Professor Birch blinked in confusion at the young woman standing outside his lab. She was somewhere in her mid-teens, draped in an oversized leather jacket that Birch vaguely registered as designer. Her dark-washed jeans were tucked into knee-high red boots. The buzz-cut that stretched over only half of her head was either a serious razor mishap or the latest in fashion. Recalling a recent commercial for Devon's Mark X PokeNav, Birch guessed the latter.
"Are you sure you're in the right place, Ms—" He tried to remember the short, plain-text email "—Mortis?"
The girl nodded, a broad smile on her face. "I am, Professor Birch. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me."
Off-balance at this pleasantry—Birch spent most of his time with ten-year-olds on the verge of temper tantrum—he stepped aside to let her into his laboratory.
She took in the disordered desk-space with a sharp, evaluative glance, eyes darting up to the windows that lined the lab.
"It's just a little unusual, choosing to get a lab starter this late," Birch continued, following her in. "If you're looking for a more, erhem, high-powered pokemon to catch you up to your peers, a breeder would be your best bet or a commercial reseller—"
"I want a lab starter," the girl said flatly. "It's traditional."
Traditional for trainers who lacked the money to pick up a more advanced or exotic starter, Birch didn't say. By the look of her clothing, she certainly had the option.
"Excellent," he chose to boom instead. "You're right, of course, Ms Mortis—"
"Please, Professor, call me Lily."
"Lily, right, well you see, it's the off-season, and I'm afraid I don't have much of a selection to offer you. All I have left is a single torchic, and she's a bit—"
"I'll take her," the girl said instantly.
"Right, right." Professor Birch fumbled around his desk, until he found the pokeball. He stared for a moment at the yellow post-it note affixed to the ball, which read, "Spoiled little bastard. Save for coordinators."
Birch looked back over to the girl, who was following his movements closely. Something about her posture struck him as strange. She wasn't slouching even a little.
Well, a more mature trainer should be able to handle a badly-behaved starter . . .
Birch clicked the release mechanism. Well-informed by past experience, he made sure to aim the light away from either of them. The torchic that emerged dove forward, its beak tensed. Finding no target for her peck attack, the torchic chose instead to direct a glare at the two human occupants of the room.
"Meet Torchic," Professor Birch said, "She's, er, got a lot of personality."
"Look at you!" cooed the girl. To Birch's amazement, she managed to lift the torchic without getting pecked and squeeze it to her chest. "She's perfect, Professor."
"Wonderful, wonderful," Birch murmured, still feeling off balance. He could see the torchic was squirming frantically, but the girl's grip was iron. "Now, let me walk you through the starting essentials." He stared at her small, silver backpack, which bore the bright gold logo of MiniMex. "Sleeping roll, tent, rations, don't forget potions..."
"I have all that, Professor," the girl said patiently.
"And don't forget antidotes. The poison types in Petalburg forest have quite the sting!"
"Not really," the girl said. "If you mean shroomish poison, that's only fatal once it's been heavily distilled."
Birch and the girl stared at each other. The torchic gave up its futile struggles and settled on a piercing glare that promised fiery death for both of them as soon as she properly perfected ember.
"Is that so," Birch said in a distant voice. "Is that so. Are you—are you looking to go into research, Lily?"
The girl shook her head. "You'll be wanting your fee," she said after a moment.
"Yes." Professor Birch blinked when the girl held out a 100,000 yen note. "Er, give me a moment, I must have change somewhere..." He glanced helplessly around the messy lab.
"You can keep it. Is there anything else?"
"No," Professor Birch said. "Nothing else..."
Three hours later, he had almost managed to forget the whole encounter. That is, until the door of his lab exploded inwards, and a band of masked men strapped him to a chair, demanding to know what, exactly, his business had been with the Lily of Death.
Kali, Star-Destroyer, was having a miserable day. It had been the project of many months to get the loud-mouthed human to keep his hands to himself. But in the last hour she had been poked, prodded, and squeezed to her limit, until at last the human girl had set her down on the ground and continued down the road, humming. Kali had followed out of a lack of better options. She had no idea where food could be found in this damp, unpleasant forest. Humans, despite their myriad of failings, were at least a reliable source of food.
Kali made a point of keeping her distance, her gaze fixed on the surrounding trees, not the human. It took her a moment to register that the human had come to a stop and was conversing with another of her kind.
The other human was a little shorter, with hair the color of mud. Her hair matched the mud sploshed over her clothing.
"Wait," the other human was saying, "You just, you just have a torchic? Are you kidding me, or ..?"
Kali's human smiled broadly. "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry to be bothering an experienced trainer like you. It's just, you see, my family would never let me go on a pokemon journey. I mean, they'd kill me first, you know? So this is my first day as a trainer, actually."
"Oh." The other human's face crinkled in sympathy. "No, I get it. That sucks. Hey, I just caught a nincada to train up. He might make a decent match for your torchic. How about we have them battle?"
Kali's human bit her lip, her eyes glittering. "Are you sure? That's so sweet of you."
Kali observed with interest as the other human's face went red. "S-sure, it's no problem. Come out, Diaspa!"
"Torchic!" her human called. "Time for our first battle!"
Kali, Star-Destroyer, eyed her opponent unenthusiastically.
"Start off with peck!" her human bubbled.
Kali supposed it would be unbecoming to do nothing. She wouldn't want to appear frightened of such a dirty, ugly little bug. All the same, this hardly called for her full, awesome strength. She jogged forward to make a half-hearted peck attack.
"Harden, and then use sand-attack."
Kali coughed as a flurry of dirt was flung in her face. She shook her head back and forth, her eyes squeezed shut, trying to get herself clean.
"Great! Follow up with scratch."
Those claws hurt! Kali fell to the ground, feeling miserable.
"Uh, I guess that's it," the other human said, sounding sheepish. "Seems like you and your torchic aren't really in sync yet."
Kali's human laughed. "I guess we have some work to do!"
"You know...I caught a surskit today, on my way down. I think I'll be sticking with nincada as a bug type, so if you're looking to build out your team...?"
"You want to give it to me?" Kali's human said flatly. "Why?"
"Uh, well, I don't need her and I figure, it's not your fault you've had to start so late..."
"You're a kind soul, aren't you," Kali's human said after a moment of silence.
"I-I don't know about that..."
"Thank you, but I want to catch my second Pokémon on my own. That's the traditional way, right? But thank you, and keep safe!"
"I wonder if all pokémon trainers are like that," Kali's trainer mused as they walked along. "So naive. And you—" Kali realized she was being addressed and narrowed her eyes "—you don't like me, huh?" The human sounded amused. "That's okay! We've got time."
The human slowed her pace suddenly and Kali almost tumbled into her. She was peering at the path up ahead with a frown. "Hm, I'd better check that out."
When Kali looked back up, the human had vanished. Kali swiveled her head around, searching, but there was no trace of the human anywhere. Kali hadn't realized they could move so fast.
Well, good riddance! Kali thought, but the grumble of her stomach reminded her that she was very hungry. Still, did she really need the human for that? If she just followed the road, surely she would come to another human place where they would feed her. Mind made up, Kali strutted forward.
How nice, to walk alone, owning the road. A torchic in full control of her destinyyyyy—
"T-chik-aaa!" The ground erupted under her and Kali was thrown upwards. She squirmed from side to side, trying to get free, but horrible plastic netting blocked her on all sides.
"Hey, we've got a hit! Oh damn, it's just a torchic."
"Hang on, torchic don't come wild around here. And remember what the old prof said? Bet you anything that's the Lily's pokemon."
"Hey, not a bad thought. But who cares if we got this little stinker—the boss wants us to get Lily back, not her dinky starter."
"Use your head, Phil. If we have the pokemon, the Lily is sure to follow."
"What, for a little pipsqueak like this? She could grab a blaziken off the black market in no time."
"Yeah, yeah, but it's principle right? The top-tier assassins are weird that way. Doesn't matter how weak it is, long as it's hers."
"Sounds crazy to me, but it's worth a try, I guess."
When they hauled the net down, Kali was ready. She struck out with avenging fury, her steely beak tearing through their weak skin—
"Ouch! Mouthy little thing. You got a shock collar handy, Phil?"
"Must have one somewhere. Hang on."
A dark, foul-smelling strip of plastic clicked around Kali's neck. When she tensed for another peck attack, a horrible bolt of pain raced through her body. She fell limp.
"That's the ticket. Now come on, let's get back to the others. I feel exposed out here."
Misery, Kali thought hazily. Hah! She hadn't known what misery was. This was misery, every pinion aching and her head a cloud of painful fog. The swing of the net made her stomach roll. She kept her beak clamped shut, fearing that at any moment she would retch up over herself.
"Hey team, we made a catch!"
"What, that little fire chick? That's nothing. We found a trainer who actually spoke with her!"
"Oh yeah? Anything on where she went?"
"Nah … But she did confirm that torchic's her only pokemon."
"Hang on, if we've got her only pokemon, where exactly is she?"
A troubled silence fell.
"You don't think she's been—"
Something crashed through the window. Kali strained to see what was happening, but all at once the air was filled with thick smoke. Kali pressed her eyes shut against its acrid sting. Guttural cries of pain rose into the air around her.
Then Kali was being swung off the table and out into the open. She gulped in the fresh spring air greedily. Strong but gentle hands untangled her from the netting and clipped the collar from her throat.
Kali flinched as cold spray hit her wings, making them sting, but the sting only lasted a moment, and almost instantly, the ache lifted. Kali opened her eyes slowly to find her human studying her.
"How are you feeling?"
Kali didn't know what expression her face twisted into, but it must have made her feelings clear, because the human chuckled softly. "Okay, stupid question. You're just a little thing, aren't you, Princess?"
When the electric-shock men had called Kali little, it had made her want to fight. But the strange note of sympathy in the human's voice undid her.
To her horror, Kali found her body beginning to tremble. When the human held out her arms, she pressed herself into them, comforted by the warmth and the firmness of the human's grip.
"I'm sorry," the human said after a moment. "I could have grabbed you back right after they netted you of course, but I wanted to see how many goons Ma sent after me. These low level grunts are like rattata, you know, they've got a herding instinct. Best to smoke them out together. I didn't think—you've never done anything like this before, have you?"
Kali shook her head, still trembling.
The human let out a sigh. "Right. I guess I didn't think this through so well. Look, this is my life. Ma wants me back and I doubt these goons will be the last she sends after me. I thought a traditional pokemon journey would be the best way to start fresh, you know? But maybe I should just nick a couple of power fighters. Maybe that would be best. Listen, what do you say? I can drop you back off with that professor today. He'll find you a place with a more normal trainer."
Kali opened her eyes, her mind whirring furiously.
This human had saved her. She had saved her because she was strong and Kali was weak.
Was she going to trot home with her head lowered? Or was she going to become strong—strong enough to fight off every miserable electric-shock human?
There was only one choice that was worthy of Kali, Star-Destroyer.
The human set Kali down on the grass, next to her pokeball.
"Stay by your pokeball if you want to go back home," the human said. She didn't give another option.
Kali frowned. The human was that sure of how she would choose? She stepped forward, away from the pokeball, until she was back at the human's feet. She let out a loud, indignant squawk.
"You still want to come with me?" Surprise was bright in the human's voice. Kali nodded, fluffing up her fur. She worried, suddenly, that the human would reject her. Say that a little fire chick had no place at her side.
"In that case, can I give you a bit of advice?"
Kali looked up to find her human smiling.
"Next time, aim for their eyes."
a/n: Based on this prompt from Farla: "Super assassin girl who's killed hundreds just wants to go on a walkabout with some L5 fluffball. Her family sends wave upon wave of ninjas after her to force her back into the family business and she has to fight them off with her 1337 skillz and many throwing knives in time to get to her first gym battle!"
This story seems to have acquired plot, so, uh, stay tuned?