Author's Note: This story is a sequel to Gods and Demons: ad terminos terrae! (s/11960983/) Read that one first!
This is a fakemon and original region story—but I draw my fakemon and have various maps and illustrations for easy reference on my deviantart/tumblr gaiienpokedex.
memory and desire,
dull roots with spring rain.
May 28th–June 7th, 130 CR (2nd Year)
Mossdeep Island was pleasant in the late spring, the steady wind off the sea making afternoons balmy rather than oppressive. The island had been covered in thick jungle, once, the volcanic prominence broadened by coral and mangroves. Pokémon and then humans had altered the landscape for their own uses, though today trees still dominated the skyline, the low-rise buildings not permitted to tower above them. The space center was the exception, hidden away behind the bluffs to spare residents the noise (and, perhaps, any malfunctions).
The university buildings on the south shore gleamed in the sun. The University of Hoenn at Mossdeep had a… reputation, and today many of the students' eyes were perhaps a little bleary and their gaits unsteady. But after a grueling month of written and practical examinations, they'd earned their celebrations.
The student rangers were not so at leisure: they had a year-round program, and training continued before the summer field schools began. On the beach south of the pokémon ranger faculty building, a young woman in student-ranger green with green hair and orange eyes was facing her opponent.
"Moonblast, Thana! Twist it!"
The oberant, a bipedal moth-like pokémon, spread her white wings wide, the red spots glowing as she powered up the fairy-type attack. A pink sphere formed in front of her, and she spun as she fired it off, the orb curving dizzyingly.
Her opponent, a sharpedo, a blue-and-white sharklike pokémon, dodged it by zigzagging rapidly in the shallow water of the bay… or so she thought, as she powered up her Waterfall attack and was hit in the back by the curveball. The part-dark-type was blasted onto the beach, coming to rest in a cloud of sand.
"Ugh, I give," the sharpedo muttered, turning to blue energy and streaming back into her pokéball.
"Sammy, you need to learn Poison Jab," their tyranitar teacher said to the defeated sharpedo. "Thana, don't get cocky. That was an easy matchup, but you need to be practicing techniques now, not going for the faint."
Thana's trainer was Moriko Sato, a second year ranger student; and she nodded agreement at the tyranitar's direction. That last bit was for her, too—she could've had Thana practice the curveball trajectory with a weaker move and kept Sammy in the game for longer. She couldn't see her opponent's face from across the beach—it was her classmate Suyin—but Moriko suspected she was going for her swellow, escalating the training session.
Moriko grimaced—well, she'd baited Suyin, but Moriko would toe the line for the rest of the battle. It was time to learn—
Overlapping beeping sounded; all the human ranger-professors pulled out their pokédexes, and Moriko checked hers as well, automatically, looking for the message. Nothing there: an alert for the teachers, not an emergency for everyone on the island.
"Shit," Ranger-Captain Rhea (retired) said. "Pack it up," she called to the students, human and pokémon. "You can continue in the battle courts if they're not booked, otherwise go read or something."
The faces of the other ranger-professors, too, were eloquent in their dismay. Suyin jogged up to Moriko, her feet sliding on the beach sand.
"What's going on?" Suyin wondered aloud, the two of them watching the ranger-professors pull out their flying pokémon and take off one by one, the birds and dragons and flying robots wheeling toward the ranger control center.
Moriko sighed. "I bet it's a giant pokémon."
Moriko was right; a live video site had the footage from a fishing boat in the tropics already, with the world's dumbest people in the comments crowing about how various politicians and celebrities would react. Moriko and the other student rangers crowded around someone's laptop in the cafeteria to watch.
It looked like a storm cloud, low to the sea and crackling with jade lightning, waterspouts twirling ahead of it. The boat heaved on the suddenly-hostile sea, and a huge remoraid hit the ship deck with a boom as the camera operator swore creatively in Hebrew. The recording cut out.
"It's a swarm giant," said Corene, class brain and perfect girl. She froze the video on the instant of the water-type falling, a purple blur with flailing fins. "The remoraid's big, but not enough to be the sole body. There're more of them and maybe a controller, too."
"Or a mantine," Moriko said aloud, and then regretted it as everyone turned to look at her, but she stared back placidly.
"That's right," Corene agreed. "Normal wild remoraid will convoy with mantine often, it's one of the better-studied cross-species pokémon associations."
"So what's the significance?" Sandy, another classmate, asked. "Why did all the profs freak out?"
"Swarms need far more wings to deal with them," Corene explained. "Normal kaiju pokémon are stupid, so you just need a few teams and some legendaries to whittle them down. A swarm, though? Still stupid, but so many moving parts. They'll need everyone who can sit a flying pokémon."
"Shit," someone said.
"It's not that bad! Honestly, the one a couple years ago was worse, they won't need elites and champions for this, just a lot of coordination."
Moriko carefully didn't say anything—she'd been at the one a couple years ago. And it had been bad. She didn't want anyone to know how bad; she'd almost died, and worse, she'd put other people in danger. She didn't need that talked about; she'd already had her turn in the rumor mill as the weird kid from Gaiien who'd survived its meatgrinder league.
Their professors confirmed everything Corene had surmised in a mass email a few hours later. Almost all of them were leaving for the Southern Ocean where the ancient pokémon had been spotted, along with fleets of active duty rangers from a dozen regions. The immediate consequence for the students was that their summer field school would be delayed—hopefully not significantly, or they'd have to cancel it entirely and throw everyone's program timelines into chaos.
Groups of students took the news differently. Many people immediately joined the other students for a post-exams bender, while others loaded up their bags and headed to the mainland for sightseeing or gym challenges or both. Suyin and Sandy invited Moriko to come with them to Shoal Cave and do some diving.
Moriko found herself pulled further afield despite the invitations: thinking about the events two years ago in Gaiien—the kaiju whiscash, the hybrids—had set her reminiscing about everything else that had happened that summer. Matt. Russ. Linden.
Rufus, her starter pokémon, the little volcalf who'd come home with her one summer's day, who'd grown into a fearsome oxhaust—
Who she had left behind.
Who had left her.
Most people used pokéballs to contain and protect pokémon, but Moriko had discovered that she was capable of another, older method that summer: ensoulment, the pokémon soul disappearing into the human's, protected and shielded and able to draw on their energy, and the human able to inhabit the pokémon the same way.
They'd been nearly invincible, huge and covered in metal armor, the link allowing them to mega evolve and stand toe-to-toe with a legendary demon—until it had done… something, splitting them apart, and left them both utterly vulnerable.
And somehow even that hadn't been the worst moment for Rufus, that defeat—it had been the ensoulment. Sharing Moriko's mind and memories had been… wrong. Awful.
He hadn't been able to handle it. And he'd left her.
Rightly. For forcing him into it. That was her crime to live with.
Russ, once her only human friend, had left her too. And Matt—a chirpy and sarcastic man she'd met only that summer, but with whom she'd been drawn into the terrible intimacy of disaster—what was Matt doing? He was in Johto, going through that university's pokémon ranger program, their hard-won friendship reduced to terse IM exchanges. There were only so many times she could message him and get a one-word reply. But another of her friends was always ready to chat.
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: moriko did u hear
MSato10: about what
MSato10: oh the daikaiju
MSato10: yeah field school is delayed :P whee
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: aw shiet
MSato10: they sent all our teachers after it, so
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: what r u gonna do
MSato10: get drunk like everyone else, I guess
MSato10: no, I should go get another badge actually
MSato10: my program advisor was giving me heck for not having the S-tier license
MSato10: it's not ~actually~ a requirement but it looks bad
MSato10: also I got badge 6 and 7 for ~services to the gym~ so
MSato10: I should really get like three more to be honest
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: MORIOK OMG
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: LETS GO BACK 2 GAIIEN
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: GET TEH 8TH BADGE
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: ITLL BE AMAZING PLS SAY YES
MSato10: lol I don't know
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: moriko OGMZZZZZZZZZZZ pls!1!1
MSato10: don't you have school
MSato10: it's May, you aren't even done regular classes
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: just wait a lil longer
MSato10: I don't know how long the daikaiju will take or when field school will start
MSato10: anyway I should just fight Tate and Liza or whoever, but
MSato10: actually that would be kind of cool to finish Gaiien
MSato10: but it's ice
MSato10: I should have Rufus with me
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: whos rufus again
MSato10: my oxhaust
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: RIGHT sry
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: ye u want him for ice
MSato10: I don't know if he'll even come though
MSato10: I hurt him by making him mega evolve that time
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: oh :'(
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: moriko pls
MSato10: I'm just going to go to see Rufus and then see what happens after that
MSato10: I'll come back here and we can fight Wallace instead
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: dont distract me
Xx_MeTeOrMaSh_xX: that sounds pretty good tho
Moriko planned at the gym—the human gym. She and her classmates weight trained to keep up with the ranger fitness requirements, Unovan dance music thumping as she hefted dumbells and her classmate Kelly deadlifted 150 kg to cheering.
She felt a momentum, an eagerness building the more she thought about it. She'd withstood more than a few pursed lips and lifted eyebrows as advisors had seen her record with only seven badges, for all that they were from savage Gaiien. All her peers were S-tier trainers—or more; Corene was a triple-S trainer—and therefore senior trainers with the rights and responsibilities that title implied.
It would be strange if she was a graduate ranger without that rank. She'd meant to pick up a couple Hoenn badges, but first year had been a caffeine-fueled blur of desperately adjusting to university life with little respite before second year was soon underway. Hell, she only had this break because a daikaiju, a natural disaster in the form of a pokémon, had decided to strike.
It was an opportunity.
She headed back to her dorm. She needed her bags, pokémon supplies—she could stock up in Slateport, prices were usually good there—she could take the ferry there and then make the transfer to a ship going to Port Littoral—hell, she could fly, save some time—she needed to tell—she needed to ask—
She turned on the walkway; it was one of the pokémon instructors, Ganny the emboar, a bipedal boar and jovial presence in the fire-type techniques class. Tarahn, her raigar, a cougar-like pokémon with a jester's cap and yellow-and-purple motley fur, was following alongside him.
"Ganny! What can I do for you? What's up, Tarahn?"
Ganny slapped hands with her. "Good to see you, young Morko. Young Tarahn here has been telling me about some of your adventures in Gaiien, and your next set of plans too—I believe I might be of service."
Moriko looked between the emboar and Tarahn. "Oh? How so?"
The bells on the raigar's tail jangled discordantly as he lashed it. "We need some help. To get Rufus back."
A sick feeling bubbled up under Moriko's sternum. "You don't think he'll want to come with us?"
"Well, he… you… Moriko, you hurt him!" Tarahn said all at once, eyes dilated. "That's why he left! That's why he won't come back!"
Ganny looked at them uneasily; Moriko felt heavy, drained, like she was in a Gravity field.
"You're right," she croaked. "I'm sorry."
Rufus had been Tarahn's buddy too, the two pokémon waiting and waiting for her to finish school, and she'd given them barely three months of a promised journey before racing off to school again.
Tarahn batted at her with his paw. "It's okay, Moriko. We just. He needs a reason to come with us. I've heard about the kind of place he's at, it's a place where pokémon can work and get a lot of energy, right? But it's lazy there," Tarahn said, a cunning light in his purple eyes. "They don't battle so much, just like, fun battling. Here they teach you secrets.
"So… that's why we need Ganny. He's going to make Rufus see why it's so good here."
Yes. Ranger school educated the human as well as their pokémon, teaching them battling and specialized techniques. They needed to be able to use moves precisely and accurately, to know the correct move for the correct situation, to perform feats of energy manipulation—and to save energy during drawn-out fights against ancient pokémon. Next year they'd learn trick moves and cheap shots to disable dangerous wild pokémon and ronin, and group moves far more powerful than even the z-moves and limit breaks that single pokémon could accomplish.
"If you don't want him—" Tarahn began.
"No! No, I do. Thank you, Ganny," Moriko said sincerely, clasping the emboar's hand. "Thank you, Tarahn. This is a great plan. You were thinking this time, and I wasn't."
Tarahn's expression was beaming. "Of course I was. I'm the brains of this outfit, remember?"
"And if your Rufus does not come back… well, you have a friend for the ice-type gym. Yes?" Ganny added conspiratorially, the flames on his shoulders flaring.
Moriko felt strange seeing Port Littoral again.
The fast ship brought them smoothly into the passenger docks. It was strange seeing it from this side, returning from the sea, instead of looking out eagerly from the beach or the cliffs. She'd lived there starting at age eight, and by eighteen had been utterly ready to leave, straining to.
She didn't miss it.
She tossed Liona's pokéball down; Liona was a nigriff, a griffin in black and burgundy, and eager to spread her wings. They flew over the city to Prof. Willow's lab, rising on the swells of hot air.
It didn't look any different. Prof. Willow's lab had looked nearly the same when she'd received Rufus as her starter as a ten-year-old. Moriko was pretty certain her office had had that same withered potted plant on top of the same stack of articles the last time she'd been here, two years ago.
The lab smelled of nothing in particular, some mixture of cleaning products and eau de grad student, but as soon as it hit her, Moriko was transported through time, memory flashing bright and quick and sharp as knives. And she thought of Rufus clattering up to her for the first time, a bright-eyed little calf in orange and cream with red hooves, there at her side through everything until suddenly he wasn't.
That was on her. She'd assumed… Ensoulment had worked so well, suddenly, accidentally, with Vleridin the mooskeg, mere days after capture. Of course it would work with her starter pokémon. Right?
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Prof. Willow was her usual self: masses of wavy blonde hair; lavender blouse; glasses and lab coat that pokémon professors were mandated by law to wear. She hugged Moriko and grilled her on her classes, filling her in on the fates of various students and starter trainers as they strolled around the grounds.
She didn't mention Moriko's family.
"Was there anything in particular you wanted to do while you're here?" Prof. Willow asked her.
"I wanted to see Rufus again. Is he around?"
"Of course! He's actually at the smelter next to the Tsovsko ore body. You can get there flying south a couple days or take the train," Prof. Willow said. She called up the map on her pokédex and sent the location to Moriko's.
She nodded. "Has he been… well?"
"No complaints that I've heard of. Fire- and steel-types really like it there unless there's some kind of personal problem or bullying that can't get resolved." Prof. Willow grinned. "Lots of energy."
Moriko felt her stomach sink at that. Tarahn was right; it was a rich energy node that attracted pokémon, wild or not, sometimes more than battling with a trainer. "Thanks, Professor," she said instead. "I was worried about him."
"Are you hoping to re-recruit him?"
Moriko nodded, feeling like she'd been caught. "…Should I?" she heard herself ask.
Prof. Willow looked at her seriously. "It doesn't hurt to try. And I know you'll respect his decision if it's a no."
She would. She hoped she could handle it.
Pokémon fed on energy, whether from battling, or the environment, or the concentrations found in berries, evolution stones, or rare candy. And… sometimes on each other. Or humans.
Battling was the best way, pokémon absorbing the energy from enemy attacks, and establishing a link with a trusted trainer. But a rich environmental source was nearly as good and required far less effort; they were fiercely fought over by the pokémon who held them in their territories. Human activities had invented new sources: mines, power plants, server farms, bioreactors—and as pokémon gathered near them, humans had realized how to use them to their benefit.
The mine was nearly invisible, the topsoil preserved while ground- and rock-type pokémon hauled ore out from under it. Huge, noisy, dusty machinery processed the ore, the racks and conveyors leading inside to the smelter. Inside, the raw material was fed into furnaces, and a continuous roaring filled the space. All around pokémon were helping the human workers, who were anonymous in shiny protective gear; a legendary pokémon, a heatran, clambered out of a furnace covered in slag, while a moltres fed burning air into it. Prof. Willow hadn't been exaggerating; legendary pokémon needed a prodigious amount of energy, and this site supported two of them or more.
Several flame minotaur oxhaust, including a white-and-black color variant, were studying the red-hot steel bars the machinery was producing, smelling and tasting them and relaying observations back to the humans at their control panels. Another, smaller heatran joined them, stumping up into the melt chamber to roll beads of unthinkably hot molten metal between its claws.
Moriko kept walking, shaking her head at her tour guide; none of those oxhaust were Rufus. Further down where the steel was being finished, though, she spotted him leaving.
"Rufus! Ru! Hey!" she called to him, catching up.
He turned. He was bigger, more muscled than the newly evolved oxhaust he'd been during their journey, his armor covered in new scorches and scuff marks. His eyes lit up as he saw her, and then fell, and his body scrunched into an uncomfortable posture while his friends, another oxhaust and a lucario, hooted and teased him.
"Who's this, Led? You cheating on me?" the other oxhaust was saying, laughing.
"Hey, Moriko," Rufus murmured.
"Hey Rufus!" Moriko said, forging ahead. "Who are your friends?"
"You can call me Bessemer, and this is Moly," the other oxhaust said, indicating itself and the lucario. "You know our boy?"
"He was my—I trained him for a while. I've been going to school in Hoenn, wanted to see him again," Moriko said, trying to match the pokémon's casual tone.
"Ooh, you gonna go battle again, Led?" Moly, the lucario, asked him. "You sure you remember how?"
Bessemer slapped Rufus on the butt with a resounding clang. "See you later, hot stuff!"
Rufus shuffled over to her as the other two left. Something about the way he was walking suggested a mix of pride and embarrassment.
"Is Hot Stuff your new nickname?" she teased him.
"No, it's Ledeburite here," Rufus said to his feet, balling his armor-clad fists over and over.
Moriko sensed this was getting off to a weird start. "Sorry, I didn't mean to cause you any trouble. Do you want me to call you Ledeburite?"
He exhaled, the furnaces in his body working. "No. My nickname with you is Rufus." Shyly, he put out a hand, and she took it, her hand completely dwarfed by his.
"Of course, Ru," she said softly. "How are you doing?"
He'd never needed many words.
They went outside into the far cooler air. It was shading toward a long summer evening, the bugs sawing away in the grass and the noise of the mill a dull roar behind them.
Moriko threw down Tarahn's pokéball, and the raigar leapt onto Rufus's shoulders and started rubbing his face on Rufus's expressively. She suppressed a laugh as the oxhaust patted Tarahn, enduring his babbled entreaties.
"Rufus come back with us please—" Tarahn was saying.
Rufus froze. "Back where?" he asked.
Tarahn stopped too. "I mean—if you want—"
Rufus looked at Moriko. "What do you want? Why are you here?"
Moriko sighed. There was a lot of planning and intention rolling off of Tarahn's mind; best to start from the beginning. She extended her hands. "To say sorry. I'm so sorry for forcing you to join souls. There was no excuse."
Rufus picked up Tarahn and set him down on the ground.
"You woulda died. We both woulda died," he said finally. "I didn't stick to the plan." He shook himself, a cloud of smoke escaping from the array of vents and pipes on his back. "It was bad, though. I won't do it again."
"I'll never ask you to. I shouldn't have forced you. There could have been another way."
He nodded. "What else?"
"I was wondering... if you'd like to come with me, to challenge the ice gym. Can you get time off?"
Rufus watched her. "Did you come back for me? Or do you just want… a boost?"
Do you just want to use me?
"I came here for you, Rufus. I couldn't go a day without thinking about you in Hoenn," Moriko said. Begged. "Do you… we could go do the ice gym to see if it's a good fit. Try it out. Or… do you want to stay with your new friends? …Tarahn misses you," she added.
Rufus sighed and extended a hand toward Tarahn, who reared up on his hind legs to rub his head on it over and over like a housecat. Finally he lifted the 80-kg raigar onto his shoulders again.
A silent moment, filled with everything that couldn't be said.
Rufus nodded. "I will go. To the ice gym." No promises for afterward. "Let me tell my boss."
Moriko followed him, her heart clenching with hurt and desperate hope.
The boss was the big heatran from the mill, dark red and studded with rusty iron. At Rufus's wave, she hopped down off the wall where she was crawling, spider-like despite her bulk, above a crucible of molten steel.
The two pokémon conferred for a moment before Rufus waved Moriko forward. The heatran looked at her with molten-metal eyes, her huge iron-banded jaw working as she crunched on lumps of iron and scrap steel.
"This boy does good work," the heatran said finally. "Why'd you leave him?"
Moriko's stomach twisted, and she glanced at Rufus. He was looking at the ground.
"I asked him to mega evolve without any preparation. I asked him to… ensoul me, at the same time," she admitted. "It was too much. He asked to leave, and my professor found a place for him here."
The heatran whistled, forcing hot steam out of a vent on her back. "That would do it. Listen, Led, ain't nothin' to be ashamed of there. It's a lot to fuse with a human. You go have some fun. If it's still too much, if you don't wanna be with her, you come on right back here. Alright?"
"Yeah. Thanks, Pele."
"Now, bring him out now," Tarahn whispered to Moriko before they were far outside the mill.
"It's a good idea?" Everything had gone weird—as she'd expected, but she was still floundering.
"Trust me," Tarahn said.
She sighed and took a Devon Corp-make pokéball off her belt, the design subtly different from the Silph Co. ones she'd grown up using.
"Rufus, I made a friend at school who you might like to meet," she called to him, and threw the ball.
Ganny the emboar appeared in red light on the path.
A little snort of steam came out of Rufus's nose. "Who are you?" he asked.
Ganny stretched his arms and exhaled, his spirit flames flaring. All at once he dropped his shoulder and rushed Rufus, striking the oxhaust with a resounding clang. Rufus grunted, throwing Ganny off, although he was left panting while the emboar seemed to pirouette to a new ready stance.
"I am Ganatumbra, Weyatonu's get," the emboar declared. "I am the fire master of Hoenn Ranger School. This is a rich, delicious place, young Rufus—and you have grown slow and soft here."
Moriko's stomach churned; she carefully stood at 90 degrees to both pokémon, not taking the trainer's position behind either. She felt Rufus's red eyes trace over her slowly and then back toward Ganny. Without saying a word, he shifted to a combat stance, low and heavy.
The earth rumbled and stone punched out of the ground, firing Ganny into the air. The emboar grunted, coming to a solid landing before firing off in a Flame Charge to close the gap between them. The following Hammer Arm attack crunched on Rufus' steel armor and he went flying.
Rufus skidded to a stop, his hooves carving deep runnels in the path. He snorted, smoke streaming out of his pipes, filling the field and obscuring vision in a Smokescreen.
Ganny laughed. "Does this work on your oxhaust friends, Moriko's Rufus?" the emboar called. His snout wiggled as he snorted. "It's funny fighting a fire-type heavier than me for once—ah!"
He dodged Rufus's Shoulder Rush out of the smoke cloud, and turned to follow him, something blue and blinding in his hands—
Rufus screamed, the Blowtorch—white-hot fire, searing—leaving a swathe of twisted metal across his back.
Tears came to Moriko's eyes; she was covering her mouth like a little kid.
"Ganny! That's enough!"
The emboar stood aside respectfully. "Had enough, Rufus?"
Rufus got to his feet, shaking, and straightened, towering over the old emboar, and snorted a thick stream of black smoke. "Just starting," he said, the fire-vents on his chest and legs opening with a roar.
"Good! Good! That will be all," he said, patting Rufus's arm. "Your first lesson: remember your training! Where was your Counter attack? Where was your Flame Charge? You have been at play here for too long. There will be more lessons after you are healed. Come now."
A breathless moment, and finally Rufus's flames quieted. "Alright," he said.
Moriko thought she was going to throw up, but Tarahn trotted cheerfully after the two fire-types.
Vleridin, was this okay?
Was what okay? Moriko's ensouled mooskeg asked. Ach, don't talk to me until you're further away from that damn mill.
The pokémon center at Tsovsko Village was rustic and homey, operated out of the inn-pub-general store as many of Gaiien's smallest hamlets did. After a heal for Rufus and a quick rejuvenation for the rest of Moriko's pokémon, she let them out into a broad park area behind the inn. Liona and Thana flew into the air, stretching their wings, while Tarahn and Vleridin settled in to watch the show as Ganny and Rufus began comparing techniques.
It seemed Rufus was unpracticed with some of his moves—maybe they hadn't factored into the casual battling Rufus had done with the other oxhaust or fire-types at the mill. Sometimes wild pokémon would prioritize showy or inaccurate moves over ones that were more combat effective, to impress underlings or potential mates better. Rufus was slow but steady and Ganny challenging and praising in equal measure, and the emboar drew out attacks like Flame Charge and Revenge that the oxhaust hadn't used in ages. Before long the dirt of the park was covered in scrapes and scorches.
"See? This is perfect," Tarahn said, tail twitching and immensely pleased with himself.
"You did it, kitty-cat. How did you know this would work so well?" she asked him, ruefully.
"I'm a genius."
Vleridin snorted. "In our classes, many of the students were like this. Their trainers had to finish their schooling, so they stayed on farms or with professors, and they grew lazy. The teachers had to remind them of their techniques before they could progress."
"I bet you didn't need that," Moriko said, scratching the green-and-brown moose-like pokémon under an antler.
"Please, what do you think of me? Besides, you rushed us to Hoenn so quickly, what time was there to forget?"
That was true; Moriko had had to wait until she was done high school to go on her journey, and then she'd received a late acceptance to the University of Hoenn. Most kids in other regions would get a couple badges per summer until they were done at 14 or 15, then had to get serious about graduating from high school while their pokémon languished. Good trainers took the time to keep in practice, but it wasn't the same as the journey. Corene the perfect girl had actually finished all her courses by correspondence and then taken the remaining time to do multiple S-tier rounds in other regions, but you needed a brain or money or both to pull that off.
And here she was trying to get that eighth badge when some of her classmates had been S-tier since they were in the ninth grade. Her pokémon were prepared, but maybe she wasn't. She felt a stab of that old rage: held back by forces claiming to know what was best for her, and the advice she'd needed to hear delivered so condescendingly that she would've said the sky was green just to disagree. Well, she'd gotten free at last, but it still rankled. She leaned on Tarahn and he purred like an engine.
Eventually the fire-types paused to rest, and Moriko brought Ganny and Rufus hot water and pokéblocks. Ganny sipped at his delicately while Rufus drank a couple of buckets' worth, and both fire-types charred their spicy pokéblocks before eating them.
"Show Rufus some more cool attacks," Tarahn suggested, his mouth full of chalky pink sweet-flavor blocks.
"Which one would you like?" the emboar asked, eyes twinkling.
Rufus looked at him narrowly. "What did you do? To my back?"
Ganny put out his hand and sparked the Blowtorch attack again: it was a needlepoint attack, close range, but it shone like a star. Terrible power, compressed into laser-like focus, and doubly effective against metal.
Rufus put out a hand, his nostrils flaring, as some energy-sense communication passed between the two pokémon.
"…Can I learn that?"
"Perhaps not as tight as the master the first time," Ganny teased, "but certainly you can perform it. There are yet more techniques in the canon of the rangers and ranger-pokémon, if only you would care to learn. Your friend Tarahn has done very well."
"Watch this!" Tarahn said, leaping up and scattering pokéblocks. Vleridin leaned over and casually lipped up a few of them.
The raigar tossed out rings of electrical energy that settled just above the ground. "Step on them, Ru!"
He narrowed his eyes behind his steel armor. "Those are traps."
"You'll be okay!"
Rufus shrugged and clomped over to one of the rings, only to have a burst of purple poison energy bubble up on his hooves before he even reached them—harmless to steel-types.
"See?" Tarahn said proudly. "Misdirection. That's psychology, right?"
Rufus grunted. "What about you, Vleridin?"
The mooskeg didn't move, but suddenly Rufus yelped—a vine had crept up his back and shoved a thorn into his armpit, where his thick armor couldn't protect him.
"I could have pierced you straight to the heart from there," Vleridin told him. She showed her teeth, but in a playful way.
Rufus showed his, equally playfully, and yanked away the vine. "Huh. Rangers are all sneak attacks then?"
"Quite a lot, to tell you true," Ganny said contemplatively. "Traps, binding moves, devastating attacks at a weak point to drive off wild pokémon and ronin. We do not fight to fainting, but to neutralize. See?"
"Yeah." The oxhaust whuffed loudly. "Maybe this is all for fast pokémon, then."
"Ah, not so—there are those of us who protect others and take damage so that they may strike in turn. So!"
Ganny took a low stance and then thrust forward with his shoulder and forearm, producing a momentary but intense burst of fire, and then followed up with a barrage of punches. Tarahn fell in behind him, arcing thunderbolts to pass around him and strike some imaginary opponent ahead of them, the lightning cooking the dirt to glass in puffs of burnt dust.
"And I would root or attack the opponent," Vleridin added, "while the two fliers bombarded them further. Though that would be a strong ronin indeed to require five."
Moriko thought she saw an extra wave of fire break over Rufus's crest of flames, but perhaps that was just wishing.
"Have you fought ronin already?" Rufus asked them.
Ganny chuckled. "I? Many times, young Rufus."
"A little, during the summer field schools," Moriko explained. "It's rare that we'll find one, but sometimes they're drawn out by all the student rangers."
"What is the field school?"
"During the summer we keep learning, but not from books." Rufus brightened considerably at that. "The teachers take us out into the wilderness and we help people who need pokémon abilities or other help from us, things like… maintaining trails or looking for rockslides. The buildup of energy tells us when things are about to change or how to fix things that aren't working."
Rufus scratched at his side, where the skin met armor. "I could probably do that," he said aloud.
"Pokémon don't have to learn from books like humans," Vleridin told him. "We learn from teachers all year. We practice and get stronger. If your heart is not in battling anymore, then you should stay here. There is much hard work in ranger school, battling and field work both."
"No, I like that kind of work," Rufus replied. "I like battling." He was clenching his fists again, and he sighed.
"I know, Ru," Moriko said. "I'm sorry I hurt you. Why don't we give the ice gym a try, and you can learn from Ganny along the way, and you can decide later? If you don't want to go with me in the end, that's okay."
"I do want to go," Rufus mumbled. "But…"
"You could also talk to Prof. Willow and go with another trainer or ranger," Moriko continued, her heart falling. "It doesn't have to be me. I bet you could go with Matt if you wanted."
Rufus shook himself, like he was dislodging a fly. "Why do you want me?" he asked suddenly. "When you have Ganny?"
"Ganny isn't my pokémon," Moriko said, patient. "He's a teacher at the school. Tarahn asked him to come with us, to show you what you were missing… and to boost if you didn't want to come. But I hope you do. I miss you so much, Rufus."
Tarahn rubbed up against Rufus's legs as he stood. "You should come!" he said. "We'll be back together like before!"
Rufus exhaled and nodded slowly. "Okay. The ice gym. What are you going to teach me?"
"Oh, I can teach many things, young Rufus," Ganny replied. "I teach battling, yes, but more importantly, the art of ranger-pokémon. It is different than the arena! We value precision. No collateral damage. When the time comes for you to save a child, you must not burn them, only the ropes holding them. Can you do it? Can you cause fire to form? Or can you only breathe it?"
Rufus stared. "What?"
Ganny put one of his fingers to his tusked mouth and looked devious. In a heartbeat, Tarahn screeched and rolled to put out the tiny fire that had started on his back.
"Ganny!" Moriko scolded him.
"Just a little surprise, I promise," the emboar reassured her, only slightly abashed. "Not even a burn. No?"
"Don't, do that, again," Tarahn said, washing his tail in an I-meant-to-do-that fashion.
"You made the fire start on him? With your head?" Rufus asked. "That's for psychics."
"Oh, not so, not so, young Rufus. We all use energy, every one of us uses energy—well, except for young Moriko—we all use it without thinking. You breathe in, and energy flows through your body, and you exhale flame, little bursts of Ember or the Inferno Overdrive that takes everything. And you are using it badly!" Ganny said gleefully. "After but a few moments you battlers are puffing and blowing! How can you last an hour fighting a giant? Three hours? Six hours without rest in pouring rain and mudslides? When you know your energy you can hit only with exactly what is needed. So! Shall I teach you, young Rufus?"
Spirit flames danced eagerly at the oxhaust's eyes and armored mouth. "Yes. Please."
Ganny trotted to the edge of the park, and came back with a dried-out hunk of branch, much-chewed-on by pokémon jaws, and another that he tossed to the ground at Rufus's hooves. Ganny snorted a puff of fire onto the wood he held.
"Find the energy in this fire," said the emboar. "'Ha!' you think. 'It is so easy, Ganny, the fire is there.' No, no, not so simple: you are seeing, you are not knowing. Find the flame! Find its edges, find the flux, find the place where dead plant becomes fire and fire becomes air and light. And when you touch this energy, you say, come to me… and come to here. Yes? Now, you try."
Rufus frowned, his eyes closing and his jaw working soundlessly. Long minutes passed, and Moriko quelled her disappointment. It was his first try. There was time—
The kindling at Rufus's feet lit.
Every time they stopped to rest and train, it made her heart hurt to see Rufus with the others as if nothing had happened—and yet, gods, wasn't it nice to have everyone back together? This almost felt like a real vacation.
With Ganny along, Moriko didn't even have to chivvy her team along to perform their energy exercises—he took care of that, calling out encouragement and critique as fire, lightning, and fairy energy whizzed around the attack-hardened dojos or empty fields. It left her free to check up on the giant pokémon that had precipitated this whole mess, and the chances of her impromptu gym challenge being cut short had shrunk precipitously: the kaiju mantine had wandered drunkenly closer to the southern region of Bahia, prompting evacuations and tsunami warnings.
It made her queasy, but Moriko couldn't stop checking and re-checking the feeds, looking for video captures of the rangers coordinating their aerial attacks on the giant, and unable to tear her eyes away from the worried parents and children waiting to be loaded into buses and driven away inland. Two years ago, a tsunami from the kaiju whiscash's massive attack had devastated Porphyry City's coastal side and about a hundred people had died, all told. There were still people missing thought to have been hit by the tsunami elsewhere around the Lacuna Sea coast. They'd probably all been declared dead by now.
They were going to take the ferry up the east coast of Gaiien, so she wouldn't have to see the massive scars on the west-coast fjords still regrowing plant cover.
MSato10: My field school got postponed because of the mantine
MSato10: What are you guys up to?
— Message read by M_M_M_Matt42 2 hours ago —
Moriko sighed, flicking away the messenger app and focusing on the move analyzer on her pokédex. Tarahn came over to her, shaking off some damage-over-time move, and started begging for pokéblocks by rubbing up against her legs.
"Did you do all your exercises?" she asked him, pretending to be a disciplinarian; she could see the readout of all the moves the pokémon were practicing and they were hitting all the categories on the workout.
"Oh please, miss," the raigar said, rolling on the dojo floor, "I am but a simple kitty who has never been fed, not once."
"Your words have moved me, gentle kitty," Moriko replied. "Which flavor?"
Thana came by for her pokéblocks as Tarahn made a mess of his, spraying sugary pink dust everywhere, and she gravely accepted the pokémon energy-infused snack. Pokémon loved them; Moriko had tried one once, but they were just expensive chews to a human, and they were strong. The spicy ones felt like they could burn a hole in the roof of your mouth, and the less said about the bitter ones, the better.
"How are you feeling about being back in Gaiien, Thana?"
The oberant shrugged, raising and lowering her antennae. "I had never been so far from the hive before I met you, Moriko, so these sights... they remind me of the first days of that journey with you. I remember being very anxious."
"Oh! Sorry to bring it back."
"Not at all—it is amusing how nervous I was then, and how much more I have learned." She sighed, a little regretful puff of air through her spiracles. "I am glad we are not near the desert, however—I am not looking forward to recounting all I have learned to my parent, the queen. It will take days, and there shall be many interruptions, I am sure. Though perhaps it would be better to be done with, rather than further elongating the tale with more experiences."
"Would you like to go there after all?"
"No. No I do not. I thank you for the excuse not to go."
Moriko laughed. "Here's to procrastination, then."
Before long Moriko was back at Port Littoral's passenger docks. The water was still a touch cool at this time of year, but there were people taking advantage of the sun on the beach and walking along the boardwalk. The pokémon mystic offering to rebalance pokémon's chakras for a small donation toward his pilgrimage to Nalea was set up under a tree on the beach. Moriko was certain it was the same guy who'd been there since she was eleven or so, and wondered if he'd ever made it to Nalea.
The ferry took her up the coast with a brief stop at each tidal power installation along the way. At Port Varlea she switched to a heavier vessel for the longer journey along a less-populated coastline; the Northern Gaiien Passage was ahead, and then Sastruga Fjord.
This season, the current was with them and the weather mild; it would change in late summer, turning the route into an unpleasant, slow, and heaving journey. It was hard to do the Gaiien circuit in a single summer for that reason; by the time trainers—even those making good time—were done with the sixth and seventh badges, it was Barf Boat season.
During their gym circuit, even if Moriko and her companions hadn't run into all that supernatural horseshit, they would have likely just finished the seventh gym—hell, maybe only the sixth—before school started again in the fall. Trainers with money could squeeze it in by taking an infrequent flight from Porphyry, or chartering one. But if you had to linger too long you could be stuck there for the rest of the autumn and long winter.
The new ferry was heavy and industrial, packed with supplies for the monitoring stations at the Northern Passage and Sastruga Fjord itself, and even further north where there were other mysterious scientific stations. The main wave of spring workers had already come in, but there were a few stragglers aboard, and adventure-seekers and photographers looking to capture Northern Gaiien's austere beauty and spring plantlife. Moriko wasn't sure why they wanted to come here instead of literally any tropical region, but people were weird.
There were a few trainers aboard with six or more pokéballs around their waists; they nodded at Moriko politely when she saw them. Her hands itched to challenge them, and Vleridin did too, cooped up like the other pokémon. But there was no battling aboard a boat with high-level pokémon like hers, unless she wanted a hefty fine and/or jail time.
They'd lasted through longer trips than this, though. Eventually all checks were complete and all cargo stowed, and the ferry was towed out to deep water where its anti-grav engines could power up. Within a half-day they were leaving even the Northern Passage behind.
The rocky coast of North Gaiien lurked in the mist; there were big animals in the pine forest, and pokémon that looked like them: mooskeg, Gaiienese ursaring, yulerein, wintris, and pokémon that looked like the trees and the rocks and the ice too. Huge icebergs passed silently in the night, the helm giving them a wide berth in case they turned out to be sleeping deepwild avalugg.
The sun rose again, but the sea fog had advanced, leaving the ship cruising through black water in a gray world with no end. Moriko patrolled the deck to stretch her legs and then went right back to her cabin, pulling up her downloaded logs of Polaris's public gym matches to study.
She must have nodded off, because she was awoken by the sudden and oppressive silence of the ferry's shut-down engines. She sat up blearily, checking her pokédex map.
It insisted that they were still at sea, far from Sastruga.
Something was wrong; she heard the pokémon in their pokéballs and Vleridin at her heart all begin to chatter.
"Did we stop?" her cabin-mate asked her, groggy.
"It's too early. I'm gonna check," Moriko answered.
She dressed and slipped out of the cramped cabin. It was cold outside, her breath fogging, and the air was choked with mist.
"Show me, Vleridin," Moriko murmured, and the mooskeg's energy-sight confirmed her suspicion: this was pokémon mist, the energy zigzagging through the vapor with purpose instead of random association.
The ship heaved, and Moriko grabbed for handholds. There wasn't even a yell in the stillness afterward, or she couldn't hear it; where was the crew?
Damn the rules: Moriko tossed Rufus and Ganny's pokéballs to the deck, and the fire-types instinctively crouched, advancing along the deck with their hands on the railings. Vleridin phased out of Moriko's body, her antlers yawing as she looked around, following the energy.
"Are we even moving, Vleridin?" Moriko whispered.
Moriko flicked Thana's pokéball into the air. "What are they saying at the conn?"
The oberant's antennae flicked toward the wheelhouse, and she hopped up deck by deck.
They're confused—they don't know where the mist came from or why they've slowed.
Shoot, Moriko sent back. Maybe we shouldn't be up here. Just causing more—
Another heave threw Moriko to her knees, and this time she heard other people shrieking—and insectile claws scrabbled on the gunwales ahead of her. Lots of them.
Rufus swatted at the claws nearest to him with a fiery hand, and they jerked away, heaving the ship further. Ganny hurled globes of fire into the air to cut through the mist, followed by a Black Snake to pursue the attacker. The crackling, smoking fire-type attack whizzed through the air to the bow and dove over the side into the ocean; after a moment, the claws on the boat withdrew.
The emboar tutted. "Of course old Ganny is fighting a sea monster on his vacation," he muttered.
"A water-type I can deal with, certainly," Vleridin replied. She didn't bother trying to traverse the rocking deck, and summoned a pillar of seawater to Surf on.
"Show yourself, ronin!" the mooskeg called, flinging Octobriars onto the ocean surface. The balls of thorns unfolded into many-armed masses that pinwheeled along, looking for targets.
"Get ready to attack when it shows itself, Thana!" Moriko called. "Rufus, Ganny, do you want—"
The ferry heaved again, a pointed head appearing over its side. It was enormous, crowned with icy, shimmering feathers above its multiple pairs of eyes.
"Earth's daughter," Karaxil, Demon of Frost and Starlight said, its voice echoing in Moriko's mind. "I hoped I might find you here. We have much to speak of."
:) I'm baaaaaaaack. Here's the bridging story between Gods and Demons I and II (forthcoming). Hope you enjoy! Some accompanying illustrations will be on my deviantart/tumblr(gaiienpokedex)/pokecharms(keleri), and my maps of Gaiien and fakemon are always there. I'm trying a slightly different capitalization style this time, uncapitalized pokemon species names but capitalized techniques.
It's inelegant but I know how confusing these full-team pokefics get even without throwing fakemon into the mix, so here's a cheat sheet for Moriko's team:
Tarahn - Raigar (M) - Electric/Poison cougar
Liona - Nigriff (F) - Dark/Fighting griffin
Vleridin - Mooskeg (F) - Water/Grass moose
Thanasanian - Oberant (F) - Bug/Fairy anthro moth
[temporary] Ganny - Emboar (M) - Fire/Fighting anthro boar
[temporary?] Rufus - Oxhaust (M) - Fire/Steel armored minotaur