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Thread: The Path of Destiny

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    *Snivy cry intensifies* Scytherwolf's Avatar
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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
    *Snivy cry intensifies* 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
    *Snivy cry intensifies* 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
    *Snivy cry intensifies* 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=


  11. #108
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    The Path of Destiny
    Chapter 81 – Tanzenarc



    Sandra stood in one of the caverns that had been designated by Cyclone as a place where his chosen were to practice their Attacks. The light purple stone hung from the sandslash’s neck as she looked over the results of her latest practice.

    Spiked pillars of rock and earth, even larger than the ones that had burst from the ground the last time she used Earthmeld, were scattered about the cavern, several of them piercing through the walls and letting in new shafts of light. The sandslash realized that this was probably the last time she could use her Attack in the cave. The rock and ground pokémon had done a good job of reinforcing the walls, making them able to withstand even the most powerful of pokémon-created earthquakes, but even that hadn’t been enough. The thought made her giddy.

    Among the wreckage were the remains of the makeshift houses some of Cyclone’s pokémon had been ordered to create. They were made with scrapped materials brought in by scouts, and though they weren’t nearly as big or as strong as actual human buildings, they had served another purpose.

    Sandra left the cave, walking out into the open and getting nods of respect from the higher-ups that were waiting outside. She didn’t pause to speak to them; instead she headed toward a much smaller cave opening. It was the one where some trusted pokémon watched over her ‘experiments.’

    As Sandra stepped from a short, narrow tunnel and into a small open room with a bit of light shining through the ceiling, an audino paused and looked up at her. “Hello, Sandra,” she said politely, dipping her head.

    “Anything to report?” the sandslash asked. “I want to know. If anything’s changed, I’ll let Cyclone-”

    “Healing takes longer than a few days,” the audino replied, turning away to busy herself with an array of berries and herbs she kept in a makeshift basket in one corner of the cavern.

    “I know, but this is important,” Sandra growled. “Has there been any sign, from either group?”

    The audino hesitated, a troubled look coming over her face as she studied the sandslash’s tense gaze. “Group One is the same. It’s like Cyclone said. Group Two…may be showing signs of healing, and in a few days-”

    “Let me see them,” Sandra demanded, and the audino, knowing she could not refuse a request, simply nodded and stepped aside, allowing Sandra to fully walk into the room.

    Among two tangled piles of moss and leaves, small shapes were lying, most of them still, but a few shifting around. Each pokémon had a mark on his or her head; red or blue clay stained fur, scales, or feathers.

    Sandra crouched down beside the group with red marks. Reaching out, she shifted the makeshift bandages wrapped around a poochyena’s leg, ignoring the frightened cry of the pokémon. Sure enough, the wound underneath still looked fresh, although it had stopped bleeding. “They’re all like this? All in this group?” Sandra asked.

    The audino nodded, and Sandra moved to the group with blue marks. She approached a torchic, pulling back the bandages wrapped around his body before he could move away. With a claw, she brushed aside some feathers and grit her teeth at what she saw. Though it had been days, the wound in the smaller pokémon’s body had closed, and signs that the skin was repairing itself were clear in areas that were less severely injured. Sandra drew back, and the audino flinched away as she stormed out of the cave.

    It didn’t take long for Sandra to locate Cyclone. He was alone with Solus on a high rock outcropping, overseeing the efforts of the pokémon in the main army camp. When Sandra met them, words began spilling out of her mouth as she vented her frustration.

    “I told you, Cyclone. I told you. It doesn’t- it doesn’t work the way we hoped. Healing still happens unless the pokémon get hit by the spires that come from the ground. If they’re not in direct contact with the Attack, and just part of a building falls down on them, they can heal and go on their merry way. What a bunch of-”

    “Sandra,” Cyclone replied, “it won’t matter when your Attack is stronger. Many humans will still die. All of the Attacks work this way; permanent damage is caused by direct contact with the Attack’s element. If Itora’s Attack, Voltgale, caused something to collapse on some humans, that wouldn’t be direct contact with her Attack either, but most of them would still be dead.”

    Sandra gave a huff. “The Attacks wasn’t meant to be used in cities. All those buildings protecting them, and I know human buildings are built to withstand earthquakes…”

    “But this is no ordinary earthquake,” Cyclone said. “Your Attack would be best for a strike against a city. Buildings would protect many from Itora’s Voltgale, and Ashend’s…she said it still affects only a single target at once.”

    Sandra tilted her head. “Really? That sounds odd. There are no such limitations with the others.”

    “Strange indeed,” Solus added with the twitch of an ear.

    “Ashend’s been ill, but she is recovering. We will see what happens when her Attack grows stronger,” Cyclone said.

    “Yeah, well, what do I do next?” Sandra asked, still irritated. “I know there’s other places I can practice, but humans are gonna notice if my Attack gets really strong. They’ll be able to feel the shaking all the way in Stonedust.”

    Cyclone flinched, but immediately returned to his calm demeanor. “We can only practice so much without notice, yes, but when we are ready and reach a city, you can use your Attack in quick succession, and it will be plenty strong enough.”

    “I thought…I thought we weren’t supposed to do that,” Sandra said.

    “Only for the sake of control and secrecy,” Cyclone replied. “We don’t want the humans knowing what we have until it’s too late.”

    “All right, fine,” Sandra sighed. “I just don’t like knowing that some of the humans are going to come crawling out of those buildings like insects and recover just fine. Vermin.” She clicked her claws together, still feeling frustrated. “Found the location of any more stones or- or other Attack users?” she asked.

    Cyclone turned to her with a glint in his eye. “We may have.”

    -ooo-

    Ashend had been worried they were running out of time. For the past few days, the misdreavus had faked an illness, something minor enough that it wouldn’t draw much attention, but would keep her in her own cave for a while. She had often requested Itora’s ‘help,’ in order to keep her away from the caves used to practice Forbidden Attacks.

    She didn’t know if Cyclone or Solus really believed that they were still using their tainted powers. Every day, the shakes in the earth around the caves where Sandra ‘practiced’ got stronger. Ashend had insisted that her and Itora’s Attacks were more easily contained and therefore less noticeable, but she knew they were playing a dangerous game. She didn’t know why they hadn’t been found out or confronted yet, and it scared her. She had told Cyclone that her attack still only targeted one pokémon at a time; she wasn’t sure how long he’d believe that. It had to be like the others, able to unleash destruction upon hundreds of creatures. Cyclone would know that. And the more they saw of Sandra, and the way she embraced her Forbidden Attack, the less Ashend trusted her. They hadn’t even gotten a chance to try to convince her before the sandslash had gleefully jumped into her practice and ‘experiments.’

    But then, like a miracle, a path out of the whole mess had been lit.

    She, Itora, and Silverbreeze had swayed some of Cyclone’s scouts to their side. In just two days, one had stumbled upon something better than the three of them could have hoped for.

    It was a gallade, a traveling pokémon who had knowledge of the Forbidden Attacks. When the army’s scout tried to gather information from pokémon in the area south of Stonedust, they had led her to that gallade.

    He knew where the pokémon with the ice type Forbidden Attack was held. He had lived and worked there, for a time, among the other pokémon, and his psychic powers were incredibly strong. He immediately agreed to help combat the rise of any more pokémon wielding such dangerous power. He had used a series of teleports to make his way north of Stonedust, close enough to the main group of Cyclone’s army. He approached, gave some of Cyclone’s higher-ups a display of power, and was welcomed, soon sitting nonchalantly as Solus tried to pry into his mind.

    Afterward, the gallade immediately set out to find Silverbreeze, knowing that she would be the easiest to locate and talk to of the three pokémon he had been told about. He told Silverbreeze that after what he had seen of the ice Forbidden Attack in the prison the wild pokémon had designed, he wanted to help eradicate the rest of them. And he had already given the scout directions, to send her to the prison itself and get the pokémon there ready for the possibility of two more prisoners.

    The prison was on the southern coast of Inari, far from cities like Shellreef, in a place few trainers ventured to due to dangerous waters and a bleak, treacherous landscape. The trainers that did explore the area didn’t end up finding much; the psychics in charge of the prison kept it well concealed. The gallade, who went by the name of Tenre, said that he was powerful enough to do a series of relatively quick teleports across the region and to the prison itself. If Cyclone and Sandra were convinced to let him take them there, it would be easy, he had assured.

    There was also the possibility of forcing Cyclone, Ashend had pointed out, though each of them knew that the only way for that to be possible was to incapacitate Cyclone and Sandra in some way. With how much Cyclone kept himself and his living quarters guarded, that seemed like a tall order.

    At the moment, Ashend and Itora were waiting in Ashend’s cave, both of them deep in thought. They looked up as Silverbreeze entered, carrying a bundle of herbs and berries.

    “Here,” the scyther said after she’d set it down and her mouth was free to talk. “More ‘cure.’”

    Ashend smirked. “What did Cyclone say?”

    “Talked to him earlier,” Silverbreeze replied. “Told him about the ice type, that we ‘think’ we know where it is, and that if he’d come, he could convince the ice type to join him.”

    Itora noticed the stiff tone in the scyther’s voice and glanced to Ashend nervously. “And?

    “I volunteered to check the place out for him,” Silverbreeze said. “Like we planned. Go there first, come back saying it’s safe, and then convince Cyclone to come.” She scraped her foot claws on the stone floor. “He told me ‘no.’”

    “Did he…” Itora began, “…volunteer anyone else?”

    “I didn’t tell him the exact location, only a general area, just in case. He might have sent a few scouts there, but they won’t find it, thankfully. If anyone were to warn him, then that would be it for our plan.”

    “Do you think he knows already?” Ashend asked worriedly.

    “I don’t know,” Silverbreeze replied. “I think he knew about the pokémon with Deathfreeze…he didn’t seem too surprised about that. Didn’t really act like he knew it was in a prison, but…” She trailed off, looking uncomfortable, then took a breath. “Cyclone…seemed unhinged,” she admitted. “It wasn’t entirely obvious, but there was something off about him. He had almost no reaction to anything I said. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.”

    Something about her words made Ashend worried, but she pushed it aside. “All right, what should we do next?”

    “Force him?” Itora growled.

    “Let’s not jump to that yet,” Ashend said, giving the manectric a worried look. “There’s still time.” Though a way out was within reach, closer than she would have expected, Ashend found herself growing nervous again. “If it comes to forcing him…I’m not sure how we can pull that off. The army has psychic types that can trace the path of teleports. That’s why we can’t just use that to leave this hellhole ourselves. They’d find…”

    Silverbreeze shook her head. “Not this place. No one gets in or out of the prison unless these pokémon want them to. They’ve got psychics just as powerful – if not more – as the ones Cyclone has. They could throw everyone else off the trail if the army got too close. We don’t have to worry about that part.”

    Ashend looked to Itora again. “I’m still concerned,” she sighed. “There’s…a lot that can go wrong. But if something happens that…” She clenched her eyes shut. “…That really makes it unsafe for us here, we may have to risk forcing Cyclone. But for now, let’s stick with the original plan.”

    “No arguments there,” Silverbreeze replied. “I’m going to go meet up with Tenre again later. I’ll try to come up with a reason for him to come see you. Stay safe.” The scyther then turned and walked out of the cave.

    Itora gave a large sigh, small flickers of electricity jumping from her patchy skin. Ashend could tell she was anxious, afraid. And though the misdreavus didn’t want to admit it in front of her, she was too. Looking at the manectric, she felt her heart twist in fear. Stay safe.

    A short distance from the cave where the anxious pokémon had conversed, a small metal device hovered soundlessly in the grass, watching the large gathering of army pokémon through several different lenses. It paused for a few moments, getting different views at different spots, then it zipped away.

    -ooo-

    On the third day of travelling, Snowcrystal and her companions made it to Winding Cave around midafternoon. True to Teresa’s words, the cave was a popular spot, and they could see several groups of trainers and pokémon talking or resting near the entrance, which was a wide horizontal slit in the ground at the base of a rocky hill.

    They decided to rest for a few hours until it got dark and most of the trainers left, then they’d begin their search of the cave, and for a pokémon that could lead them to Tanzenarc.

    “I want to remind you all to be careful,” Arien said, addressing the trainers in particular. “If you get trapped somewhere I can’t reach you, or you can’t send me out, I won’t be able to teleport you.”

    “We know,” Katie said, a bit uneasily. She found herself wishing that Damian was there; he was the one who could deal with things like this. They’d talked to him about the cave over their pokégear during the journey, but once they were inside, there likely wouldn’t be any signal for them to connect with.

    “Believe me, I know that each of you wouldn’t just leave another member of the group to die,” Thunder said from her position at the edge of the camp. “Being around Nightshade has showed me how much of a given that is. Of course, there are times when someone can’t be helped. But that’s the risk we take with these sorts of things.”

    “I’m…not sure how reassuring that’s supposed to be,” Rosie replied.

    “It’s less of a risk than other things we’ve been through, I’ll say that,” Thunder replied.

    “Are you including yourself in that statement?” Blazefang asked. “Would you stay and try to help any one of us?”

    Thunder rolled her eyes. “If I had to,” she said, though there was a hint of something like playfulness to her words.

    “Well,” Teresa began, “obviously the legendary will be somewhere where the cave opens up, so we’ll be able to let everyone out then. But once we start going into the tunnels, most of you would have to be inside poké balls. We’ll keep Snowcrystal and Vicky out – they’re the smallest – and I’ll have Arien’s poké ball in my hand the whole time. Just in case.”

    “What about him?” Blazefang asked, pointing with his snout at Yenn, who was perched on a tree branch above the others.

    “Right,” Snowcrystal sighed. “No poké ball.”

    Teresa looked to Yenn worriedly. “It could be hard for you to fit through some of those tunnels without hurting your wings. And past a certain point-”

    “I’ll go as far as I can,” Yenn sighed. “I need to meet Tanzenarc. And Cyclone had my friends and I staying in caves back when I was with the army, so it’s nothing new. I’ll…I’ll see about the tunnels.”

    -ooo-

    Night fell, and the majority of the trainers visiting Winding Cave headed off. Teresa, Katie, and Justin walked toward the cave entrance with Vicky, Snowcrystal, and Yenn beside them. Teresa kept a tight grip on Arien’s poké ball.

    Katie crouched next to the slit in the rock at the base of the main hill, turning on her flashlight before she crawled inside it. Justin followed her, and Teresa beckoned to the pokémon.

    “The entrances to Cyclone’s caves weren’t this…small,” Yenn said as Snowcrystal and Vicky vanished into the gloom.

    Teresa looked at the entrance. “A pokémon of your size could fit. Unless you want to go back…I mean, it’ll be okay if-”

    “No,” Yenn said. “I should…I should be there.” He landed in front of the cave entrance, peering inside. The light from the flashlights Katie and Justin had brought inside reassured him a bit, and awkwardly he began to crawl inside.

    Having to maneuver with his legs felt strange; his kind were built for flight and his legs were meant for grasping prey or a perch, not for walking or crawling. Nevertheless, he pressed forward, the spikes on his head and back bending against the ceiling as he made his way through. To his relief, he was soon on the other side of the narrow gap, standing in a wider cavern with Katie, Justin, and the two small pokémon waiting for him.

    After Yenn pulled his tail through, Teresa followed him and stood up in the wider cavern, placing a helmet with a bright light on her head. There were no wild pokémon in sight, so she turned to Katie. “All right. Let’s see the map.”

    Under the light of Teresa’s headlamp and the flashlights, the six of them poured over the map, discussing the most likely areas that a pokémon, or a hidden portal leading to a legendary could be. They ended up marking tunnels that led to fairly open rooms, even if they were small, deciding to check those over the ones that merely narrowed into dead ends.

    “You know, just so we don’t break the law unnecessarily,” Katie began, “let’s start with the tunnels that aren’t blocked off. I mean, you never know. Could be wild pokémon that know Tanzenarc there.”

    “Sounds good,” Snowcrystal said with a nod.

    They chose a path clearly marked on the map as one of the wider tunnels and started off down it. The moment they turned a corner and the fading light from the entrance was out of view, Yenn became noticeably more unsettled.

    “You alright?” Snowcrystal asked him. “Is it your wings? I know this tunnel is hardly wide enough…”

    Yenn took a deep breath. “No, it’s…Cyclone’s caves, even his own, they all had places where sunlight or moonlight could come through. This one doesn’t. It just…it just cuts off from the outside world. Completely.”

    “We’ve…got our lights here,” Justin pointed out, edging nervously away from the yanmega.

    “No, it’s not the same. It’s not real. It’s…” Yenn shook his head. “I can’t see the sky. I can’t see any of it, like it doesn’t exist-”

    “I, uh, promise you that the sky still exists,” Justin said, backing away further.

    Yenn acted like he hadn’t heard. “I can’t…I can’t deal with the dark. Like this I mean, where there’s not even any stars and you can’t hear any of the normal nighttime sounds.”

    Teresa made a move to say something, but Snowcrystal did first. “If you want to go back, that’s okay. We’ll tell Tanzenarc about you, and we’ll tell you everything he said when we come back.” Teresa looked to the growlithe and nodded in agreement.

    Yenn looked conflicted, unsure of what to do, but then he said, “No, I’ll…I’ll keep going. I should do this.”

    They continued, but Yenn’s restlessness did not subside, despite reassurances from the others. Soon the tunnel narrowed, and Yenn worried he could go no further until Teresa had him cling to her back and shoulders, folding his wings back enough to allow them to fit through the passage. The ground was uneven and rocky, as were the walls and ceiling, and some parts were hard to maneuver the yanmega around due to his wings. The silence in the tunnel was deafening, and Snowcrystal began telling stories she’d heard back on her mountain to try and lighten the mood.

    Then, when they emerged into an open area with a low ceiling, something else broke the silence.

    “I can’t believe we found this!” another trainer’s voice called excitedly as he crawled out of the entrance to a very narrow tunnel. In his hand was a clear blue stone. “A water stone in a cave. Who’d have thought?”

    “You do know that was probably just dropped here by someone else,” said a girl who crawled out behind him.

    “Who knows?” the boy laughed. “Maybe someone left treasure here for someone to-” He paused as he noticed the three trainers and pokémon, giving them a weird look. “You guys just coming in? Thought it was getting dark.”

    “And what difference does that make in a cave?” Justin asked.

    “Well, it’s just that if something happens,” the girl began, “and you can’t get a message out, it might be a while before someone finds you. That’s why most trainers are told to leave after dark. Not a lot of people night caving.”

    Katie shrugged. “We’re not worried.”

    “Suit yourself,” the girl replied nonchalantly, heading into the tunnel the group had just used to get there.

    The boy stopped, looking at Yenn. “That’s kind of a weird pokémon to bring in a cave.”

    “Who doesn’t want to bring their large flying types into narrow caverns,” Justin said jokingly, but the boy just gave him another confused glance.

    “Um, have you seen any wild pokémon in here?” Teresa asked.

    The boy shook his head. “Nah. There aren’t a lot, from what I can tell. But you never know, you might have luck in one of the other tunnels.” He then turned and followed the girl, and after a moment the two had vanished from sight.

    “Should we go back?” Snowcrystal asked.

    “Yeah, this doesn’t look promising,” Vicky sighed, leaning against a wall.

    “Well, if pokémon are guarding a legendary’s secret, they’re not going to hang out where trainers can go, right?” Katie asked. “We might have to go straight to one of the closed off areas after all.”

    “Well, let’s go,” Justin agreed.

    They made their way back through the tunnel and into the first cavern. Though he could now see faint moonlight through the cave entrance, Yenn did not feel any less anxious. Yet he continued to insist to the others that he was fine.

    Seeing that the trainers were gone, Teresa looked over the map before pointing them in the direction of a tunnel entrance halfway up the wall. They climbed into it, unable to go more than a few yards before they reached a set of metal bars, blocking off the rest of the tunnel. Katie shined her flashlight in it, showing just how narrow it got even a few paces ahead.

    “All right, this is going to be a bit awkward, but…” Teresa motioned for the others to exit the tunnel. Once they had done so, she unclipped a poké ball from her belt and tossed it, releasing her drapion.

    Bruce glanced around, his claws tucked toward himself in order to fit into the tunnel. At a nod from Teresa, the drapion crept forward, scraping his armored body against the walls, until he reached the bars, gripped them with his claws and pulled.

    Within seconds they snapped away from the stone, and Bruce backed out of the tunnel, holding the broken pieces of the bars. “Mission accomplished,” he said, grinning, as he let the bars drop to the ground with a clang.

    “Hey, how about we don’t leave those lying around where anyone could see them?” Justin said in annoyance, picking up the bars himself.

    “Eh, just leave them in the tunnel,” Vicky said. “Someone’s gonna find out anyway. Besides, we’ll be out of here before we get caught.”

    Teresa returned Bruce and stepped into the tunnel again. “Okay, Snowcrystal? Vicky? Do you want to check it out?”

    The growlithe and Sableye nodded, bounding up the rocks back toward the tunnel entrance and walking inside. The group waited until Snowcrystal shouted back to them. “It opens up into a small room after just a little bit,” she called. “But the tunnels from there look smaller.”

    “Okay, wait till we’re in there,” Teresa called back.

    She let Katie and Justin go first, and when they were safely in the wider area up ahead, she turned to Yenn, who looked tense, his wings beating erratically and his breathing coming in rapid gasps. “You sure you’re okay with this? I mean, the tunnels might be too small, and you could wait in the first cavern if you want.”

    “No, I should…I should try. So I can talk to Tanzenarc,” the yanmega replied, flying up to the tunnel entrance.

    Teresa walked behind him as he reached the part where it narrowed, and Yenn stared at it determinedly. He could see lights coming from the other side, where the rest of the group was waiting for him. Hesitantly, he moved forward.

    Like with the cave’s entrance itself, Yenn found that his spikes were quickly bent over due to the low ceiling, but unlike that narrow passage, there was no room for his wings in this one. However, he pressed forward, trying to fold his wings against his body as much as possible. Yanmega wings weren’t designed to bend in such a way, and it felt uncomfortable, but Yenn tried to ignore it, his claws scraping against the rock to pull himself forward.

    As he crawled into the narrow space, the walls pressed his wings firmly against his side, and suddenly Yenn wasn’t in the cave anymore. Instead he was lying down, on his back, legs and wings strapped against him and immobilized. The walls were no longer stone, but unnaturally smooth. Strange noises sounded from all around him, overwhelming, suffocating…

    With a series of shouts, Yenn backed out, faster than he would have thought possible, and spread his wings away from his body. “No! No, I can’t do this. I can’t. I have to go back. I’m sorry.” The yanmega looked mere moments from panic.

    “No, no, it’s okay,” Teresa reassured him. “You don’t have to keep going. We’ve still got Blazefang with us.”

    “Are you…sure?” Yenn asked, his voice giving way to a hidden deeper panic that was threatening to break loose. “I thought…Tanzenarc might tell us more if I was-”

    “You don’t need to,” Teresa replied. “We’ll find out everything we can and tell you afterward. Trust me, you shouldn’t force yourself to do this. It might not end well.”

    Yenn regarded her for a few moments. “Yeah, okay. I’ll just…wait back outside.”

    Teresa reached out her hand toward the yanmega, who touched it with his snout. Then Yenn turned and flew over to the cave’s exit, scrabbling with all his legs to get through the opening as if he was trying to claw his way out of being buried alive. After the tip of his tail vanished, Teresa was left alone.

    She turned to the tunnel entrance and began to crawl inside. It was a tighter fit than for Katie and Justin, since they were younger and smaller than she was, but it wasn’t too difficult for her to reach the others.

    Just as Snowcrystal had said, they were in a small room that was hardly big enough for the three trainers and the two pokémon. Three small tunnels branched off deeper into the cave. Teresa peered at the closest one, her headlamp illuminating it and showing her that, without a doubt, it was too small for any of the humans to fit through.

    “The other two are bigger,” Justin said, pointing his flashlight at one of the other tunnels, then the final one.

    Looking at them, Teresa could see that Yenn would never have been able to get further. There was no way a yanmega could fit through such tight spaces; the need for powerful wing muscles made their middle body section too bulky. And of course, there were his wings. Despite knowing that she’d had nothing to do with Yenn’s decision, she felt bad that he’d felt like he’d needed to go into the cave.

    “Where’s Yenn?” Snowcrystal asked.

    “He had to stay behind,” Teresa replied. “He said he’ll wait outside.”

    “Well,” Justin said before any of the others could speak up, “we’ll just go on without him.” He turned back to the cave wall and the tunnel near where he was sitting. “Which one should we check out first?”

    “Why don’t we be optimistic and choose the biggest one?” Katie suggested. “I know the map showed that they all went a lot deeper.”

    “I’ll go first,” Snowcrystal said, “then Vicky, then you, Katie. Then, Justin and Teresa can…”

    “I’ll stay at the back of the group,” Vicky said, looking suddenly nervous. “Just in case, uh…I need to go back for help or something.”

    An uncomfortable silence fell over the group, but Teresa just nodded. “Good idea. Hopefully, you won’t need to. And I have Arien with me, just in case.”

    One by one, they crawled into the tunnel, Snowcrystal in the lead with her crystal lighting the way for her, and the lights the humans held shining behind her. The tunnel twisted, but the growlithe was small enough that it wasn’t too hard for her to maneuver through. The trainers, however, started struggling after crawling for only a moment or two.

    Snowcrystal slowed down for them, realizing that she too was starting to get nervous. She had explored caves back on her mountain many times in her life, but this narrow, suffocating crevice leading deeper into the earth was starting to give her chills. If she looked at the walls too long, it started to seem like they were closing in on her.

    The growlithe was turning a corner when Katie suddenly let out a scream. Snowcrystal backed up, turning around with some difficulty until she faced the trainer right behind her. Katie had been moving forward with one arm stretched in front of her, the other at her side to help push along the wall. Her outstretched hand was scrabbling at the rock in front of her, and occasionally she tried to push herself backwards, but she was unable to make progress either way.

    Justin shouted something that Snowcrystal couldn’t make out, only for Katie to shout back that she was stuck. Teresa called something from further back, some sort of instructions, but Katie just continued to struggle hopelessly, her eyes wide in panic.

    “Katie, don’t struggle!” Snowcrystal cried, noticing that Katie had cut her arm on a sharp rock. “Just relax, then we’ll see what to do. We’ve got Arien, so if nothing else, he’ll get you out.” The growlithe reached out and touched Katie’s hand with her nose.

    Gradually, Katie’s breathing began to calm. She looked at Snowcrystal before closing her eyes, resting her head against the rocky tunnel floor. After about a minute, she replied, “Yeah, you’re right. I…I think this tunnel’s a no-go, though. I don’t think I can get through, which means the others won’t either. I’ll try to move back again.”

    Katie struggled to push herself backward through the crawlspace, her efforts calmer and more calculated than before. Gradually, she was able to shift herself back toward the tunnel’s entrance, and Snowcrystal could hear the others moving back as well. She kept right in front of Katie, and though it was slow going, they all made it back into the tiny room together.

    Justin looked more horrified by the experience than Katie did when they were all safely together again. “I…” he began, looking to Katie with a look of absolute terror. “Teresa was going to let Arien out if it didn’t work, but…” He hesitated. “The bit that Katie got stuck in? It was too narrow. None of my light could shine through. Which means that the poké ball beam wouldn’t have gotten through either, and Arien wouldn’t have…”

    A stunned silence fell over the group, but Teresa shook her head. “I could have sent Arien out behind me,” she said. “We were all close enough for him to teleport, I’m sure. I had the poké ball in my hand, and-”

    “What if you were both stuck?” Justin asked. “We…maybe just one of us should go, and Arien could be behind them the whole time?”

    “I think…I should go alone,” Snowcrystal said.

    The others looked at her, Justin immediately shaking his head. “No way.”

    “I’ll go as far as I can, at least see if there’s something on the other end,” Snowcrystal continued. “You can send Arien in after me, as far as he can go, if I don’t come back in an hour.”

    Katie awkwardly brushed away the blood from the cut on her arm. “Are you sure? I mean…I knew we might have to send in small pokémon, but…”

    “I’ll be okay,” Snowcrystal reassured her.

    “All right,” Teresa sighed worriedly. “Just…try not to go through places that look too small for even you. And even if you get to a spot that would be hard for Arien to get through…don’t go much farther than that.”

    “Okay,” Snowcrystal said, nodding. As the others wished her luck, Snowcrystal climbed back into the tunnel, this time alone, with only her crystal amulet for light.

    At first, the journey was easy. At parts the tunnel narrowed, but she could still easily wriggle through, easily enough that she was sure she wouldn’t need Arien’s help. An unease gnawed at her the farther she went, however. She remembered her past journey through a cave, one much larger and more open than this one, but the memory of being carried through water and nearly drowning surfaced, making her have to push back a slowly but steadily growing fear.

    She wasn’t sure how long she’d been walking and crawling, but she was sure it hadn’t been an hour yet. Up ahead, the passage narrowed dangerously even for her, and she considered turning back.

    Then she noticed something. A breeze was wafting toward her through the narrow opening just ahead. That held promise of a larger cavern up ahead. Her breath hitched. She had already gone against Teresa’s advice and passed a few places that Arien would never make it through. To go forward would be dangerous, and yet…

    She shook her head. No. She couldn’t put herself – and anyone who would come to help her – in danger like that. Instead, she crept closer, carefully putting her head and snout through the opening to see what she could smell. Immediately she felt the rock press against the top of her head and shoulders, the floor beneath her right against her outstretched paws and chest. She sniffed the air, unable to detect any pokémon scent, and pulled back with a frustrated, though relieved, sigh.

    She started turning herself around to head back when she noticed eyes staring at her out of the blackness. She would have jumped if it hadn’t been for the low ceiling. Instead, she whirled back around toward the narrow spot, looking at the eerie eyes as they moved closer, reflecting the light of her crystal. Then she relaxed. This was a pokémon, a cave pokémon. Exactly what they had been looking for.

    “Hello?” Snowcrystal called to it.

    The pokémon emerged from the darkness, showing itself to be a gray-blue pokémon that Snowcrystal immediately recognized. It was a ghost type, a shuppet. She had run into one on her first night away from her mountain. That seemed like so long ago.

    This shuppet, however, looked merely curious instead of hostile. She tilted her head. “What are you doing here?”

    “My friends and I…we’re looking for Tanzenarc,” Snowcrystal said, the words spilling out of her mouth almost faster than she could think. “Fortunarc sent us here. Said he had a plan. A plan to stop the Forbidden Attacks. Two pokémon from our group have one. We want to do whatever we can to-”

    The shuppet suddenly looked serious, her eyes wide. “Where is the rest of your group?”

    “Back…back at the start of this tunnel,” the growlithe stammered. “Most of the pokémon are in poké balls, but there are three trainers and a sableye waiting there.”

    “That’s wonderful,” the shuppet said, a look of excitement, of hope, coming over her. “I’ll-I’ll get him right away!”

    “Tanzenarc?”

    “Yes. Go back to your group. I’ll be there soon.” She turned and headed back down the tunnel.

    Curious, Snowcrystal called, “Can’t you…just phase through the walls?”

    The shuppet looked back. “Normally, yes. But Tanzenarc wouldn’t want any random ghost types finding him, of course.” She turned and vanished back into the tunnel.

    Snowcrystal turned around, hurrying back toward her friends. She was so distracted by her racing thoughts that she seemed to reach them in almost no time. They looked relieved to see her. “I found a ghost type, and she’s bringing Tanzenarc here,” she gasped.

    Justin, who was sitting uncomfortably between Katie and Teresa in the tight space, looked at the tunnel doubtfully. “This legendary’s got to be tiny,” he muttered. “Ugh, hope he doesn’t take too long.”

    “So, there’s uh, no portal or anything like with Sequoiarc?” Katie asked. “He just…comes here? Wherever we are?”

    “Think the ghost type was just lyin’ to you?” Vicky muttered.

    “She seemed sincere. Hopeful, even.”

    Vicky shrugged. “Well, if not, we’ll show the pokémon of this cave a thing or two.” The sableye brandished her claws.

    “Can you not?” Justin said, glaring at her. “The last thing we want is for them to see us as hostile.”

    Vicky sighed and lowered her claws, sitting against the wall. Crowded in the small room, the group waited in uncomfortable silence.

    Suddenly, the cave wall in front of them, the one with the tunnel Snowcrystal had just ventured into, began to shift and change. Teresa let out a startled gasp, and Justin scrambled as far backward as he could while Katie tensed, ready to make a move at the first sign of danger. Even Vicky looked shaken.

    Snowcrystal watched the wall ripple like water, feeling suddenly dizzy and disoriented. She could feel her mind trying to make sense of the sight as the stone moved and flowed like a living thing. Then the room began to stretch upward and to both sides, one of the small tunnel openings warping into a grand entranceway big enough for a mamoswine to pass through. Then it stopped, the stone becoming solid and looking as if the cavern had always been large and grand. Through the darkness in the now immense tunnel ahead, the gleaming eyes of a shuppet appeared.

    And behind her, something much bigger.

    Now that they could stand properly, the three trainers got to their feet and stared as the legendary Tanzenarc came into view, stepping into the changed cavern and into their circles of light. Blue crystals reflected in the beams of Teresa’s headlamp.

    The legendary resembled, at first glance, a creature with the general shape of a donphan, but the proportions were all strange. Tanzenarc’s legs were much longer, making him tower over the waiting group. Like a donphan, he had tusks protruding from his upper jaw, but they were much longer, and there were another two smaller ones sprouting from his lower jaw. His ears were very small compared to the size of his head, but a formation of blue gems behind them gave the impression of larger ears. Similar gems decorated his body and tusks, and even the masklike plate that covered most of his face.

    Vicky stared up at the legendary, open-mouthed, but then cautiously backed up to stand beside Teresa. Snowcrystal stayed where she was, staring up at the beast.

    “This,” the shuppet said with a small bow, “is Tanzenarc.”

    “Yeah, I uh…we could tell,” Justin stammered uneasily.

    The shuppet gave the boy a surprised look, not expecting him to have understood her, but did not reply, instead floating past the trainers and down the tunnel that they had come through. “I’ll keep a look out,” she said cheerfully. “Hope you can help.” Then she vanished.

    “Tanzenarc,” said Snowcrystal, feeling dwarfed by the enormous rock type standing before her, “Fortunarc sent us here. She said that you had a plan to put an end to the Forbidden Attacks.”

    “If Fortunarc sent you, I hope what she said did not discourage you,” came Tanzenarc’s rumbly voice. “I was told you travel with two pokémon bearing Forbidden Attacks. Is this true?”

    “Yes,” said Teresa as she nudged Justin, who frantically pulled several poké balls out of his pockets. “Only one of them is with us right now, but the other is waiting outside, and if-”

    “As long as you tell them what I’ve said, it doesn’t matter if they come into the cave or not,” Tanzenarc replied.

    Justin hesitated a moment before tossing the poké balls on the ground. The pokémon within them formed, looking around the cavern and at Tanzenarc with curiosity and excitement. There was still plenty of room in the newly reformed cavern, so Teresa and Katie sent out their own pokémon as well, Arien included among them. Thunder stepped to a space at the side of the group, her expression unreadable. Without Nightshade there, she seemed to just want to keep out of everyone else’s way.

    Tanzenarc’s attention immediately shifted to Blazefang, and the injured houndoom stepped back nervously as the legendary approached.

    “You…I can tell you have been afflicted,” Tanzenarc said, reaching out with his long trunk to lightly touch one of the houndoom’s horns. “Thank you for coming here. You can help us more than you can imagine.” He turned to look over the rest of the group. “Who is the other?”

    “A yanmega. With Lifedrain,” Wildflame said, casting an uneasy glance at Blazefang.

    “Do you know of any others, aside from the users of the water and ice Forbidden Attacks?” Tanzenarc asked.

    “There’s…” Katie paused for a moment. “Two more, that we know of. Ghost and electric. Manectric and misdreavus. They’re somewhere north of Stonedust right now. They’re, uh, not exactly friends with us, but…they know our yanmega friend. They might be able, if they ever get away from the water type user, to help with your plan too.”

    “That is great news,” Tanzenarc replied. His voice sounded calm, but there was thinly veiled excitement beneath the surface. Hope. Eagerness. “I am happy that you have put your trust in the Inari legends, even after all we have done.”

    Blazefang gave a nod, his tense body relaxing.

    “The plan,” Tanzenarc began, looking over every waiting pokémon in the room, “is something that me and some of the other legendaries believe wholeheartedly will help us amend our wrongdoing. You see, in ordinary pokémon, the Forbidden Attacks are an affliction that causes madness, but in legendaries, it could be different.”

    Wildflame shot a startled look at Blazefang, then at Snowcrystal, mouthing the word “What?” The growlithe merely stared at the legendary in shock as he continued.

    “We want each pokémon with a Forbidden Attack to come to us. To the respected legendary of each type. In passing it on to us, we will be able to keep it safe without letting harm spread to any more pokémon.”

    “…Wait,” Teresa said, taking a shaky step forward. “The only way we know that Forbidden Attacks can be passed on…is if the user dies. Is there…another way?”

    “No,” Tanzenarc replied gravely. “But it would prevent the user from becoming a monster. Prevent a more tragic outcome for all the pokémon and humans of Inari.”

    Blazefang stared at the immense rock type, open-mouthed in horror. “But…that can’t be. I…I wanted to get rid of it. From the first time I used it. Is there no other-”

    “You helped create the Forbidden Attacks, did you not?” Arien asked, looking Tanzenarc directly in the eyes. “Can you tell us, with absolute certainty, that there is no way to stop the ‘madness’ in ordinary pokémon?”

    “Not indefinitely,” Tanzenarc replied, a sadness in his voice.

    “There’s…the ice type,” Stormblade said slowly. “We were told that pokémon have him locked up in a secure area. If that’s-”

    “Can it last forever?” Tanzenarc asked, turning his gaze on the scyther. “Even if they slip up?”

    At once, several of the other pokémon began talking, but Snowcrystal remained quiet. Thoughts raced through her head. Two of her friends, part of her family – killed? Even if they could be taken and locked up as the ice type was, that was no life. She couldn’t let that happen to them. Especially Yenn. Not after the things he’d been through. The growlithe closed her eyes, trying to drown out the frantic conversations around her. No. She didn’t go all this way with Blazefang, and Yenn didn’t escape Cyclone and learn to trust them just to-

    “We can’t do that!” the growlithe cried, loudly enough that most of the chatter stopped. Tanzenarc turned to her, his face unreadable. “We set out together, and we’re going to finish this together. We…we can’t just give up and accept that something like this is the only way. It…can’t be.

    “Snowcrystal,” Justin began quietly, approaching the growlithe, “we don’t need to blindly accept this, but we need to think…” he winced. “…Think about everything.” He glanced to Katie for support, who avoided his gaze. “I mean, they’re legendaries, and they created these things, so…”

    Tanzenarc gave a sigh. He leaned his massive head down to the growlithe, who still stood closest to him. “I understand that you care about these pokémon,” he said gently. “If there were another way, I would take it. But this is the only hope we’ve got. The only pokémon who stand a chance at safely carrying the burden of Forbidden Attacks for the long term are legendaries. I know you want a better outcome, but it is naďve to think this is something that could so easily be overcome. At least this way, no other pokémon will fall victim to the Forbidden Attacks.”

    Snowcrystal fought back a feeling of helplessness that was threatening to overwhelm her. “Fortunarc didn’t think your plan was the only option. There has to be a different way.”

    There was silence for a moment, Tanzenarc’s expression patient but grim. The other pokémon still looked to Snowcrystal, standing before the legendary. Then, a single voice spoke up.

    “She’s right.”

    Every head in the group turned toward the speaker. It was Thunder, her eyes narrowed and pointed down to the cavern floor. Her scythes were shaking and her teeth gritted as if she was holding back a snarl.

    “That…is the most reckless and stupid plan we could have heard,” Thunder continued, looking up to meet Tanzenarc’s eyes. “You’re a legendary who has been around for who-knows-how-long, and a young growlithe has more sense than you do.”

    Tanzenarc tensed, his body stiffening as he suddenly looked dangerous.

    “So that’s it, right?” Thunder continued. “That’s your plan. Kill them and hope it works? And if not, then oh well, you tried? What’s to stop you from losing control? Are we just going to keep killing everyone who gets a Forbidden Attack forever, just to stop it from getting too strong again? And you’re trying to sacrifice pokémon unfortunate enough to stumble upon them, in the hopes that you can do a better job? I doubt you’d be singing the same tune if it was you going insane, you needing to be culled.”

    “We brought these powers into the world,” Tanzenarc said. “It is a burden the legendaries of Inari need to bear.”

    “It’s a risk. You don’t know that it’ll work,” Thunder replied.

    Snowcrystal looked back at the scyther, a feeling of gratitude coming over her. No matter how she sometimes acted, Thunder didn’t want anything to happen to anyone from Snowcrystal’s family either.

    “Damn it, we didn’t come this far to listen to garbage like this,” Thunder spat. “If you’re not going to clean up your mess properly, we can find someone else. Fortunarc thought you were full of crap. So you don’t even have all your legendary buddies in on this. Tell me how this was supposed to work, again?”

    “Fortunarc has no plan,” Tanzenarc growled, his voice icy cold. “She chases fleeting hopes. At least this way-”

    Thunder interrupted him, darting to stand beside Snowcrystal, directly in front of the looming rock type. “Don’t you think it makes more sense to exhaust all other options first, before potentially giving any legendaries a destructive, uncontrollable power? Before killing pokémon who were lied to or who just didn’t know?”

    Snowcrystal glanced up at Thunder, surprised at the enthusiasm in her voice. Of all the pokémon who could – and probably would have, had Thunder not done so first – stood up for her and the others, she wouldn’t have expected Thunder to be the first one.

    “I agree with them,” said Stormblade, also stepping forward. “We don’t know what the long-term effects of any pokémon possessing a Forbidden Attack are. We should be careful.”

    “Tanzenarc,” Snowcrystal said, speaking calmly, “I understand what you’re trying to do. But like Thunder said, it could make things worse. Besides, it’s not our choice to make. The pokémon who have Forbidden Attacks should be the only ones deciding whether or not to go with your plan.”

    “Can you tell us where any other Inari legends are?” Rosie asked, speaking up boldly for the first time since Tanzenarc’s arrival. “Why don’t we ask as many of them as possible, see what they think. I know you all have scouts you use to relay information to each other.”

    Tanzenarc kept his eye on Thunder, who was still glowering at him. “It is difficult. Information is fragmented, and not all of the Inari legendaries have made themselves known to the others. But if that’s what you want to do, so be it. Be aware that several of the others do not have any sort of plan. Some only want to hide.”

    “From what? Your ridiculously dangerous ideas?” Thunder snapped.

    Tanzenarc lifted a foreleg and slammed his foot into the ground. The cavern shook, but Thunder didn’t waver. “We are trying to undo the disaster we have caused. If there is no other plan, rejecting the one we have outright would be foolish.”

    Thunder huffed at him. “Watch me,” she said, turning around and walking back to the others, clearly done with the conversation.

    “She’s right,” Snowcrystal said. “We need to find out more, at the very least, before anyone tries such a thing with even one legendary.”

    “Very well, then,” Tanzenarc said tersely. “If you find out anything, or nothing at all, you know where to find me. I have nothing more to say to any of you.” With that, he turned around and walked back into the looming darkness. He looked over his shoulder for a last set of words. “I suggest you trainers return your pokémon.”

    The three trainers had barely done so, leaving only Snowcrystal and Vicky out, when the room began to shrink again. In under a minute they were back in the small, cramped space with the tiny tunnels marring the otherwise smooth wall.

    The small form of the shuppet appeared from behind them, shaking her head. “I thought you’d be more help,” she said in disapproval before floating down one of the tunnels.

    Justin gave a sigh. “Well, that sure went well.”

    Wordlessly, they made their way back into the first open cavern and then through the crawlspace and into the cool night air. Yenn immediately flew over to them, hovering above the group anxiously.

    “Did…did you find him?” he asked.

    “Yeah,” said Snowcrystal, her heart heavy. “We did.”

    -ooo-

    It had been two days since he’d visited the Pokémon Club being hosted in one of Steelspire City’s famous towers. Two days since he’d seen Nathanial Mausk look into his eyes and speak with that cold tone.

    Damian shakily raised his hand to press the elevator button, mentally preparing himself for whatever he might encounter on that floor. Floor forty-six. He tried to block out the memory of the last time he’d stepped into that room, so close to where rare pokémon were said to be showcased, where the mysterious white growlithe might still somehow be.

    The growlithe had to be there. It had to be worth it. His pokémon had seen no sign of the white growlithe in the past couple of days, and Damian’s desire to help Snowcrystal in some way had prompted him to try the Pokémon Club again, despite his fear. When he’d left the club the first time, he hadn’t even noticed Scytheclaw pick up the card that gave him access to the higher floors. Now, Damian was glad that he had.

    The elevator came to a smooth stop and the doors opened. He stood there for a moment before Scytheclaw whispered, “Card.” He then shakily held out his hand and let the worker scan his pass, luckily remembering that his pokégear needed to be checked as well right after the man finished.

    He and Scytheclaw stepped out of the elevator, moving down the same hallway they’d taken only a couple days before. Damian’s leg had been feeling worse that day, but he had dismissed Nightshade and Scytheclaw’s concerns. He just needed to get into the right room, see the rare pokémon, and then leave. He only had to put up with the pain of walking long distances until then.

    They entered the big two-story room that contained the doorway leading to the rare pokémon showcase. Damian immediately glanced around, scanning the groups of people scattered across the room and the upper walkways.

    No sign of Mausk.

    Damian breathed a tense sigh of relief. “Okay,” he whispered to Scytheclaw, “let’s see the pokémon and the get out of here. If they have the growlithe, we’ll…we’ll ask them what we can.”

    He and Scytheclaw made their way to the other side of the room, where a door guarded by two workers stood beneath a sign advertising a glimpse at rare pokémon, including one “never seen before.” No one paid any attention to Damian as he limped past, every other trainer either talking in a group or preoccupied with the trading machines or grooming stations.

    To Damian’s relief, there was no rush to see the rare pokémon, so the workers let him walk right through the door. He and Scytheclaw made their way through a short hallway and then into a medium sized room, where several makeshift enclosures had been set up, each one carefully customized to a pokémon’s type.

    Like with the previous room, Damian quickly scanned the area for Mausk, but there were only a few trainers looking around at the enclosures at the moment, none of them looking similar to Mausk at all.

    Scytheclaw approached the closest enclosure, Damian following. They peered through the glass at a small pool, a raised area made to look like marshy ground next to it. Swimming around in the pool with a couple of water toys in its mouth was a pale green totodile. The water type paid the two no attention, too fixated on whatever game it was entertaining itself with.

    “…A shiny,” Damian said, turning away from the enclosure and limping toward the next one. He peered inside it to see a snow-white eevee. Looking down the line of enclosures, it seemed like most of the pokémon being kept in the room were shiny, but all of them were fairly small species. With Scytheclaw steadying him, he made his way toward the back of the room where a larger enclosure was set up, a sign above it indicating that it was the display for the ‘never before seen’ pokémon.

    They walked up to the glass, peering through and looking into an enclosure of water and various plants until they spotted it.

    It was a black and silver dratini, snoozing peacefully underneath a bush at the edge of the water. Damian felt the hope drain from him, unable to even admire what was clearly some sort of anomaly.

    “…Huh,” Scytheclaw said as he looked into the enclosure, his voice barely disguising frustration. “That’s interesting, but it’s no growlithe.”

    Damian drew his attention to the sign on the side of the enclosure, quickly reading the short description. “It’s genetically modified,” he said after a moment. “Not that way naturally. I guess that’s why the trainer who gave me that card was so disgusted by this.”

    “Yeah, well, they changed its color. So what?” Scytheclaw sighed, stepping away. “Ugh, what a waste of time.”

    Damian turned to follow him. “I mean, a lot of people say that sort of thing should be used to improve the lives of pokémon, not just make odd-colored ones to sell, so I guess I can understand why he felt that way. Then again, I’m not sure how easy fixing genetic diseases would be. At least this isn’t something like those fossils in Galar.”

    “Well, whatever,” Scytheclaw said. “Wait here a moment, I’ll check the others.”

    Damian stood by the dratini’s enclosure as Scytheclaw darted around the room, getting a look at every pokémon on display. “Nah,” he grumbled when he returned to Damian, “no growlithe here.”

    They walked back into the larger room, stopping to take a break in a quiet area near one of the walls. “Mausk can’t have claimed the growlithe for himself, right?” Damian asked. “They don’t trade those pokémon, do they? I mean, I know he wanted Snowcrystal, but…he wanted her to sell for a lot of money, so he wouldn’t spend a ton on…”

    Scytheclaw shook his head. “I don’t think the growlithe was ever here.”

    “What a waste,” Damian muttered.

    “Well, you did what you could,” Scytheclaw replied. “Let’s get back to the hotel.”

    Damian didn’t say anything more as they made their way back down the hallway, to the elevator, and down to the ground floor. As they walked down a short hallway leading to the main lobby room at the front of the building, they passed a row of windows looking into another room that was set up as a dining area for people and pokémon.

    Scytheclaw did a double-take, his look of alarm prompting a glance from Damian, who froze, the color draining from his face.

    Mausk was there again, sitting at one of the tables with a group of ordinary-looking trainers who each looked to be around Mausk’s own age. Damian tensed, memories of what had happened a few days ago – and then flashes of memories from the underground – flooding his mind.

    “Let’s go,” Scytheclaw said. He shot Mausk a murderous look through the glass while muttering colorful insults under his breath.

    Damian, however, found himself frozen to the spot, something about the scene before him making him unable to turn away from the window. Mausk’s table wasn’t near the windows, and neither he nor the trainers he was with had noticed anyone looking into the room.

    “Damian?” Scytheclaw asked.

    Damian didn’t reply. He watched as Mausk talked and laughed amongst the other trainers, like it was just normal. The others talking to Mausk as if he were a good friend, or family. Damian wasn’t sure if any of them knew what sort of dark secrets Mausk was hiding, or if they were just like him.

    Suddenly, he felt his fear momentarily pushed back by anger. Bitterly, he turned away from the window, moving forward at a pace that he knew was too brisk for his injuries. “Right,” he said to Scytheclaw. “Let’s go.”

    To be continued…


    Author's Note:

    Here's Chapter 81. I've had it finished for a while but nervousness kept getting the better of me. Next chapter is in progress, and will show more about Yenn's past as well as other things.


  12. #109
    *Snivy cry intensifies* Scytherwolf's Avatar
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    The Path of Destiny
    Chapter 82 – Shattered



    Yenn tapped the tip of his claw against the stone he was resting on, his wings twitching nervously. “This is not what I agreed to help you with,” the yanmega said to no one in particular. His voice somewhat shook. “I joined you all to help Ashend and Itora. Not sacrifice them to some legendary.”

    “We know,” Snowcrystal said. “We don’t want to follow Tanzenarc’s plan either. Even if no one got hurt giving up their Forbidden Attacks, I don’t think it’s safe.”

    “Trust me,” Thunder added, not looking at Yenn. “We’re all on the same page.”

    “The hell does that mean?” Yenn cried back, his attempt at calm composure slipping.

    Thunder rolled her eyes at the yanmega. “It’s a human saying. You get used to it. It just means we’re all in agreement, really.”

    All of us,” Katie insisted. “Like we said, there’s no guarantee that legendaries can even resist Forbidden Attacks. I think we should try to talk to Fortunarc.”

    “She’ll find us again,” Snowcrystal said. “She’s a roaming legendary. And I’m sure she’ll want to check in on us.”

    “So, uh, we still have to tell Damian about all this,” Spark said.

    “I’m sending him a message now,” Katie replied.

    “We’ll meet up with him back at the city,” Teresa said. “We can ask him more about the white growlithe search, and from there, we can make a plan.”

    “You sure about this?” Yenn asked.

    Teresa nodded, and the trainers and pokémon alike all voiced their agreements.

    Yenn took a deep breath. “Look, I’m sorry. I know it’s not any of you who came up with such a plan. It’s those…Inari legendaries, or at least whoever is still buddies with Tanzenarc.” He spat out the last word in disgust. “I didn’t come this far and meet legendaries just to give up on my friends. On anyone.”

    “Trust me,” said Snowcrystal, “neither did I.”

    -ooo-

    It was a fairly quiet few days back, and as evening fell on the third night, they once again reached the outskirts of Steelspire City. Damian’s messages had come back over the past few days with worry over Tanzenarc’s words, as well as news that his pokémon had failed to find any sign of the white growlithe. However, there was a new resolve among the group, a determination to find a new lead. Now that they had returned, they were ready to first get right to helping Damian with the search for the white growlithe.

    Looking out toward the city, the sky above just starting to darken, Snowcrystal quietly said, “Thanks, everyone, for wanting to keep looking for the other growlithe. It means a lot to me.”

    “We wouldn’t be here without you,” Redclaw told her. “It was you who started this journey. It’s the least we can do.”

    “Thank you,” Snowcrystal said as the arcanine nuzzled her head fur.

    As the others began to talk among themselves about the upcoming search, Yenn watched from the sidelines, his expression unreadable.

    “Um, Yenn?” Redclaw said. “We’re not sure how long we’ll be staying here, but I take it you’ll be waiting outside the city?”

    “One of us can give you updates when we come to bring you food,” Alex said. “Just let us know where you’ll be around.”

    Yenn was silent for a moment, then suddenly jerked his head up. “No, actually I…I think I’ll come with you. I can cover more ground. And with a city that bright, I won’t have a hard time searching even at night.”

    Snowcrystal looked to the yanmega in surprise. “Really? I mean, I’m really grateful you want to help. But…are you sure?”

    “You’re still not getting me into any buildings,” Yenn said. “That is something I cannot do. But if it’s just flying around a city, I’ll do it. I’m done being afraid.”

    There was silence for a moment, the other pokémon looking either happy for Yenn or unsure. Then Wildflame said, “You know what, Yenn? That’s great. You’re probably the best pokémon for this sort of job. You’ve got nothing to fear in the city, just stick close to some of us if you’re nervous.”

    “That’s very kind of you,” said Stormblade. “We’re glad you want to help.”

    “Just be careful, alright?” Teresa said to him. “If anything…starts going wrong, there’s no shame in heading back.”

    Yenn looked to her, knowing that she knew exactly what type of panic he was trying to avoid, and how easily it could happen. “Don’t worry, it’s…it’s okay. I’m not nervous. Even seeing this place again wasn’t much of a shock.”

    “That other growlithe is probably staying well away from the old building we found them near,” Rosie sighed. “Where else are we gonna look?”

    Stormblade sketched a crude shape in the dirt with one scythe. “Well, the city is basically one big circle. When Damian gets here, we can split up into groups, each taking a certain section. The humans surely know how to do this better than I would, but there are several main streets that lead right up to the four towers in the center. We can use those streets as dividing points.”

    “So we meet up in the center after the search?” Rosie asked, and Stormblade nodded.

    “Man, it’s going to be crowded,” Katie said, running her fingers through her hair. “Damian mentioned that today was the final day for that Pokémon Club thing going on in one of the towers. They’re having some big celebration or something tonight. I imagine there will be a lot of people and pokémon, even outside.”

    Justin shrugged. “We just meet up at the next building over, then?”

    “Around any of the towers would be fine, I guess,” Katie said. “It’s not like the flying types would have a hard time spotting us.”

    “Guess I’ll be riding Fernwing again,” said Blazefang, glancing at his bandages. “But if I can be another lookout, that can only be a good thing, right?”

    “Everything helps,” Wildflame told him.

    “So how are we gonna split this up?” Spark asked, looking at Stormblade’s crude circle.

    “I think I can help with that,” Teresa said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in this city.” She reached for a stick and began tracing details in the dirt, marking a variety of paths all leading to four squares in the center. “I think that-”

    She was interrupted by the sight of a large winged creature heading their way. Four leafy wings beat as the pokémon sped up to meet them, landing in the grass nearby and lowering her wings to reveal Damian and Nightshade clinging to her back.

    “Sorry, I’m really sorry!” Damian said as he awkwardly stepped off, steadying himself against the tropius as his leg buckled. “I should’ve already been here when I heard you were close to the city.” He looked around at the pokémon, who all seemed eager despite their recent journey. “And, um, about Tanzenarc, I…I agree with the rest of you. I think we should be looking for Fortunarc again next. She didn’t think his plan was a good one either.”

    “We know,” Snowcrystal reassured him. “And come look, we were just talking about a plan to search the city for the other white growlithe.”

    Damian sent out the rest of his team, who walked over to join Arien among the main group. He then limped toward where the growlithe and Teresa sat crouched near the circle drawn in dirt.

    “Well, first of all, here’s this,” Teresa said, handing him Arien’s poké ball before turning back to the drawing. “Now, these are all the major streets. Should be pretty recognizable from the air, but the non-fliers might need some guidance. If everyone’s feeling up to it, we can get a good quick search of each section. Maybe ask some stray pokémon if they’ve seen anything. It’d at least be a start. Then we meet around the big towers in the middle.”

    “Yenn’s helping us this time,” Alex told Damian proudly. “He can probably help cover multiple areas.”

    Damian looked up at the yanmega, who firmly nodded. “Thanks,” he said. “We all appreciate that.”

    They quickly assigned different teams, and each was given a section of the city to search. Teresa made sure that there was at least one human or one flier on each team, so they could guide the others in case they got off track. She asked Yenn to be on her own team, explaining that if he was able to search the area from above quickly, he could move on to helping one of the other teams.

    They then split up, Arien volunteering to teleport a few of the groups and Fernwing taking off with Damian and Blazefang. Nightshade, on a different team, rode on Aero’s back.

    As the other groups set off, Teresa walked toward her group’s section of the city, Yenn flying beside her. Their area was relatively close to where they had just met up, and Teresa wouldn’t need to be carried anywhere. Only three of Teresa’s pokémon were staying with them. “Hal, Bruce, and Vicky are used to the city,” she explained to the yanmega. “They’ll look around on the ground while you look from above. I can guide you if it’s overwhelming.” She noticed him anxiously rubbing his two foremost legs together. “You for sure alright with this?”

    “…Yeah,” Yenn said after a moment. “Look, um…you don’t have to worry about me this time. It may be a city, but we’re still out in the open air. It won’t be like the cave, I promise.”

    Vicky gave her trainer an uncertain glance, but the other two of Teresa’s non-flying pokémon smiled back at the yanmega.

    “That’s right, you got this,” Bruce said, playfully swiping at the yanmega with one of his claws.

    “Okay,” Teresa said. “Just, only do what you’re comfortable with. Sometimes…things can go wrong, even when you think you can deal with it. It’s not any sort of fault or anything.”

    Yenn forced his legs to relax. “Are you sure…you’re okay?” the yanmega asked her. “You seem nervous.”

    Teresa nodded. “I’m all right. Come on, there’s something I want to show you before we start looking.”

    They made their way into the city, and against his better judgement, Yenn grew more tense, the sight of the buildings up close making him feel vulnerable and exposed. The structures were definitely different from the ones he remembered being so close to, but they gave him a sickening feeling anyway. He made a point not to focus too much on the buildings, but on the spaces between them, the streets and the alleys. They were there to look for the growlithe, and the growlithe wasn’t likely going to be inside a building that humans still occupied.

    They weren’t far into the city before Teresa sent Vicky and the others to start searching the alleys. They eagerly headed off, leaving Yenn and Teresa alone. Suddenly being the only pokémon next to the trainer, Yenn kept an eye on the few other humans milling about, tensing every time one of them glanced at him.

    “Do you…want me to start searching overhead?” he asked Teresa.

    “Just wait a bit,” she replied. “Vicky, Bruce, and Hal will be searching the darker areas on the outskirts where you wouldn’t be able to see much anyway. It’s a lot more well-lit further up ahead. Plus, I did say I have to show you something first.”

    “Oh, right. Okay…” Yenn said as they carried on. The yanmega hovered close above the trainer’s head, still looking warily at any human that walked nearby, even from across the street.

    A few more minutes went by before they arrived on a brightly lit section of street with colorful shops on both sides. There were more humans and pokémon than Yenn had seen earlier, and he felt his uneasiness growing.

    “You all right?” Teresa asked.

    “Yeah,” Yenn replied, feeling bad that Teresa would worry about him, when the focus of the night was supposed to be on helping Snowcrystal. “I’m going to do this. And, well, after all the things I’ve had to get used to recently, this won’t be so hard.”

    “Okay. I didn’t mean anything by it,” the trainer replied. “Just wanted to make sure. Anyway, see that pink building over there? That’s what I wanted to show you. We have quite an area to search, so why not start it off well?”

    Yenn focused on the small building Teresa had pointed out, noting that the flat roof housed several tables and chairs, where humans and pokémon sat together, talking or eating. The one indoor floor seemed to be mostly open space with large windows, several other humans milling about inside. Clean, but without a sickening sterile smell. “What is it? Some kind of gathering place?”

    “No,” said Teresa, “this shop makes specialty pokémon food and treats. I know it looks small, but they serve things for all different types of species. All my pokémon love this shop. I’ll have to get some extra treats to bring to them once we all meet at the towers.”

    “Uh-huh,” Yenn said skeptically as he followed Teresa toward the shop. “So this place sells ‘special food’ that pokémon are supposed to love?”

    “I can tell you’re not impressed,” Teresa said with a smirk as they approached the shop’s window. “But just wait.”

    Yenn peered inside at a number of trays containing treats. Some of them looked similar to the ones Damian carried around, but most looked completely different. He felt overwhelmed looking at all the varieties.

    “Any you want to try?” Teresa asked.

    “Does it matter?” Yenn replied. Sure, the shop smelled good, but it was hard to differentiate one smell from another with all the treats together in one place.

    “Tell you what,” Teresa said, “I’ll go inside and pick some for you. I used to talk to some of the workers here all the time. They would know what yanmega would likely enjoy most.”

    “Well…okay, I guess so,” Yenn said as he backed up from the window, still hovering at about trainer-height above the ground.

    Teresa walked into the small shop, and Yenn’s feeling of vulnerability hit him again. There was a small crowd of humans around the shops, and he couldn’t help but notice that some of them were pointing at him and talking as they walked by. In the wild, being a large pokémon with bright markings meant he could be fearless, knowing that predators avoided his kind. Here, those traits made him feel vulnerable. He folded his legs tightly against his underside, hoping that would mask his scar. He suddenly wished he were a much smaller pokémon, hidden and out of sight.

    After a few more minutes, Yenn was considering flying up and out of sight of the passing humans when Teresa reappeared with a few paper bags. She reached into the larger one and held out a somewhat flat treat shaped like a humans’ interpretation of a star. It was colorful, like the sort of sweets he’d see Justin or Katie eating sometimes, but it was larger and smelled like meat.

    Yenn hesitated a moment, reminded himself that he could trust Teresa on what was or wasn’t safe for pokémon, then edged forward and took the treat gently from her hand. As soon as he bit into it, he discovered that it was much tastier than the usual pokémon food Damian and the other trainers would give him. It had a flavor unlike anything he’d ever had from human food or the wild, but it was delicious.

    Seeing Yenn light up upon discovering the new treat, Teresa smirked again. “See? Told you. Try this one and you’ll see that cities aren’t all bad.”

    The second one smelled like meat as well, but different, more mild, like it had come from something like a pidgey or spearow. Suddenly the thought of having prey made into ‘specialty treats’ made him feel uncomfortable. Unlike normal pokémon food, these weren’t necessary for survival. “They make these from different pokémon?” he asked. “Just for…whatever preferences someone might have?”

    “Different types of meat, yeah,” Teresa replied. “Different species have different needs, obviously. Yours isn’t very picky about the type of meat they like, so any type will do unless you have a favorite. Of course, none of this meat comes from pokémon that were killed, though. They banned the use of once-living pokémon in pokémon food, now that it’s so easy to grow meat from pokémon cells.”

    Yenn nearly choked on the treat he was eating. “From what?” he gasped.

    Teresa looked taken aback. “From cells,” she said. “They only need a tiny sample. Apart from a bit of discomfort for the pokémon giving the first sample, it hurts no one. Predators can live without other pokémon needing to die. Any species used in pokémon food is listed, and there aren’t any that use your own species’-”

    “Taking cells from a pokémon is not a bit of discomfort,” Yenn said. “It hurts. A lot. I know it’s better than death, but can’t the humans figure out any way to-”

    “Whoa, wait a minute. No pokémon is forced to do this,” Teresa said. “They don’t need to be. Any worthwhile company will reward the pokémon and their trainer for it. The pokémon see it as helping their kind avoid becoming prey. I know it sounds really weird, but it’s just a way to help all pokémon live in harmony in cities like this. They just take a small sample of muscle tissue – and I mean tiny, small enough to not cause any problems – and use that. I saw it done on a research trip once. Most pokémon didn’t even flinch.”

    Yenn relaxed at Teresa’s words, any outrage that he’d felt fading away. “Only a tiny bit of muscle cells? Nothing else? Well…I guess that’s not too bad for those pokémon if what you’re saying is true. If the pokémon involved are really okay with it…” He trailed off in thought, and Teresa nodded at him confidently. “You know, I never thought it was possible for my kind to live without other pokémon having to die. We’re obligate carnivores from the day we hatch.”

    “The pokémon food in Inari, it’s all kill-free,” Teresa told him. “People who make food otherwise get shut down.”

    Yenn thought back to when he’d first joined the group, when he’d first had to taste human food again. He’d been pleasantly surprised that the human-created food Damian gave them was much better than the…other kind he’d had, but in the back of his mind he had still assumed it had been made from hunted prey. It had never occurred to him to ask otherwise.

    “You know,” Yenn began, feeling a sense of wonder, “in the wild, we - yanma and yanmega, I mean - have to make many kills a day, especially if we don't get something large, just to live. If we don't, it's a quick – and I mean quick – decline in health and then starvation. It's, uh, something every yanma and yanmega has to come to terms with. All predators do, but…us especially. We need to eat more - and more often - than most other pokémon. Which means more hunting. We're good at it, we catch the vast majority of the prey we target. But...a lot of us struggled with it when we were younger. I have to admit, if these humans found a better way, I'm impressed.”

    “Trust me,” Teresa said. “There are a lot more humans who care about pokémon than you think.”

    Yenn’s thoughts drifted to Cyclone, but he pushed them away. “A month ago, I wanted to see humans gone from the world. A week ago, I thought you and the other three humans with Snowcrystal were the exceptions. But…I think now I can see that maybe more humans actually are trying to make things right.”

    “So…we’re not so bad?” Teresa asked with a smile. “There are more kind and empathetic humans than you thought?”

    “I guess so,” Yenn replied with a small smile of his own. “I mean, just don’t ask me to go inside one of these buildings. But other than that, I think I can handle the search for this mischievous runaway from Snowcrystal’s tribe.”

    “Well, nobody plans to ask you to do anything you don’t wanna,” Teresa said, reaching forward with the open bag. “But I’m glad you came.”

    “Thanks, it’s…good to know not all humans consider pokémon life worthless,” Yenn replied. “That’s something I…honestly wouldn’t have expected. Maybe wouldn’t have believed if not coming from you.”

    The two of them stayed to the side of the shop, out of the way of crowds as Yenn sampled the rest of the treats Teresa bought for him. This was enough time for Vicky to pass by to tell her trainer where she was going to search next. However, the sableye was quickly distracted as she saw the smaller of the two treat bags, clambering up to Teresa’s shoulders and greedily reaching for it.

    “You can head off on your own if you’re up to it,” Teresa told Yenn as she pulled out a cookie covered in small gems. “Check every well-lit area, see if any stray pokémon have seen anything. Then you can move on and help one of the other groups if you want- Vicky!

    Yenn watched in amusement as the sableye grabbed the entire cookie – which Teresa had been trying to break in half – and shoved it in her mouth. “I’ll do that,” the yanmega said. Feeling energized by the treats Teresa had given him, he took to the air, rising above the buildings so that he could see down into the alleyways.

    The city didn’t give him the same fear as it had earlier that night, and Yenn proudly realized that he was becoming desensitized to the imagery and the crowds of humans. Whether pokémon abusers like Mausk lurked somewhere in the streets or not, it felt believable that most of the humans in it wanted to do good.

    For the next hour or so, Yenn scanned the areas within the section he had been assigned, keeping between the two closest wide streets. He saw the occasional stray pokémon, but the ones that didn’t run from him had nothing to say about any strange growlithe. Looking down at the city from above gave him a strange feeling, especially when he saw all the pokémon, both stray and trainer-owned, looking so comfortable and in their element. Not many of them were hiding in unlit areas, as his friends had said the growlithe had been.

    After a quick but thorough search of the last area within Teresa’s range, Yenn moved east of the towers, into the area that Damian, Fernwing, and Blazefang were searching. He found the tropius flying over a group of worn-down buildings near the outskirts.

    “Teresa said I could help you,” the yanmega called over to them. “Find anything yet?”

    “This is where we saw the growlithe the last time,” Damian said, one arm reaching back toward Blazefang as he held on to Fernwing’s neck. “I told them not to, but…Scytheclaw and Todd are trying to search the insides of the buildings carefully.”

    “Not sure the growlithe would hang around here after we saw them,” Fernwing murmured worriedly.

    “Hey, Damian!” a voice called from one of the windows of the nearest run-down building. Scytheclaw’s head appeared, followed by Todd’s claws as the elekid pulled himself up into view. “We found the growlithe’s nest. Little jerk made it in a tiny room on the third floor. Just a bunch of random cloth pieces, but they were all coated in white hair.”

    “Looked just like Snowcrystal’s!” Todd added.

    “Well,” Fernwing said, “I guess maybe it is just as simple as waiting for the growlithe to come back.”

    “That’s the thing, though,” Scytheclaw called back up to her. “Doesn’t look like anyone’s been there for days. And trust me, we were looking before you guys came back from the cave. The growlithe might’ve simply just left.”

    “Maybe we should regroup with the others?” Blazefang said. “That growlithe’s probably far away from here after you scared it.”

    They searched where they could, then made their way to the towers. Damian, Blazefang, and Fernwing sat near the plaza where the tower hosting the pokémon club was. For some odd reason, Damian had wanted to keep an eye on the place.

    Hovering in place over the others as they rested, Yenn glanced over at the building, where an enormous screen had been set up just above the main doors. Several trainers in the plaza watched it excitedly as a battle took place, filmed from within one of the rooms. “So…this thing going on, is a ‘Pokémon Club,’ right?” Yenn asked. “Like a…like a party? For humans and the pokémon they train?”

    “I guess it’s sort of like that,” Fernwing answered.

    “Yeah. While you and the others were gone, I went in there a couple times,” Damian told Yenn, his gaze suddenly focused on the ground. “Just to see if someone there had caught the growlithe. But no, if they had such a pokémon they would have revealed so by now.”

    Yenn sighed, then flinched when cheers broke out among the crowd watching the big screen, where a young trainer stood victorious on a battlefield, her shiftry striking a triumphant pose. “Well, I suppose that’s one good sign,” Yenn said.

    “Once again, I’m glad you decided to help us,” Damian told the yanmega. “I mean, I know it’s not easy going back to a place that…well, brings back bad memories.”

    “Well, this city’s new to me,” Yenn replied. “I guess that makes it easier. Teresa told me-”

    “Hey, guys!” a voice called from nearby, and Spark appeared from around the corner of a small food stand, Rosie and Stormblade by his side.

    Blazefang stood up, looking at them oddly. “You all seem quite enthusiastic to see us, but I don’t see any-”

    The jolteon darted over to him, his face a mask of barely concealed excitement. “We found a lead,” he whispered to the houndoom, loud enough for his companions to hear. “There was a sentret around Whiteflower street, said he lived in a space above one of the fast food restaurants not far from here, and that we can find him again later. He said he helped a white growlithe through the more populated areas of the city, but that the growlithe wouldn’t tell him why he was there. But the sentret did tell him there were a few places a white growlithe could go safely, so we can look there!” Spark beamed. “Great news, huh? Can’t wait to tell Snowcrystal!”

    “You sure he was telling the truth?” Blazefang asked.

    “What reason would he have to lie?” Rosie asked, trotting over. “We gave him some food we brought along even before he told us anything.”

    “He didn’t seem at all surprised there was a white growlithe around,” Stormblade added as he reached the others. “I don’t see any reason not to believe him. Worst case scenario, we find a few more abandoned buildings.”

    “Nah, worst case scenario, someone falls through the floor again,” Blazefang replied with a scoff. “But I hope this pokémon actually knows what he’s talking about. We’ve had enough false leads lately.”

    “That’s great, Spark!” Damian said, rubbing the jolteon’s head. “I’ll message the other trainers right now. Then we can-”

    Another cheer broke out from the other side of the plaza, where trainers watching the big screen showed their enthusiasm for what had probably been yet another battle. Damian flinched, covering his ears as Yenn backed up in the air. Whatever had been on the screen moments before was gone, replaced by a stock image of a herd of ponyta roaming some fields.

    “Sheesh, can we go somewhere else?” Rosie grumbled, her ears laid back against her head.

    “Yeah, the other towers won’t be so noisy,” Fernwing said, trying to nudge Damian to his feet.

    “Wait a minute,” Damian said, his eyes narrowed as he looked at the building’s doors. “I just want to-” He paused, still staring, then lowered his head. “Actually, never mind. We can go.”

    Damian shakily stood up, and the cheering of the crowd around the tower died down as the image on the screen above the doors faded to show two humans. They were both well-dressed and sitting at a desk in a colorful-looking room. A small litten and an oddish happily played with toys at the far end of the desk.

    “We’d once again like to thank everyone here, trainers of Inari and regions beyond, for being a part of this year’s event,” the woman on the screen began saying. “Because of every one of you, we were able to raise a record-breaking amount of funds that will go toward helping pokémon in need.”

    “See?” Stormblade said, nudging Yenn with the dull side of his blade. “Humans aren’t all that bad. They’re donating to a charity. Helping an organization that helps pokémon.”

    “Huh. Well, that is encouraging,” Yenn said.

    “Come on, guys, there’s a quieter place over at that tower,” Spark said, pointing with a paw toward an identical building and another plaza across a street.

    “We shouldn’t have to move,” Yenn said, still focusing on the crowd. “Those humans are harmless. I mean, most of them look young. And they’re like…” He tried to think of how Teresa put it. Kind and empathetic, she had said.

    “Loud and obnoxious. Let’s go!” Rosie said as she followed Spark.

    “Guess I can’t argue with that,” Yenn muttered.

    “Each year, our event raises money for important work to be done in helping the lives of pokémon,” one of the humans sitting at the desk on the screen said. “And Inari Research Institute of Science is honored to be chosen for this year. By raising money for IRIS, you will be helping provide a bright future for hundreds, possibly thousands of pokémon, maybe even your own or those of someone you know.”

    Yenn froze, only his wings moving. With his large eyes, he didn’t need to turn around to see the image of the two humans and the playful pokémon on the screen.

    Stormblade turned his head toward the yanmega, noticing something was amiss. “Yenn?”

    The scyther turned to look at one of the humans on the screen, who was smiling widely while petting the litten. “Now, we will hear from Doctor Leonane.”

    The image on the screen changed to human in a lab coat with a kind face. To Stormblade, nothing looked off about him, but something in the air made him uneasy. He turned his attention back to Yenn.

    Yenn forced himself to turn around and face toward the screen. He wasn’t paying attention to Stormblade, the other pokémon, Damian, or any of the humans milling around. The image of the person on the screen had his entire focus.

    “Yenn? Come on, let’s go.”

    Yenn heard Stormblade’s voice come from somewhere, though at the moment, the words meant nothing to the yanmega. Nor did the noise from any of the other humans or pokémon in the crowd around them. All he could hear were the words coming from the large screen on the building.

    “I cannot adequately express my thanks for all your help in raising money for our organization,” the man on the screen said with a warm smile. “We hope to see the continued support from people like you. Our research works toward being able to help save the lives of beloved pokémon all across Inari and the world.”

    The scene behind the scientist on the screen changed, revealing diagrams of fossils and the ancient pokémon cloned from them. The scientist himself continued, speaking proudly. “As any trainer knows, scientists around the world have been able to clone pokémon for decades, creating new life from even fragments of ancient remains from extinct species. But here at IRIS our research takes a step in another direction, working towards a way to help existing pokémon who would otherwise have no chance of survival. For years, we have been focused on seeing how far we can go in cloning parts of pokémon such as vital organs, in order to save the lives of pokémon with injuries or diseases that would otherwise prove fatal.”

    Stormblade looked back at the screen, a feeling of growing dread building inside him as Yenn’s near-frozen form still did not move from its place.

    “The process of transplanting organs into a living pokémon can be quite difficult, particularly if multiple need to be transplanted at one time. However, using the individual pokémon’s own cells to grow new tissues, we will be able to avoid some of the biggest risks and obstacles as well as the need for anti-rejection drugs, and save pokémon that there would otherwise be no hope for.

    “With our test subjects,” the scientist continued, “we were able to work towards perfecting our method until we achieved success. With Pokémon surviving multiple transplants at once and recovering fully. Pokémon, with their remarkable healing abilities, have always been an inspiration to us all, and lend hope to the future of human medicine as well.

    “Our first subjects were groups of fully evolved or otherwise strong bug types common in Inari.” The images behind the scientist changed to showing stock photos of pokémon. Volcarona. Frosmoth. Centiskorch. Scyther. Pinsir. Heracross. Yanmega.

    “With this knowledge, we can easily expand this research to help pokémon of all types and species. We are ready to help volunteers with terminally ill pokémon of any kind. Eventually our methods will be put into practice at centers around the world. With your help, we can give those pokémon another chance.”

    Yenn felt the words ripping into him as if they were claws. They were reaching back deep into memories he’d kept from the forefront of his mind for so long, tearing them out into the open again. He knew that human. Not the calm, friendly smile he put on now, but he knew him. He hadn’t seen him often, but each time was burned into his mind. The man’s cold, grey-blue eyes that had showed no emotion. They weren’t like a yanmega’s eyes, warm and trustworthy, but rather cold and dark. There was an otherness to them, the way they hid so much beneath them in ways his kind never could.

    The screen split in two, showing the humans at the desk on one side and the man in the lab coat on the other. The female human spoke cheerily. “Pokémon on death’s door will be given another chance in the next stage of your research. And how are the subjects who fully recovered?”

    “They have been the picture of health, even months after the healing was fully completed,” the scientist said. “We take good care of all our pokémon, and always ensure the comfort of our test subjects.”

    “That’s not true…” Yenn said, hardly above a whisper.

    “We can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done,” the woman at the desk was saying. “You and your team are heroes. And you’re going to save thousands of lives.”

    “It is vitally important to us,” the man in the lab coat said. “We care greatly about the health and future of pokémon. And if we can prevent one tragedy-”

    “They're lying. They're lying!" This time Yenn was shouting, his wings thrumming harder and sending bits of debris across the plaza floor. He could see some pokémon and trainers moving away from him. Shapes that he recognized as well as ones he didn’t. All reacting to the noise he was making, staring at him. But not at the scientist on the screen. Not at the one who was spewing out lies.

    A tall trainer near the building pointed at Yenn, looking angry. “Whose yanmega is this?” he shouted, trying to make himself heard over everything, over Yenn’s own shouts. A few humans in official-looking uniforms began shouting in his direction as well.

    Yenn couldn’t piece together any of the words anyone was yelling at him – though he knew a few of the voices were from friends. It all melded together into a hellish cacophony. The image on the screen had switched back entirely to the first two humans and the playful pokémon on the desk. Their words the only things coming through to Yenn.

    Helping. Saving pokémon. Save thousands of lives. Heroes.

    “I wasn’t sick! I wasn’t sick!” he screamed at the screen itself. His vision blurred. He cut himself off, but his thoughts still raced through his mind. ‘This isn’t real,’ he told himself. ‘It’s fake. It’s fake, just like all those other times. All these humans can’t be – Teresa had said – this was…’

    But everything Teresa and his other friends had told him seemed to have been torn away in that moment, replaced by the thoughts and sensations and feelings he had spent so long trying to force into the back of his mind. Things that had already resurfaced in smaller bursts, like after the mishap at the pokémon center, and when he’d spotted the syringe lying in the pile of human trash several days earlier. But this time was different. This time it felt as if all the walls he’d built up in his mind, built to lock those memories away to where he could almost ignore them, were all crashing down. Those things – the pokémon center, the trash pile – had been reminders, things that brought back the pain of his time in the horrid lab, but they had ultimately been unconnected, and he’d been able to rebuild his walls. They’d only leaked before, but now it was all crashing down like he’d never be able to repair it again.

    The scientist – his whole team – saw themselves as heroes, as saviors of pokémon. But to them, Yenn knew he had meant nothing. For all their talk of saving pokémon, he was never more than just a means to an end. A part of their ‘heroic’ project. A steppingstone for humans to walk over in their efforts toward something greater. A casualty in a quest meant for saving others. It didn't matter what happened to him. It had never mattered.

    Suddenly below him, he noticed lights from the city’s buildings flashing by in a blur as he sped towards the edge of the city. He didn’t even remember making the decision to leave the others, didn’t know what he’d said to Damian and the pokémon or if he’d even said anything at all. Did that matter? In his haze of panic and horror, he couldn’t tell.

    When he found himself in a spot beneath a group of trees, away from the lights of the city, he realized he couldn’t remember getting there, and didn’t know exactly where he was. Everything after he’d seen the scientist on the screen was a confusing blur of light and sound that he couldn’t hope to make sense of. He felt suddenly exhausted – was that why he’d stopped flying? – and sank to the ground.

    Memories, images and feelings kept cycling through his mind, the worst moments of his life repeating over and over on a twisted loop. Amongst it all were the words he’d just heard, portraying the same humans who’d torn everything from him as a beacon of inspiration. Holding them up as heroes. Telling that what they had done was good.

    He remembered that day, waking up on the table believing that he had been disemboweled and for some sick reason kept alive. A plan for good. His senses returning as he remembered what the surgery was really for, but the incision shouldn’t be that long, what did they…they said they were just – no! He should be dead. Hope for the future. Countless days of agony, agony he could do nothing to relieve. Helping. Endless months of darkness interspersed with painfully bright light. Saving. Drugs that barely took the edge off the pain. Heroes.

    Yenn felt a sudden wave of nausea. He tried to steady himself, gasping for breath. It was mere moments before he leaned his head down and retched. When he was done heaving, he flew away from the spot, landing on a branch of one of the taller trees. After a few moments of trying to force the memories away, or at least make them less vivid, his mind began to regain some clarity. The memories circling through his head became a little less strong and forceful.

    Then for the first time, he noticed a trail of something dark blocking out a line in one side of his vision. At the same time, he could taste blood trickling into the side of his mouth. Lifting one of his forelegs above his left eye, he quickly realized where it was coming from. The wound on his head from the skirmish with the tyranitar had opened up again.

    “Wh-what…” he began, looking at the drops running down from the tip of his tarsal claw. He hadn’t remembered being struck or flying into anything, though he supposed it wasn’t out of the question considering his frantic flight from the city.

    Taking note of his surroundings, he could see moonlight glinting off still water in the near distance. He flew over to it, realizing that it was a small pond. He landed at the edge and peered into the water, trying to get an idea of where he must have been hit whenever he’d crashed.

    What he saw told him that he hadn’t crashed at all.

    The two staples that the humans at the pokémon center had used to close his wound were gone, leaving an open, bloody mess. He lifted his front pair of legs, realizing they were both stained with drying blood. At some point in his flight, he had torn the staples out.

    He stared at his reflection numbly, his first thought for some reason being that he didn’t want to hear whatever lecture the rest of the group was going to give him for doing such a thing. He turned away from the water, not wanting to bother with trying to clean the blood off his eye. The fiery pain from his head wound barely registered to him as he thought of what he had seen on that building’s screen.

    As he stood there, memories of his frantic flight from the city, and the desperate fear that had driven him to tear out the bits of metal the humans had used to close his wound resurfaced. He pushed them away. Better not to think about it. It was already done.

    Gradually his breathing slowed down, but instead of feeling relief, as he usually did after such incidents, he only felt lost and empty. Everything he’d wanted to believe about the human world from Snowcrystal, Teresa, and the others had been turned on its head. He’d only just opened his mind to the idea that most humans weren’t the sort of monsters who had held him captive during those years. But then there was the crowd at the base of the skyscraper, honoring those very same scientists as forces for good.

    Another sick feeling washed over him as he suddenly wondered if some part of their actions were right. There would be casualties for the ‘greater good.’ Hadn’t Cyclone said that? Surely the humans thought the same. Because it had never been about him. It was about those humans. Their vision. What they believed was right. He had just been a part of their plan. He had never mattered. It was about the pokémon that technology could save. Perhaps even his hate was unfounded, because he was never supposed to matter in the grand scheme of things.

    Yenn wasn’t sure how long he stood there, his wings limply touching to the ground. He only became aware that a good amount of time had passed when a rustling among the bushes nearby got his attention. At first, he didn’t bother to move, not caring if a wild pokémon saw him in such a state, but then he saw the figure that emerged, its form tall and lanky. It took an unstable step toward him, flashing a light in his direction.

    “Yenn?” a worried voice called.

    Though Yenn recognized the voice as Damian’s, he couldn’t stop himself from backing away as the trainer made his way into the clearing, Scytheclaw, Arien, and Spark by his side.

    Damian paused, taking in Yenn’s appearance as the yanmega stared back at him. Yenn watched the human, almost frozen, only able to back away with weak beats of his wings. His heart pounded, the sight of Damian’s form inciting fear in him even when he knew it shouldn’t.

    “Yenn, it’s me,” Damian said, his voice growing more concerned. “What…happened? I-”

    “Why’d you fly off like that?” Scytheclaw shouted. “Everyone was worried sick about you. And what the hell did you do to your wound?”

    “Stop…” Yenn muttered, not sure whether he was speaking loudly enough for the others to hear him or not. “Just stop, okay?” He focused on Damian, knowing in the back of his mind that there was nothing to be afraid of, but some part of his brain was sending fear signals through his body.

    “Hey, don’t worry,” Damian said, stepping closer cautiously as Scytheclaw watched with wide eyes, whispering something to the other two pokémon. “We just want to help. Just follow us back, all right?”

    Yenn didn’t move save for the beats of his wings as he hovered near the ground. He knew the fear was irrational, but it was still there, his instincts screaming different things at him at once, to flee, to hide, or simply shout and hope they’d go away.

    “Look, we won’t force you to do anything,” Damian said, crouching down carefully while balancing his weight on his good leg. “Whatever happened back there…” He paused, and Yenn was suddenly aware that Damian had realized exactly what that TV broadcast had meant. “…We’ll figure out what to do later. But, please, come with us.”

    Yenn thought for a moment, trying to push the horrid images from his head, to do what Damian was asking of him, but something else came to the surface first.

    “You don’t know what it was like!” he screamed, his voice hoarse and raw. He wanted to stop talking, to refuse to let those memories…those things out in words from his own mouth. But a part of him didn’t care, and he found he couldn’t stop himself as he continued to shout. “Do you want to know what it was really like? What they weren’t telling you on that screen? Day after day after day. Just blinding lights or pure darkness. Humans constantly sticking needles and tubes into me. Every single day. Just pain and humans and pokémon who didn’t care. You know what I had to look forward to every day, Damian? The one thing I had? It was that in the first few minutes of waking up in the morning, the sleep drugs would make me too confused, too out of it to feel the worst of the pain. That’s it. Every single day. I had to endure every procedure they put me through every single time. Always isolated unless it was one painful test or another. Months and months and months! You would never understand.

    The others went silent, but Yenn had no intention of trying to stop the sudden flow of words. “They think it was for the ‘greater good.’ Like Cyclone does. Cyclone is a monster, but maybe he had one thing right, if this is the sort of thing humans look up to! The sort of humans your cities celebrate as heroes!”

    Damian and the others stood in shock.

    Yenn paused, finding his breath gone and his voice weak. He waited in silence, knowing he shouldn’t have said what he had, but not sure he cared anymore. The waiting pokémon beside Damian quietly whispered something amongst themselves. Yenn realized he didn’t feel up to talking any more, and he wasn’t going to try to explain what had happened to his wound.

    Luckily, no one asked again. “Come back with us,” Damian said gently again, reaching a hand fearlessly toward the yanmega. “We’ll help. You don’t have to explain anything else.”

    Yenn waited a moment, watching the trainer’s outstretched hand. The rational part of him knew he should listen, and with great effort, he forced himself to move forward, hovering above and just to the side of Damian. No further words were spoken as the group headed back to their meetup spot at the edge of the trees.

    -ooo-

    Yenn still didn’t speak as he waited in the clearing while Damian rummaged through his supplies. As Damian pulled some out, Yenn recoiled from the bottles and tubes of medicine, so Damian simply bandaged the wound to stop it from bleeding, knowing it was better than nothing. After that, Yenn felt the need to distance himself again, watching as pokémon entered the clearing and worried whispers came from them. He hoped they were worried for him, not because of what he might do, but he didn’t want to stay around to find out.

    Despite the protests of a few of the group, Yenn gave Damian a mumbled promise to return soon and flew out into the trees until he found a quiet clearing to rest in. Though most of the raw panic had subsided, he felt numb, the words of the humans on the screen still playing in his mind like memories of a bad dream.

    When Yenn was sure he was alone, he landed in the grass, not bothering to find a perch on a tree. He felt bad for leaving the others, knowing they would be worried, but the hectic group and their confused questions were too much for him to process at the moment.

    His world and everything he’d believed in had once again been turned upside down. And yet again, a place he had finally thought might be safe had betrayed him. Everything that had happened to him in those years in the lab, the humans in the city Teresa had so eagerly showed him were in support of it. He wished he could forget, go back to a few hours before when he had been ignorant of it. But he knew he could never forget.

    Rain started to fall, but Yenn still did not fly to a higher spot, merely letting the rain fall against him as he lay still on the ground. In a weird sort of way, it was calming, something else to focus on other than the turmoil that was lurking just behind the numbness in his mind. He found it hard to care about the cold the rain brought to him, glad that he could try and forget, even for a moment. He would soon have to go back to the others, face more questions, but not now. Now he could simply rest.

    He wasn’t sure exactly how long he lay there, his usually restless energy gone. He noticed a few wild pokémon glancing at him cautiously through the trees as they walked by, but none came close and he paid them no attention. Gradually, the rain began to slow, turning into a gentle drizzle.

    A helpless feeling washed over him. He felt lost, like he wasn’t sure he wanted to go back to the group, wasn’t sure he wanted to keep going to try to find help from the legendaries. Could he go back into the city to help Snowcrystal find the growlithe that may be her tribe-mate? He wasn’t sure, but for the first time since escaping the lab, what seemed like ages ago, he didn’t feel that moving in any sort of direction would help. One decision seemed as pointless as another. As the sky began to lighten, he decided he might as well head back to the others, and so he left the rain-soaked clearing behind him and made a slow flight back.

    -ooo-

    The others eagerly welcomed him back, but Yenn wasn’t sure if he deserved it. He found that everyone in the group had gathered in the meeting place, and he lay numbly beneath a tree, grateful they weren’t asking him too many questions and seemed okay with giving him space.

    Some of the trainers had offered him food, but he wasn’t interested in that. As the sky got brighter, Yenn realized they couldn’t leave him be forever, and sure enough, Damian came over to him with his bag of supplies again.

    “Look, I…need to clean your wound,” the trainer said. “I want to make it as easy as possible, so if there’s anything I can do, just say so. I can’t pretend to know what you’ve been through, but…”

    “Just…forget you heard all that,” Yenn told him wearily.

    Damian paused, looking like he was frantically searching for something to say.

    “Look, I promise, I’m not crazy,” Yenn said, staring intently at him. “Even after everything that’s happened. They didn’t make me crazy! I wouldn’t let them.” His voice became frantic again. “They can’t take that from me. Every last day I spent there, I thought of getting free. I wouldn’t let all the twisted **** they’d spew get into my mind!”

    Thunder, who was standing nearby, turned to him. To his surprise, she spoke in what almost seemed like a calming voice, or even just a less sharp version of her blunt, matter-of-fact way of speaking. “The breakdown Scytheclaw said you had last night? I’ve seen that happen to a lot of pokémon. Doesn’t mean you’re ‘crazy,’ whatever that’s meant to mean. It means you’ve been through hell.”

    Yenn was surprised to hear such a thing coming from Thunder, who he had assumed never liked him much, or at least had little interest in him. He felt grateful to her, but wasn’t really sure what to say. Damian directed his attention instead. Yenn’s anxiety rose, because the last thing he wanted was to be reminded of sterile human medical equipment, but obviously something needed to be done about his filthy wound.

    Damian reached for a bag of treats, but he hesitated, clearly seeing that Yenn wasn’t interested. It was something he knew to look out for in pokémon meant to eat often; not eating was a major sign something was very wrong.

    "I wasn't sick...” Yenn said quietly. “I wasn't sick..."

    "What?" Damian asked, pausing.

    "When they took me." Yenn waited for Damian to question him further, but to his relief, he didn’t. “I did want to stop the humans,” the yanmega said quietly. “I hated them more than anything, but...I don't know, maybe I just thought that if I helped stop them, that if I set things right...things would somehow be okay. I just can’t believe that after all this time, the humans…thought they were doing the right thing. And maybe they were. That’s what I’m afraid of the most. That what they did was okay.”

    To his surprise, it was Arien who spoke first, before Damian could say something. The alakazam’s voice sounded uncharacteristically gentle. "Humans have other ways. Sometimes, pokémon need to undergo experimental procedures, in order to find out what can best help heal them. There is a better way to do it that some...most...humans use. They find pokémon who already have a health problem with no treatment or cure, and allow them to volunteer. After the procedure is done, they do everything they can to treat the pokémon well, make sure they are in as little pain as possible. Even those who feel they can’t use volunteers would at least strive for that, if they have any morals at all. And it doesn’t sound like Doctor Leonane even cared to make sure of that. What they did to you was wrong. Don’t be mistaken about that."

    Yenn watched the alakazam, a bit shocked at his words.

    “Ethical scientists and medical professionals don’t keep pokémon locked in dark rooms. They have painkillers that work. They treat their patients with respect.”

    For a reason Yenn did not understand, the alakazam’s words gave him a sense of calm, even if it was only that he felt validated. That someone finally knew a bit more and understood, and didn’t side with his enemies.

    “Those humans in the plaza,” Yenn said after a moment, “they were calling the scientists…heroic. Did they…”

    “It’s extraordinarily likely that the people at the club simply did not know the process,” Arien replied. “How could they? They took the scientists’ words and believed they were more ethical than they really were. Sadly, things can go on behind closed doors, away from the knowledge of the public, for a long time. I can assure you that most trainers would be outraged, were they to learn the truth about what you went through.”

    Yenn stilled, something like hope flickering inside him. “I…I hope you’re right,” Yenn replied. He wanted to believe that, desperately. That the humans would have come to his aid had they known. Yet trying to think about it now was overwhelming, so he tried to push it away. Too many things had happened. Too many things he had learned. Now all he wanted was to rest.

    Damian held up a small bottle of some sort of ointment, looking to Yenn worriedly. “I…have to use this to prevent any infection,” he said. “It’ll hurt a bit, but…”

    “I know,” Yenn replied, bracing himself as Damian applied a cloth to his head. At the sudden sting of the antiseptic, his body jerked away involuntarily and his wings flickered, but afterward he forced himself to remain still, glad that no one had commented on his reaction.

    As he forced himself to hold still, trying not to think about the feeling of the cloth against his chitin, he began to really notice how gentle Damian was being compared to the humans who had treated him in the lab. Damian was obviously showing a sort of care that he hadn’t believed humans were capable of until just recently. He had a brief thought that Ashend and Itora wouldn’t be able to believe it if they could see what was happening to him now.

    After a short while, Damian finished the treatment and reapplied the bandages. Yenn stood up, realizing that as much as the thought unnerved him – for irrational reasons, he knew –the wound did feel better after Damian’s treatment.

    They were silent for a moment, the other pokémon likely realizing he didn’t want to be bothered. Then Yenn turned back to Damian. “Thank you,” he said quietly.

    “No problem,” Damian replied. “I’ve treated lots of pokémon for injuries. It’s kind of second nature by now.”

    Teresa walked up to Yenn and Damian carefully. “I brought something for you,” she said. Yenn watched as she set a box on the ground, opening to reveal a bigger variety of the treats he had seen in the shop.

    “You don’t need to eat any now,” Teresa said. “Or at all, really, if it gives you a bad memory.”

    “No, it’s just fine,” Yenn said calmly, nudging his head against her leg. “It’s more than enough. Thank you.” He looked up at her, still noting a worried expression. “It’s…not your fault, if you thought that. I mean, I wanted to go into the city, it was my choice. Trust me, you’re the last human to have done anything wrong.”

    “Oh, no, don’t worry, it’s just…” she trailed off a bit, looking uneasy, but relaxed as Yenn gently nudged her leg again. “It’s all right. And, um, about what the people on the screen said…”

    “I…I shouldn’t keep thinking about this,” Yenn interrupted. “I shouldn’t be making anyone else worry either. And…I keep trying to become better. To move on. Not let it affect me anymore. But some part of my mind is just...stuck. I don’t know how to fix that.”

    Teresa and Damian exchanged a glance. “I’m…not sure either,” Damian admitted. “There are…things I can’t move on from.”

    “Don’t worry about trying to move on,” Teresa told him. “You don’t have to try to conquer this all at once.”

    Thunder, still standing close to the group, watched them with an interest she usually reserved for Nightshade. At Teresa’s words, she nodded.

    “I just wish…” Yenn began, trying to put his thoughts to words, “that our side of the story could be seen. Maybe then…more pokémon would be saved from having to go through something like that. I wanted to do something about it, that’s why I joined Cyclone, but now I don’t think I can.”

    “Maybe you actually have the ability to do so,” a voice said, and they turned to Arien. “Perhaps, when you feel you can, you can speak out against these sort of organizations. With the help of me, and my trainer. Damian wanted to get started on that, actually.”

    “I…” Yenn trailed off, shaking his head. “Would they believe me?” He hated that he had to admit to himself that he was in no way ready to talk about any of the details of his confinement. “I hope they would. I hope it would help.”

    “They should know,” Teresa added. “When people justify doing something bad…something awful…for what they think is a good reason, it heads down a very dangerous path. It means that in their minds, they can do whatever they want to someone with no moral consequences.”

    Yenn thought back to Cyclone, to the terrible plans and methods he had listened to and agreed with, in haze of anger, and felt disgusted. How he could have ever heard those things and agreed with them, he could hardly understand. And Cyclone was still out there, still waiting to strike, still turning more pokémon on a hateful and dangerous path.

    “We can get the word out ourselves, as much as we can,” Teresa added, nodding to the other trainers. “Someone will listen.”

    “I’ll try,” Yenn said quietly. “I’ll try to help you. If it will help future pokémon, that will be my goal. Even if I have to go into the cities again. I’m going to get there. And I want to help you stop Cyclone. Stop the Forbbiden Attacks. Save Snowcrystal’s tribe. I'll do whatever it takes, go with you anywhere that doesn't have a roof locking me in."

    “There’s something I told Damian when he was younger,” Arien said gently. “If you ever choose to forgive the ones that harmed you, that will never mean they aren’t responsible or shouldn’t have their actions out in the open for others to see. Forgiveness is for you; you don’t have to include them in that picture. And that’s only if you want to forgive. You do not have to. It is your choice.”

    Yenn thought back, wondering if the scientists had ever felt any guilt. He was sure he had seen some, sometimes, but it hadn’t stopped them. It didn’t mean they weren’t doing wrong. They thought they were doing a good thing, but that hadn’t mattered either. If anything, having guilt probably just made them feel better about what they were doing. But Arien was right, he didn’t have to forgive them, or give them excuses. And maybe one day, he could help the chain of events his trainer friends started that could stop them.

    But for now, he needed to rest. He quietly laid his head back down, crossing his front legs in front of him and curling his tail towards his body. He felt a bit better, and the worst of the shock had worn off. Now he just wanted to sleep, and he knew the others would gladly allow him that.

    To be continued…
    Last edited by Scytherwolf; 01-24-2022 at 08:03 AM.


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  14. #110
    I AM SO SORRY IT TOOK ME SO LONG TO READ THIS. I AM APPALLED AT MYSELF. But I finally did, and I LOVED IT. Allow me to quote some things. <:

    Quote Originally Posted by Scytherwolf View Post
    “Trust me,” Thunder added, not looking at Yenn. “We’re all on the same page.”

    “The hell does that mean?” Yenn cried back, his attempt at calm composure slipping.

    Thunder rolled her eyes at the yanmega. “It’s a human saying. You get used to it. It just means we’re all in agreement, really.”
    I LOVE this. A saying like this is so commonplace and etched into my vocabulary that I forget it's a metaphor. But for someone like Yenn, it would make NO sense. I love when things like this are pointed out. cx

    There was silence for a moment, the other pokémon looking either happy for Yenn or unsure. Then Wildflame said, “You know what, Yenn? That’s great. You’re probably the best pokémon for this sort of job. You’ve got nothing to fear in the city, just stick close to some of us if you’re nervous.”
    The way Wildflame comments here on Yenn's courage here is great. She's really encouraging and optimistic and I imagine that would be quite comforting to Yenn. He deserves some praise!

    “Sorry, I’m really sorry!” Damian said as he awkwardly stepped off, steadying himself against the tropius as his leg buckled. “I should’ve already been here when I heard you were close to the city.”
    Hahaha Damian is seriously the most wholesome person. XD I love him.

    “Yenn’s helping us this time,” Alex told Damian proudly. “He can probably help cover multiple areas.”
    This is adorable. xD I love how she's telling him proudly.

    “Hal, Bruce, and Vicky are used to the city,” she explained to the yanmega. “They’ll look around on the ground while you look from above. I can guide you if it’s overwhelming.” She noticed him anxiously rubbing his two foremost legs together. “You for sure alright with this?”

    “…Yeah,” Yenn said after a moment. “Look, um…you don’t have to worry about me this time. It may be a city, but we’re still out in the open air. It won’t be like the cave, I promise.”

    Vicky gave her trainer an uncertain glance, but the other two of Teresa’s non-flying pokémon smiled back at the yanmega.

    “That’s right, you got this,” Bruce said, playfully swiping at the yanmega with one of his claws.

    “Okay,” Teresa said. “Just, only do what you’re comfortable with. Sometimes…things can go wrong, even when you think you can deal with it. It’s not any sort of fault or anything.”

    Yenn forced his legs to relax. “Are you sure…you’re okay?” the yanmega asked her. “You seem nervous.”

    Teresa nodded. “I’m all right. Come on, there’s something I want to show you before we start looking.”
    I adore the relationship that Yenn and Teresa have. C: It's so heartwarming to see that they both look out for each other, and care for each other, and are concerned when the other is worried or anxious. O: You can see that it really helps both of them to have one another for support. <: As well as all their other friends as well of course, but their relationship specifically is special and wholesome. cx

    “No,” said Teresa, “this shop makes specialty pokémon food and treats. I know it looks small, but they serve things for all different types of species. All my pokémon love this shop. I’ll have to get some extra treats to bring to them once we all meet at the towers.”
    Omg. You didn't. XD

    Yenn hesitated a moment, reminded himself that he could trust Teresa on what was or wasn’t safe for pokémon, then edged forward and took the treat gently from her hand. As soon as he bit into it, he discovered that it was much tastier than the usual pokémon food Damian and the other trainers would give him. It had a flavor unlike anything he’d ever had from human food or the wild, but it was delicious.
    yanmega screaming for treats intensifies

    Suddenly the thought of having prey made into ‘specialty treats’ made him feel uncomfortable. Unlike normal pokémon food, these weren’t necessary for survival. “They make these from different pokémon?” he asked. “Just for…whatever preferences someone might have?”

    “Different types of meat, yeah,” Teresa replied. “Different species have different needs, obviously. Yours isn’t very picky about the type of meat they like, so any type will do unless you have a favorite. Of course, none of this meat comes from pokémon that were killed, though. They banned the use of once-living pokémon in pokémon food, now that it’s so easy to grow meat from pokémon cells.”
    Okay, I freaking love this. That is so cool, and makes so much sense! Especially given that they would have the technological means, and that all pokemon are sentient and understand commands and are capable of creating bonds. It would also be FAR more practical, easier to produce, more profitable, and less harmful in every way. <: I also love that Yenn was concerned about the fact that pokemon were being killed and manufactured into food for the sake of pleasure, not survival. That's a really cool detail. O: It makes me wonder if carnivores often have internal conflicts about killing to eat, even if they know it's the only way they can survive. I imagine it still takes some compartmentalisation. But yeah, the things that are pointed out here, as well as the incorporation of this technological advancement, this is brilliant. cccc:

    “You know,” Yenn began, feeling a sense of wonder, “in the wild, we - yanma and yanmega, I mean - have to make many kills a day, especially if we don't get something large, just to live. If we don't, it's a quick – and I mean quick – decline in health and then starvation. It's, uh, something every yanma and yanmega has to come to terms with. All predators do, but…us especially. We need to eat more - and more often - than most other pokémon. Which means more hunting. We're good at it, we catch the vast majority of the prey we target. But...a lot of us struggled with it when we were younger. I have to admit, if these humans found a better way, I'm impressed.”
    WELL I SPOKE TOO SOON. XDDD I absolutely love the focus on this aspect! O: And it makes so much sense. I bet prey pokemon are absolutely terrified of yanma and yanmega. XD I WOULD BE. But yeah, it's so cool you included this. C: SUCH a stark contrast to what we've both seen in some stories - carnivores as villainbots who taunt their food and act like evil beings. XD But anyway, I liked hearing his perspective!

    Yenn’s thoughts drifted to Cyclone, but he pushed them away. “A month ago, I wanted to see humans gone from the world. A week ago, I thought you and the other three humans with Snowcrystal were the exceptions. But…I think now I can see that maybe more humans actually are trying to make things right.”

    “So…we’re not so bad?” Teresa asked with a smile. “There are more kind and empathetic humans than you thought?”

    “I guess so,” Yenn replied with a small smile of his own.
    CHAAAAAAAARACTER DEVELOPMEEEEEEEENT! *0*

    These moments are some of the best, seriously. C: We started off seeing Yenn when he was terrified and stuck in a mindset that was not at all his fault, and was, in fact, a product of his circumstances, and now we're seeing him start to be able to move past it. Relationships like this do such a good job at pointing out that we all need help, need compassion, and need someone else to understand us. And not only is this beneficial for Yenn, but this undoubtedly brings such joy and relief and happiness to Teresa. Being able to help someone recover just through sheer kindness, showing them that they don't have to be afraid, and sharing fun, positive experiences is such a good feeling. And having the ability to help someone overcome their fear is very empowering. I bet there's nothing in the world Teresa would trade this for. She has changed someone's life forever. <: And I don't doubt he would do the same for her.

    “There was a sentret around Whiteflower street, said he lived in a space above one of the fast food restaurants not far from here, and that we can find him again later.
    Spoiler:


    “I don’t see any reason not to believe him. Worst case scenario, we find a few more abandoned buildings.”

    “Nah, worst case scenario, someone falls through the floor again,” Blazefang replied with a scoff.
    XDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD He has a point.

    “We’d once again like to thank everyone here, trainers of Inari and regions beyond, for being a part of this year’s event,” the woman on the screen began saying. “Because of every one of you, we were able to raise a record-breaking amount of funds that will go toward helping pokémon in need.”
    Adrenaline for the Needy??

    “Each year, our event raises money for important work to be done in helping the lives of pokémon,” one of the humans sitting at the desk on the screen said. “And Inari Research Institute of Science is honored to be chosen for this year. By raising money for IRIS, you will be helping provide a bright future for hundreds, possibly thousands of pokémon, maybe even your own or those of someone you know.”
    O_____O Uh-oh.

    He found that that everyone in the group had gathered in the meeting place clearing, and he lay numbly beneath a tree, grateful they weren’t asking him too many questions and seemed okay with giving him space.
    Extra "that" and I think that's meant to just be "meeting place" or "clearing"? O:


    “You don’t need to eat any now,” Teresa said. “Or at all, really, if it gives you a bad memory.”

    “No, it’s just fine,” Yenn said calmly, nudging his head against her leg. “It’s more than enough. Thank you.” He looked up at her, still noting a worried expression. “It’s…not your fault, if you thought that. I mean, I wanted to go into the city, it was my choice. Trust me, you’re the last human to have done anything wrong.”
    I'm not crying...you're crying!!! ;0; The head nudge though. Omg. I love that even though he's just relived his hell, he still believes in Teresa, still trusts her, and knows that she means well. ;u; SEE THE RELATIONSHIP THEY HAVE IS SO SPECIAL AND WHOLESOME!!!!!!!

    “Don’t worry about trying to move on,” Teresa told him. “You don’t have to try to conquer this all at once.”
    I LOVE TERESA. She's so right. Healing always, always takes time, and has stages. He probably has no idea, so Teresa (and everyone else in this scene) assuring him is so heartwarming to see. ;v;

    Yenn thought back to Cyclone,
    *Mr Vaporeon


    THE WHOLE TREATS THING WITH TERESA WAS ADORABLE. I loved that part so much, and like I mentioned in a quote above, the whole concept of using pokemon cells to clone meat is SO AWESOME. And that this is just another thing that persuades Yenn to start believing in the good of humans. It was so kind of Teresa to show him the treats, and buy them for him, and demonstrate yet another harmless, positive thing humans can do for him. <: Those moments really showcase the strong bond they have. Yenn feels like he can truly trust Teresa, which is really special.

    I really, really enjoyed this chapter. Seeing the stages of progression that Yenn went through was really fascinating. It already feels like he's come such a long way, yet still he has a long way to go. It's amazing that he still has hope that humans are good, and has faith in the human friends he has been able to make so far. Also that he's willing to open his mind and listen. Even after ALL he's been through, he still has the strength and the resolve to listen, learn, and accept that his solid world view may not be the be-all and end-all. Also the progression of this chapter alone was really cool to witness; he begins in a place of scepticism, becomes hopeful, then has that hope torn away from him and crushed. It would be absolutely horrifying to see your abuser(s) revealed to you without warning, let alone in a light that shows them as a good person who people agree with and like. That must have shaken him beyond belief.

    His reaction was so powerful. The way you wrote it was so visceral, and I could feel Yenn's fear. The shock, the horror, the terror, and the disbelief at what he was seeing. Everyone around him turning from harmless background figures to potential threats, suddenly no longer allies, because he thought they sided with his abuser. Even if they didn't actively side with the abuser, he thought that they did. It's understandable, and seeing that must have been so triggering, so horrifying. It's no wonder he barely registered his actions as he escaped the city and tore out his staples. :C And before that, everyone staring, people pointing and commenting, and even the authorities noticing him. He probably felt helpless and all alone, and like nobody would believe him. Poor Yenn. :CCC

    When Damian and the others came to see him, I love how we got to have so much insight into Yenn's thought pattern. He needed them to know what it was like, why he was so scared and upset, and that wasn't just some spontaneous response to something insignificant. It came from a place of deep hurt and trauma, and even though he's trying so hard to move on, and reprogram himself for the better, he's still going to have extremely tender spots. And Damian understood. <: I also like the detail that Damian isn't quite sure what to say. I imagine him as a real deep feeler, and I can understand that although he may be feeling deeply and respectfully towards Yenn and his situation, he probably doesn't really know how to put it into words, especially words of comfort, and not without some thought first. But he is there for Yenn, and you can see very easily how much he cares. All he wants is to help Yenn and be someone he can trust and count on, and he doesn't give up. All the while being compassionate and understanding. ^-^

    One detail that I thought was really interesting was the fact that Yenn actually imagined that all the humans in the plaza, and probably anyone watching that program anywhere (if he understands that it's broadcast more than just one place), supported the acts of Doctor Leonane, and were fully aware of the types of experiments his organisation conducts on pokemon like Yenn. O: That wasn't even something that crossed my mind, but it's understandable that Yenn would think that. And that makes his situation even MORE terrifying, thinking everyone around him was in support of his abuser. What a terrifying reality to have dawn on you even if it didn't end up being the true reality. But it was his reality. And thankfully, he's surrounding by people and pokemon who are able to correct small details like that, because they make a huge difference. Being able to talk to others about your trauma and experiences is so, so important. And you highlight this very well. <:

    Arien and Thunder's responses to Yenn's points at the end of the chapter were also AMAZING. Thunder would have such a good insight into trauma recovery, obviously, and we've seen that progress as well. She's living proof that overcoming terrible things in one's past is possible. I bet that, along with her (almost surprising... XD but also not) wisdom must give him hope. And Arien's comments were just great. XD He's so no-nonsense but his words were so comforting. Also, I wonder what happened in Damian's past... O: Unless my memory is terrible and we've already learned about it. XDD But it does make me wonder what he went through. But yeah, Arien pointing out that Yenn is not alone, as well, can hopefully help Yenn feel even more relieved and like he's in safe hands. He is, for the first time since his trauma, surrounding by caring individuals who have protected him and who are making an effort to make sure he is on the path to recovery. They are all there for him, and are all providing a different kind of support. With them, he can, even if it takes some time, finally heal. <:

    OVERALL I loved the chapter. Well written and awesome content. I am also excited to see where this new lead for the mysterious white growlithe leads! O: I hope they can find them soon. C: And that the sentret can find a piece of grass.
    Last edited by Suicune's Fire; 01-16-2022 at 11:20 AM.

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