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    The Path of Destiny
    Chapter 79 – Unlikely Bond

    The group walked down the beach, in silence for the most part. The four trainers kept looking this way and that, marveling in the fact that they could understand the chattering of the wild wingull that flew overhead and could listen in on the conversations of other trainers’ pokémon playing in the waves. This time, no psychic type was needed.

    Justin stayed near the back of the group, still hardly believing he could understand what Wildflame and Alex were saying to each other as he watched the two of them walk up ahead.

    “You okay, Justin?” Spark asked, giving him a concerned look.

    Justin couldn’t help giving a jolt of surprise at the fact that he could understand the jolteon’s words. Even after hearing all the pokémon they’d walked by, he still wasn’t used to it. “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just…this is weird, that’s all.”

    “Isn’t it great?” Spark replied. “Now we don’t need Arien anymore!”

    From up ahead, the alakazam turned and gave the jolteon a glare.

    “For the…translating, I mean,” Spark quickly corrected.

    “You guys,” Katie began, looking around to make sure the nearby beachgoers and their pokémon weren’t standing too close. “I don’t think we should let anyone know we can do this, all right?”

    “Why not?” Justin asked. “Humans that can understand pokémon are really rare. I’m sure it’d be useful if we could-”

    “People don’t just suddenly start understanding it after years of being like any other trainer,” Katie replied. “The legendaries behind the Forbidden Attacks want to stay hidden. If there’s a chance something like this could be traced back to them, then-”

    “I don’t think it would,” Justin said with a shake of his head.

    “Well, either way,” replied Katie, “it’s going to seem weird. We should keep quiet about it, at least for now.”

    Teresa, who had walked in silence the whole way back, just stared at her. “I just saw a legendary no one knows exists, and it gave me the power to understand pokémon. What am I supposed to think about that? And what was it talking about? Forbidden Attacks?”

    “Look,” Spark said, turning to face her, “first of all, we can’t give away their secret. You know what humans would do if they found out about a new legendary. Hundreds, maybe thousands would go looking for it. Fortunarc can’t help stop the Forbidden Attacks if she’s locked up in some rich poacher’s collection.”

    “I never said I was going to tell anyone about the legendary,” Teresa replied tersely. “I know that would be a bad idea. I just…you’re going to tell me what’s going on, right? Why you’ve seen another one of those things? Maybe why you have a white growlithe while we’re at it, and what Forbidden Attacks are, what Tanzenarc is, just…everything?”

    “Of course we will,” Damian told her before Spark or Katie could react. “Fortunarc trusted you. Why shouldn’t we?”

    Katie and Justin looked at each other. “We’ll tell you the whole story,” Katie sighed, “but just remember not to tell anyone else.”

    “I got that that would be one of your conditions,” Teresa replied.

    Damian looked uneasy about the tension between Teresa and the other two trainers. “Let’s go back to our resting spot on the outskirts of the city,” he said. “We’ll tell you everything there.”

    “We’re wasting time with this,” Yenn growled from up ahead. His yanmega eyes didn’t betray much emotion, but something about him told the others that he was glaring at the four trainers.

    “She did help us,” Snowcrystal called up to him. “She deserves to know.”

    “Oh, of course she does,” Yenn muttered under his breath.

    Damian gave the yanmega a worried glance before he turned back to Teresa. “Look, I’m sorry we kept everything a secret. I promise we’ll tell you what we know, and we won’t leave anything out this time.”

    “Okay,” Teresa replied hesitantly. “Trust me, after what we’ve just been through, I don’t think much will surprise me.”

    -ooo-

    Back in their temporary resting place, each of the trainers and pokémon got comfortable as they waited to tell Teresa what they knew would be a long story. First, Damian and Katie sent out their other pokémon, the ones they’d kept hidden from Teresa during the mountain search. Then they explained that several of the ones traveling with them were actually wild.

    Snowcrystal was the one who first started talking. She started by telling Teresa her real name, and how she had left her mountain to seek out Articuno in search of help for her tribe of white growlithe. Soon Spark, Stormblade, and Rosie jumped in, explaining their sides of the story as well. With some prompting from Wildflame, even Blazefang began explaining, telling Teresa how he’d mistakenly found what he would later come to realize was a Forbidden Attack.

    Thunder had no interest in explaining her side, so Redclaw filled in for her when he could. He didn’t tell of Thunder’s attack on Nightshade until they reached the part about the underground fighting ring.

    As Damian and Nightshade explained what had taken place down beneath Stonedust City, Teresa looked horrified. “I had no idea that sort of stuff was still going on in Stonedust,” she said. “If Mausk is still part of this, we should do something.” She looked at Damian, who avoided her gaze.

    “What are we supposed to do?” Justin replied. “Damian and the pokémon barely got out with their lives. We want to stay far away from Mausk.”

    “You said that early on, Snowcrystal and some of the other pokémon found Thunder at one of his training sites,” Teresa said. “Maybe if we go back there, we could get some real evidence.”

    “It’s too dangerous,” Thunder said, speaking for the first time since they’d reached the resting place. “They got lucky because Master didn’t have any of his real fighters with him at the time. He’d be more on guard now. It’d be wiser not to mess with him.”

    Redclaw glanced away from Thunder and nervously pawed the ground. Nightshade, Blazefang, and Snowcrystal also looked uncomfortable.

    “Look, if the opportunity ever arises,” Damian began hesitantly, “we’ll try to do something about Mausk. But…she’s right. We should stay away from him.”

    There was silence before Wildflame said, “Blazefang took out one of their arenas. That should count for something. They probably don’t have anywhere else in Stonedust to fight their death battles. And the other humans involved are probably mad as hell at Mausk for what happened.”

    Teresa looked uncertain, but when she looked around at the other pokémon, they merely nodded or gave a few uncertain words of agreement. No one mentioned the other arenas that must be lurking in dark corners of Inari.

    Snowcrystal continued on with the story, the others chiming in when they had information to share. When she got to the part where she’d been told of Articuno’s death, she trailed off, and luckily Stormblade sensed her unease and explained that part for her.

    Finally, after what felt like hours had passed, the pokémon and trainers had told Teresa everything important about their journey, and about what they’d learned from Yenn about Cyclone.

    “So…shouldn’t we warn the authorities?” Teresa asked once they’d finished. “If Cyclone’s gathering of pokémon has gotten that big, the people of Inari should know…”

    “We…probably should,” Katie agreed. “I’m not sure they’ll believe us on the Forbidden Attack part, but maybe after what the police must have seen in the Stonedust arena, they might…”

    “I wish we could have done that before,” Damian said. “We only just recently learned how big Cyclone’s army had gotten, and that they had Forbidden Attacks. And at that point, me and Justin still thought the police were after us.” He closed his eyes and tilted his head downwards. “Maybe we should have done it earlier anyway. I can’t believe I thought Cyclone’s only threat was trying to get his paws on other Forbidden Attacks.”

    “Well, there’s no reason we can’t tell them now,” Snowcrystal told him. “We came close to the army. The police knew Damian and Justin were wandering the wilderness for a while, so they’ll know we could have seen something.”

    “That’s all well and good,” Blazefang began, looking uneasy, “but I think…Yenn and I should keep our own Forbidden Attacks a secret. Who knows what the authorities would do to us if they really knew.”

    “That’s probably for the best,” Redclaw sighed. “The humans may have good intentions, but it’s the legendaries who can really help you and Yenn now.”

    “Good,” Yenn growled. “Any of you try to turn me in to some humans and I’m gone. And I’d fight whoever tried to stop me.”

    “No one’s turning anyone in,” Wildflame quickly interjected. “We just need to tell them about Cyclone. Maybe the humans can deal with him while we search for a way to stop the Forbidden Attacks themselves.”

    Arien nodded. “That looks to be all we can do for now. We can’t stop Cyclone on our own.”

    “We also need to free Blazefang and Thunder from Mausk. For good,” Katie added. “If Mausk was tampering with poké balls so that he didn’t show up as the trainer, any authority would know something weird is going on. They should allow us to break the connection and give them our own poké balls.”

    “Since when did I need a poké ball?” Thunder scoffed.

    Nightshade was quick to reassure her. “They wouldn’t need to use it. It’s just so Mausk can’t recapture you. And the poké balls they have aren’t like Mausk’s; you could learn to send yourself out pretty quickly.”

    Thunder gave him a long look and then sighed. “I guess you have a point,” she muttered reluctantly. “I doubt any of these humans could manage to use it against me anyway.”

    “All the wild pokémon should have poké balls,” Teresa said.

    “I agree,” Katie replied. “Snowcrystal especially. If Justin catches the wild pokémon, they won’t be sent to a lab through the PC system and the rest of us can keep our pokémon with us. With Justin, they’d still have a trainer code, it would just be a…well, an unregistered one. Which could pose some problems, but…”

    “Well, if you want to do it that way,” Teresa began, “he should be okay as long as he doesn’t enter any official battles. If one of those pokémon has to use the pokémon center, Justin can release them and one of us can capture them – temporarily - so they can receive treatment without anyone realizing Justin’s illegally keeping pokémon.”

    “Well, that sounds good,” Katie said. “As good as we could hope for, at least. So, I guess the question is, when do we set off for Steelspire City?”

    “Well, once we can get the poké ball situation resolved, and warn the authorities about Cyclone, we can prepare,” Damian replied. “Maybe if we get everything ready, we could leave tomorrow?”

    “I’ll go with you,” Teresa said, standing up. “My team and I will help when we can. After hearing all that, I don’t want to sit around while pokémon with Forbidden Attacks wreak havoc on the world. If these legendaries can help once we bring Yenn and…Blazefang, right?” she asked the houndoom, who nodded. “If we can bring Yenn and Blazefang to them, then let’s do it.”

    “Well, then, welcome to the team,” Katie told her, giving Teresa a quick handshake. She was relieved that someone else around Damian’s age would be going with them; Damian could definitely use the help if they ever had to sneak into a place that teenagers would be turned away from again.

    “Well, I guess I need to catch everyone who doesn’t have a poké ball of their own,” Justin said. He glanced uneasily at Yenn.

    “Blazefang, Thunder, stand back here,” Redclaw instructed, before the arcanine came to stand in front of Justin. He then beckoned to the remaining wild pokémon who did not have their own poké balls.

    Snowcrystal came forward, followed by Wildflame, Alex, and, more hesitantly, Rosie. Yenn stayed where he was, sneering at the pokémon.

    “This is ridiculous,” he said. “I’d never let myself be captured.”

    “That’s exactly why we’re doing this,” Arien told him with a glare, “so that they can’t be captured. Your poké ball will be kept safe by Justin, but he won’t use it on you. If you don’t believe me, remember that you can send yourself out of a poké ball if he returns you.”

    “I don’t know about that,” Yenn replied. “I don’t trust him.”

    That was obvious,” Rosie scoffed. “Look, I don’t like it either, but it’s better than being captured by some stranger.”

    “Well, let’s get on with it,” Wildflame stated, and Justin nodded while Katie pulled a handful of minimized poké balls out of her pocket and handed them to him.

    Justin clicked the button on the first poké ball, enlarging it and tossing it at Redclaw. The arcanine vanished in a beam of red light and the ball hit the ground. It didn’t twitch even once before the button light went out with a ping. Several seconds later, the poké ball reopened and Redclaw appeared again, shaking his mane.

    “It’s a bit tricky to send yourself out at first, but you’ll get the hang of it,” he told Rosie reassuringly.

    “Okay, thanks,” the ninetales said with a sigh.

    Rosie, then Snowcrystal, then Wildflame, and finally Alex were captured. Justin allowed each of them to figure out how to send themselves out, and then he collected the poké balls.

    “If I get caught with more than six, I’m toast,” Justin muttered, looking to Spark and then Nightshade. “You guys better help me out when I need it.”

    “Of course,” Katie replied. She turned her attention to Yenn. “You sure you don’t want your own poké ball? If the wrong person captures you, then-”

    “No, I-”

    “You could send yourself out,” Snowcrystal told him, “like we did. You saw us all do it. Justin wouldn’t be able to use it against you. He’s not like…like Mausk or those other humans. It’s only to protect you, I promise.”

    Yenn hesitated, but Snowcrystal’s words seemed to impact him far more than Katie’s. He sighed. “All right, fine. But if he ever tries to use it against me-”

    “He couldn’t if he tried,” Wildflame told him impatiently.

    “Just get it over with,” Yenn muttered.

    Justin’s arm shook as he tossed the poké ball at the yanmega, who flinched but didn’t move from his perch. To their surprise, the ball merely bounced off Yenn as if it had hit a wall. Justin looked confused for a moment before realization dawned on him. “Oh, that’s right…” he mumbled.

    “What?” Spark asked.

    “In the pokémon center, his original trainer came up as a weird code. Whoever owned him must still have the poké ball.”

    “You mean it’s probably locked up in a building of some sort?” Scytheclaw asked. “Well, problem solved, I guess. We’re far from them.”

    “They…still have it?” Yenn gasped.

    “They must,” Katie told him. “It’s unfortunate, but we can fix it. All you need to do is come with Thunder and Blazefang when we take them to get their connection to their poké balls severed.”

    “And where is this…machine that severs the connection?” Yenn asked.

    “They keep it at the police station,” Katie told him. “You see, it’s something trainers could easily abuse if they-”

    “I am not going inside a building,” Yenn growled.

    “Well, they won’t bring it out. You just-”

    “No. Forget it,” Yenn replied. “If it’s inside a building, I’m not coming. I’ll make do without your ‘protection.’”

    Exasperated, Katie continued to try to reason with him, while Teresa glanced around the group, unsure what to think of Yenn’s behavior.

    “In case you’re wondering,” Scytheclaw muttered to her, “yeah, he’s always like this.”

    Teresa said nothing, and soon Yenn’s adamant refusal caused Katie to give up.

    “All right, fine,” Katie told him. “Let’s just hope it doesn’t backfire on us.”

    “Yenn, listen to us,” Nightshade told him. His voice still sounded weak. “All we want to do is help you. We’re not trying to-”

    “I know, okay?” Yenn told him. “I know why you’re trying to do this. But listen. I’ve done a lot of things for all of you. I’m working with humans for you. But going inside a building, just…don’t ask me to do that.” His voice suddenly sounded very tired. “Please. I’d let the human capture me if there was another way. But that’s something I cannot do.”

    The others watched Nightshade, waiting to see what he would say, but the heracross merely nodded. “All right, Yenn, I understand.”

    Yenn looked visibly relieved, but Rosie just looked confused. “I’ve done it,” she said. “If I can do it, so can he. If his poké ball gets in the wrong hands-”

    “Rosie…just leave it, okay?” Redclaw asked.

    Rosie sighed. “All right, fine. I just think he’s being ridiculous.”

    “Well,” said Katie, changing the subject, “flying to Steelspire would be fastest, but it would be hard on our flying pokémon, and we need them to be fairly well rested. And with Yenn injured…” She glanced nervously at the yanmega. “…Maybe we should take it slower. It’s only a few days walk.”

    “That’s probably the best idea,” Damian agreed.

    “Is everyone all right with that?” Snowcrystal asked the group. She was met with no arguments.

    “We’re kinda used to the whole traveling on foot thing anyway,” Spark said with a grin. “This will be easy.”

    -ooo-

    By the time the sun had almost set, the group who had gone to free Mausk’s former pokémon from their connection to their poké balls returned to the meeting spot. Walking proudly beside Katie, Thunder and Blazefang rejoined the group, where Justin nervously held two poké balls.

    “Don’t be worried about Thunder,” Spark told him. “She’s not as scary as she seems.”

    “It worked,” Katie said happily. “The police knew something suspicious was going on with these two, so they had their poké ball connection severed.” She turned to Thunder and Blazefang, smiling at them. “Mausk has no hold on you anymore. You’re free.”

    Blazefang breathed a sigh of relief and limped forward to Justin, who threw one of the poké balls at him. The houndoom vanished in a beam of light, and the ball went still. Justin then turned to Thunder, his hand shaking as he held the second poké ball.

    “Come on and throw it,” Thunder told him. “Seriously, if I was going to hurt you, I would have done it long ago.”

    Justin took a deep breath, and then tossed the ball at Thunder, who also vanished. As with Blazefang, Thunder did not resist the capture, and the light on the poké ball’s button quickly dimmed. A few seconds later, and the ball opened, Thunder returning to stand in the clearing.

    “That was surprisingly easy to send myself out of,” she remarked.

    Justin was pondering whether to send out Blazefang when the houndoom emerged, shaking himself briefly before looking at Justin. “Well, that will take some getting used to. But it’ll be nice to be able to take breaks from traveling when I want. Heh, turns out you guys were right. Easy to get out of. Nothing like Mausk’s.”

    “Remember,” Katie told Justin, “if anything goes wrong or we need to have a registered trainer code for them for whatever reason, I can send some of my pokémon to the lab and recapture some of the wild ones for you. Right now, though, I think we’d be safer with my team on our side as well, in case we run into trouble.”

    “Got it,” Justin said with a nod. “I’m keeping Spark, though. Unless, you know, he has to check in to a pokémon center or something.”

    “Of course. I’d give you Spark back.”

    At that moment, they noticed a large shadow overhead, and Fernwing landed with Damian and Teresa on her back.

    “Well,” began Teresa, “we told them about this ‘Cyclone’ pokémon, and they didn’t seem very surprised with what we were saying. I guess someone out there had noticed that a lot of pokémon were gathering in the wilderness, if nothing else.”

    Damian nodded. “It seemed like they already knew something was up with them.”

    “We’re…not sure what they thought about the Forbidden Attack part,” Teresa continued. “Damian told them that it was like the fire that burned out the underground fighting ring in Stonedust. I’m not really sure what they thought of that part; they didn’t seem to want to tell us much. But at least they know.”

    “It sounded like they knew it was dangerous to approach Cyclone’s pokémon,” Damian added, looking nervously at the ground. “But like Teresa said, I don’t really know what they thought of the Forbidden Attacks. At least they didn’t say we sounded ridiculous.”

    “We can let the authorities in Steelspire City know, too,” Teresa added.

    “What about everyone else?” Spark asked. “Should we…be spreading the word about this?”

    “I don’t think we want trainers going to investigate,” Teresa replied. “But…maybe we should warn them in case something happens. I can post something online, but…until the authorities make some official announcement, I’m not sure how many trainers it will reach.”

    “Let’s do the best we can,” Katie said. “It’s all we can do, and hopefully with Tanzenarc’s help, we’ll get to the bottom of this. Let the authorities do most of the warning; they’ve got to be wanting to monitor Cyclone’s pokémon at this point, even if it’s from a distance.”

    “I sure hope so,” Rosie growled.

    “Well, once we’ve gotten everything ready,” Arien said, “we should get some rest. We start early tomorrow.”

    Wildflame rolled her eyes. “Of course we have to start early.”

    “Anyone wanna go with me and Justin for a last-minute snack run to the city?” Spark asked.

    “I’m in!” Rosie called out.

    “I thought you didn’t like the cities,” Stormblade told her with a grin.

    “Well, for a human place, I actually think Shellreef is pretty nice,” Rosie retorted.

    “I’ll go with you,” Redclaw offered, then muttered, “Justin could use the help keeping you two out of trouble.” When Spark and Rosie turned to glare at him, the arcanine laughed. “I was joking! I’d like to pick out some snacks too.”

    As Justin and the few pokémon who’d chosen to go set off, Snowcrystal turned her attention to Yenn, who had flown down from the trees and was hovering near the end of the clearing. Alex was standing beside him.

    “Damian?” the floatzel called out. “Yenn decided he trusts you enough to give him medicine.”

    From the look on Yenn’s face, Snowcrystal thought Alex’s words were an overstatement. “Trust us, it’s all right,” she told him. “Just about all of us have had medical help from him.”

    “You know what will happen if you try to trick me,” Yenn growled.

    “I won’t,” Damian promised as he walked over to the yanmega, who landed but still looked tense, his wings twitching.

    “He’s trying to keep your wound from getting infected, you jerk,” Scytheclaw muttered from where he stood leaning against a tree. “Show at least a bit of gratitude.”

    Ignoring Scytheclaw, Damian reached into his backpack before finding the medications he needed. Yenn tensed as he watched him pull out the bottles, but Alex reassuringly stroked his back.

    “Okay, this one is for fighting infection, and this one’s for pain,” Damian explained. “I also have one that reduces scarring; Alex told me that she told you about-”

    “That’s all they’ll do?” Yenn asked.

    “There might be some side effects, but they’re pretty rare,” Alex interjected. “My old trainer never had a problem with any of her pokémon. And if there is a problem, it won’t be major, and we can just get a different kind.”

    Yenn looked at her skeptically.

    “I may not like humans,” Thunder added without looking at them, “but their medicine does work. If it makes you any happier, I’d stop the trainers if they did anything. Not that I’d really need to, considering what you’re capable of.”

    “I promise I won’t hurt you,” Damian told the yanmega. “I just want to help.”

    “Well, then get on with it,” Yenn said reluctantly.

    As Damian began to apply the medicine to the wound, Yenn bared his teeth but stayed still. The yanmega’s body was tense, his wings fluttering a few times as if he wanted to take to the air, but he let Damian finish the job. The other two medicines Damian had were liquids meant for pokémon to drink. Yenn looked repulsed by them, but he drank the amounts Damian offered him and then flew back up to the tops of the trees immediately afterward.

    “He still seems so nervous around you,” Teresa said.

    “Don’t worry about him,” Scytheclaw called to her. “He’s been like that since he joined up with us back in Sequoiarc’s forest. “Maybe once he gets it through his head that not all humans are like the ones he encountered, things will be better.”

    “Like the ones he…encountered?”

    “Humans did whatever gave him the scar; that’s all we know,” Blazefang stated.

    “Well, is there anything else we need at the city?” Scytheclaw asked, trying to change the subject.

    “Well, I guess we could always go find Justin and the others and help them pick out snacks,” Katie suggested.

    “Good idea. Let’s go,” Scytheclaw replied.

    Damian waited a moment before he sighed and followed the scizor and Katie. Yenn still glowered at him from the treetops.

    -ooo-

    The next day had most of the group in high spirits, the excitement of encountering Fortunarc still fresh in their minds, and the tension of the previous day for the most part, gone. They had been walking toward Steelspire City for most of the day, having started early in the morning and taking time for breaks, where the pokémon and trainers alike would relax in the warm sun.

    Now that it was nearing late afternoon, they had decided it was time for another break. The pokémon who had been carrying supplies lay down in the grass, laughing and joking with one another. The pokémon who had spent the traveling portions of the journey in their poké balls were sent out, giving them a chance to mingle with the others.

    “It’s kinda nice not having to walk the whole way,” Scytheclaw said as he lay down. “Unlike those who feel like they have to be around their trainer practically every waking moment.”

    “You’re just lazy,” Spark shot back. “Plus, you missed out on some exciting stuff. I helped Redclaw and Rosie chase off some aggressive beedrill while you were sitting in your poké ball doing nothing.”

    Redclaw turned over in his spot so that he was facing the jolteon. “You left out the part where those beedrill only attacked us because you had to mess with the kakuna in those big trees we passed.”

    “Hey, it’s not like I was hurting them,” Spark replied, then muttered, “I just wanted to swing them back and forth a bit. It looked funny.”

    “Well, how about from now on, we just leave the pokémon we find be,” Snowcrystal said, walking up to him. “Remember the combee?”

    “You wouldn’t let me forget,” Spark replied with a grin.

    “Okay,” Teresa said with a laugh, “you’ve got to tell me more about this combee hive. You didn’t mention much when you told me about your journeys.”

    Perched on a thick branch above the group, Yenn scoffed to himself as Snowcrystal and Spark told the story. “Who would want honey when there are perfectly good combee to eat?” he muttered to himself. He knew however, that that wasn’t what was bothering him. It was the willingness of these pokémon to be so friendly toward the humans, even this new one who’d only just joined them.

    He turned his thoughts to other things, noticing with annoyance once again that it was quite a bit hotter here in the lower parts of the Inari region than up north where Cyclone’s army trained. He wasn’t sure why it irritated him so much; the bizarre northern desert was much worse, but he was restless, and he realized he possibly needed something to focus his frustration on.

    “I’m going to find a stream,” Yenn called down to Snowcrystal. “I’ll be back before we start going again.” Without waiting for an answer, he took off, soaring to a great height. He took in the sprawling grassy landscape below him, watching the small shapes of the rest of the group shrink as he flew higher.

    Almost immediately, he spotted a ribbon of blue in the near distance, next to a man-made path. He hadn’t realized they were so close to one of the routes trainers used to travel from city to city. Perhaps, he thought, the humans leading the group didn’t want to be bothered with other trainers, or perhaps they’d strayed away from the path because of pokémon like him or Thunder. He wasn’t sure.

    Luckily, he couldn’t see any trainers for miles, so he flew down toward the stream. It was barely big enough for him to dip his body into as he flew along it, watching as a few small pokémon quickly darted into the trees to avoid him. The water was cool and refreshing, exactly what he’d needed.

    Then he spotted something just off the trainer path, partly hidden in some bushes. It was clearly a pile of human garbage of one sort or another, but among it, something glimmered. He stopped, not sure why at first, and then he noticed a bit of plastic, a sharp point…

    Yenn backed up, his wings beating so fast that water splashed up on the banks of the stream and smaller trees were blown back. That image, that seemingly harmless glimmer, only seemed to transfix him. He felt frozen. He forced his body to turn around, flying away from the trainer path and into a group of trees. He could feel a familiar panic building. ‘No…this isn’t going to happen again. Not like last time. It’s not…I can…’

    But he knew it was too late. Suddenly, all at once, terror crashed on him, and it was as if he was back in human captivity. Not literally, he knew; he could see the trees around him and the sky and the grass, but it didn’t matter. Everything he’d felt during the worst of his days in the laboratory was hitting him all at once, and he flew onward with no direction.

    Without realizing it, he was shouting, no longer flying but clawing at the grass on the ground, ripping and tearing in a way a yanmega’s claws were not meant for. He didn’t notice when blood began to seep into the earth.

    “Yenn, what are you doing?” a voice called.

    Yenn could suddenly see Wildflame standing between two of the trees near the group’s resting place. He must have flown too close to it by accident. He couldn’t tell whether a long time had passed or if they had heard him right away. Nothing seemed real at the moment.

    Scytheclaw and Damian appeared beside the houndoom. The scizor stared at Yenn with wide eyes. “What’s going on? What’s wrong with you?”

    “Scytheclaw, please…” Damian began, but before he could finish, Teresa appeared beside the others, looking to Yenn with concern.

    “Hey, it’s all right,” she said, and unlike the others, she was completely calm rather than shocked or confused. “You’re with us. It’s just a panic, there’s nothing-”

    “Stay away from me!” Yenn screamed, taking to the air again.

    “I’m sorry,” Teresa said, backing away toward the others. “But if you need anything, we can-”

    “What do you mean?” Yenn cried. “You don’t understand! None of you understand! You humans don’t have any idea-”

    “Maybe we would if you’d tell us what’s going on!” Wildflame shouted back.

    “No!” shouted Yenn, who didn’t seem to be addressing Wildflame in particular. “Get away from me! I don’t want any of you humans near me. I hate you. I hate every last one of you!”

    “Let’s go. He wants us to go,” Teresa whispered to Damian, lightly touching his arm.

    Damian jumped at the sudden contact, but he nodded and followed Teresa, beckoning Scytheclaw to come with him.

    Wildflame watched as Yenn began to scream profanities at no one in particular, launching a shockwave at a tree before flying off. She sighed, then turned and followed the others.

    -ooo-

    The group didn’t get any more walking done that day, but most didn’t mind, because they had been close to ending the day’s journey anyway. After he had returned, Yenn had stayed a ways away from the main group, hardly reacting to anyone who tried to talk to him.

    Late at night, when most of the others had fallen asleep, Snowcrystal tried again.

    The growlithe stopped below the tree Yenn had landed on. As far as she knew, he hadn’t moved from that spot since before the sun set. “Yenn?” she asked, aware he could already see her, even though he wasn’t facing in her direction. “If you want, you can come back to the group. I think the others are just worried-”

    “It’s fine up here,” Yenn said, a bit too quickly.

    “Oh, okay.” Snowcrystal tilted her head toward the ground.

    “Look, I’m…” Yenn began. “I’m sorry if I worried you. It…happens sometimes. I promise I’ll try not to yell at anyone next time. I know we need to work together. Humans or not. We need their medicine. I know.”

    “Don’t be sorry about worrying me,” Snowcrystal said. “But I think…maybe you should talk to the others about what’s going on? Like me, or Stormblade or Redclaw-”

    “Nothing’s ‘going on,’” Yenn said tiredly. “It’s just…” He trailed off. “Never mind. Look, we should probably get some sleep.”

    “Okay,” Snowcrystal replied. “If you need our help, just let us know.”

    The growlithe turned and walked back to the main campsite. Yenn gripped the branch he was resting on tighter, his gaze focused on the moon and stars and the silent landscape below them.

    -ooo-

    Early the next morning, they set off again, walking for most of the morning until noon arrived. As they walked, some of the pokémon cast nervous or worried looks at Yenn, who hung near the back of the party, pretending he didn’t see them.

    “Hey,” Spark called up to Redclaw and Teresa, who were currently walking at the front of the group, “we’ve made good time today. Let’s stop for lunch.”

    Teresa turned to Redclaw, who answered with “Why not?”

    “Yeah, let’s stop,” Stormblade agreed. “I can see a stream through those trees. We can refill our water containers.”

    Yenn watched as the pokémon found places on the grass to relax and the trainers sent out anyone who had been waiting in a poké ball. Teresa’s pokémon, still newcomers to the group, were soon laughing and talking amongst the others like they had known them for weeks. Yenn couldn’t help finding their open trust bizarre.

    As the trainers set about preparing food, Yenn saw Thunder dart into the trees, only to return a minute later, dragging a few large branches in her mouth. She walked over to Nightshade, trying to set them up like a makeshift shelter, and Nightshade assured her it wasn’t necessary.

    Yenn had heard what the others had said about Thunder’s history. She was a fighting ring pokémon, abused for probably most of her life, and there she was among humans, completely fearless.

    Yenn watched as Thunder pointed toward where Spark and Inferno were mock-wrestling in a patch of tall grass near the stream. Spark pushed Inferno into the water, only for the flareon to drag him in afterwards. Thunder whispered something to Nightshade, who laughed.

    Redclaw walked over to Thunder and nudged her shoulder before pointing his snout over to a bowl of food one of the trainers had set out. She gave the arcanine a quick nod and walked over to it.

    Teresa came over to Nightshade, offering him some food before gently stroking his head. Thunder glanced at them from where she was, but then turned back to eating.

    Yenn felt uncomfortable seeing Teresa so close to the vulnerable heracross, but Nightshade showed no signs of fear. He looked serene and calm, and was clearly enjoying the human’s attention, not worried at all. The other pokémon looked the same way. They were completely at peace around the trainers. Even Thunder seemed more annoyed with them than wary.

    Damian walked toward the yanmega, setting a large bowl of food down. Yenn stared at the trainer until he backed away, then slowly approached it. He still didn’t like accepting the human’s food. It had taken the others a bit to convince him it wasn’t tainted in any way, and he still examined every piece carefully before eating. The only reason he had even agreed to eat it in the first place was that it meant he didn’t have to take the life of a wild pokémon.

    As he was sifting through the food, Teresa carefully approached him, holding out something in her hand. “I found these mago berries yesterday. Snowcrystal told me you liked the sweet ones. Want to try some?”

    “I don’t want it,” Yenn growled.

    “Okay, that’s all right,” Teresa said. Instead of looking offended, she just smiled at him before returning to the others.

    He watched as Teresa sat down near Blazefang and Snowcrystal. She offered the berries to them, and afterward, Snowcrystal jumped on her lap, leaning against her in a friendly manner. “I’m so glad you decided to help us,” the growlithe said.

    Yenn continued to use a claw to sift through the food. The other pokémon obviously loved those humans. If Teresa and the other trainers were the sort who forced pokémon into labs, or allowed it to happen, they certainly did a good job of hiding it.

    -ooo-

    That night, Yenn stayed closer to the group, at Snowcrystal’s request. They were spending the late evening hours telling stories of past adventures or mishaps. The yanmega didn’t pay attention to most of it. He was perched in a tall tree at the edge of the camp, catching only snippets of conversation.

    However, at one point, something someone said caused a change in Nightshade. Most of the group looked confused, but Snowcrystal was alarmed. Nightshade turned away from the others and left the main circle. He sought out a clearing by himself, with Snowcrystal following. Soon they were joined by Teresa and Damian, who seemed to have immediately noticed something was wrong.

    Yenn noticed the humans and the growlithe with Nightshade, but he couldn’t see their faces. It was clear something was wrong, and it wasn’t Nightshade’s physical injuries. The humans seemed to be trying to calm him, and it suddenly struck him that their behavior reminded him of how he and Ashend had talked to one another through difficult times.

    He made himself fly to a new perch, where he couldn’t see them. He didn’t think they would have wanted him to see them. He still pictured the scene in his head; something about the humans had seemed…pokémon-like.

    -ooo-

    Throughout the next day, Yenn found himself watching the humans, even though a part of him still didn’t want to. Justin was constantly distancing himself from Stormblade and Thunder, but he had a clear bond with Spark that even Yenn couldn’t ignore. Katie’s pokémon were clearly loyal to her, and she treated both them and the ‘wild’ group with kindness. Damian was skilled at treating and taking care of wounds, and he took great care not to cause any unneeded pain, which was something Yenn had never thought any humans would bother with. Teresa was friendly and caring to all the pokémon, but she did not press when one wanted to be left alone. He could see that, at least on the surface, these trainers were nothing like the humans Yenn had known.

    A few times, Teresa offered Yenn various treats, but his fear and anger would not let him accept them. He was already eating human food; he didn’t need to take anything more from them. Yet, though he didn’t want to admit it, he found himself tempted by these offerings, not for the food itself, but for the kindness.

    Teresa never pressured him, but she gave him the offer and was fine when he refused. A part of him wondered why she kept trying, why any of them kept trying. He hadn’t joined the group to befriend humans. He was there to undo what Cyclone had led him into.

    He stuck to that thought as the day wore on, and by early evening, Teresa approached him again. She didn’t get too close. She looked at him with a smile he still wasn’t used to seeing on humans.

    “Look, Yenn, I know you don’t want treats right now. And, whatever humans did to you in the past, I understand why you don’t trust any of us. But we want to help, and while we can have one of the pokémon help when possible, I still want you to eventually be able to feel like you can trust us. If that takes a long time, that’s fine. Whatever we can do to help you feel more comfortable around us, we’ll do it.”

    It struck Yenn as incredibly strange that a human would say such things. However, he couldn’t be sure it wasn’t a ruse. “What do you want from me?” he asked her, keeping his voice low.

    “I just want you to know that you’re part of the group, part of this journey, and we’re going to do whatever we can to look out for you. You don’t have to be afraid of any of us, but if you want us to stay out of your way whenever we can, we can do that. I’ll talk to the others about it.”

    “Why?” Yenn asked, not sure why he was saying it himself.

    “Why what?”

    “Why do you care so much? Why do you want to help all these pokémon? You have nothing to do with the Forbidden Attacks.”

    “I don’t want to see pokémon or people die because of them,” she answered.

    Yenn lifted off the branch, coming to land on a tree stump near where Teresa was standing. “Can I ask you one question then?” he growled. When Teresa nodded, he continued. “You seem to think that humans caring about pokémon is normal. If that’s the case, why don’t you humans, with all your technology, do something for the pokémon being locked up against their will?”

    “Well,” Teresa replied, not seeming angry or defensive at all, despite Yenn’s attitude, “most of us wish we could. But it’s not that simple. Often we don’t know enough, and there isn’t an easy way to find out. And a lot of times, there isn’t much we can do on our own. But a lot of us are trying. We can’t stop every bad person from harming pokémon, but we help those we can.”

    Yenn went silent, watching her with a skeptical gaze.

    “Maybe there weren’t humans to help you before. But the other trainers and I…we can help you now if you still want that.”

    Yenn thought for a moment. “All right,” he said, his voice still not quite friendly. “How can you help?”

    “Well, for a start, maybe your wound would feel better if it was covered rather than in open air.” She glanced at the cut on the yanmega’s head, then reached into her backpack and pulled out a bandage.

    She waited until Yenn gave her a wary nod before walking toward him. He tensed as she cleaned the wound area and then placed the gauze and bandage over the cut. Nevertheless, he kept still until she had taped the bandage down.

    Afterward, he pulled away from her. “All right, that’s…fine. I’ll go now.” He lifted into the air and headed deeper into the trees.

    “Remember to come back soon. We’ll be walking a bit further after everyone’s rested,” Teresa called cheerfully to him.

    “Yeah, I’ll…remember,” he said back, not sure if she could hear.

    He landed on a new branch, his thoughts quickly growing troubled again. “What am I doing?” he sighed to himself. “This is a human, not some helpful audino looking to…” He trailed off, peering back at what he could see of the group’s campsite.

    At the moment, he wasn’t sure he knew just what he was getting into.

    -ooo-

    Most of the next day passed uneventfully, with Yenn keeping his distance from the others for most of the time, ignoring the efforts of some of his companions to get him to join in with their games and storytelling.

    With the use of their pokégear maps, the trainers were very optimistic that they could reach Steelspire City that night, possibly by evening. The thought unsettled Yenn. Steelspire wasn’t a place he’d known personally, but it was yet another city he would have to face.

    The group had just taken their mid-afternoon break and were back to walking when the trees cleared, and they found themselves on a hill looking down at a small farm. A herd of mareep wandered a fenced-in field, not paying the newcomers much attention. A growlithe lifted his head off the porch of a large farmhouse and barked.

    “Yeah, keep barking,” Rosie muttered to herself. “You’re real threatening.”

    “We don’t need to antagonize them,” Redclaw said. “The mareep can see we’ve got humans with us so we aren’t looking for a snack.”

    Rosie shrugged and followed the arcanine as they set off down the hill. The others followed. They stayed far enough away from the mareep but decided to walk near one of the other fenced-in areas, knowing it would save them time if they didn’t try to go around the farm. A tauros looked up from his grazing and watched them pass with mild interest.

    More barking and growling from the farm growlithe distracted them. The fire type, bigger than Snowcrystal but looking just as young, ran back and forth alongside the fence as the group passed.

    “Keep moving, keep moving!” he shouted at them.

    “What does it look like we’re doing?” Rosie muttered.

    “Move faster! I’m here to protect the farm and I can’t allow strangers to linger,” the growlithe said boldly.

    “Well, you’re doing a good job. Just keep looking for actual threats,” Wildflame told him.

    The growlithe huffed in annoyance and continued to follow them as they walked alongside the fence. Snowcrystal placed herself behind some of the other pokémon, aware that in her days traveling from Shellreef, she hadn’t been careful and some of her orange fur dye had washed off.

    Rosie gave the growlithe an annoyed glance and then looked ahead. They were nearing the farmhouse, but without their vantage point from the top of the hill, most of the view was blocked by a grove of fruit trees surrounded by another fence.

    “Don’t even think about it!” the growlithe snarled at her. “Those are our trees.”

    Rosie rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t thinking about it. I was thinking about how long I’d have to put up with your yapping. But if you want me to leave faster, then fine. Try to keep up with me.” The ninetales took off running.

    The growlithe gave chase from his side of the fence, shouting as Rosie reached the fruit trees. Several of the pokémon and trainers hurried after Rosie as the growlithe sped toward her. The ninetales was faster, however, and before the growlithe had even reached the trees himself, Rosie had come to the end of their fence, rounding the corner and vanishing from sight. Then she gave a startled yip and the front end of a vehicle came into view on the dirt road where she had just vanished, tires squealing as its owner hurriedly slammed the breaks.

    Forgetting the farm growlithe, the others rushed forward as a frantic farmer exited the truck, looking down at something his vehicle blocked from view. Seeing the other human, Yenn quickly grabbed Snowcrystal and lifted higher into the air, afraid that any abnormalities in her fur might be noticed.

    The farmer, however, hardly even glanced at the strange group. Redclaw, Damian, and Teresa were the first to see Rosie lying still on the ground. The color drained from Teresa’s face.

    Rosie was lying on her side, wide-eyed and breathing heavily. However, she didn’t look to have any injuries other than a few scrapes.

    Damian moved closer to the ninetales. “Are you okay?” he asked.

    Rosie took a shuddering breath and got to her feet. “I think so,” she said, testing all four paws. “It didn’t hit me.” She shook herself, scattering dust and bits of grass around her. “I…just didn’t see it coming.”

    The farmer began to profusely apologize, Damian quickly insisting that Rosie was fine and it was merely an accident. Yenn, from his view up above, saw Teresa back away from the others, mutter a hasty excuse, and run toward a small group of trees opposite to the farm. The rest of the group were still focused on Rosie and the farmer; they didn’t question her.

    “Yenn, you can put me down,” Snowcrystal told him.

    “Oh. Right. Sorry,” the yanmega replied. Yenn lowered himself to the ground and landed a short distance away from the group, setting Snowcrystal down on the grass. She ran toward the others, though she was careful not to get too close to the farmer.

    Suddenly feeling nervous about the strange human, regardless of how he seemed concerned for Rosie, Yenn took off again, heading away from the farm but keeping the group in view, so he could rejoin them when they left. Then he noticed Teresa.

    She was among the trees, out of sight and hearing of the others in the group, huddled on the grass. In the short time since she had joined the group, she had always seemed so confident and cheerful. Now, she looked anything but. Yenn was used to seeing humans fearless, acting as if they were invincible thanks to the technology they wielded.

    The way Teresa looked, scared, terrified of something that wasn’t there…or wasn’t there any longer. It suddenly struck him that she was in the grips of the same panic that consumed him when he least expected it. He’d never known that humans could feel like that.

    He flew downwards toward the trees, realizing that Teresa hadn’t sent any of her pokémon out. Did she have no one who understood? Almost without realizing it, he reached Teresa’s side. She had to have heard the light humming of his wings, but she made no reaction. He slowly reached out and nudged her arm.

    Teresa glanced at him, but was still unable to calm down. Yenn landed on the grass beside her and lay down. “Teresa, you’re safe here, it’s just…it will pass.” He felt strange, talking in such a way to a human, but he tried to ignore the feeling.

    “I know,” Teresa said, hardly able to speak between breaths.

    “I…” Yenn knew a part of him was still reeling at the fact that he trying to help a human, yet this human had proven herself to be so much different from what he’d thought all humans had been. “What can I do?”

    “I don’t know,” Teresa gasped.

    Yenn wasn’t sure if anything would help either, so he merely lay beside her, until she began to calm down. Slowly, Teresa reached out her hand to Yenn’s head, and this time he didn’t flinch. For what seemed like a long time, but could only have been several minutes, Teresa’s breathing returned to normal.

    “Did…humans do something to you too?” Yenn asked. After he’d said it, he wasn’t sure if he should be asking that, especially after the way he had treated her the past few days.

    Teresa shook her head. “No, it was nothing like that. It was something else but…I don’t want to talk about what happened."

    “Yeah, I understand that,” Yenn replied.

    From somewhere back near the farm, the two of them heard Redclaw and Stormblade calling for them. Teresa reached for one of her poké balls and threw it, releasing Vicky the sableye.

    Vicky looked at Teresa with obvious concern, but the trainer only said, “Tell the others we’ll be back there in a few minutes, and that we’re fine.”

    “Are you sure…?” Vicky asked, but at a nod from Teresa, the sableye reluctantly turned away and headed off through the trees.

    “Your pokémon…I’m sure they’d understand-” Yenn began, but Teresa cut him off.

    “I didn’t want to bother them,” she said. “I shouldn’t have bothered you. In a bit we can get back to the others and keep going. We could still reach Steelspire by late evening, night at the latest.”

    “You’re not bothering me,” Yenn told her. “You tried to help me. And I guess…maybe I should do the same. I shouldn’t have treated you and the others that way. I’m sorry.”

    “It’s fine,” Teresa replied, but she sounded distant, distracted. She started fiddling with strands of grass. Yenn watched her, seeing her not as just a human, as an enemy, but as someone who had gone through something terrible the way he and his friends had before they’d joined Cyclone’s army. He hesitantly moved closer, checking to see that she was okay with the gesture before laying his head in her lap. A moment later, Teresa ran her fingers over his back, the feeling of the smooth chitin giving her a feeling of calmness. For that moment, whatever was happening off in the rest of the Inari region, beyond that grove of trees, seemed a little less threatening.

    To be continued…


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  3. #102
    Used Thunderbolt! Arrow-Jolteon's Avatar
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    Calling it now, Teresa was either hit by a car at one point of her life or she was involved in a car accident. I liked this chapter, it was nice to see the humans and Pokemon finally interact more properly. I'm not sure it was that good of an idea to tell the authorities about Cyclone, though, as wouldn't that potentially put humans -beings that Cyclone explicitly wants to kill- in jeopardy? I mean, they are going to want to look into Cyclone's army, and if they're not careful Cylcone could easily kill at least dozens of them with just his Forbidden Attack. Idk, just a thought. Though they are right in that they don't have the power or resources to stop Cyclone by themselves.

  4. #103
    Writing stories about bugs Scytherwolf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arrow-Jolteon View Post
    Calling it now, Teresa was either hit by a car at one point of her life or she was involved in a car accident. I liked this chapter, it was nice to see the humans and Pokemon finally interact more properly. I'm not sure it was that good of an idea to tell the authorities about Cyclone, though, as wouldn't that potentially put humans -beings that Cyclone explicitly wants to kill- in jeopardy? I mean, they are going to want to look into Cyclone's army, and if they're not careful Cylcone could easily kill at least dozens of them with just his Forbidden Attack. Idk, just a thought. Though they are right in that they don't have the power or resources to stop Cyclone by themselves.
    You'll see... And they did warn humans not to get close/that Cyclone had Forbidden Attacks and was planning to kill humans/attack cities, so any humans investigating will know it's dangerous (even if the ones that don't quite believe the Forbidden Attack part). They thought the cities deserved to be warned. But what will come of this? We'll see...


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  6. #104
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scytherwolf View Post
    You'll see... And they did warn humans not to get close/that Cyclone had Forbidden Attacks and was planning to kill humans/attack cities, so any humans investigating will know it's dangerous (even if the ones that don't quite believe the Forbidden Attack part). They thought the cities deserved to be warned. But what will come of this? We'll see...
    I can't wait to see!

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  8. #105
    Writing stories about bugs Scytherwolf's Avatar
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    The Path of Destiny
    Chapter 80 – Steelspire City



    Night had completely fallen by the time Steelspire City loomed into view. Most of the city was surrounded by trees, and when the group emerged onto open grass at the top of a small hill, they could see the paths and fences leading up to the first buildings of the outskirts. Many of the pokémon looked at the gleaming city in awe. Unlike Stonedust and Shellreef, there weren’t many tall buildings; most of the big ones they could see seemed to be four stories or less. The exception, however, were four incredibly tall skyscrapers built in a sort of ring, their lights glowing like beacons in the night.

    “Well, here we are. That’s Steelspire,” Justin announced.

    Yenn looked visibly unsettled as he looked toward the city. However, he kept his composure, snapping out of his brief moment of shock and backing up toward Teresa and her pokémon.

    “Oh,” said Thunder, staring ahead at the lights with disdain. “It’s this place.”

    “What?” Redclaw asked, turning toward her. “You know this city? Is there a fighting ring here?”

    “Of course,” Thunder replied. “But that’s not what I mean. This is where Master- er…Mausk, spends the most time when he’s not training. The city of the four spires.”

    Several of the group members glanced at each other. Both Teresa and Damian looked extremely uncomfortable.

    “Are you kidding?” Spark cried. “Mausk is hanging around here?

    “Well, he might not be here at this…exact moment,” Alex stated, trying to lift the sudden heavy mood.

    “I knew we might run into danger,” Teresa began, “but do you think this means…”

    “Okay, look,” Katie said, “whether Mausk is here or not, it’s a big city. And he’s not going to get away with stealing pokémon or…whatever else…from a trainer hotel or a shop. There’s no way.”

    Thunder nodded. “Stay out of the fighting ring, and you should all be fine.”

    “Thanks for the reassurance,” Spark told her. “It’s nice to see you caring about us more.” He smirked at her, and Thunder just rolled her eyes.

    “Well, we’re just here to learn about the cave and get supplies before we leave tomorrow,” Damian said nervously. “I mean…we wouldn’t even know where to look for a fighting ring.”

    “We’re also going to get me a new phone,” Justin announced. “I never got a new one back at Shellreef.”

    “You can go do that while Damian, Teresa, and Katie go look for what they need,” Scytheclaw stated. “We’ve got a lot to do tonight.”

    Snowcrystal was listening to the others, but her gaze was fixed on the sprawling city that lay before her. It had seemed beautiful at first, but then Thunder’s words had made it feel suddenly ominous. She wasn’t sure what to think, but it was obviously a place that trainers visited very often, so it had to be safe.

    Just before reaching the city, the trainers had applied new orange dye to her white fur, so she wasn’t worried about what the random trainers they encountered would think. It was something else, maybe the idea of running into Mausk again, that made her feel suddenly uncertain.

    Stormblade seemed to sense her unease. “Don’t worry,” he told her. “Even if we did run into Mausk, and he did try something, it’s all of us against him. He probably won’t be walking around with abused pokémon or more than six poké balls, not when someone could notice him.”

    “Yeah, you’re right,” Snowcrystal sighed. “I guess…I’m just still thinking about what happened in the underground in Stonedust. I know we won’t be going anywhere near places like that, but it still…”

    “Okay, well, let’s make a plan,” Wildflame said, interrupting them both. “Where do we go first? A pokémon supplies store?”

    “Let’s book a trainer hotel first,” Katie replied. “Then we can worry about getting what we need.”

    “Hey, is it all right if I stay here with Yenn for a while?” Teresa asked, gesturing toward the trees. “I can meet up with you guys a bit later.”

    “Does he…oh, right. No buildings,” Katie sighed. She looked at the yanmega, who was still on edge.

    “You don’t have to,” Yenn told Teresa. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

    “It’s okay,” Teresa replied. “Shellreef is the only big city that I know really well. Others make me nervous. I’ll be fine hanging out here for a while.”

    “Oh, all right,” Yenn replied, not quite hiding the relief in his voice. During the whole rest of the walk to Steelspire, Yenn had constantly been apologizing to Teresa about how he’d treated her and had been trying to make up for it by treating her and the other trainers nicely – sometimes over-the-top nice.

    “All right,” Katie told Teresa. “Just meet up with us in the hotel after we’ve rested a bit. Then we’ll start getting ready.”

    With that settled, everyone – aside from Yenn, Teresa, and her team – began walking toward the city. There were few large buildings on the outskirts; most of them seemed to be small homes. Only a few of them had lights on.

    Once they’d passed a few buildings, pokémon and trainers began to appear. Most of the ones they saw were playing or practicing battle moves in large grassy fields marked by fences, and few paid them any notice.

    “The main city is much more crowded,” Katie warned the pokémon. “This part of it is pretty old and run down. It’s safe, though.”

    “Oh, come on, who’s scared?” Spark cried. “We’ve got Thunder on our side. Is Scytheclaw scared? Bet he is! Everyone, form a protective shield around Scytheclaw so he doesn’t feel afraid!”

    The scizor turned around and glared at him. “Shut it,” he said, though he was more exasperated than angry.

    As they walked along the sidewalk, Snowcrystal noticed a couple of streets to their right that were almost completely dark save for the streetlights. She couldn’t see any trainers or pokémon walking in those areas. Though she knew it was irrational, she thought of Mausk lurking in the darkness and turned her head away, not wanting to look toward the creepy empty areas.

    As she turned her head, however, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. “What was that?” she whispered, turning back toward the closest dark street.

    Damian looked around, not at the street, but at the well-lit areas surrounding them. The nearest trainers were across the street at a coffee shop. Redclaw glanced at him worriedly, his claws clenched against the pavement.

    “I don’t see anything,” Spark said, looking down the sidewalk toward the dark street.

    “There was something there,” Snowcrystal insisted.

    “It’s probably nothing but a stray pokémon,” Rosie reassured her, but as soon as she spoke, Snowcrystal saw the movement again.

    This time, most of the other pokémon saw it too. There was a shape – Snowcrystal realized with relief that it was fairly small, likely not much bigger than she was – moving behind some garbage cans in the shadows. She couldn’t tell what pokémon it was; she could only see parts of its body as it moved between the cans, its features covered by darkness.

    “It’s just a street pokémon looking for some scraps,” Justin sighed. “Let’s get going.”

    Snowcrystal was about to turn away from the dark street when the pokémon stepped into the glow of one of the streetlights. Snowcrystal’s mouth dropped open. It was like she was looking at a copy of herself. Another white growlithe.

    The others froze as well. The growlithe turned to them, and even from a distance they could all see that its markings and color were near identical to Snowcrystal’s. However, it only looked for a moment, then it turned and ran.

    “Wait!” Snowcrystal cried, darting after the growlithe.

    Stormblade ran after her, followed by most of the others. Stormblade quickly passed Snowcrystal and followed the strange growlithe as it rounded a corner and disappeared from sight.

    As he reached Snowcrystal, Damian sent out his elekid. “Flash!” he cried, and Todd used his electricity to light up the dark area.

    Now that she could see better, Snowcrystal was sure they could find the white growlithe, wherever it went. Then she could explain everything and ask questions herself. Could this mean that Icefang had moved the tribe? Was it too late for their mountain home? Did they somehow know…about Articuno?

    However, when she and the others rounded the corner, they saw Stormblade standing alone, facing a dirty gray building three stories tall. It was dilapidated, looking as though no one had tended to it in many years. A fence, now worn down, had been placed around it, but a telltale hole in the base of it told them all where the growlithe had gone.

    “Why did you stop?” Spark called to the scyther. “If the growlithe went in there, we need to find them! They’ve got to be from Snowcrystal’s tribe.”

    Stormblade jerked his head away from the building, looking to Spark in surprise. “I…it doesn’t look safe,” he muttered.

    Redclaw glanced at the scyther, then at the building, then looked away with a shudder.

    “Spark, you could have caught them!” Rosie exclaimed. “You’re a jolteon. It would have been easy to outrun a growlithe.”

    “Not with the head start that growlithe had,” Spark protested. “Besides, without Todd’s light I would have run into all this junk.” He waved a paw at the discarded wood and garbage lying in piles in front of the building’s fence.

    “I’ll go in,” Snowcrystal said, stepping toward the hole in the fence, but Redclaw moved his paw in front of her.

    “That building’s falling apart,” he warned her.

    “Well if the other growlithe’s fine in there, Snowcrystal should be,” Justin said. “Let’s let her try. There’s something weird about this.”

    “I don’t know, could be a trap,” Wildflame growled. “What would a rare white growlithe be doing here alone?”

    Blazefang looked to her nervously. “What if it’s a ditto or a zorua or something, trying to lure us into that place? What if it’s from Mausk?”

    “Okay, that’s just ridiculous,” Scytheclaw replied. “Even if we pretend Mausk just happened to know we’d be near this exact spot, we wouldn’t have even seen the growlithe at all if Snowcrystal didn’t happen to notice something. Would be a pretty strange coincidence for Mausk to know that would happen.”

    “Everyone, calm down!” Alex cried. “Let’s see if we can get the growlithe to come out.” The floatzel walked over to a section of the fence that sagged lower than the rest and leaped over it. Avoiding the debris strewn around the small yard, she cupped her paws to her muzzle and called into the space of a long-broken window. “Hello? Anyone in there? We don’t mean you any harm! In fact, we’ve got someone from your tribe right here! Sure, she looks orange now, but it’s dye to keep her hidden. Please come out and just talk to us. We want to help you. Do you know a Snowcrystal?”

    The floatzel’s words were met with silence.

    “Maybe they didn’t hear her?” Spark suggested.

    “There’s no way,” Scytheclaw growled. “They heard all right, they just don’t want to come out.”

    “Give it more time,” Redclaw hissed at the scizor.

    However, they stood waiting for at least twenty minutes and several more calls from the pokémon, and no one emerged. Thunder, who had caught up to the others with the rest of the group, looked visibly agitated by the delay, but she did not complain. Using Todd’s flash, the trainers and pokémon peered into the dark spaces of the windows, but they couldn’t see anything but rotting wood planks and trashed, disgusting furniture.

    “I don’t think anything’s going to come out while we’re here,” Scytheclaw growled.

    “Aww, it’s okay, Scytheclaw,” Spark said in a mock-caring voice. “I know you’re scared, and that building’s pretty spooky, but-”

    “Spark, I swear-” the scizor growled.

    “Well, if there’s a pokémon ambush waiting in there, I don’t see it,” Katie said, stepping back from a window. “Still, it looks unsafe. Seems like half the walls inside have been torn down.”

    Snowcrystal gave a worried sigh from where she still stood next to Redclaw, and Todd glanced at her sadly.

    “I can do it,” the elekid said. “Wait here. I’ll get the growlithe to come out.” He turned and darted under the hole in the fence.

    “Todd, wait!” Damian cried.

    The elekid, however, ran into the building, disappearing into the blackness. Damian ran after him, and Snowcrystal followed before Redclaw could stop her again. Damian quickly jumped the fence, still shouting for Todd to come back, and then he too vanished into the gloom, Snowcrystal following soon after.

    “Todd, get back here!” Scytheclaw shouted in anger.

    Spark moved toward the fence, eyeing the opening in the bottom suspiciously before deciding to jump over it. “I’ll go with them,” he said.

    “Okay, hold on,” Katie said. “It’s not going to be any safer with more of you stomping around in there.” She quickly sent out her pidgeot. “Ray, Stormblade, check the upper windows for anything suspicious.”

    The two flying types nodded and took to the air. Spark still stared determinedly at the building’s entrance. “All right, Katie, but if there’s any sign of trouble, I’m going in there.” Several of the other pokémon voiced their agreement at his comment.

    Inside the building, Damian coughed. His feet had stirred up lots of dust, but he quickly saw – thanks to Todd’s light – that he wasn’t the only one to do so. The ground was covered in growlithe footprints. “It looks like no one else has been here except the growlithe,” he called back to the others outside, before leaning over to cough again. “Come on, Todd,” he said when he’d finished. “The others are right. It’s not safe here.” He glanced up at the ceiling, which sported a large hole. “Maybe if we come back-”

    Todd turned toward movement, and both Damian and Snowcrystal saw a dusty white shape dart up a set of broken-down stairs in the far corner of the room. “There!” Todd shouted, without looking at them, before he raced after the growlithe.

    As Todd’s light moved further away, Damian stumbled on some debris as he tried to follow. Snowcrystal was faster, even in the low light, and she reached the stairs as Todd’s light vanished into the upper story.

    Damian turned toward her, reaching for his pokégear to provide some light. Snowcrystal was cautiously climbing the steps, but they seemed sturdy enough, so Damian followed her, lighting the way for both of them.

    Upon reaching the upper story, Damian and Snowcrystal looked around, noting the hole in the floor leading to where they’d been standing moments before. There was grimy water leaking down from the ceiling in one corner of the room, and mold grew on some of the walls. It seemed like a good place for a grimer or muk to live, but there were no signs that any pokémon other than the growlithe had been there.

    Todd’s light was coming from a doorway on the other side of the room, so Damian carefully nudged his way around the outer edges of the floor, keeping well clear of the hole. Snowcrystal followed, noting with unease that some of the wooden boards creaked even under her small weight. They reached the doorway – which lacked any sort of door – and stepped through it.

    Todd was standing near the center of the room, facing another doorway on the opposite wall. A part of the wall had collapsed, and planks of wood covered most of the opening, but there, hidden among them, its face and body in shadow, was the other white growlithe.

    “We just want to talk,” the elekid was saying. “We have another white growlithe with us, like you-” He turned around to notice Damian and Snowcrystal, and in that instant, the growlithe bolted into the darkness of the opposite doorway.

    “Wait,” Todd cried, stepping forward. A plank of rotting wood splintered under his feet, and the elekid jumped back, looking at the newly formed crack.

    “Todd, be careful! And look, we’re not going to gain that growlithe’s trust this way,” Snowcrystal said. “Besides, the growlithe knows this building. We don’t.”

    “The wood’s really rotten here. Come back,” Damian said, crouching down and gesturing for Todd to come over to them.

    “But it just went into that room!” Todd cried. “Snowcrystal, do you know what this means?”

    “Of course I do, but-”

    “That’s a member of your tribe! It has to be!” the elekid shouted, and without any further warning, he dashed toward the dark space where the growlithe had disappeared.

    Snowcrystal and Damian saw the wood beneath Todd’s feet splinter and break before they could shout a warning. In a panic, Damian lunged toward his pokémon, but never reached him. A section of the floor a short distance from Todd’s collapsed, sending Damian crashing through to the floor below.

    Snowcrystal leaped back, making sure her paws were on stable ground before she called out to the others. As the dust in the musty space cleared, she could see Todd hanging on to a piece of broken wood with his claws. Snowcrystal edged around the room until she was close enough to him, reminding herself that the floor where Todd had fallen was especially weak. She gripped his arm in her teeth and pulled the elekid to safety.

    In the room below, Damian opened his eyes. Dust swam in front of his vision, but he could make out the shape of the hole he had fallen into above him. He couldn’t see Todd anywhere. He slowly reached for the poké balls at his belt – luckily he didn’t seem to have any major injury to his arms – and grabbed Todd’s. With the ball in his hands, he shakily pushed himself into a sitting position, and it was then that he noticed the glass, and the blood.

    On his way down, he’d hit the edge of a grimy glass table with his leg. Pieces of glass littered the floor, and several were protruding from his own leg, blood seeping onto the floor beneath him.

    Damian gave a cry of shock, which was soon met with footsteps which sounded from a nearby room. Damian heard the steps go up the stairs and then Scytheclaw’s voice rang out.

    What happened?

    Snowcrystal said something back and Scytheclaw walked near the hole in the floor, jumping back with a curse as more wood splintered and rained down near Damian. Then he saw the scizor’s head appear in the space above the hole.

    “Oh, hell,” Scytheclaw muttered before he leaped through the hole, coming to a landing beside Damian, his armored feet crunching the glass. With a scared look, the scizor knelt down beside his trainer, examining the glass and the blood, although Damian’s pant leg prevented him from seeing the actual wounds. “Todd, just so you know, I’m going to kill you for this!” he shouted up toward the hole.

    “Don’t…don’t be mad at Todd,” Damian stammered. “I followed him in here, okay?”

    Scytheclaw didn’t reply, and instead reached out toward one of the largest pieces of glass embedded in Damian’s leg, carefully gripping it with his pincer.

    Damian shook his head. “No, don’t pull it out,” he instructed. As Scytheclaw looked to him with a concerned expression, he began to ramble. “Look, it’s fine. I’ll be fine. I’m okay. Well, maybe not okay, but it’ll be okay, you know? I mean…don’t be too concerned. It’s fine.”

    “Send Arien out,” Scytheclaw said, stepping back. “Have him teleport you outside. I’ll make sure Todd and Snowcrystal get out okay.”

    “Oh, right. That’s a good idea,” Damian replied. Though the color was draining from his face, he managed to grab Arien’s poké ball and send the Alakazam out.

    A moment later, he and Arien appeared outside the building in front of their shocked companions. Several seconds later, Scytheclaw appeared with Todd and Snowcrystal gripped under each of his arms. He looked at Damian, who was for some reason trying to stand, leaning on Arien for support.

    “What the hell happened?” Justin shouted, watching as Spark began to argue with Scytheclaw and Redclaw about the arcanine having stopped him from entering the building.

    Snowcrystal wriggled free of Scytheclaw’s grasp. “Todd was following the white growlithe, but it vanished and…Todd almost fell through the floor. Damian tried to help, and…” She looked at Todd, who was now standing alone on the ground, and he turned away from her.

    “Spark, I’m telling you; you couldn’t have done anything!” Scytheclaw shouted at the jolteon. “He was my trainer and you would have just gotten your paws cut on-”

    “All right, stop!” Alex shouted, pushing her way between them. “This isn’t helping anyone!”

    Katie walked up to Damian, looking at him with wide eyes. “You’re bleeding all over the place.”

    “Sorry,” Damian replied weakly.

    “I don’t know the location of the human hospital in this city,” Arien explained. “We may need Fernwing to-”

    “Here,” Katie said, showing him her pokégear screen, which depicted a map of Steelspire City. “I know this won’t help with teleport, but…do you know the Sweet Scent Bellossom restaurant? The Shinx Café? There’s a training ground near the hospital too, have you been there? There’s also the pokémon gym, but it’s further away…”

    “I know the gym, yes,” Arien responded. “We’ll find our way from there. Book some rooms in the trainer hotel and we’ll meet you there.” In the blink of an eye, he and Damian vanished.

    Todd, left behind in the commotion, stared at the space his trainer and teammate had been standing moments before. He clutched his claws together, tears forming in his eyes.

    “Try to relax, okay?” Snowcrystal told him, walking over to nudge his shoulder. “We’re in a city with humans that can help. Damian will be alright.”

    Todd just nodded slowly, not replying.

    Katie called Teresa on her pokégear, quickly explaining what had happened. Snowcrystal could hear Teresa on the other end of the call, sounding frantic. “I should have been there,” Teresa’s voice sounded from the pokégear. “I’m so sorry.”

    “None of this is your fault,” Katie said, interrupting her. “I don’t think you being here would have changed anything.”

    Scytheclaw sighed. “Look, let’s forget the weird growlithe for now and get to the hotel. We’ll figure out what to do.”

    “Yeah, that seems to be about all we can do until we hear back from Damian,” Rosie replied.

    “All right. Well, don’t worry about it,” Katie said to the image of Teresa on her screen before closing the pokégear. “Well, that was kind of weird.”

    “Come on, everyone, let’s go,” Scytheclaw muttered worriedly as he walked back toward the street that had led them to the old building. “We’ve got a lot to do tonight.”

    -ooo-

    After the unfortunate accident, they were relieved to have a stroke of luck; the trainer hotel had plenty of vacant rooms, as many of the trainers traveling to Steelspire had taken up residence in one of the four famous towers, the one that was currently hosting an annual pokémon club of some sort. They were able to rent four rooms, each one connected by a door that could be unlocked, so the trainers and their pokémon could easily talk to one another if needed.

    After briefly checking out the rooms, everyone had gathered into one of the center ones, the pokémon lounging on the floor, tables, and bed. The only pokémon absent – aside from Arien – was Yenn, who had insisted on staying outside the city.

    “That growlithe…” Stormblade began, breaking the awkward silence that had settled over them. “Did you recognize them, Snowcrystal?”

    “I couldn’t get a close look,” she replied glumly. Her mind was still whirling with possibilities as to why the growlithe would have ended up in a city so far from their mountain. She felt a pang of grief as she realized that the strange growlithe might not even know about Articuno’s death.

    Thunder looked up from where she was standing by Nightshade, who was lying on the bed with some of the other pokémon. “You know…” She glanced at Nightshade again and sighed. “If it’s…really important to you, then maybe I could go back and get that growlithe to come here with us.”

    Snowcrystal shook her head. “No, I don’t want to force it,” she said. “And maybe…maybe that growlithe wasn’t part of my tribe. Maybe it was one of those experimental pokémon, the ones who have altered colors. Like that umbreon with purple rings in Stonedust City. Maybe it’s…”

    “Well, now we’ve got more things to worry about,” Rosie said, her head hanging off the edge of the bed as she lay with all four paws in the air.

    “…It’s my fault,” said a small voice.

    The pokémon turned to see Todd, who was sitting against the wall. The elekid was staring blankly ahead. “I got my trainer hurt,” he continued. “I just…”

    “Blaming yourself won’t get anywhere,” Stormblade told him. “What happened happened and it was an accident. I’m sure Damian doesn’t blame you.”

    Todd looked up at the scyther, seeming a bit more hopeful.

    “You did run into a building when we said not to,” Scytheclaw growled, but then his voice softened. “But hey, a lot of us have made some pretty bad mistakes. It’s what you do afterward that matters, isn’t it?”

    Todd stared back at the scizor, not expecting such words to have come from Scytheclaw. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” he said.

    There was a knock on the door, and Teresa appeared. “I’m…sorry I wasn’t there to help you guys,” she said as she closed the door. “If I was, maybe I could have-”

    “Like I said before, I don’t think there was anything you or I could have done,” Katie replied. “We’re waiting to hear back from Damian, and since we haven’t gotten any sort of message yet, it’s obvious nothing terrible has happened. As soon as we hear from him, we’ll figure out what to do.”

    “Are we still leaving tomorrow?” Spark asked.

    “Of course!” Blazefang said before anyone else could answer. “I’m not waiting around in this city. We need to find Tanzenarc. We need answers.”

    “Depending on how bad Damian was injured, he might have to stay behind,” Scytheclaw said. “He can’t go crawling around a cave like that.”

    Todd glanced to Snowcrystal nervously, clearly aware that there was no ‘depending;’ Damian’s injuries would no doubt prevent him from entering the cave.

    “It’s fine,” Snowcrystal said, more to reassure Todd than anything. “Maybe Damian can try to find out more about that white growlithe.”

    “Well, if Damian’s staying here, then I guess I am too,” Scytheclaw said. “I already know enough about what’s going on with me. It’s Blazefang and Yenn who need answers.”

    “Yes,” Blazefang agreed. “I’m definitely going.”

    “You’re still injured, though,” Snowcrystal pointed out.

    “Justin has my poké ball,” Blazefang protested. “I won’t need to travel. They can send me out when they find Tanzenarc.”

    “I found this map of Winding Cave,” Teresa said quietly, showing Katie and the pokémon sitting on the bed her pokégear screen. “We can probably get a more detailed one from the locals, I think.”

    Before anyone could reply, they were interrupted by an incoming call from Damian on Katie’s pokégear. Katie answered it while the pokémon sitting on the bed leaned over to see the screen. Damian’s image appeared, looking disheveled.

    “Well, first of all,” Damian said, his voice sounding weaker than normal. “I’m going to be fine, but…”

    “What did they say?” Spark asked.

    "Well, uh, they told me I was an idiot for going in that building. So, um…what have you guys been doing?"

    “Waiting for you,” Katie responded. “Some of the pokémon were really worried that you were gonna – Redclaw, no! You can’t get on the bed! You’re too big! – ugh, well, the pokémon were upset-”

    Damian shook his head. “No, they shouldn’t be. The glass missed the major arteries and I shouldn’t have much permanent damage…if any,” he added once realizing that the others had looked worried. “I mean, the rest of you can go through Winding Cave yourselves. Teresa’s there to help you now.”

    “You can’t go to the cave yourself, can you?” Snowcrystal asked, her ears drooping.

    “They said I need to stay here, in the city,” Damian replied. “I can go back to the hotel in a bit, but they want me to check back the next few days in case of infection. I’m not supposed to walk much, so…”

    “So no exploring any caves,” Katie finished. “But maybe your pokémon can check out the white growlithe’s hideout again sometime later? You know, without sending anyone inside.”

    “Yeah,” Damian said. “I’ll do that.”

    “Thanks,” Snowcrystal told him. “I don’t know if that growlithe was really from my tribe, but if we could find out, that would mean…it would mean a lot.”

    “Yeah, I understand,” Damian replied. “Anyway, you guys should start preparing for everything. I’ll probably be at the hotel by the time you’re done. Arien knows where it is.”

    “Okay, we’ll meet you back here then,” Katie said, and the pokémon gave their goodbyes before Katie hung up. “Well,” she said, addressing everyone in the room, “let’s get started.”

    -ooo-

    Later that night, the entire group, minus Yenn, were all back at the hotel. Damian had to reassure Todd numerous times that he didn’t blame him, and that he had already accepted the elekid’s apology.

    Justin was showing off his brand-new phone to Spark, while Teresa and Katie began telling Damian what had come from their talk with the Steelspire City police.

    “They already know about Cyclone’s group of pokémon,” Katie said. “Teresa was insisting that it was dangerous for anyone to get close to them, but well, they already knew that. They’re going to start using remote technology to monitor Cyclone’s pokémon and make sure they don’t get too close to any cities or places trainers usually travel. Right now, though, I guess they’re still trying to work out how best to deal with them. That’s all they told us, anyway.”

    “And about the Forbidden Attacks?” Snowcrystal asked.

    “Didn’t really say much about that,” Katie replied. “We told them, they listened, but I don’t know. Same as last time.”

    “They’ve got to realize what they’re dealing with after the Shadowflare fires, right?” Alex asked.

    “Let’s hope,” Spark replied.

    Blazefang sighed. “We have got to find Tanzenarc. If this cave is a dead end, then…”

    “Let’s worry about that if it happens,” Arien told him.

    “How are we supposed to find him, though?” Teresa asked. “I know Fortunarc told us that pokémon would lead us to him, but Winding Cave is popular. There has to be a reason that no other trainer has stumbled across an unknown legendary before.”

    “We’re assuming that there’s a portal, like with Sequoiarc,” Wildflame said. “One that’s only activated at certain times, or by a pokémon with a Forbidden Attack. Probably leads to an otherwise inaccessible part of the cave.”

    “It’ll likely be in a hard to reach place, though,” Damian said from where he was lying on the bed with a few of his pokémon. “We had to cross a desert for the first one.”

    “Here’s the map of the cave,” Teresa said, spreading a large piece of paper out on the desk beside the bed. “It’s more detailed than the one you can find on the pokégear, because it shows some of the routes that are usually blocked off to trainers.”

    Snowcrystal hopped up onto the bed to peer at the map, while the trainers and a few of the taller pokémon gathered around to see. The tunnels marked on the page looked tiny, and they sprawled in all directions. There were only a few relatively big caverns.

    “Obviously, we’ll try to ask some cave pokémon to lead us there. But if for whatever reason they won’t, we’ll search the easiest areas first,” Teresa explained. “But we know that if there’s a portal, it’s probably in a place humans don’t go to very often, like here.” She pointed to a set of tunnels much narrower than most of the others. In a few places, a small figure representing the size of an adult human was next to the tunnels, which looked frighteningly narrow in comparison. “This is one of the places that’s usually blocked off. Shouldn’t be hard to open it up with a pokémon, but well, it’s blocked with warning signs for a reason. The tight spaces in this cave can be extremely dangerous.”

    “You could let me go in first,” Snowcrystal suggested. “If I get stuck, Justin can just return me.”

    “Could Arien teleport you out?” Damian asked the other trainers.

    “In an ideal situation, yes,” Teresa replied. “If he can get close enough. But if there’s a cave-in that separates us…I don’t think Arien could teleport into a tiny tunnel in order to teleport us out.”

    “Still better to have backup,” Damian replied, taking Arien’s poké ball off of his belt and handing it to her. Arien, who was sitting on the edge of Damian’s bed, looked to Damian with worry but then nodded at Teresa.

    “Well, hopefully the cave pokémon will help us,” Snowcrystal said. “If they know Fortunarc sent us, they should listen, and she seemed pretty sure that they know how to find Tanzenarc.”

    “That’s true,” Nightshade agreed.

    “You should stay with Damian,” Katie told the heracross. “It would be less stressful. Unless you want-”

    “No, it’s fine. I’ll stay with him,” Nightshade replied, giving Damian a reassuring glance. “I’ll be okay here.”

    Thunder stiffened, looking to Nightshade with annoyance. “You’d stay in this…” She paused, looking around at the room with its blue lapras-print wallpaper. “…This weird-looking cheerful human house?”

    “Don’t worry,” Nightshade replied. “You can trust that I’ll be alright.”

    Thunder heaved a sigh, but simply said, “Yeah, I want you to do what you want, so…I guess we’ll be back in a few days.”

    “You could stay here too, you know,” Snowcrystal told her.

    “As lovely as that sounds,” Thunder muttered, “I don’t want to be stuck in a city for days. No thanks.”

    Justin glanced to her with an uneasy look and placed his hand on Spark’s head for reassurance.

    “Well, I guess we’d better get some rest before tomorrow,” Snowcrystal said.

    “She’s right,” Katie agreed. “Us trainers can pick our rooms and the pokémon can sleep where they want. There’s even a place outside for pokémon to rest, if anyone wants that.”

    With murmurs of agreement, the pokémon spread out to inspect the rooms again, while Justin ran into the one next door and claimed it as his. In the end, they were so exhausted that it didn’t take long for everyone to find a place to sleep. Only Thunder chose to spend the night outside.

    In the end, Snowcrystal decided to sleep on one side of Damian’s bed, along with Nightshade. To her right, Inferno was curled up against Damian’s side, the flareon’s tail curled around his body. Todd and Dusk slept at the foot of the bed.

    Snowcrystal stayed awake longer than the others in her room, her thoughts constantly returning to the sight of the pale growlithe alone in the Steelspire City streets. When she finally drifted off, she dreamed of roaming through dark alleys and strange paths, frantically searching.

    -ooo-

    By late morning the next day, Snowcrystal and the rest of the group who were going to the cave were already on their way, having just met up with Yenn.

    “You’re telling me you found a white growlithe in the city? All alone?” Yenn was asking. “You’ve got to do something. If humans find out, then-”

    “Damian’s pokémon are going to keep a look out,” Wildflame told him.

    “Damian’s staying behind for that?” Yenn asked, surprised.

    “No,” Stormblade told him. “He couldn’t go with us. He got his leg cut up pretty bad.”

    “That’s…that’s unfortunate,” Yenn replied, sounding a bit uncomfortable with the words, but he did seem like he was genuinely trying to be concerned.

    Teresa glanced down at Arien’s poké ball, hoping that his teleporting abilities would be of use if they got into trouble in the cave.

    “What’s wrong?” Yenn asked, flying level with her.

    “Nothing,” she replied. “It just feels weird that we’re about to meet a second unknown legendary…well, the third for you guys. And the others saw another white growlithe in the city last night. It’s just…still weird.”

    “Welcome to our wonderful lives,” Spark said with a grin.

    “Maybe we should tell her more about the other caves we’ve been in,” Rosie added. “Like when we almost-”

    “Oh…look at this,” came a voice from up ahead, and everyone turned to look at Katie, who was staring at her pokégear screen. “A warning just went out. They’re telling all trainers not to go north of Stonedust because of dangerous pokémon.”

    Wildflame shifted uneasily. “Isn’t that a good thing?”

    “Yeah, it should be,” Katie replied. “I mean, a warning like this is pretty serious, and they made it clear how unsafe-”

    “If humans try to fight back without knowing what they’re really up against, they’ll lose,” Yenn replied. “And they’ll also take a lot of pokémon with them.”

    “We told them about the Forbidden Attacks and that they can’t just attack Cyclone head-on or anything like that,” Katie replied. “I know this is different, but the people working on this have dealt with hostile groups of wild pokémon before. And before we figure out what Tanzenarc’s plan is, the best thing we can do is warn them.”

    Thunder, who had stayed on the edge of the group, turned to look at Katie. “You’re right,” she said. “Even Mausk couldn’t control a Forbidden Attack once it got set off. If some sort of human technology can prevent that with Cyclone, let them try.”

    Redclaw looked worriedly at her, but merely nodded. Sensing the feeling of apprehension that had settled over the group, he decided to try to lighten the mood by challenging some of the others to a short race.

    Several of the pokémon ran off through the grass, laughing and shouting to one another. Teresa watched them, smiling. “You know, with all these pokémon with us, I think I can handle more weird stuff happening.”

    “It certainly is better than doing nothing about the things going on, I’ll tell you that,” Yenn replied.

    For the rest of the day, the pokémon and trainers talked amongst each other, sharing stories and laughing. Hope that Tanzenarc would have more answers was high, and the day went by smoothly. By the time night fell, and the group decided on an early rest, it was still warm enough that the trainers didn’t bother setting up their tents. Instead, they laid out blankets and sleeping bags on the grass, the pokémon clustered around them. After an eventful day of traveling, they slept peacefully under the stars.

    -ooo-

    A sharp knock at the door woke Nightshade, who sat up stiffly on the bed. Damian turned from the small hotel desk where he was browsing his pokégear and looked at the door. He stood up carefully and limped over to it, careful not to put much weight on his injured leg. Upon opening the door, his team – minus Arien – greeted him with frustrated expressions.

    “Nothing?”

    “No,” Scytheclaw sighed as Damian stepped out of the way and he walked in. “No sign of the growlithe. Nothing. Snowcrystal’s going to be disappointed.”

    “We can try again,” Fernwing said hopefully, sticking her long neck through the doorway.

    “Let’s wait ‘till it’s light,” Inferno said with a yawn.

    “I could keep searching,” Dusk said, but Damian shook his head.

    “No, you should rest. Or at least…find something relaxing to do. You’ve been looking for a long time.”

    “I saw that the hotel had a pool,” Fernwing suggested. “Though that might not be Inferno’s favorite thing.”

    “It’s fine,” Inferno protested. “It’s not like I have any open flames on my body.”

    “The pool sounds nice,” Todd added sheepishly.

    Fernwing nudged her way into the room and craned her neck toward the window. “I can see it from here. No one else is using it. Let’s go.”

    Damian shrugged. “Okay,” he replied. After confirming that Nightshade wanted to remain in the room, they left, Damian walking with the help of Scytheclaw. A few minutes later, the trainer was sitting beside the pool as his pokémon played.

    Fernwing waded calmly in the deep end, her head reaching above the water. Todd and Inferno splashed each other in the shallow end, and Dusk swam around in slow circles. Scytheclaw spent a short time in the shallow end of the pool, but then left and went to join Damian, who was looking on his pokégear.

    “Looks like they issued a warning about going north of Stonedust,” Damian said quietly.

    “Good,” said Scytheclaw. “They’re listening.”

    Damian said nothing, moving on to look at other news. After a couple minutes, he started to look worried. “You know that Pokémon Club thing they have going on in one of Steelspire City’s towers?”

    “Hm? What about it?” the scizor asked.

    “Well, with these sorts of things, there’s a lot of trading and showcasing of rare pokémon. It says there’s a special event going on, with an unusual pokémon that’s ‘never been seen before.’ Nothing’s posted about it publicly yet, but…”

    “What? You don’t think…”

    “Maybe that’s why you didn’t find the white growlithe,” Damian finished for him.

    Looking up, they noticed that the other pokémon had overheard their conversation and come to the edge of the pool in front of them. “Someone caught the white growlithe, and it’s being shown off in this club?” Todd said quietly.

    “Possibly. But we need to make sure,” Dusk said. “Is there anything we need to get into this club?”

    Damian shook his head. “It’s a free event, or at least most of it is. But some of the rooms are only available to certain trainers, and those have a fee. That’s probably where the pokémon is.”

    Inferno groaned. “If it’s being auctioned off, there’s no way we can-”

    “Dusk is right,” Fernwing said. “We should at least check and make sure. If nothing else, we can find the growlithe and ask questions. Snowcrystal is counting on us. If they’ll let me, Damian, you can ride on my back while there. There’s bound to be tons of pokémon walking with their trainers.”

    Damian looked over his pokémon, each of them looking invigorated and determined. “You’re right,” he said, fighting back worry for the white growlithe. “We need to go check this out.”

    -ooo-

    Fernwing landed carefully in the open plaza in front of one of the four famous Steelspire City skyscrapers. Up close, the building looked massive, seeming to stretch almost out of view. Lights came from nearly every window.

    “Well, this is it,” Damian said nervously, glancing at the crowds around them. Pain still raced up his leg with every movement, but he chose to ignore it.

    “Right. Let’s do this,” Fernwing replied.

    Upon entering the building, Damian quickly realized that it was too crowded to keep Fernwing outside of her poké ball. She reluctantly agreed to be returned, and he sent out Scytheclaw instead. It wasn’t simply for the scizor to aid him in walking; Damian felt calmer among crowds when one of his pokémon was around.

    The first floor room had been set up like a lounge, and several trainers sat together at tables, while others hung out near a group of trading machines. There were maps of the building’s floors on the wall, showing what events were being hosted. Damian and Scytheclaw carefully edged through the crowd and made their way over to the closest one.

    “Floor 46,” Damian said, pointing at the map. “That’s where it says that certain pokémon are being showcased. But, obviously we don’t have a pass to go up that far.”

    “And what exactly are we supposed to do if we do see the growlithe?” Scytheclaw whispered under his breath. “Ask them to hand it over?”

    “I mean, I guess the most we can hope for is to talk to the growlithe,” Damian whispered back sadly. “Then at least Snowcrystal will know. Maybe hear from her tribe.”

    A loud cheer broke their concentration, causing them to turn toward an open set of doors leading to another room. Damian could just see the edge of a battlefield from his position, and a lurantis making a triumphant pose.

    “Well, there’s a lot going on here,” Scytheclaw said. “I bet they have battle and trading stations on a lot of floors. Then there’s the events and who knows what else. We can maybe slip into the higher floors without anyone noticing.”

    “I…don’t know,” Damian replied nervously. “Maybe we can just ask around? Surely someone here knows what pokémon are being shown and is willing to-”

    “Hey,” a voice close to Damian said, making him jump in surprise and nearly stumble. A trainer looking a few years older than him had walked right up behind him. “Are you talking about the rare pokémon showcase event?”

    “Y-yes,” Damian responded.

    “Then here,” the other trainer responded, holding out his hand. “You want to see what these people are doing here? Then go up there and find out for yourself.”

    Damian stared at the card in his hand, realizing that it was a pass to gain access to the higher levels of the building. He could hardly believe the trainer was just offering it to him, a complete stranger. “Th…thanks,” Damian said, taking the card from the trainer’s hand. “Are you sure you can just-”

    “All they’ll do is look at the card and your pokégear,” the trainer said with a shrug. “So…knock yourself out, I guess.” He started to walk away.

    “Wait,” Damian said, and the trainer stopped and turned to look at him. “This will help, thank you, but…can you tell me what type of rare pokémon you saw?”

    The trainer suddenly looked angry. “They’ve got new ones every day, but you can still see the ones from the previous days. It disgusts me, though, what they’re doing. I’d rather you go see for yourself.” Without another word, he walked off into the crowd.

    “That was…weird,” Scytheclaw said as he and Damian moved to a somewhat quieter corner of the room.

    “Yeah…what would they be doing that disgusted him enough to give away his pass?” Damian said back, flipping the card over in his hand. “I know it might seem iffy to have pokémon on display, but as long as they were taken care of, most wouldn’t mind, unless…”

    “…They were captured against their will?” Scytheclaw finished.

    “Maybe…maybe we shouldn’t do this,” Damian mumbled.

    “What? Why?” Scytheclaw asked. “We literally just got this handed to us! We can’t throw that opportunity away. And this is the only chance to talk to the growlithe, even if they post public pictures later.”

    “You’re right,” Damian sighed. “This is a pokémon club. They wouldn’t get away with any kind of abuse and I know the police can access everything.”

    “Yeah,” the scizor said, “so come on. Let’s check this out.”

    The two found a nearby elevator, and with an unsteady hand, Damian pressed the button for floor fourty-six. He and Scytheclaw waited as trainers and pokémon got on and off, until finally they were the only ones left. The elevator rose several more floors and then came to a stop.

    As the doors opened, Damian was instantly greeted by near-silence. The other floors had been chaotic and overwhelming, but this one was calm and quiet. It was just as brightly lit as the other floors, with paintings and statues of pokémon lining the room and the halls branching from it.

    Damian stepped off the elevator to be greeted by a worker, who scanned his newly obtained card and checked his pokégear, then let him through. Damian asked him about the rare pokémon, and he pointed down one of the hallways.

    He and Scytheclaw walked down it silently, careful because of Damian’s leg. Damian couldn’t shake the unsettling feeling that he did not belong here, that he was an outsider, though he couldn’t place why that was.

    The hallway opened up into a large room that spanned the story above as well. Compared to the room with the elevator and the hallway, it was quite loud, though not so much as the downstairs floors. Small groups of trainers were scattered about, some having their pokémon groomed and others using trading machines. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and Damian couldn’t see any pokémon on display.

    Scytheclaw led Damian up a small set of stairs that took longer than Damian would have liked to climb. It led to a smaller, but higher-up area where Damian and Scytheclaw could look out over the entire room.

    “There’s where we want to go,” Scytheclaw said triumphantly as he pointed a claw toward the opposite end of the room where a smaller door guarded by two workers was, an elegant-looking sign above it.

    Reading the words, Damian confirmed Scytheclaw’s assumption. “Right, looks like they only let a certain number of people in at a time. Probably to avoid stressing out the pokémon. But it’s not busy up here, so let’s-”

    He froze, gripping the rails lining the upper area of the room. Near the doorway leading to the rare pokémon, two men stood by a trading machine. One of them had turned, and Damian suddenly felt like time had slowed down.

    It was Nathanial Mausk. It was the person he and the others had been most afraid to encounter in Steelspire City. What was he doing here? Why was he just standing there, using a trading machine like it was perfectly normal, in a place like this?

    “Damian, what are you-” Scytheclaw began, his words failing him as he noticed who Damian was looking at.

    Damian felt the card he’d been carrying slip from his grasp and hit the floor. It couldn’t have made much of a sound, and there had to be another reason, but a few moments later, Mausk looked upward, and his eyes locked with Damian’s.

    For a moment, Damian thought he’d heard a loud bang, like the crack of thunder, or…a firearm. He turned away, back toward the rest of the crowd. No one else in the room had reacted. It had been his imagination. But he’d just looked into the eyes of the man who had pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger. He backed away, edging toward the stairs he and Scytheclaw had climbed to get to the upper area, not even caring when pain raced up his leg.

    “Damian?” Scytheclaw asked, his voice showing a rare moment of worry.

    “It’s fine, I’m okay,” Damian replied, leaning on the railing and trying not to glance in that direction of the room. “I just wasn’t expecting…” He trailed off, trying to convince himself that there was no danger. ‘It’s a public place. They would have stopped him if he'd tried to sneak a weapon into the building. He couldn't have his fighting ring pokémon with him either. If he were here to do something sketchy, he wouldn’t be using an official trading machine.’

    After watching his trainer, Scytheclaw turned to look back at Mausk with loathing. Without saying a word, he leaped down from the balcony into the lower part of the room and headed toward Mausk and the man he was talking to. Both men watched the scizor, the second one seeming nervous about Scytheclaw’s hostile look. Mausk, however, seemed merely irritated.

    “Scytheclaw, stop!” Damian yelled, leaning over the railing.

    Scytheclaw didn’t stop, but before anything could happen, the scizor was stopped in his tracks by a magmortar, wearing a band that told Damian it belonged to one of the workers of the club.

    “Return your pokémon!” the worker shouted from nearby, holding out another poké ball.

    “Scythe…come back,” Damian said quietly, hoping he didn’t have to actually return him to his own poké ball.

    Scytheclaw, who had not tried to resist the magmortar, growled something under his breath and turned around, leaping back up to the second story and rejoining Damian. A worker had walked up the stairs and was lecturing Damian about his pokémon acting hostile, but neither of them were paying much attention.

    “I’m sorry, okay? …Sorry,” Damian mumbled. “It won’t happen again.”

    “See that it doesn’t,” the worker replied. “This isn’t a battling room.”

    “Look, I’m sorry, all right?” Scytheclaw muttered to Damian after the worker walked away. “I just couldn’t stand how he looked at you like that. Is he still after Snow? After all this time? Or the underground incident? Is that it?” When Damian didn’t reply, he continued. “Screw him. Let’s go take a look at those rare pokémon. He can’t do anything to us here.”

    “No, I just…we should go,” Damian replied.

    Scytheclaw looked worriedly at Damian, but he didn’t argue. “All right,” he sighed. “Let’s go. We could…try another day.” He scooped up the card that Damian had dropped on the floor, then they made their way down the stairs and toward the hallway.

    “Learn to control your pokémon,” Mausk said, and against his better judgement, Damian turned to look at him. The look in Mausk’s eyes was something Damian couldn’t quite read, but it was ominous, threatening.

    Damian turned away and he and Scytheclaw hurried into the hallway.

    -ooo-

    About fifteen minutes later, Damian sat on a crowded bus that was taking him and many other trainers back to the hotels and other parts of the city. He was glad that there was enough room for Scytheclaw to stand near him. He normally would have just ridden Fernwing, but something about being among a crowd of other trainers made him feel safer, even though crowded busses and trains normally bothered him. He kept his thoughts to himself, not looking at anyone, and trying to convince himself that Mausk wasn’t going to come after him.

    A while later, he was back in the hotel room, wishing the other trainers and pokémon were still there. He filled in what had happened to his team and Nightshade, and they settled in for an uneasy sleep. Nightshade sat at the end of Damian’s bed, saying that he would keep watch. Damian wasn’t sure if Nightshade really believed that Mausk would try to track him down in a random hotel, but the heracross must have known that it would make him and the others feel safe.

    -ooo-

    That night, Mausk typed Damian’s name into a search on his laptop, hoping to come across at least a record of his important battles…and what pokémon he used. He hadn’t seen either the houndoom with Shadowflare or the white growlithe sporting dyed fur with the boy at the club, but they had been with him at the Shellreef City pokémon center.

    Most of what came up in Mausk’s search was about the mix-up concerning the library incident, especially new articles confirming that Damian Cooke and Justin Mitchell were found to not be responsible for the fire. But with some digging, he was able to find other bits of information.

    Damian Cooke had been raised in foster care, his only known relative being a brother a few years younger than him who was adopted and who once worked at the pokémon lab that cared for trainers’ pokémon. There was more information about Damian’s brother, on that subject, as he had apparently helped with some important pokémon research. Mausk skimmed through it, and, finding nothing of importance to him, continued searching.

    He found something about a starter pokémon program that had been launched the year Damian had turned ten years old. Damian had been matched with an abra, a pokémon that was much older and more experienced than a usual starter, because the people working in the program had thought that would be a better fit for him.

    He found that Damian had earned all of the Inari region’s badges, but had never competed in the league.

    He found that Damian had been an important part of a fundraiser to help find homes for unwanted pokémon eggs; there was a picture of him standing with an obnoxious smile, holding an elekid egg.

    And finally, there was a list of his captured pokémon. The list had been made on the same date as the library fire, so it only included his recent catches at the time. Two pokémon caught Mausk’s eye. Growlithe. Houndour. They were generic photographs just there to indicate the species, but Mausk knew what those unassuming photos were really representing.

    With the yanmega apparently being a pokémon Damian knew as well, if the pokémon center footage was anything to go off of, Mausk again felt that unsettling feeling. Damian, as well as Justin and possibly others, were messing with something they couldn’t control. Something they shouldn’t be meddling in. Something that scared even Mausk.

    This trainer, Damian Cooke, was dangerous.

    To be continued…


    Author's notes: I know this chapter is mainly setting up for things that will happen in the future, though those things will be very important to the plot later on. I am trying my best to make readers happy while writing the plan I want to write.


  9. #106
    Used Thunderbolt! Arrow-Jolteon's Avatar
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    Poor Damian is clearly suffering from trauma. And who wouldn't, given that he would have died had it not been for Scytheclaw. Good chapter, I can't wait to meet this new Growlithe. PS I love the accompanying picture for the chapter.

  10. #107
    Writing stories about bugs Scytherwolf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arrow-Jolteon View Post
    Poor Damian is clearly suffering from trauma. And who wouldn't, given that he would have died had it not been for Scytheclaw. Good chapter, I can't wait to meet this new Growlithe. PS I love the accompanying picture for the chapter.
    Yeah, definitely! Thank you so much! I'm so excited to show more of the growlithe in later chapters. But next...cave exploration! Thank you! C=


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