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TEEN: Prema Kannagi: Memory of a Ghoul

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

MoaG-Title.png


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

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

There are some bad things in this fic, including the following:
Mild language, mild violence, mild depictions of people with disabilities, showing handi-capable people, sadness, scariness, dunking on the usual suspects, and parental abuse (but only if you have really strict ethics over strict parenting)
 
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Anima of Wrath (recollection I) New

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A thunderous crash followed by a scream of panic echoed through the vacant building. Baram Kim broke from his work-induced trance with a start, on his feet so quickly that he nearly knocked over the small table his laptop was set up on. Before the interruption, he had been feverishly typing the weekly dividends into a spreadsheet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Discharge, Rotom!” cried Wong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---​

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

Ghoul.

##########​

Recollection I: Anima of Wrath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---​

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

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

She found Priestess Satomi tending to the garden. A woman who was 80 years her senior, clad in a robe much like her own save for the trim being silver. She was a mentor figure to Prema, having been with the shrine since her great-grandfather was the head priest. She had served four generations of Kannagis, including herself. Whenever Prema had a question about her duties she did not feel comfortable speaking about with her father, she would turn to Satomi Kurusu.

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

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

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

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

“When and how often is dishonesty acceptable?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She blinked. “Oh? What did you say?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her mind was as eased as it could get over the matter. A necessity. For in two days' time, she would be performing an exorcism. She could not afford to have any doubt in her heart when it came time to soothe the restless spirits haunting the old warehouse.
 
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Juliko

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Man, you're just banging out new stories this year, aren't you? It's nice to see Prema in a starring role again, as I had been curious about her since her return in Official-In-Training. I do like that she trusts Satomi enough to be open with her about things she can't bring herself to tell Nori, and Satomi is right in that dishonesty isn't always a bad thing depending on the context. Personally, I'm of the mind that I'd rather tell people the truth than lie, but I've also had people tell me I'm too blunt for my own good even when I try to be nice about it, so I often don't always tell people how I'm really feeling about things, whether to spare their feelings or because it'd cause more trouble. And it's always good to see Nariya again. Can't wait to see how Prema deals with having to exorcise the so-called ghoul who messed up the warehouse.
 

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Man, you're just banging out new stories this year, aren't you?
This was developed together with BotBK due to their natures, hence why they're both "new".

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

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

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

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Recollection II: Name of Respect

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

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

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

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

“Haa!”

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

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

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

“Nariya, are you all right?”

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

“I…I don't…it hurts, but…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

---​

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you…anticipate…having to…?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am preparing for tomorrow.”

“Why, what's happening tomorrow?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Um, Lady Prema?”

“Yes, Nariya?”

“Your tea…”

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

---​

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

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

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

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

She shuddered. “Y-yes? Lady Prema?”

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

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

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

“Can I ask you something, though?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lady Kannagi.”

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

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

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

“Yes, Father?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stop it cold with Gust!”

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

“Once again, Shu.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He won't be soon! Poison Powder!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bleh! Vivid Wings!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---​

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

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

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

“Smite her with Mystical Fire, Fohoshi!”

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

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

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

Kaede giggled wickedly. “Fire Spin!”

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

“Taiyoko!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shoot her down with Psybeam!” growled Kaede.

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

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

“Get back into cover!” warned Kaede.

“The final move, Hidden Power.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prema nodded. “I understand, Father.”

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

She smiled warmly. “Of course, Maiden Kaede.”
 
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