphasis on living this life. There was even a saying: born Kodo, die Gautama.

It is not to say they placed no focus upon it. Even among the Iseuan religions, it was known and acknowledged that spirits could remain on the physical plane after leaving their bodies. Therefore, the Kannagis and others honored their dead so that they might find peace. In turn, the spirits offered their protection. The nature of them varied. Those who passed suddenly or unfulfilled could return as onryō, vengeful spirits. Konrad Guhl and his Pokemon qualified.

A wing tapped her on her knee. Yahata was glancing up at her, his beak half-open and a wing curled up like a fist ready to strike. It was the body language he always gave when he was preparing for a battle. He was communicating that he was ready to get back into it.

“I believe we are finished with battling for the day,” she said to him. “I will be studying the findings Nori made in further detail.”

He relaxed into a neutral position, understanding the situation. There was a time when he would have slouched in disappointment, but he had moved beyond that phase.

“Good idea,” Priestess Satomi approved. “Just make sure you get a plan going while you're at it.”

“Of course.” There was a saying about knowledge without wisdom, after all. She rose and turned to the chef. “Thank you for the meal, but I must be on my way.”

“Of course, Lady Kannagi.” He bowed at a 45-degree angle. “There's plenty left if you get hungry later on.”

“Thank you,” she repeated, before turning to her Pokemon. “I will be in the common area. Come find me when you are finished.” Shu chirped merrily in acknowledgment, and Taiyoko flicked her antennae.

As she was moving to leave with Yahata following in behind, her father called out to her.

“Prema,” he spoke neutrally, looking up from his plate.

She stopped and turned to him, giving a light bow. “Father.”

He said but two further words. “Wednesday evening.”

“Understood.”

That was somewhat sooner than she had been expecting. But even if it was tomorrow, she would be ready before the time came.

##########​

With a scant two days before she would return to confront Konrad Guhl, Prema felt it necessary to prepare as much as possible. In addition to training herself and her partners, she would need to prepare academically. It would be folly to not do so with the resources at her disposal.

She sat in the foyer of the shrine to do so. It was partly a matter of convenience for her Pokemon to be able to find her after dinner, but also for a change of scenery from her room. If it were not so late, she would have gone outside for fresh air. The chill of night notwithstanding, it would be difficult to read Nori's research in the dark. Everyone who passed by wished her luck, silently or otherwise.

The pattern continued until a ruby-haired woman stopped mid-stride. After a moment of being frozen to the floor, she hustled to her side. “Lady Kannagi,” Maiden Kaede stammered with a measure of alarm. She put her hands together and bowed fervently and unsteadily. “I want to say sorry again for not doing enough to stop that guy.”

“Maiden Kaede.” Prema could not help but look up from the pages. “This was not your fault.”

“Nah,” she brushed off. “As the senior member, it was my job to step up. Couldn't do that.”

Prema hummed. Maiden Kaede had always been an optimist. Not only had she maintained her smile in the aftermath of the disastrous first outing, but she had also consoled and encouraged everyone else. To see her acting like this was disconcerting. Had the situation changed? Or was the pressure of awaiting judgment catching up with her? Everyone had their limits, after all.

“In any event, it is good that you are here,” the future head priestess changed the subject. Perhaps there was a means to help improve her mood. “I wanted to get your opinion on this.”

She stood vacantly, eventually putting a hand to her mouth. It took her a moment to recover. “That's the thing the Demon Tamer found?” she slowly asked, leaning over top. There was still some uncertainty in her irises.

“Yes,” Prema confirmed. “I have been meaning to hear your personal thoughts on it.”

The word had spread, primarily confined to the upper echelons of the shrine. Some had dismissed it, but when asked, they could come up with no better alternative. Monk Naito had outright admitted that he hoped it would turn out to be false. Of course, three others had the advantage of having met the spirits with her, but only one was in the condition to give an opinion.

“A'right,” she breathed, a rural accent slipping through as she sat across at the other side of the chabudai. The woman glanced at the ceiling for a moment.

“Let's go over what happened. We walked in. You did your meditation, waited a bit to see if they'd approach and let our presence sink in, then called to them. They didn't want to answer. Jack steps in, wants to feed his Pokemon. That's when they attacked.” She paused there. “I don't get it.”

“What do you mean?”

Kaede didn't answer initially. She thought some more before she spoke again. “Maybe they wanted to strike when our guard was down. But they left when Fohoshi and I were ready to go.” The woman crossed her arms. “Cowards. Maybe smart. Still don't know what their deal is.”

That was part of what was so puzzling. What happened on Friday did not line up with the other attacks. Guhl and his Pokemon typically assailed everyone present, either into either submission or unconsciousness. They had left them with only words, albeit mocking ones.

“I am looking for a pattern behind the other attacks,” she explained. That would go a long way toward discovering their motives. Unfortunately, Guhl had refused to speak about it. It was not surprising; spirits were capable of belligerence. The only thing that was clear was that he had injured far too many trainers and their Pokemon. He could not be allowed to continue.

“Can't we just get accounts from people who got attacked?”

Prema shook her head. “Unfortunately, we do not have time to seek out the victims. Some may not be willing to speak with us. Others may not be able to remember much information, given the time that has passed and trauma.”

“What about the construction crew?”

“Perhaps.” She supposed it would be easier to get in contact with them. Getting statements from them was an avenue they could pursue, though it had already happened to a certain extent. “One who was in the condition to give an interview said that the spirits began with pranks, namely pushing over stacked boxes.”

“Wait, falling boxes!” Kaede exclaimed. “That's the connection!”

“I already thought of that,” Prema said, letting the air out of the trained kunoichi. “It is inconclusive.”

“But that's how he went!” she insisted. “Maybe he was trying to be ironic!”

Prema smiled. “Yes, I believe it proves that he and his Pokemon are the spirits of the warehouse.” It felt like too much of a coincidence to dismiss. “But it only has a connection with his identity. It did not happen in other incidents, so it has little to do with his motivations.”

Maiden Kaede sighed and sat down again. “So what do we have? You come up with anything?”

“Yes, there is one consistency. Pokemon were attacked in every incident.” It felt like nothing. After all, it was not unusual for people to bring out their Pokemon. But Prema could not rule out a connection due to their emergence coinciding with Acolyte Jack feeding his Pokemon. “And while he attacked their trainers, he left none of them with lasting physical injuries.” Which eliminated some possibilities about his intentions.

She snorted. “Maybe he wanted a battle.”

“I am uncertain if that is the case.” It was not impossible. Priestess Satomi had said they would end up battling, but if it was a battle he wanted, why did he leave? Their experience with him was so different from anyone else that it felt a clue in itself, but what it meant eluded Prema.

“Was being sarcastic anyway. We were gonna give'em one, but they ran away.” The woman threw up her arms. “Could just ask the guy. Again, I mean.”

“I might have to try.” Perhaps knowing his story would make him more receptive to conversation. Though the conclusion Prema had drawn from her elderly mentor's words was that, whatever his motivations, it was going to come down to force.

The woman rose. “Should get heading back home now. Glad I could help, even if it wasn't much.”

“Before you do so, is there anything else you can think of?” Prema was at an impasse in her thoughts.

Maiden Kaede wrapped a finger in the curls of her hair. “One thing, actually.”

“What is it?”

“The Demon Tamer ran in to help those workers, right?” she said. “Knowing him if he didn't have his Pachirisu out with him, he would've brought out the Demon. He had Pokemon and he was in there. So why didn't they go after him?”

Yes, that was a good point. Prema had not even thought of asking Nori if he felt any unusual presence. But it was a fact that the spirits did not attack him or the others who had helped to investigate. Come to think of it, Guhl had not attacked anyone in a similar situation, according to the reports. It was as though he wanted his victims to be found and helped.

“Thank you, Maiden Kaede.” Prema nodded her appreciation. “That is something I will need to think about.”

“Really?” the woman puffed and took a step back. A faint hint of her usual swagger returned. “Well, you're welcome. Catch ya later.”

“Until next we meet.”

Maiden Kaede set off, a spring in her step. Prema could not help but find it amusing. It was for reasons as these that she did not anticipate Father extensively punishing her. She was too loyal and reliable to not be granted the title of Priestess one day. If anyone, Acolyte Jack would receive the brunt of the blame. It would be a formality, if not a public scapegoating. He was already bearing the shame by isolating himself. If he was fortunate, Father would see his role in unwittingly drawing out the spirits as she did.

With a new thought to consider, Prema decided to retire to her room for the night. In a way, the point Maiden Kaede had brought up only raised further questions. Yet the picture was becoming clearer. The answers would come to her eventually, be it through revelation or from the source. It was not worth stressing overmuch.

##########​

Encaged by cruel tragedy.
The whispers of emptiness cry out.
A promise left broken like a body.
Time never waits.
Strength waxes and wanes.
Memories fade and turn to dust.
What cruel twists, what cruelties inflicted!
Let this be his memory.
But the path is never ending.
And so he sits, waiting for the next chapter.
A sensation lies within, ready to burst forth like a sneeze.
The proof of his memory.
What new cruelties will be wrought?
Will the promise be fulfilled yet?
Time never waits, but it tells.

###########
=========
###########

The whole question of why Nori wasn't attacked was an interesting thought to think about I didn't go over in my replies here. Aside, this title better fit the next chapter, but expansion led to it being delayed. But the name was too good not to use.
 
I'm betting that since Guhl's death had gone unreported by his family's request, that his ghost wants his victims to be found because he didn't want them to wind up as little more than statistics like he wound up being. He probably wants the victims to be helped, since nobody really bothered to help him when he was alive. Something like that would give a bit more depth to Guhl as both a character and a person. A lot of this is just building on what was already revealed previously, and I'm curious to see how the eventual confrontation with him will play out. There is one thing that confuses me. At one point, Satomi says "In a way, you have to envy that trainer." Which trainer is she referring to? Some passerby? There wasn't any other trainer mentioned in the paragraphs that came before or after that sentence, so I'm having a hard time figuring out who she's referring to. But other than that, this was a good chapter like always.
 
I'm betting that since Guhl's death had gone unreported by his family's request, that his ghost wants his victims to be found because he didn't want them to wind up as little more than statistics like he wound up being. He probably wants the victims to be helped, since nobody really bothered to help him when he was alive. Something like that would give a bit more depth to Guhl as both a character and a person. A lot of this is just building on what was already revealed previously, and I'm curious to see how the eventual confrontation with him will play out.
Very interesting theory there. I will neither confirm nor deny. :) I will say though, the sort of poem at the end is from his perspective, but it was intended to be vague.

There is one thing that confuses me. At one point, Satomi says "In a way, you have to envy that trainer." Which trainer is she referring to? Some passerby? There wasn't any other trainer mentioned in the paragraphs that came before or after that sentence, so I'm having a hard time figuring out who she's referring to.
She was talking about Guhl. "He and his Pokemon got to go to the other side together".
 
Philopolemic (adjuration I)
Adjuration I: Philopolemic

Prema did everything possible to get ready for her return to the warehouse on Wednesday evening. She spent almost every waking hour of her life on it; she even dreamt about it the night prior. After dinner and final preparations, she left the shrine in lockstep with Priestess Satomi. As they did so, a number of individuals gave her well-wishes.

“Get'em for me,” Maiden Kaede requested as they stepped outside. Beside her, Monk Naito gave a silent nod.

“You can do this, Lady Kannagi!” Ken waved wildly to her while sitting on the grass. His parents did the same, albeit in a more restrained fashion.

“Do us proud,” a visitor to the shrine encouraged her.

She nodded to them all. While Nariya was not present, and perhaps never would be again, Prema was certain she was also praying for their success. Everyone was.

To her surprise, her father was standing silently just beyond the torii. He approached as they passed beneath.

“Prema,” was all he said.

“Father.” She bowed.

He leaned forward and hugged her. “Good luck.”

She returned it. “Thank you, father.”

When he let her go, Prema went forward with conviction. She thought back on all the people who had helped her along the way. Father, Priestess Satomi, Nariya, Taiyoko, Maiden Kaede, Acolyte Jack, and Nori. All of their followers, all the people silently cheering for her. Shu and Yahata. Even Akari Schrader in a twisted way. Every one of their efforts helped her along the way. All that remained was to see it through. This would be her greatest test as heir to the Kannagi Shrine to date. She would not let them down. Tonight, the spirit of the warehouse would pass on in peace.

---​

As the princess (she still could not get over that one!) set off down the steps, Satomi had a very brief exchange with the shrine's Master before making to follow.

“As we planned, then?”

“If necessary.”

“Will do.”

##########​

The two rode in silence to the old warehouse. Neither needed to say a word. Upon arriving, they put their helmets away, Priestess Satomi locked up her motorcycle, and they went to the front door. The future head priestess of the Kannagi Shrine retrieved the key. As she placed it in, she shut her eyes. This was it. The time had come. She turned the lock and opened the door.

As they entered, Priestess Satomi closed the door and locked it. The moment Prema stepped into the main room of the old warehouse, a sense of dread came over her. Perhaps part of it was nerves, but at least part of it was the feeling of being watched. There was no doubt. The spirit had been waiting for them.

She gave a silent glance to Priestess Satomi. Together, they combed the room to ascertain it was only them present. People always found ways to sneak into the building. Yet the warehouse was exactly as they left it several nights ago. Every crate was in place, every window had been shuttered, and even the unconsumed feed Acolyte Jack had left on the floor was still there. They met at the back, near the entrance to a small office.

“He's here,” rasped the elderly priestess.

Prema nodded. “I can sense him as well.” He did not stick out as being a human soul, but that could be masked. The truth would become clear shortly.

“I'll wait in here,” said Priestess Satomi, opening the door to the office. “You initiate contact.”

“I understand.” Spirits were occasionally more inclined to speak with one person than multiple. She could not rule out that was a factor in her previous attempt. Though Priestess Satomi was present to protect her if necessary, her being in another room would be sufficient.

Prema moved to the center of the room, her footsteps echoing through the hollow building. The renovation workers had set up a table and some chairs. Tools, including a broom, were left abandoned on the table. It was where Nariya, Priestess Kaede, and Acolyte Jack had sat on their first outing.

She closed her eyes and breathed in, holding her breath as long as she could. There was no need for so much meditation and preparation this time. Not when she knew what she was up against. Not when the spirit was waiting. Prema simply had to allow her mind to drift into the subconscious world. It was as much for utility as it was to calm her nerves. She was about to speak with the one who had harmed her friends. She could not allow her personal feelings to cloud her judgment.

There was still that sensation of being watched. No, rather, he was waiting to see what she would do. In her focused state and knowing the probable nature of what was before her, it was easy to find where it came from. She opened her eyes and looked the spirit straight in his.

“Konrad Guhl. I call to you.”

“Oho…” came the immediate response, spoken aloud.

The flame of his soul briefly flickered orange as the shadows high in the ceiling began to shift. A desaturated figure floated down from above. Human, yet not, with short and spiky blond hair and brown eyes. He was attired in a facsimile of a white and red Mitsutri hakama, no doubt to mock her. Little black embers danced about his dark form, doing nothing to illuminate their surroundings. The shrine had kept Nori's findings quiet, but there were those in the know, like Acolyte Jirou, who did not believe it. Even Prema was prepared for the possibility that his theory was incorrect. Yet hovering before her was that man who had passed away in an accident ten months ago.

“It has been far too long since I heard my name,” the man spoke with clarity. The shapes above him moved protectively. Prema immediately identified them as Pokemon. He dismissively asked, “Come to cast me out against my will, have you?”

She shook her head, denying the accusation. “Not against your will, no. I only wished to speak with you, that you may go in peace.”

“Go in peace,” he repeated slowly, derision dripping from each word. “That's a lofty goal if I ever heard one.”

The flames surrounding his body intensified. A manifested grudge. There was no doubt. This man had become an onryō along with his Pokemon. In plain terms, a vengeful spirit capable of bringing harm to the living. Prema could only pray that she could help him.

“I do not see how it could be lofty,” Prema replied. She had soothed the souls of similarly pessimistic spirits in the past.

“You know my name,” Guhl spat venom, eyes narrowing until they were razor-sharp. “What else can you tell me about myself?”

She obliged him. She told Guhl that he had been a well-known local trainer and about his untimely passing. Prema did not doubt there was more to his life, but Nori's notes had been brief. She resolved to thank him again once she could. As she summed up the lawsuit that followed and was beginning to recount his first recorded attack in January, Guhl interrupted.

“Why do you think they settled?” he asked, tongue flicking out from between his teeth.

Prema folded her hands and bowed. “I apologize. I am not that well versed in tort.” Criminal and Pokemon law, yes. A bit of property law as well. But not personal law. She could at least speculate, particularly given the glower she was receiving. “If I must guess, I would say it was their means of ensuring some punishment for the company, rather than fight further in court and chance losing.”

Guhl leaned back in midair. “Oh, you naive little girl,” he chortled. “It was never about justice to them. All my family cared about was getting money out of my death. The ones who allowed it to happen paid them off and got away with killing me. And they all forgot about me as soon as it was over.”

Prema could only gasp softly. Nori had not uncovered this part. The dead can sense when the living think of them. She did not need to ask for clarification, he truly meant everyone had moved on, from his family to his friends.

“If my soul was not bound to this warehouse…well.” There was a flash of white in his eyes. “I'm sure I don't have to explain what I would do.”

It was fortunate that he was. But if the building was demolished and the property redeveloped, that would set him free upon Veilstone. She could not let that happen.

She sighed heavily. “Fate can be cruel. We–”

“Save it,” Guhl cut in. “Your sympathy means nothing. It will not change what happened.”

An unfortunate truth. Even if she could travel through time, the Mighty Dialga would not allow it for such a trifling purpose. Of her realistic options, Prema preferred not to use force. That meant it came down to setting his soul at ease or otherwise convincing him to depart of his own volition. But how could she do so? She went over the facts again in her head. Guhl passed in November 2014. His first attack took place in January…and that was when she made a realization.

She brought it up at once. “You became an onryō before the trial concluded.” That was in February, and the first recorded attack was a month prior. Moreover, he must have been one even before that.

“Astute,” he said. His smirk grew thinner. “Why do you think that is?”

Prema shook her head, somewhat more forcefully than she intended. She could not allow him to completely dictate the course of the conversation.

“There is one thing I would like to know before I answer that. Why have you been attacking innocent people?”

Guhl shrugged. “Why else?” he asked. Before she could speculate, he answered himself. The resentment-fueled flares surrounding his body sparked erratically. “To pick a fight! I was hoping at least one of the fools I attacked would put up resistance. Or failing that, I wanted the city to send a powerful trainer in so that I and my partners may face them!”

He dropped his posturing at once. “Yet instead, they sent,” and with these flat words he paused. He scrutinized her and ruefully spoke his next word. “You.”

Prema took a step back during his tirade. She opened her mouth, but found herself at a loss for words. Her hunch had been way off. Her initial impression was that he was attempting to get the building demolished so that he could exact revenge upon those who he felt had wronged him. But he wanted something as base as a battle?

She glanced over at Priestess Satomi, who was smirking in a way that said she had figured it out long before. Was that why she had come to the conclusion that they would battle? Prema decided to move forward with another question. “If a powerful trainer had appeared and faced you, what would you have done after?”

“I, in turn, ask you, what do you believe a powerful trainer would have done if they faced my Pokemon?”

That was simple enough. “Attempt to make a capture.”

Guhl crossed his arms and folded his ankles. “I suppose. Too many fools of trainers think catching a strong Pokemon is enough to make them stronger. Or those that are strong only want more or varied power.” He snorted. “I took a quality over quantity approach.”

“It is unusual for a professional trainer, but not an incorrect approach.” Their own Priest Warutsu, for example, trained about a dozen Pokemon due to his former role as the Gym Leader of Celestic Town. But there was something to be said about sticking with only six, or less in Guhl's instance.

“And it paid off.” Guhl smiled, and with that, Prema thought they were getting somewhere. “It was why few could challenge us. We four share a powerful bond that persists into this life.”

“Because of that, Poke Balls would fail.”

“Just one came by to attempt as such. He could not even get that far.”

Perhaps it was for the best. There could have been many reasons why more did not try. For one, the rumors only spoke of ghosts. The city blamed the attacks on wild Pokemon whenever they received media attention. Most of those who took them at their word likely had the sense to stay away rather than go hunting for a new teammate. That was why the Demon Nidorina eluded capture for so long.

“We had a dream,” said Guhl, as three figures above him began to move. He patted a humanoid one. “To travel the world and battle the finest trainers together to become stronger. To find three more worthy partners from across many regions. And eventually, for all of us to become recognized as Champions. I know it's a cliché, but it was what I always wanted.” He floated over to an X-shaped one and gave them a sad smile. “If you've done your research, you should know the only thing that stood between us and our dream was the money to travel. I was saving up, doing odd jobs to pay for a flight to Europe. I wanted to visit the regions there, starting with where my family came from. I was close, so very close. But that dream was stolen from us because of this last job. We may never be able to truly rest in peace because of it. We never even had the chance to have a real battle against an equal in our lifetime.” He put his arm around the last remaining one. “Call what we've been attempting to do a sort of compromise.”

Prema listened intently to Guhl's plight. He had cooperated and told her his tale, that of a trainer aspiring for greatness whose life was cut short. One who still sought to fulfill it after his passing. Guhl did not speak for twenty seconds, awaiting her answer as she processed this. She soon reached her conclusion and spoke it aloud.

“I understand and sympathize with your plight, Mr. Guhl.” She paused, carefully considering her choice of words. “However, your means of fulfilling it in your current state was somewhat imprudent.”

“Do you intend to banish me after all, then?” His Pokemon came into full view. Prema had sensed what they were, and now saw they were indeed Dusclops, Crobat, and Sinnohian Zoroark. They hovered before him, menacing and protective. “Try it.”

Prema was not fazed by the swift and hostile response. She had prepared for it. Guhl showed just a little concern at her unflinching demeanor. Before she could address him further and clarify her position, he cut in.

“No, forget I said that. I have a better idea. A far better idea.” He leaned forward, floating ever closer until he was but five meters away. His Crobat followed right behind him as a vanguard. “I recall your family is adept at raising Pokemon, yes? You know who I am and know what I want. So I challenge you to a battle.”

Prema blinked. She had not expected him to directly challenge her, nor did she feel it was what should be done. “Mr. Guhl, surely there is another way we could settle this. If there is anything else I might do to appease you, such as–”

“Do you even understand why I wanted to have a strong trainer face us?” he yelled. The voice echoed not only in the room, but in her mind. “I wanted it so we could experience the thrill of a blood-pumping battle we could not have in life! We wanted to experience that at least one time! No one truly pushed us to our limits! Even here, no one we attacked has been worth the energy!”

To emphasize his demand, he flew back up behind his Pokemon, who all got into battle poses. “So face me, Kannagi! Face all of us! Show me the power of a clan dating back nearly fifteen hundred years!”

“I…” If his words and Nori's reports had merit, Guhl was an expert trainer. Undoubtedly beyond the abilities of her and her friends to handle. The thought of returning with someone more experienced flashed through Prema's mind. But no. Her father, the shrine, everyone was expecting her success tonight.

Prema glanced over at the office. Priestess Satomi was sitting in a swivel chair, watching intently through the glass window. She had predicted this confrontation. Prema supposed Satomi was capable of challenging Guhl in her stead. Yet not only could she not ask her mentor figure to endanger herself, but she had only two Pokemon to her name in her old age. Not enough for a proper battle.

Satomi waved her wrist and mouthed, “This is your fight.”

Prema nodded and turned around. “I accept,” she conceded. If doing so was what it took to soothe his soul, it could not be helped. “I cannot promise you that I will be the challenge you seek. Yet I will do my best not to disappoint you.”

“Just the answer I was hoping for…” he cooed, tracing a finger in the air. “Very good, Kannagi! Just don't hold back like that kunoichi. Give us everything you have without hesitation!”

Prema took a deep breath to steel herself. She had participated in Pokemon battles in the past, but never anything like this. She had not the experience of a typical trainer, and her formal training paled in comparison to the likes of Nori. But they had advantages which made the battle winnable. Her Pokemon were living and in active training. Guhl's could only practice on their victims, and their incorporeal nature made them less resilient. It was going to come down to technique.

“Want the old crone to serve as our judge?” Guhl inquired, a crooked smirk coming upon his mouth as he leered over at the office.

Prema shook her head. “We should not need one.” Their only purpose was to make things official, and she was sure Guhl would know his Pokemon's limits. If not, she would.

“Then choose your first Pokemon. Zwirrklop will be mine. Iksbat, Fuchspuk, you two stay back.” He gave a curt nod to the Dusclops, as the other two fell back above. “Our first real battle since the accident, friend. It's unfortunate we lost our Eviolite, but I suppose there's no point in dwelling on it.”

That was another potential advantage. Prema knew which Pokemon Guhl would be using. It was not impossible that he knew hers, but it was unlikely. It would be best if she saved Taiyoko for last. Yahata was the best choice against a pure Ghost-type, but the problem lay in the Crobat. That was a poor match for most of her Pokemon, especially Shu.

Prema retrieved the capsule of the Fairy-type. If facing Iksbat was out of the question, and if Fuchspuk was considered his strongest, did it make sense for Shu to be her lead? After a second to affirm her logic as sound, she pressed the Poke Ball against her chest. “I am counting on you,” she whispered before sending him out.

Her words must have reached Shu, as he emerged ready. He shuddered a little as he stared up at the soul of a Pokemon, yet flew forward to emphasize his resolve. Prema was concerned fear would overtake him, and it was a relief to see that would not be the case.

“My, my, quite impressive…” Guhl complimented. “Few people I fought in my time had Pokemon from outside Sinnoh, let alone the country.”

Perhaps yet another advantage, then: unfamiliarity. They needed all they could get. Prema would be the first to admit her Pokemon friends were unusual in how none were common sights in Japan. It also confirmed he was unaware of her team.

“Shall we begin, then?” Guhl cracked his knuckles, his Pokemon miming the gesture.

Prema held out a palm. “After you, Mr. Guhl.”

He grinned. “Shadow Punch, Zwirrklop.”

It came from above, the dark room allowing the punch to be swung from almost any conceivable location. Zwirrklop caught Shu by surprise, knocking him to the floor where he was nearly immobile.

First things first. “Shu, get upright.” Prema kept watch on their opponent, only for her to vanish into the shadows as the Spritzee righted himself.

Guhl chuckled. That was not a Phantom Force. Prema recalled the species of Dusclops could not learn that move. So they were concealed somewhere. It was a matter of finding their foe, and her friend could do just that.

“Shu, lure her out with Sweet Scent.”

Obligingly, he scattered his powerful scent up into the air. From behind a stack of crates, Zwirrklop began to drone listlessly toward Shu.

“Not bad,” Guhl remarked. “But not good enough. Erupting Shadow Punch!”

Erupting? “It is coming from below,” she warned.

Shu tried to dodge, but he was not fast enough. Zwirrklop's fist slammed into Shu once more, this time wreathed in fire. She was correct about where it would come from, yet she had not expected it to come with a Fire Punch. The combination of two different moves was forceful enough to knock her companion several meters up.

“Now Bind it.”

Zwirrklop reached into the shadows once more as she lunged forward. Her large palms caught Shu from behind as he came down. Shu tried to wriggle free in one powerful motion, but the ghost kept a tight grip.

“This is it?” Guhl cruelly mocked. “This is all you are capable of, Kannagi? I expected more.”

Prema blanched. The battle was already not in their favor. Shu squirmed in vain, firmly in the clutches of a deceased Dusclops commanded by an equally deceased trainer. Their opponents had been savvy enough to ensure he was facing outward, so Shu could not escape by simply firing an attack at Zwirrklop.

“What's the matter? Have you had enough already?” Guhl rasped, a guttural sound rising from his throat.

“I apologize.” It was not too difficult to determine what to do, since it was one of their only options. “Fairy Wind, Shu.”

Shu perked up and realized what to do. Once more, he began to spread his scent. Only this time, he strengthened it with his fae energy and spread it around his body. Zwirrklop trembled, unable to avoid whilst maintaining the Bind. The little Spritzee chirped in satisfaction.

“Keep holding on,” Guhl commanded for clarity. The phantom trainer crossed his arms. “Zwirrklop, Return.”

The Dusclops perked up upon hearing the order. Giddily, she began to cavort with Shu still in her hands. She bobbed as she stretched and contracted in what almost seemed like a cheer. With a pirouette, Zwirrklop let go and brought both fists down on the little fairy.

“Shu!” Prema gasped as he crashed helplessly onto the floor.

That was a full-force blow. Prema could tell before he spoke of it that the bond between this trainer and his Pokemon was as strong in death as it was in life. Still, she had not anticipated him to use the move that weaponizes that connection.

“Do you see now what you face, Kannagi?” Guhl boomed. He did not command a follow-up, allowing Shu a moment to get up and into the air again.

She maintained her cool. “Yes, the bond between you and your Pokemon is commendable.”

His lip curled. “Let's finish this. Shadow Sneak.”

“Shu, hold her off with Psychic.” There was no time for hesitation. She had to stop whatever he was planning.

Guhl went from rolling his eyes, to widening them, and finally narrowing them. It was all in sync with his Pokemon striking out with incredible speed, Shu hearing and executing her command quickly enough, and Zwirrklop, though temporarily halted, managing to gradually push through.

Something had to give. Shu was already struggling to maintain the Psychic, yet Zwirrklop was barely tiring. If it persisted–

“Disable it.”

The sudden blue gleam from Zwirrklop's eye immediately stopped the psychokinesis. “Shu, please get ready…” Prema warned.

Guhl only chuckled. “Power through whatever she's doing. Soften that bird up with a Rock Smash!”

“Dodge underneath,” she said with a simple smile. She was confident that Shu was capable of such.

The phantom trainer returned her expression with condescension. He pulled back slightly when Shu performed the evasive maneuver. Even Shu himself was a little surprised as he just passed under Zwirrklop's right arm. The Dusclops lost control and struck a crate instead. It was knocked to the left, teetering precariously on the edge.

Prema winced, as did the Pokemon, as the crate fell and split its contents – pots and plates – onto the floor in a cacophonous symphony of clattering and shattering. Zwirrklop stared dumbstruck, giving them time to strike.

“Shu, Draining Kiss.”

“Look out!” screeched the phantom trainer.

Zwirrklop turned and raised a fist, just in time to get it on the face.

“Move into Sweet Kiss.”

If Guhl and his Pokemon could combine similar moves into one, so could they. As the draining effect concluded, Shu nestled his beak into Zwirrklop more tenderly. Her eye dilated. Prema pondered if the confusion would take hold, given different Pokemon receive psychological moves differently, but it did.

Guhl clapped slowly. “Clever. But that will not turn this around,” he stated before looking up at his Pokemon. “Iksbat, get away from this.” He gestured upward.

“Shu, find cover!” Prema warned. She was uncertain he could withstand whatever was coming. It had to be a massive Ghost-type attack. She edged aside, preparing to sprint away at any moment.

“Try it,” Guhl snipped. He closed his eyes and screamed in attempt to reach through to his Pokemon. “Zwirrklop, NIGHT SHADE!”

The Dusclops flailed around, dazed and disoriented, yet managed to spread enveloping waves of opaque darkness all about. Prema threw out a palm in a show of determination and steeled her mind as they passed over her. Night Shade did little to humans and animals, causing only physical and possibly mental discomfort. But it can pierce through to a Pokemon's soul, cutting through all defenses to weaken them. She could not tell if Shu had escaped.

The darkness soon lifted, and Prema nodded in satisfaction at the sight. Shu had sheltered himself beneath the table! To make things better, Zwirrklop dropped right next to him, thrashing in delirium.

“Moonblast, Shu!”

The Spritzee shut his eyes and meditated briefly, allowing lunar particles to flow into his body. His body began to glow a pale white as he chanted softly. With a determined wail, Shu released a spherical burst of energy that was larger than his body.

Zwirrklop never saw it coming and was sent flying by the blast. A fortunate critical hit, perhaps? She landed where the fallen kitchenware sat, although her type, if not her condition, made the fall no worse than landing on a cushion.

Guhl just smirked, a mixture of approval and confidence. “Push through, you can do this!” he encouraged. “One more Return!”

If that landed, that would be it for Shu. Zwirrklop took a moment to steady herself and shake off the confusion. But when Prema noticed where the Dusclops had landed, she realized how they could win.

“Shu, Charge Beam!”

The little fairy focused and let loose. Zwirrklop narrowly escaped getting hit directly by the laser, but it made no difference. Instead, it hit a pot and conducted through the others. The Ghost-type Pokemon toppled and groaned in agony as the electricity shot through her legs.

“Enough! Stop.”

Guhl's voice cut through the air, almost seeming to shake the building with its intensity. Prema signaled to her Pokemon to stop, who began nursing his wounds while he could.

The phantom trainer looked down at his Pokemon, giving her a crisp nod and thumbs up. “You did well, Zwirrklop. But you need a rest.”

She shook off her trainer's command, getting up and into a battle-ready position. Prema addressed her in turn.

“One more strong hit, and you might not be able to stay on this plane of existence,” she warned, looking up at Guhl. Surely he had realized the same thing.

“She's right,” he verified as he leaned in. “So come back to my side.”

The Dusclops looked at Shu and then at her trainer. With a low moan, she floated up. Guhl gave her a quick hug before sending her to the relative safety of the rafters.

“Not bad,” Guhl complimented. He snapped a finger and pointed.

“Thank you.” That was one of her opponent's Pokemon defeated. She had the early advantage…and yet she sensed a rapidly approaching hostility. “Shu, look out!”

“Now!”

Iksbat swooped down. Shu caught it out of the corner of his eye, but barely had time to turn around before he found himself in the maw of the Crobat. Poison-laden fangs sank into his body. Iksbat thrashed about before spitting an unconscious Shu on the floor.

“But not good enough,” the onryō dismissed with a cruel laugh.
 
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Somehow, I'm not surprised Konrad's family was just trying to profit off his death and forgot about him afterward. It makes sense, considering his attitude towards Prema and why he even became an onryo in the first place. I will admit I didn't expect them to go into a full-on Pokemon battle, and for her part, Prema did pretty well for her first round. Curious to see what happens next. Also, every time I read the name Fuchspuk, I keep misreading it as F-word-spuk. I know this sounds weird, but that's just where my dumb brain went.
 
Somehow, I'm not surprised Konrad's family was just trying to profit off his death and forgot about him afterward. It makes sense, considering his attitude towards Prema and why he even became an onryo in the first place.
As Prema astutely pointed out, that wasn't the cause of his grudge. It was resentment over never being challenged in life and how it was cut short. His family, awful as they are, might have intensified it, but they weren't the initial cause. They might not even be a factor at all given some of the information about spirits, it could have simply been a lie. It's up to the reader's interpretation.

I will admit I didn't expect them to go into a full-on Pokemon battle, and for her part, Prema did pretty well for her first round.
Priestess Satomi predicted they would! The hints for this were there, too. His musings about wondering if the construction workers would be the ones hinted towards some sort of purpose. Then on Prema's first confrontation, he just stopped and said they were wasting this time. When preceded this? Maiden Kaede and Fohishi just threatening instead of attacking. As Guhl stated, they hesitated. And of course, there was the fact that only people with Pokemon were attacked and they emerged when Acolyte Jack sent out his. That was brought up and discussed before, but with the context about them being trainer-owned, it puts that in a new light.

Also, every time I read the name Fuchspuk, I keep misreading it as F-word-spuk. I know this sounds weird, but that's just where my dumb brain went.
To be fair, that's why I wanted to avoid it. But, like I mentioned in the notes for elsewhere, I asked an actual native German speaker for input. I was using a different dialect/obscure word but he said it sounded awful and "shitty." He instead suggested that, from "fuchs" (fox) and "spuk" (spook). It worked really well I felt, so I decided yeah, let's go with that. I'd trust a native speaker over myself.
 
Legerdemain (adjuration II)
Adjuration II: Legerdemain​

Her advantage had vanished as quickly as she could utter “あ.” Even if they had ample time to react, the outcome would have been the same due to the sheer agility of Iksbat. With that, the most difficult opponent was before her.

“I apologize, Shu,” she said, walking up and cradling him in her arms. Thankfully, he did not appear to need any treatment for poison. “You were fantastic.”

He nestled into her chest. Prema considered allowing him to watch what was left of the battle, ultimately deciding against it. There was no telling if Guhl would command something similar to that Night Shade that could further injure Shu. The priestess gave him a gentle pat on the head before recalling him.

“So,” he hissed as he lounged back in midair. “What's next?”

That was a question she would have to think about very carefully. Taiyoko could face this Crobat and emerge victorious, but Yahata against Zoroark was not an even match. No, she needed to use the owl Pokemon first.

“Yahata, I require your help,” she whispered as she cast the capsule down before her.

The owl let out a stoic hoot as he floated down and sized up his opponent. It being a Crobat only made him rub his wings together in anticipation. There was a sparkle in his eyes which was not from any sort of attack he was preparing.

“A Grass-type?” he noted, either out of recognition or from speculation based off his features. “I wonder…are you foolish, confident, or already out of options?”

Prema calmed herself so as not to show weakness. Dartrix against Crobat was indeed a mismatch. She wanted to say she was confident, but the truth really was she had no other option. But that did not mean she did not have a plan, however. It was possible, but it would be a challenge. It was comforting knowing her friend was always up for one.

“No matter, as long as you're capable,” Guhl purred, running the backs of his fingers along his chin. “Let's turn the tables from earlier. Iksbat, Confuse Ray!”

Prema nodded. “You too, Yahata.”

The bat Pokemon opened his mouth while Yahata covered his face. In sync, Iksbat spat out a sphere of eerie light, and Yahata did the same with his eyes after spreading his wings outward. The two attacks hurtled forth, drew together in the middle, and canceled each other out. It was not the most productive countermeasure, but it worked.

Guhl snorted. “Back into the shadows, Iksbat!” he said. The bat darted to the rafters, concealing himself in their darkness and no doubt readying himself for another ambush.

It would be folly to have Yahata attempt to follow, given he could not fly as effectively. Prema could sense the relative location of Iksbat. But there was a better option. Being a ghost does not mean being a Ghost-type. She knew just what to do.

“Yahata, Swift!”

He nodded and spread one wing. With the other, he pulled it back and shot shining quills towards the ceiling. Guhl shook his head initially, until they started impacting Iksbat with devastating precision. The bat fell halfway to the floor in surprise.

“What?” he flatly said, perhaps unaware that Normal-type moves could still hit his phantom Crobat.

“Yahata, follow through with Shadow Sneak.” It was not just his Pokemon able to take advantage of the dark room. He stretched out his shadow into the air. Normally, this would have been impossible, but the circumstances were right to allow it.

“Dodge!” Despite Iksbat's best efforts, the Dartrix still got a piece of him. The flames around Guhl started to spark while he laughed with glee. “Well done! Now, use Poison Fang, Iksbat!”

So he had decided to bring the battle up close. Evasion was improbable, not with the speed of a Crobat against a grounded bird, not that it would have been better if Yahata had taken flight. But they could strike back. “Steel Wing!”

Yahata stood prepared, ready to intercept Iksbat mid-flight. The Crobat dove too quickly. The owl screeched as he was bitten on the shoulder. He thrashed his stiffened wing out and managed to hit his attacker. Once, twice. It was not ideal, but any bit of damage would help.

“Now, back into the air!” Guhl motioned with flair.

Iksbat retracted his fangs and escaped before Yahata could strike him a third time. He nearly fell over from momentum and exhaustion.

“Are you all right, Yahata?” Prema asked, putting her hands together. She was praying there was no poison. He lifted a wing and cooed, yes.

As Iksbat circled overhead, Prema saw an opportunity. It would have no immediate effect, but it would give them an advantage later, if they could defeat Iksbat quickly enough.

“Light Screen.”

Yahata focused. His eyes gleamed and his wingtips glowed faintly. He traced a faint shell of light around himself. It faded, and yet, there was still a source of illumination in the room.

Iksbat was also glowing. Prema could not help but gasp in horror. “You're not half bad, Kannagi,” Guhl complimented with a toothless and bottomless grin. “But playtime's over!”

Prema could only stare down at the floor. Guhl had turned her use of a defensive move into an opportunity to prepare something of his own! She should have known better! She had messed up, there was nothing she could do now!

But her friend stood in a ready position, eyes narrowed and focused on Iksbat. He had a wing ready in front of his face. Prema understood his intent. “Yahata, Confuse Ray,” she managed to utter. It was their only option, on a literal wing and prayer.

Yahata let the eerie light flow once more, letting out a shriek as he did so. Prema wondered if the light of the Sky Attack would cancel it, but her fears were dispelled when Iksbat began to wobble as it reached his eyes.

“Pull through!” the phantom trainer yelled. “SKY ATTACK!”

All the air left Prema at once as the X-shaped bat burst into white-red light and swooped directly at Yahata, poised to strike with blazing wings. The owl glared and braced for impact. It did no good. It was a direct hit, catching him right in the throat and sending him halfway across the room into more crates.

“Yahata!” Prema yelled, running over as fast as her legs could carry her. She didn't care if Iksbat was flying in for a follow-up. She immediately knelt down and checked on her friend. His eyes were shut. No serious injuries, thank the gods.

“Yahata…” she repeated, pulling him into a hug. She patted him on the back, but it did not rouse him. The priestess gently laid him back against the crate, a tightness in her chest and a knot in her stomach. She took a step back and lowered her gaze. She always felt guilt whenever her Pokemon got badly hurt in a battle. “I apologize…” she whispered. But all she could do was allow him to rest in his Poke Ball.

She finally turned back. Guhl had crossed his arms and was tapping them with a finger. Iksbat was near where Yahata had been, having shaken off his confusion.

“You done with the melodrama?” the phantom trainer asked.

Prema clenched her fists. How could he be so dismissive about this?! Had he not felt anything of the sort whenever one of his Pokemon got hurt? No, she could not get angry. She took a deep breath to compose herself. She could not afford this to cloud her judgment.

“I am,” she breathed in and out. “But…”

Prema silently stepped to the center of the room, near the table and chairs. She was almost tempted to sit down to make her point, though she knew that would put her at a strategic disadvantage. She had to focus on the aerial battle that was about to take place. Being distracted for even a moment was not something she could afford.

“Okay.” She inhaled and exhaled again.

“No snappy line, like it's time to finish this?” Guhl mocked, wagging a finger. The thought had crossed her mind, but she thought it disrespectful.

She brought out the Poke Ball containing her final and strongest Pokemon, Taiyoko. The day they met was a cherished memory. February of 2014. She was in Unova with her father, studying mythology in an ancient castle. She was by herself. A Volcarona entered the chamber. The fiery moth was in no mood for words. Shu and Yahata – then a mere Rowlet – stood no chance. Prema thought she was going to be hurt, if not worse. Then her father stepped in and rescued her. He captured the Volcarona and gave it to her for her birthday, on the condition that she declare that she had captured it herself. Prema felt bad, not only for the lie, but also for subjecting her to an unworthy trainer. But Taiyoko thought otherwise and proved to be a surprisingly loyal partner and friend, even in battle.

The room brightened as Taiyoko emerged from her ball. Volcarona was not considered a Legendary Pokemon, or even adjacent to one, but some cultures worshiped them like gods nonetheless. It was nothing unusual. Azalea Town in Johto, for example, paid tribute to the species of Slowpoke as bringers of rain. Their own faith had no lack of respect for these other views.

“What is this?” Guhl was at a loss for words. His Pokemon recoiled away from the light of the majestic Pokemon and fled higher up. Phantoms and spirits rarely agreed with the sun, and Taiyoko was one that shined anywhere and anytime.

“Are you ready, Mr. Guhl?” she asked him, a coy smile on her lips.

He scoffed at her confidence, but also gave a toothy half-grin. “Bring it.” He turned to his Pokemon. “Poison Fang, and make sure you hit it this time!”

Prema understood his strategy. If her final Pokemon became poisoned, especially badly poisoned, their defeat was inevitable. Prema had brought berries to treat mild injuries, yet she was uncertain how he would take things if she used them in the middle of their battle.

Not that it mattered. It would not hit. “Heat Wave, Taiyoko.”

Iksbat was quick, but Taiyoko had skill. She flapped her wings, blasting him with scorching hot air. Not only did this stop his advance a couple meters short, it left his ghostly body burnt.

Guhl clutched his head, wondering what to do. When his Pokemon squeaked to indicate he could continue, he rolled his head. “Get some distance and Air Slash.”

Prema decisively nodded. “Hidden Power, my friend.”

Iksbat swung his wings and sent out blades of air, and Taiyoko unleashed her inner essence. The result was an exchange of blows that struck a weakness, although the lingering Light Screen materialized around Taiyoko, keeping her relatively safe.

“That was super-effective?” Guhl realized as his Pokemon fumbled in the air. His upper lip twitched and the dark flames around him shivered. When Prema opened her mouth, he shouted, “All right, stop!”

They stopped. His partner got the message at once, flying back up to join him.

“Wait. Send Iksbat back down.” She retrieved and presented a Rawst Berry. The burn would not sap his spirit enough that it would threaten his continued existence on the mortal plane, yet it would still be painful until treated.

“I do not need your sympathy, Kannagi,” he dismissed, eyes momentarily flashing white.

“Very well.” Perhaps it was just a matter of pride. But she trusted that Guhl had a means of healing his Pokemon. They had a strong bond.

They each had one left. Could she and Taiyoko defeat his final Pokemon? Nori had told her that Konrad Guhl's Zoroark was his strongest Pokemon. How much stronger was unclear. But for the first time since the battle began, Prema felt hopeful about her chances.

“Fuchspuk!” he shouted. The pale Zoroark dropped from above. He landed on his feet and a single paw, standing and leaning forward with a growl and a hiss. He threw his arms out at his side, flashing his claws.

The two Pokemon sized each other up. Contrary to their types, Taiyoko's gaze was cold and distant whereas Fuchspuk's was fiery and hostile. Prema exchanged a knowing glance with her friend. They both knew what was at stake here.

Guhl soon gave the first attack. “Bitter Malice, Fuchspuk!”

“Heat Wave, Taiyoko.”

Her companion flapped her wings, blasting another wave of hot air. But Fuchspuk simply endured the attack, howling with fury. All of his despair and resentment became concentrated into a dark aura. It vanished momentarily and manifested all around Taiyoko. Nearly impossible to escape, and indeed, she could not.

Prema tucked inward as her Pokemon started to shudder. Frostbite. No, not that! Not now!

“Looks like your luck's run out,” Guhl said, rubbing his hands together and flicking his tongue at the roof of his mouth. “Aerial Ace, Fuchspuk.”

“Warm and protect yourself with Fiery Dance!”

Fuchspuk charged, barreling in on all fours. He stopped in front of Taiyoko as she wrapped herself in flames and spun defensively. She tried to move forward and envelop him, but he stepped aside and struck as soon as the move concluded. Taiyoko clacked in a frenzy as the claws raked over her, and continued to shudder. The frostbite ran much too deep!

“Another Aerial Ace before you fall back!” Once more, Fuchspuk delivered a lightning-fast blow with his claws that brutally tore into Prema's friend. The priestess hoped that he might trigger Taiyoko's Flame Body, but it did not happen. No, on very close examination, he was striking with just his nails to avoid that.

This was precarious. The frostbite was weakening Taiyoko's concentration, and therefore her ability to put her all into her special moves. She had to do something to compensate.

“Taiyoko…please…” she prayed and closed her eyes. It might be difficult to do, but it was the best countermeasure. “Sunny Day!”

“Stop them!” Guhl screamed. “Bitter Malice!”

Though she was not looking, Prema could feel her Pokemon going through with it. There was a flash as she hurled a hot sphere of light high above. It was an artificial sun, much like what ancient people revered Volcaronas as being.

“You little…” Guhl had retreated to the far corner of the room. Iksbat was behind him, though Zwirrklop was simply off to the side.

“Oh, I apologize.” In the heat of the moment, she had forgotten that the others would be affected. Fuchspuk appeared to be completely unabated, besides being stunned into halting his attack.

The phantom trainer ultimately laughed it off. “No matter,” he boomed, coming out a little further once the shock had worn off. It was something of a relief that it was not too debilitating for them to continue fighting. “Flamethrower, use it against them.”

The shadowy aura returned to Fuchspuk. This time, it shifted and became literal burning resentment which the ghostly fox expelled towards Taiyoko.

“Fiery Dance!”

Her Pokemon elegantly floated through the air, enveloped in flame. She started it just in time, partially absorbing the Flamethrower. She kept going towards Fuchspuk.

“Dodge,” roared Guhl.

Fuchspuk was off and running on all fours. Taiyoko could not get close enough. She was getting weaker with every second she spent with frostbite. Every time she was hit without hitting back was making things worse. They had to do something.

Guhl held up his palm, making Fuchspuk stop in place, fifteen meters away. He laughed, turning to his Pokemon expectantly. “End it. Return.”

He started bouncing with joy. The prelude to another full force strike. Taiyoko absolutely had to avoid it. The fiery moth looked back for suggestions. Prema had no doubt that Fuchspuk would find a way to escape a Heat Wave and hit regardless. They needed something else.

Prema watched closely. Guhl made a motion and Fuchspuk lunged. An erratic approach. He was likely going to conclude with a leaping strike. But she saw an opening. It was time for some quick strategy!

“String Shot between those two boxes!” She gestured at them. The one that had fallen and the one it had fallen from.

Taiyoko trusted her and turned to follow her instructions. She timed it perfectly. Fuchspuk indeed tried to slip through that spot, getting caught and tripped by the webbing. Her friend sensed what Prema wanted her to do next and followed up with more webbing.

The other Pokemon lay helpless on the floor, tangled in silk. It was time to strike a mighty blow. “Heat Wave!” That would make sure none of it was burned off!

“Shadow Sneak!”

Fuchspuk stretched out a paw. His shadow flew across the floor. Prema called out a warning, to no avail. Taiyoko flew up to avoid it while still preparing her attack, but the ghostly fox adjusted his trajectory. The fiery moth got off one gust before the shadow came up behind her and swung, knocking her down.

“Now get out and finish it!” Fuchspuk sank into the floor, leaving the sticky goop behind. Prema winced. She had forgotten they would be able to do that! The white and red fox burst from below and charged. “Shadow Claw!”

“Taiyoko, Fi–”

Their hearts were in sync; the flames were already gathering. Taiyoko launched upward, spreading fire everywhere. Fuchspuk halted as the purging flames struck true. The two Pokemon were engulfed, only their silhouettes visible. Taiyoko was straining, putting everything she could into the attack. Fuchspuk crouched.

And swung, the darkness slicing through the fire.

The flames died, and the Sunny Day began to sputter. Taiyoko was thrown high into the air from the force of the blow.

“Now, end it. Dark Pulse!”

Taiyoko may have already been unconscious, but this was deliberate insult to injury. Fuchspuk pressed his hands together, a ball of wicked energy forming between them. From his palms came the same black laser that had sent Nariya to the hospital. Taiyoko was sent careening into a crate, crashing into it and falling motionless to the floor. The battle was decided.

A cackle escaped Guhl as darkness enveloped the room. It was unlike his prior laughs: an insane, short explosion of sound, with an edge that no human – deceased or otherwise – should be able to make. Prema stood fast as the echo seemed to reach for her very soul. Perhaps more troubling was the sight of Fuchspuk. Still standing high, still with stamina to spare, and laughing just like his trainer. It was not as close as she had expected. Even without the misfortunate frostbite, were they outmatched to begin with?

She took a deep breath as the phantom trainer stopped laughing. “I apologize, Taiyoko,” she said, approaching her friend. She lightly touched a palm to the Pokemon's thorax. With that, the moth of the sun came to. “You fought well, but my own inadequacies failed you.”

Perhaps it was the pressure that got to her, perhaps they were not as experienced, or perhaps she was not good enough compared to Guhl. Either way, Taiyoko did not appear to blame her. She relaxed into the physical contact, chittering softly. Prema eventually gave her one last pat before allowing her friend to rest in her Poke Ball.

She walked to the center of the room and bowed respectfully to her opponent. “I must apologize to you as well, Mr. Guhl. I admit, Pokemon training has not been a high priority for myself.” Internally, she suspected that the only reason she did so well was because of the low endurance of spirit Pokemon. “In spite of your clear victory, I hope you were able to gain some satisfaction from our battle.”

“Not even a little,” came his cold reply. Guhl's form began to become completely shadowy. He stretched out his arms, which twisted and distorted. “Where was your passion? I hurt your friend, and you gave me that performance? You disappoint me, Kannagi. It's time you took a rest.”

He swooped down. He raised a bludgeon-shaped hand, ready to assault her. On pure instinct, Prema reached for and grabbed the broom that was lying on the table. Wielding it like a kendo stick, she swung and parried the phantom's blow.

A crack rang out as their weapons clashed. Guhl's eyes widened. Prema pushed and shoved him back several meters into the air. His gaze narrowed as he smirked. “Not bad. But not good enough. Fuchspuk, get her.”

For a moment, Prema considered dropping the broom in a show of defiance, yet she instead gripped it tighter. This vengeful spirit had shown no hesitation in harming innocents, so true pacifism could not be afforded. She turned to face the Pokemon, although kept an eye on Guhl over her shoulder. If it was just him or his Pokemon, she could defend herself and escape. But not both, not alone. The white and red fox raised his claws, and Guhl got ready to dive again.

It was fortunate that she was not alone. She had called for them mentally, but did not doubt her mentor would have come regardless. Right on cue, a round, watery blur tackled Fuchspuk, knocking him to the floor. As Guhl had his attention diverted by the attack on his Pokemon, narrow strings of energy – braided from the light of the sun – came from behind and ensnared his limbs. They quickly encircled his body and bound him.

It was Priestess Satomi and her Blastoise. The starter Pokemon stood as tall and proud as Prema figured she did nearly eighty years ago. She had evidently not missed a step.

“Forgot about someone?” Priestess Satomi taunted.

“You bitch!” Guhl growled and hissed, struggling to break free from the bindings. “That was a cowardly attack!”

The elderly priestess snorted. “Not so nice, is it? Thought I was gonna rest on my laurels?”

The phantom only grew angrier. The grudge-fueled flames around him sparked wildly. “Crush them! Extrasensory!” He looked upward. “Iksbat, Zwirrklop, help get me out!”

“Give'em a Hydro Cannon!”

Fuchspuk focused his power on the crates, perhaps in an attempt to send them flying as a projectile. Priestess Satomi's Blastoise lowered her cannons, locked and loaded them, and fired. The blast was so powerful that it sent the fox flying into the opposite wall. He sunk into the floor after impact, no longer having the strength to cling to the mortal world.

The other two Pokemon spirits shut their eyes, flinching in shock. The onryō gasped, a sob escaping him before he screamed. “NOOOO! Fuchspuk!” He thrashed and writhed. His eyes glowed white and were fixated on his captor. His resentment burned even more intensely, enveloping him in a dark inferno, but did nothing to free him.

“I think it is time you rested,” said Priestess Satomi as her Pokemon recharged from the devastating move. She nonchalantly held Guhl steady. “Lady Kannagi, quickly.”

While stunned by her mentor figure's mercilessness, Prema was aware that there was no time to hesitate, in case he found a means to break those bonds or his Pokemon snapped out of their reverie. Prema closed her eyes. She bent her right wrist and contorted her fingers into an infinity shape. She emptied her mind and thought only white.

“Blessed spirits of the other world, heed my call,” she chanted in a trance. Her hair and robes billowed lightly from the power welling around her. One finger, then two, and soon the tips of all five were tingling slightly. “Come set these lost souls to rest!”

Prema bent her wrist and fingers outward. Invisible spheres of light flew out from them, branding her foe. Guhl's screams of agony and a sickening slurping noise seemed to meld together. It was as if a drain plug had been pulled open beneath him. Iksbat was the first to be pulled into the invisible vortex, marked only by a faint light which didn't disturb corporeal surroundings. He was swiftly followed by Zwirrklop, who tried to resist but was eventually sucked in as well.

Guhl struggled violently, cursing up a storm, and managed to hold on. But he became still and silent as he watched his remaining partners disappear. The flames around his body faded. The vengeful spirit faced Prema, gritting his teeth and narrowing his gaze. An expression that could have meant any number of things, yet she could not afford to dwell on the subject. Reaching out to mentally grasp the strings of light that Priestess Satomi had formed, Prema threw her arm downward, casting the phantom into the endless depths. Finally, she clenched her fist, shutting the gate.

Prema paused to catch her breath as it ended, although she also felt more alert. It was over. It should have been nothing short of a relief, yet she could not feel happy about the way it had gone.

“Good riddance!” Priestess Satomi dismissed, strutting over to check on her Pokemon. “Still got it, don't we, Otohime?”

A low, croaking noise came from the throat of the Blastoise as she nodded. It transitioned into a quiet yawn, one spawned from boredom. It was obvious that she had expected more of a fight.

Satomi turned to her. She tilted her head upon noticing her sulking. “Why the long face, Lady Kannagi?”

Prema sighed and sat down on one of the chairs. “I am simply disappointed at how things turned out. The last wish of Mr. Guhl was to have a great battle before passing to the other side. I could not provide him with that.” She turned away and looked at the place where the vortex had been. “I should have asked you to face him. Or even accepted Nori's offer.”

“Well, no room for regrets. Maybe we would've done better! But then again, maybe not.” She chuckled knowingly. “Personally, I think you did just fine. And frankly?” She leaned in as if wishing to whisper a secret. “I doubt that man would've gone along even if he'd lost. Those grudges of his consumed his soul too much.”

Prema shuffled her feet. Yes, that was evident at the end. He was fine before, during, and even after the battle as he tried to attack her. But his personality warped when Priestess Satomi came to protect her. “Perhaps true, and yet…” And yet, she would have preferred to free him from it. It was also presumptuous to assume that he would not have passed on if he had been defeated.

“You are too kind, Lady Kannagi,” Priestess Satomi chuckled. “I can tell you're giving him the benefit of the doubt. And sympathy for the one who harmed Nariya and endangered your friendship!”

She straightened her posture. “I had decided to set it aside for dealing with him.”

“I am not saying it is a wholly negative trait.”

“That said, I do understand that Guhl needed to be dealt with, one way or another.” That was something she was under no illusions over. “I am simply wishing it did not have to come to this.”

“You said yourself he was going about things the wrong way. Attacking the innocent just to lure in the strong. There was already little room to excuse that, but all bets were off when he decided to attack you for Gods know what reason. It was his bed to make and lie in.”

He might have wanted to draw in someone stronger, someone better. They had acted in self-defense. That was perhaps the only reason Prema did not feel worse about it.

“You see that smile he had at the end, there?” Priestess Satomi suddenly asked.

“Was it one?” It was peculiar that his grudge subsided and he stopped struggling. But was it just that he had accepted his fate? Or did he want to be with his partners in the world beyond?

“I thought it was one, anyway.” She threw up her arms. “Just take it easy, Lady Kannagi. You've had a long week.”

Prema reluctantly nodded. “Yes… I suppose you are correct.”

“Thanks again for the assist, ol' girl.” She patted Otohime on the shell and recalled her. “Let's head back home and tell'em the good news.”

“Yes.”

There was a truth she concealed from Priestess Satomi. She could get over having to forcibly send Guhl to the other side. She truly had no choice, she knew that. Yet it would not have come to that if not for her lack of ability. The guilt of having to be rescued was unlikely to go away. Had she been a better trainer, a stronger diviner, a more willful person, the outcome could have been very different.

In a sense, she had failed a second time.
 
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Well, that outcome I didn't 100% predict but I did suspect it might happen after the emphasis on the shrine's tendency to cover things up and play loosely with the truth--reiterated here with how Taiyoko was caught by Haruto but she has to tell everyone she did it in exchange for receiving her.
(A strange thought about that--your fic seems to go for the idea that Pokémon are at least fairly close to human level intelligence, so theoretically Taiyoko would be a potential "leak" about it if she ended up disliking Prema, though it's not like many humans could be told by her...)
I was a bit more surprised by Ghul attacking her himself right after...
...and then Priestess Satomi from the side with the steel chair Blastoise, and it's all over!

Still, I suppose we'll see what happens next.

Huh...it's a pity the whole shrine business stopped Nori from coming, since his bloodthirsty Pawniard probably can't murder ghosts but it would be a chance for him to battle with it again.
 
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