Brockton Bay, NH, USA
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Today was… different. There was something off about myself, my own soul. It was unnerving in its newness, but it simultaneously felt like home, like a glove tailored for me alone.
It kept me up long past when Marcus went to sleep.
I felt that ponderous gear turn and connect. Grass this time. It was the first time the internal pendulum landed on grass but the surge of pure life wasn't what was strange to me.
No, it was the weight of experience. My aura felt richer, deeper, as though that gear that turned was being refined and polished. Everything I'd done until now settled in my soul like the foundations of some great building.
"Heal Pulse," I whispered, and marveled as the room was bathed in a familiar pink light.
I cut the glow. The last thing I needed was for my roommate to wake up and ask questions. Marcus was a swell dude, but he also hung out with ABB, if only adjacently.
It wasn't long before I let Cresselia lure me to sleep with a content smile on my face. Aura was always with me. It was me. But… But I could admit it to myself. This type roulette… it made me believe that on some level, this aura wasn't my own. As magnificent as it was, it was Arceus' power, not Blake's.
I went to sleep knowing that I'd done it. No transformation, just aura. Proof of growing mastery, external and undeniable proof that I was becoming who I once was.
Today was already set to be the best of days.
I sucked in great gulps of air as I pounded pavement. The high of my newfound milestone had not worn off yet. I didn't think it would anytime soon. I could push myself. More. Faster. Longer.
Effort was key. Effort let Bruno crush boulders. Effort let Chuck wrestle his machamp. Effort took me to the summit of mortal ability before and it could pave the way again.
How did that thing Marcus watch put it? Right.
PLUS. FUCKING. ULTRA.
I laid my head on the desk wishing I could sink into the floor. How the hell did I forget Thursdays were PE? Because Coach Mooton looked at me sprinting my runs and decided joy wasn't conducive to a fitness environment. He promptly gave me even more because he "liked my hustle."
"Mr. Isley, are you with us?" came the voice of my hardass physics teacher, one Mrs. Rothelby. It was a rhetorical question; she didn't ask anything so much as demand.
"Yes, Mrs. Rothelby," I groaned out. "I'm sorry, PE wore me out more than usual."
"Well perhaps you should be mindful of your limitations. Now come up to the board and solve for the distance this arrow can fly."
I slumped into the lunch table. My body was feeling a little better, but I now had a headache from the chewing out Mrs. Rothelby gave me. Physics really wasn't my subject. How I was pulling o had no idea.
"You look like shit."
I looked up with a glower to find Amy Dallon smirking down at me. In her hands was a tuna sandwich with a frankly disturbing amount of mayo.
"Okay seriously, what's up with you?"
"Just tired, Amy."
I looked around. "No Vicky?"
She took an angry bite of her sandwich. "She and Dean went off to suck face somewhere."
I nodded tiredly. That meant most of Vicky's usual hanger ons wouldn't be around. Sad to say, but they were Vicky's friends who happened to tolerate Amy because they knew what Vicky would do to them otherwise. Amy… I wasn't sure she had any friends if I was being honest.
It was a rare moment for us to be alone outside the hospital.
I recovered after grabbing some food for myself. I scarfed down a chicken burrito and looked at her. "That is a disgusting amount of mayo on your tuna."
She flipped me the bird. "Yeah, well you can go fuck yourself. Leave my greaseball alone."
"Fine, whatever. Say, you want to hang out later?"
"You know. Go to the Boardwalk. Visit the shops. Maybe get something for my work study."
She glanced quickly at the tables around us, then gave me a sharp kick in the shin. A quick head tilt towards the table to my left caught my attention: Three girls who were trying very hard to seem like they weren't listening in.
I didn't think anyone would pay attention to us because Vicky wasn't around. Amy just wasn't as eye-catching as her extroverted and admittedly much prettier sister. Shows what I knew about high school gossips. They probably thought I'd be the next in line to try to meet her lofty standards in men and were waiting for me to strike out like all the rest.
I nodded to show I understood. "Yeah, I do work study at the Camacho Animal Clinic & Shelter. They're great people. I mean, cleaning up rabbit crap off the floor gets old pretty fast, but you can't deny the floof, you know?"
"Huh, lucky. Scraping rabbit shit is better than what I do at the hospital."
"Pull barbies out of some idiot's ass. Tell people that I refuse to give them boob jobs. Try to tell a hysterical mother that I don't do brains and I can't help her heavily concussed son no matter how much I want to."
I winced. "Yeah, got me there. I'll take the rabbit feces."
"Well I was just thinking I could pick up some pet treats, you know? Just to splurge on my own. Would you be able to tell me which one's the most nutritious?"
"I guess. Never tried. Nutrition also depends on the individual and lifestyle so who knows?"
"If you want, you can give me a call. I'll let you know if I have some free time. I wouldn't mind visiting your work."
I nodded agreeably. Amy was surprisingly good at double-speak, though I supposed it came with the territory of growing up in a cape family. I figured she wanted me to give her a call. Or visit the hospital this evening perhaps? Both were fine options since I had Heal Pulse to throw around in my human form.
Dr. Camacho held a cat in one hand and a syringe in the other. He was showing me how to best calm animals before inserting the needle for routine vaccinations.
"Now, I know you don't need to know this for volunteer work, but you're so good with animals that I don't think it'd be a bad idea to show you."
"Thanks, doc," I said. Compared to a rowdy Regis, a few cats with itchy claws were nothing. "It's interesting, though I don't know if I'll go into veterinary science."
"You should consider it. I've never seen a natural like you. Say, Stacy's going to be going through and updating vaccination records. Mind helping her finish up here? Soothe the animals?"
"Of course not."
The doctor left to do something else and I was left with his daughter and a room full of abandoned pets. It was as though my mere presence calmed them. I held out a hand and even the most ornery cat or skittish rabbit ambled into my arms without complaint.
With my help, the two of us finished what should have been the work of three hours in just one.
"You can go, Blake," Stacy told me. "And thanks for helping me finish up so fast."
"No problem. It was a pleasure. Beats wiping pee off the floor," I joked.
I was out the door by 3 PM, giving me time to do what I wanted. Namely, PHO.
I wanted to control my own narrative. Battery. Assault. Brandish. They were all correct. I wasn't just a nobody anymore. Menagerie mattered.
Right now, public opinion favored me because of my healing and moving the tanker, but that could change. I held no delusion that I could keep up a peaceful life. The gangs here just seemed hell-bent on starting problems and even if they were willing to leave me be, we had some irreconcilable ideological differences as far as I was concerned.
I headed to the nearest tech store and burned $300 to buy a decent laptop. It wasn't the best on the market, those were tinkertech-adjacent and could run in the tens of thousands, but it was a decent, sturdy brand.
Finding a quiet corner of a coffee shop, I opened up PHO and considered what I might want in a name.
I snorted. Marcus introduced me to a song on Halloween called the Monster Mash. It was tempting to make that my personal theme song, but I'd probably get sued or something. I considered a few names but ultimately settled on Menagerie_Official because just Menagerie was apparently taken.
I made my account and sent in the verification form. A minute later, I received an email from Tin_Mother, the head admin of the site.
Tin_Mother: Hello, Menagerie. Love your work, if you are indeed him. As with all capes, I must insist on a short video demonstrating your powers to give you the Verified Cape tag. Can you send something over?
Menagerie_Official: I don't mind, but how did you reply so quickly? Is there a script you're running?
Tin_Mother: Yes, actually. Verification requests are redirected to me personally for security purposes. I insist on being the one to verify all capes in North America.
Menagerie_Official: Okay, that makes sense. That's really cool
Tin_Mother: Thank you. It's a lot of work, but I take pleasure in knowing that PHO is a safe, secure, and accessible site for all parties. I will be awaiting your verification video.
I was about to shut the laptop and go find a deserted alley so I could shift, but my burner buzzed. It was a text from my tailor.
Sabah: Hello? Menagerie?
Sabah: I finished a mockup of your costume. It's just a 3D drawing, but I wanted your thoughts on it before moving forward.
Menagerie: Didn't you say it'd be done on Friday?
Sabah: Yes, but I had some extra time and your materials are some of the most fascinating things I've ever worked with. It's all very exciting.
Sabah: Anyway, look through these pictures and tell me what you think.
Menagerie: Of course.
Sabah: The silk can be dyed and the metal can be recolored, but the scales resist any changes I make to them. I can't even cut them! You might have to come down and help me shape the scales…
Menagerie: I'm happy to help you shape the scales, Sabah. Tomorrow or the day after?
Sabah: Okay, thanks. We can also take your measurements then. Give me a call. Any thoughts?
Menagerie: Can you flatten out the red and white circle? No fancy designs, just a red top and white bottom. Let me show you a picture of what I mean.
Sabah: Sure, are you sure? It's a bit plain as a logo.
Menagerie: Call it an inside joke.
Sabah: If you say so. How about the scales? I left them large because I just couldn't find a way to cut them. You did say you wanted something with decent protection.
Menagerie: I don't know. It's effective armor, I can see that much. Maybe something leaner?
Sabah: I can do that. But texting feedback isn't going to work as well. When you show up, you can help me sketch out a design you like.
Menagerie: Thanks, you're awesome. I need to go verify my ID on PHO.
Sabah: Have fun.
After retrieving my helmet, I ducked into an alley, set my phone to record, and shifted. My body shrank down as I sank to my hands and knees. A shell of soil covered my back, occupied by a single sprout.
Turtwig, the grass type starter of my home region. It somehow felt poetic that I'd greet the wider Earth-Bet as a starter.
I reached out with a Vine Whip. "As you can see, this is Menagerie. Hope this is enough, Tin Mother."
I sent the video off and smiled as I received the verification tag a moment later. Then, just for the giggles, I set my profile picture to the Spheal of Approval with the signature, "Scarring Vista since 2011."
Was it petty? Yes. Did I care? Not enough to not find it funny. I wanted an ice rink, damnit!
That taken care of, I found myself with a bit of time. I considered what else I wanted to do with my day. I could go visit the hospital as Amy seemed to want. I could improve my base, maybe give Emily a raised bed and store some materials…
'Or,' I thought, 'I can just go around and revitalize the local plant life. I am a grass type after all…'
I smiled. What else was a grass type to do but make the world a little bit greener? It was practically instinct, no more unusual than a machop lifting weights. Grass types were the stewards of the forests and I felt like I should deliver.
'Didn't Amy say she liked the biological shifts?' I wondered. I knew she was in the hospital, but it couldn't hurt to ask if she'd like to join me. I dialed her number.
"Yup. It's me. Say, what are you doing right now?"
"At the hospital. Did you want to come in?"
"No, I have a bunch of transformations that can revitalize flora and I thought I'd go around testing them out by making the city a bit greener. Do my civic duty, you know?"
She clicked her tongue. "You know that biotinkers are dangerous, right?"
"Shaker. I have a lot of pokemon with area effects."
She let out a loud snort of laughter. "I still can't believe you call them 'pocket monsters.' But shakers are not that much better. Are those effects permanent?"
"Yup. They make the plants healthier. Replenish soil. That sort of thing. Want to join me?"
"Wait, join you?"
"Yeah, I know you like the different biology so I thought we could hang out. You know, do something different and still good for the city."
"I don't know…"
I did my best impression of a deflated psyduck. "Pwease? Pwetty pwease?"
"You're the only one who can stop me from doing something dangerous. Who else but the super-responsible Panpan?"
"You're holding the city hostage to hang out with me?" she deadpanned. I could hear the smile she was trying to suppress though.
"Of course! If you do not join me, I will fill the city with nothing but marijuana plants. It's heroic because it'll drive the Merchants out of business, see?"
"No. My friend is not going to become a drug lord."
"I might if you don't come with me."
"Mom would kill you."
"But I'd die high and happy."
"Ugh, you're impossible."
I tried again. She wasn't likely to respond favorably to having more responsibility thrown on her shoulders. "Fine, how about this? I'll let you take pictures with all the cute grass types I can turn into. You can use them to tease your sister."
"… Go on…"
"And you can even fondle my cute little body in all sorts of places."
"Oh fuck you!"
"It's not an invitation, you asshole!" she yelled.
"You'd sound more intimidating if I couldn't hear you laughing."
"I swear to god, Menagerie."
"So you won't join me? Pwease?"
"No. I'm going back to work. You can go be a hippie by yourself."
"Fine, and hey, try not to stress too much," I told her gently. "You already work harder than anyone."
"Whatever… And… Thanks for the laugh. I needed that. Later."
"Yeah, have a good one."
I cut off the call. Was this technically a patrol? I planned to do a progress throughout the city so it probably qualified? The question was, where did I want to go?
With Amy, I would have stuck to the wealthier side of the city. Take a tour around the botanical garden. Captain's Hill. Maybe the park near the Towers. The university. As much as I wanted to hang out with Amy, having her around meant keeping her safe from potential threats, especially now that I was a known quantity.
Without her, I could head to the less affluent parts of the city, the west and north. It would be an impromptu patrol that I could do while revitalizing the flora.
Amy would cave eventually. I refused to give up on my sacred mission of giving Amy some leisure time!
But for now, I could do things I wouldn't be able to do without her. Namely, start planting seeds everywhere and grow plants. If they happened to be edible, nice to look at, and provide some fresh air for the city, all the better.
First stop, Home Depot's gardening section. Sceptile could upkeep miles of forest on its own using a single seed from its back, but if I did that, I'd just end up with a bunch of overgrown weeds and bushes that'd need to be landscaped back anyway. I decided to be a bit more technical about this.
After a quick chat with a kindly elderly gentleman, I bought seed packets of some of the hardiest plants that grew in New Hampshire: blueberries, scarlet elderberries, and blackberries. If I could supplement these with some of my own plants, I figured I could really help the city.
If I wanted to make a difference, it wouldn't be a good idea to start with the rich part of town. Instead, I headed for Winslow. By working that neighborhood, I could easily justify revitalizing the garden in the orphanage as well.
It was nearing dinner when I started. I decided that as funny as it might be to draw attention, a part of me wanted to start a conga line through the city with ludicolo, I'd be better off staying on task. My mission was simple. I wanted to visit the different parks and pockets of common green around the north side of the city, scattering seeds and making them bloom.
I figured I could make the city look nicer and give people something to snack on while they strolled. It wouldn't save lives or anything, but it'd give people something to take pride in.
I walked to the first park and began scattering seeds everywhere. If I did this in the street, the growing plants would quickly become a hazard, but the parks should be fine. Once about half the seeds were tossed onto the green, I called, "Shift, meganium!"
I felt myself get on four limbs and giggled as petals sprouted from my neck. My neck extended and a pair of stamen poked from just above my nose. The two stalks looked like antennae on me and were so laden with pollen that they seemed to shine gold.
I was a meganium, the final evolution of Johto's vaunted grass type starter. I stood an impressive eleven feet at the head and six at the shoulder. Although meganium weren't considered the offensive powerhouses that sceptile or chesnaught were, they could more than hold their own. What they lacked in raw power compared to their competiors, they more than made up for through an incredibly defensive powerset.
More, of all the grass type starters, they were arguably the most attuned to natural plant life. So much so that even the mere breath of a meganium could revitalize wilting plants. I couldn't think of a more appropriate pokemon for my little project.
My shift had not gone unnoticed. Where I was just some weird guy scattering seeds everywhere, I had identified myself as Menagerie. A few phones were already out and I could already guess that I was going to be PHO's newest hot topic… again…
'Ehh, it was bound to happen,' I shrugged mentally.
I stood on my hind legs and focused the well of grass type energy, pure life energy, before bringing my forelegs down with a titanic stomp. "Frenzy Plant," I shouted.
A wave of grass type aura poured out from my location, infusing every single plant in the park.
Frenzy Plant, the ultimate attack of grass types, often called the "grass type Hyper Beam." It allowed a pokemon to take control of every single piece of flora in an area, to dramatically accelerate their growth, and to command them to fight. In a field with no plant life such as a stadium, it would even generate thick tree trunks out of nothing to batter foes.
But meganium weren't like that. I wasn't like that. Meganium loved to steward gardens, looking after them with the care of a doting mother. The plants of the field surged to life in my defense but I coaxed them down.
No, there was no battle to be fought; I only sought to give them the chance to grow and flourish.
I willed it. So they did.
The trees gained new life, every leaf shining with verdant energy as though it was the middle of summer. The grass sprang straight as if reaching for the sky. Even the weeds flowered and bloomed at my call, daisies greeting me with vibrant yellow.
Most of all the berry seeds I planted. Dozens upon dozens of hardy bushes sprouted from the earth, each so heavily laden that their branches drooped with the weight of their juicy burdens.
I looked on, satisfied by my actions. I knew a lot of people in these neighborhoods lived paycheck to paycheck. They weren't starving, but by buying the cheapest available meal, they weren't really looking out for their nutrition.
A surge of pride filled me, the desire of a meganium to nourish and protect.
I ambled over to one of the people recording, an elderly black gentleman who was looking at a plant with seven-pronged leaves that grew out of the ground next to him.
I nodded to the plants I'd made. "Those berries are blackberries, scarlet elders, and blueberries. I hope you enjoy."
"You're welcome! I'm going to go plant some more elsewhere," I said cheerily before running off to the next park. A meganium was no whimsicott, but compared to a person, it wasn't exactly slow either.
Behind me, I heard, "That must've been the good shit 'cause a green dino just gave me more weed…"
Meganium weren't the speediest pokemon around, but they weren't actually slow. Being quadrupedal with wide, flat feet, they could turn on a dime. Their top speed could also easily outpace a car despite their cumbersome appearances. If anything, I had to slow down so I wasn't putting so much pressure on the asphalt. I didn't want to leave claw marks and footprints in my wake.
It only took me two minutes to get to the next area, a community garden hosted by the Brockton Bay Civic Center. The whole point was to do what I was doing in miniature, to allow families without enough money for produce to supplement their diet.
Seeing how the garden was already full of edible plants, I decided to save the seeds. Instead, I extended a pair of vines and lifted the lid of the compost bin for a granny who was working there.
"Here you go, ma'am," I said, head bowed in submission. I thought the green dino was cute, but a ton of muscle was still a tone of muscle.
She jumped, clutching her heart. "Oh my! Are you a parahuman?"
"Yes, ma'am. I'm Menagerie, a changer hero with a lot of different forms. If you don't mind, I can make all the plants grow."
"Yes. I figure people can really use the help, you know?"
"That would be wonderful, dearie."
"Then here goes. Frenzy Plant!"
I slammed the ground and allowed the plants to find a new lease on life. The crops that were being kept here, from potatoes and carrots to garlic and onions, all began to grow. So potent was a meganium's aura that I saw potatoes as large as a person's head.
With a final greeting, I moved on. There were more parks to get to.
I shifted back at a water fountain and got a drink. All told, I was happy. I managed to make a stop over by my orphanage to grow Mrs. Wells' garden. She'd probably chew me out later for missing dinner, but that was fine so long as I could obscure my home better. The orphanage was just one of several locations I'd stopped in on my route.
My shifts were getting longer, approximately eleven minutes on average as far as I could tell, but I knew I could do more. Be more.
I was getting ready to shift back when I saw space distort around me. The rooftop across the street was suddenly a mere four feet away. Vista, the littlest Ward and subject of my Spheal of Disapproval, emerged from the crinkle in space.
She had a confident smirk on her face that made me wish I had retained my ability to see aura, if only so I could tell what she was really feeling. With a flick of her left hand, the crinkle in space unraveled like a slinkie.
"Menagerie," she said in a professional tone.
Before I could reply, a cloud of darkness that reminded me of a gastly sank down towards us. Gravity exerted itself over the cloud, but slowly. We stood there, waiting for a few seconds until the cloud was three feet above the ground.
It then condensed back into the form of a young woman, probably my age. I recognized her of course: Shadow Stalker, the "lone wolf" of the Wards. She dropped the final three feet and landed on bended knees, balanced in a way that spoke of exceptional training.
I looked at the two female Wards. Their costumes were like night and day. Vista's was meant to evoke an open, friendly air whereas Stalker seemed to revel in wearing nothing but grays and blacks. She also carried a pair of repeating crossbows that while not aimed at me, were not holstered either.
Vista was the one to greet her partner. "You could have just stepped down with me you know."
Stalker let out a noise that was halfway between a huff and a derisive snort. "How 'bout no, midget? I make my own way."
"I'm not short!"
"What's that? Can't hear you from up here."
"Oh, fuck you, Stalker." Vista turned red a second later, realizing she'd just cussed out her partner in front of an independent.
"Fuck me? Yeah, at least I can get some." She turned to look at me. Her faceplate, shaped to look like a stoic woman's face, was odd to look at, kind of like a yamask. She and Vista clearly didn't get along and I wondered if that was the norm or if the girls were just catty. "'Sup, Menagerie. You a hippie lizard now?"
I winked, realized they couldn't see me wink through the helmet visor, then settled for finger guns. "I don't know about hippie, but I'm certainly hip."
I could practically see Stalker seethe. It was somehow a full-body affair that just oozed disgust. "Ugh, fuck, another Clock."
"Hey, Clock's not that bad," vista chided. "And are you sure you're allowed to do that?"
I looked at them, then the berry bushes I made all around the park. "You mean… I can't feed homeless people?"
"You can't make sweeping changes to the city on your own because you're not a city planner and you don't have permit. The PRT cannot condone any use of parahuman power on edible goods," she said matter-of-factly.
Next to her, I saw Shadow Stalker snort. She began cleaning her crossbows in an obvious show of disinterest. I wondered who was the better marksman, her, or me as decidueye.
"Are you listening to me?" Vista said. She stamped her little feet and I felt the near uncontrollable urge to pat her head and pinch her cheek. She'd probably fight me for it though.
"Ah,… no…? Sorry, I kind of zoned out when you started talking about city ordinances. So… I can't feed the homeless? You're saying I can't feed the homeless?"
"You can't feed them this way. If you'd just come with us to the PRT, we can verify that the plants you're making aren't dangerous."
"But they're literally from Home Depot's gardening section," I said. I pulled a packet of seeds from my jacket. "See? I bought them today."
"That's better, but-" Vistal stopped before she could really get going again. She seemed like the kind of girl with a set of lungs on her. A dainty hand went up to her ear. Some kind of speaker, I realized. "But… Fine… Okay, you can, but only if you promise that none of them are biotinker constructs."
"You mean I don't need to turn into something cute and pretend to be super depressed to get you to let me do what I want?"
"Hahahaha, he's got your number, midget," Stalker cackled.
I couldn't really see her eyes through her emerald visor, but it was impossible not to feel that glare. Double teamed by both me and her own partner, she huffed. "Whatever."
I was starting to feel bad. Just a bit. I decided to take the diplomatic route. She was, after all, just a kid. A very precocious child, but a child by the standards of Earth-Bet. "I'm sorry for making you look bad with the spheal thing," I said gently. "And I do appreciate that the PRT is willing to trust me. For the record, I don't think I can be called a biotinker. The plants I grew today are as healthy as healthy can be, the juiciest, plumpest, most nutritious versions of themselves, but they're still just mundane plants."
"That's good to hear," she spoke stiffly. She heard something from their comms. "Do you mind if Stalker and I follow you around for a bit? We'd like to observe your work."
I shrugged. I saw no real harm in it. If I didn't want meganium's ability to be publicized, I'd never have done this in the first place. There had to be at least a dozen videos of me by this point. "Sure, I don't mind. More the merrier, right?"
"Right. So, where to?" Vista asked. She was a lot cuter when she wasn't spouting legalese at me.
On the other hand, Stalker seemed completely ambivalent. If anything, she seemed a little cross that she'd be spending her patrol planting flowers. Made sense. From what I could remember, she was a very recent inclusion to the Wards and used to be an independent like me. She was probably a bit of an action girl. I could understand; I was the same in my past life.
"From here? I was thinking loop around Winslow. There's another community garden around there. Then maybe make the school look greener, a bit less like something out of a war footage, you know? Then I'll loop eastward to the docks before coming back."
"That sounds good. We'll follow you until Winslow."
"Got it. Shift, meganium." I was back into my favorite green dinosaur and waved my stamens at the two girls cheerily. "Ta-da!"
"Very impressive. Can you shake and roll over too?" Stalker drawled.
"Ignore her, she's just mad there isn't anyone to fight."
"Whatever, let's go."
I shrugged. Tough crowd. "So… want a ride?"
"You wish I'd ride you, you Littlefoot reject."
"I have no idea what that is."
Vista looked at me like I'd kicked her dog. "Land Before Time? The series about dinosaurs? The main character was a brontosaurus named Littlefoot."
"What happened to your childhood?" she gasped.
"Apatosaurus, midget," Stalker sniped.
"Wait, you like Land Before Time?"
"Fuck off, I have younger siblings."
"You had a childhood?"
I couldn't help a snort of laughter at Vista's genuine surprise. "As funny as it is to listen to you ladies bicker, let's get going. No ride?"
Stalker began walking off towards the school on her own, but Vista looked tempted for a moment. She shook her head. "No way, it'd just look childish."
"Come on, we even match colors. You've never wanted to ride a dinosaur before?"
"Well…" Comms must have said something because she let out an exaggerated sigh. "Fine, just for a bit."
I reached out with a pair of Vine Whips that sprouted from below my petals. It was a weird feeling, a bit ticklish. The vines were think, relatively speaking, about as thick as my wrists in my human form. They looked small as a meganium, but I knew better. The vines of a fully evolved pokemon could topple trees with ease.
I wrapped them around her waist and hoisted her over my back. Then, I offered the tips of the vines to her like reins.
"Here you are. Got them?"
She shimmied in her seat to get comfortable before grabbing hold of my vines. Gone was the exaggerated reluctance. For once, she was acting her age and it was adorably hilarious. After all, which kid didn't want to ride a dinosaur?
"Yeah, let's go!"
I grinned as we raced along the road to Winslow. Vista tried to stay taciturn, but I could feel by the way she was all but vibrating in her seat that she was enjoying the ride. If a few subtle distortions in space made the ride last longer than strictly necessary, then, well, I wasn't going to hold it against her.
Fifteen minutes. That was plenty of time for me to take a more public route and I delighted in showing off for the crowd, especially the children. I could see them pointing and tugging at their parents as the three of us dashed by.
We arrived at Winslow in good time anyway. I gathered grass type aura in my paws and stood on two legs. "Hold tight, Vista," I said.
"Woah, what are you-"
"Frenzy Plant!" I yelled, bringing my paws down in a heavy stomp. I took some small satisfaction in watching Stalker stumble at the tremor. The grass type energy spread out and took control of the plants in the school, causing them to bloom. I smiled as I picked the Ward off my back. "Sorry, I'm going to change back and catch my breath for a bit."
"That was awesome!" She then caught herself and coughed awkwardly. "I-I mean, it was neat. Thank you for the ride, Menagerie."
"Whatever, let's go," Stalker grouched.
"But do you always smell good?"
I laid down on the grass, letting the newly springy lawn hold me up. "Some pokemon have a naturally soothing scent. Meganium because they're considered caretakers of nature."
Stalker snorted. "You're fucking with me. Really?"
I shrugged. "That's what they're called."
"Worse than Clock," she muttered before walking away.
"Is she always this grouchy?"
"Actually, this is her being friendly."
"Huh, maybe meganium's scent soothed her a bit."
She took a seat next to me on the grass. "Maybe. So, are you planning on patrolling more often?"
"Why do you ask?"
"There have been some low-level skirmishes between ABB and Merchants in the Boat Graveyard. Purity's been seen as well. None of the capes have started anything, but that's probably because Skidmark's not dumb enough to poke Lung. It's a matter of time though."
I considered it. I gave Brandish a noncommittal answer then, but there was some merit to hanging out with the Wards. And, if I ended up with a dud day, then I could just cancel and tell them something came up. "Sure, how about Saturday?"
"That's perfect. We'll be going from the north ferry station and running a rim around the gang territories to make sure if fighting starts, we can respond quickly and ensure nothing spills out."
"That sounds fine. I'll spare a few hours, but I might have to cancel if something comes up."
She nodded and stood, dusting off her white skirt. "Okay, it was nice meeting you, Menagerie. And change your PHO signature!"
"Hahaha, nah, it's funny."
"It's funny to me."
"Stalker's right, you're worse than Clock," she huffed. "Later, you jerk."
I was just about done with the tour of the north side of the city. It wasn't as though there were many parks or common greens in the Trainyard or Boat Graveyard.
I decided to check anyway and started to amble eastward. I'd make a few green spots where I they wouldn't get in the way.
Another hour or so passed. I shifted back and leaned against a chain-link fence as I waited for the minute timer to recharge.
Then I heard it. It was the sound of heavy footsteps, probably three or four creatures total. I recognized the scrape of claws against the brickwork. It came from… up…?
I considered hiding, but quashed the thought. Whoever it was, they were either here for me, or they'd just pass me by. If they were here for me, I didn't want them to start wondering if I was a coward.
Besides, with my bright as shit orange helmet, they probably already saw me anyway.
I leaned back into the fence and waited. It didn't take long. The first things that caught my eye were their mounts. They looked like some kind of sick Team Rocket experiment, with bulging muscles exposed to the air, scales, and bones. They were large, large enough to maybe even out-mass an arcanine. The three lizard-dog-things landed solidly around me, pinning me in a hemisphere.
Leading them was a girl with a plastic dog mask. She brought the dogs to heel with a sharp whistle that impressed me. They were clearly well-trained if nothing else. Then, to my surprise, she glanced at the black-clad man with a skull painted on his helmet.
Was he the leader? The helmet was certainly intimidating enough. It looked professionally done, or at least by someone with far more artistic talent than myself. Black smoke wafted from the gaps in his jacket, his sleeves, and collar.
Compared to them, the other two were pretty underwhelming.
There was some boy with wavy hair like myself, though with a frilled shirt I wouldn't be caught dead wearing. In his hands was a royal scepter that reminded me of the one in the Kalos Royal Museum, but a thousand times less regal and about that much more tacky. I didn't know who came up with the costume, but I just couldn't take him seriously.
The last of their group was certainly attractive, with blonde hair, green eyes, and a coquettish smile. She was dressed in tights that showed off her figure, probably on purpose now that I considered it. Her purple and black outfit didn't seem very protective and I couldn't imagine any other reason than looking good.
The five of us stared each other down for a few seconds. That was fine. I recognized them. They were villains, the Undersiders. They'd apparently shown up in July last year according to my background research, but I knew nothing else about their powers beyond that.
Presumably, the dogs belonged to the dog-masked girl and the smoke-man was the leader but my knowledge was woefully blank.
If things came to a fight, I'd rather it be after fifty seconds…
Surprisingly, it was the cute blonde who spoke, not their leader.
"He's stalling, Grue," she said. She sent me a smug smirk, more like a flash of teeth than a smile. "Oh, was that a secret? Sorry~"
"Nope, not that. He's waiting for… something though."
The now-named Grue grunted. "Doesn't matter, Tats. We're not here to fight. Menagerie, right?"
I nodded. That brief exchange told me much about their relationships. Grue was the leader. "Tats" must be short for Tattletale. Which meant the dog girl was Bitch and by process of elimination, the last was Regent.
From what I could gather, Grue was the leader, but Tattletale was either a close second or the advisor behind the throne. She probably had more say in how things went in their group than most would guess.
Of them, I could see that Bitch was the one most ready to fight. She was confrontational, but defensive. It wasn't a bloodthirsty posture like I'd seen on some houndoom, but she was ready to order my death in a second. Or at least, she seemed that way. She kept looking doggedly at my visor, as if to try to find my eyes. It was behavior I'd only seen in pack animals.
Just what was up with that girl?
I looked to the rest. Regent looked bored, as though none of this concerned him and he was just humoring me. It would have pissed me off if it wasn't beneficial towards me stalling for time.
Tattletale still wore that smug look that reminded me of Lusamine, but she was also carefully coiled. She tried to look relaxed, but I could see her thighs clenching around her mount, bracing to act in a moment's notice. It was interesting. Most people would focus on her pretty face or body, hands if they were experienced, but I was a martial artist. Every strong motion came from the hips. She'd probably go for a gun or a knife.
Last came the leader. I could see nothing through his helmet, but he was the most relaxed. Or, he was trying to pretend to be. He did a good job in truth, his jacket making it harder for me to see his muscles tense where Tattletale's skin-tight costume didn't leave much to the imagination.
"Is he checking us out?" Regent drawled when I said nothing. "Tats, wanna flash him?"
"Fuck off, perv. He is, but he's running threat assessments. He's trained. Or… not?"
"Doesn't matter," Grue said again, more firmly this time. "Menagerie, I wanted to speak with you if you don't mind."
I made a show of looking around slowly. "This doesn't look like a voluntary chat."
"We just want to talk," Grue reiterated.
"Only if I get to pet the animals. What even are they? Dogs? Lizards? Dog-lizards?"
"Dogs. You'll have to ask Bitch."
"No," the dog girl growled. Her posture tensed and stooped defensively. It was almost as though she herself was a dog.
Tattletale shrugged and said in an exaggerated sad voice, "Sorry, Bitch is a bit unfriendly towards outsiders. Maybe next time?"
I grunted. Ten more seconds. "What do villains want with me?"
"Oh, come on, we're barely villains."
"Tattletale's right," Grue said. "We're just some small time thieves. We just wanted to talk about your actions this past two weeks. You've been busy."
"So I have. What do you want?"
"How would you feel about a mercenary contract? Not to fight. Healing."
"I don't broadcast my schedule."
"Which is why you should be able to get away with this. You heal us when we need it, we pay you well."
"Oh? You think I can be bought?"
"You were already," Tattletale snorted. "Didn't Sabah promise you a costume?"
I froze. Tattletale was clearly their intel expert, but I didn't realize just how far her reach went. I tried to think about how she might have gotten that information. Me visiting the university wasn't a secret. Neither was the hospital. She'd have to have access to medical records. Inferences? Or was she psychic like Theresa?
"I didn't demand a costume," I said firmly.
"Sure you didn't. I mean, what's a grateful girl to do but cave in to your every wishes?"
"Tattletale, enough," Grue interrupted. "Think about it, Menagerie. Whatever your deal with Sabah, it's got no bearing on your deal with us. You can make a lot of money."
"So you can commit more crimes? Pay me with money you've stolen from regular people?"
"We hit gangs more often than not. I don't think you're against that. And besides, we can feed you information. Things are going to heat up soon in the Boat Graveyard and it wouldn't be a bad thing to have friends on this side of the fence."
It… It wasn't a bad deal. As much as I hated to admit, Grue wasn't wrong. I could use more money. More importantly, information was valuable and no matter how much the smug blonde pissed me off, she was clearly competent enough.
But… "Do you always threaten people you negotiate with or am I special?"
"We're not making any threats."
"So you mean finding me alone, surrounding me with your dogs, mentioning one of my few civilian friends, and implying you know about her father's illness wasn't meant to be threatening?" I began to walk away. I didn't want to fight. If at all possible, I wanted to keep my combat abilities secret for as long as possible. "No. Now kindly move out of the way."
They did not. I could see Bitch tense. Her dogs felt their mistress' caution and reacted accordingly, closing ranks between them. I could hear a subtle growling that got louder with step.
I looked at them. They were still mounted on the four dogs. If they were dogs, they'd respond like houndoom. Arcanine. In a way, even a bit like Luca I imagined.
Well, I'd always been good with pokemon. Animals by comparison weren't much. It was a subtle thing. Broadened shoulders. Crouched slightly as if ready to pounce. Tense muscles. Eyes meeting the lead dog through my visor.
I addressed dogs. "Move."
I'd had it with them. Here I was trying to improve the city but here they were wasting my time. I was done and my frustration boiled over.
I spoke with the undercurrent of a growl. It was a threat and a promise in a single breath. It spoke of experience, of scars and victories won in a thousand battles. It spoke of danger, a threat that twinged on their lizard brains. Aura, the life force of all creation, layered my voice and for that one moment, I spoke with all the power I once held.
I still had no idea if these things were actually dogs or some kind of hybrid monstrosity, but there was no comparison. They had their alpha on their back, but they forgot about her in that one moment so cowed were they.
All four of them stepped back in lockstep as if in a military parade.
I straightened my jacked and strolled between them as though nothing had happened, leaving four flabbergasted villains behind me.
I said nothing, leaving them to their surprise. Nothing else needed to be said. If I looked back or tried to leave them with some witty last words, they'd get over their shock and chase me.
Bitch seemed like the sort who might take offense and I didn't feel like kicking their asses.
I turned a corner and shifted to litwick before fading into shadows. The Graveyard could wait.
Not gonna lie, some of this is really cringey now that I'm reading it again on a page. It was a ton of fun to do as a quest so I guess it's okay. Blake is basically a happy-go-lucky pokemon world protagonist thrust into a grimdark setting. He behaves like a pokemon world protagonist because he's strong enough to get away with it.
Anyway, obligatory animal fact: Komodo dragons are the largest lizards in the world and are known to dig up graves to eat the buried corpses. Scientists thought they were nonvenomous for the longest time because their saliva cultivates a cocktail of bacteria that almost guarantees infection. The deer still died so I'm not sure what the difference is... Nah, turns out they're also one of the few venomous lizard species thanks to being in the monitor lizard family.
Oh, they're also cannibals and will eat their own young when it suits them.
As always, shoutout to my wonderful patrons, you guys make writing easy. Casper Bielders, DraconianGreed, Shattered97, MethodinMayhem, Magic Pajac, Faultlesselm16, BG, Alex, Nikhil More, whateverlol, Fireblade, Patrick, Mike, Ishmu, Creature of Grimm, Felix S, PoG, Daniel Aasa, Jaykay2307, Angel, AjiTae, Anon, voljin2, Archaicx1, xerzate, Ash, caleb boggs, Aspect of Chaos, Ramzawing04, Arakhil, Trespitry, darien page, Austin, Keith Miller, Adam Albright, Shirou0emiya, Stephon Harris, Metro Man, Mischief_24, TC, Heraclitus, JchuckS, Fred-Ole Nyborg, Ahmet KoÃ§ak, Michael og, Harry Williams, Simmie, Matthew McRoyall, Hazza Vanderbyl, ReadingOverSleeping, Alsb, Jeffrey See, Jonathan Seah, Meda, Griffin J, JustaLurker, NatureKills, Brock Humphries, Softee, Amonre9, DogmaPiece, My name is Klondike, random_debuff, Gloxinia, Tyler, Drew Kerstens, Taire, Sparkz, Christopher Magrath, Nick McKelvey, Raptor, obviousPenname, T4ndoris, Tactical Paladin, Mrsnuuggles88, Adam parker, tien, Martin Franco, Incraze, Barry Zimmerman, Streetwise, Frank, Marco, Shurukkah, Bapping, Manowargs, Temmie, Xisaro, Legion_13, Alex Black, AnonymousJohn, AJ, Cc, Ore0man, Ab9999, Flipflop, Dicky wongsonegoro, Kcx1, Master Kuma, Brian, Jorge Benedicto, NorthMountain, AblazedNightmare, Mp Gaming, Baron_Dio, Edgar, Dan B, Trent Cannon, dark helmet9, Abdulla, KDN, Drake_Azathoth, Dang Tran, Dull Pen, Nick Gabbard, Julian Rivera, Amon, Thobitor, Paul Becker, CrusaderElmo, Non Non, Sam Richardson, BookDragonling, Retexks, abdd, M, Jakob Lefevre, , Alexander Beers, mouad maataoui, Yuri Latten, SpeX, Ramon Diaz, Spencer seidel, Deteriator, Johnworm, ilovebullets, Narasan, Tavernlandlord, Sean Feeney, Evelyn Antoinette, Primordi, Adam Bell, Jake Hand, Oddfall, r3d3v3, AbyssalMage, Daniel I Beer, Coalman95, Blyth Septimus, PbookR, Drake, JayK, Amadi238, Helios, Starfall20, Anh Duy Ly, Matthew Powell, oliman, Bookmaggot, Paul Mouttet, Uriel Torres, victor a lopez-barron, DeValve, jack kreutner, Savagesmiley, Andreyebidu, Apallo Berryman, Big ToFu, John Dale, Noctis117, costochondritis, Sage Berthelsen, Zerak, Kraxus, fluffybutt, Euth, Phong Truong, Night Drifter, NazNar21, Khetsun XD, abdullah khan, Hunter Rhoades, Hector Gregorio, Rairarku, and Chrishenk.