"Kaze-sama, this one begs a favor."

"Do you now?" The dragon's voice rumbled, deep in the belly.

It lounged, its long body draped along the broken stone of the pillar.

"Accompany me to the tournament to be fought in Kanto in three weeks."

"No."

"Then… if I can defeat you, will you accompany me?"

Its laughter seemed to echo off the empty sky.

"Yes, little one, a thousand times yes—but you cannot defeat me." It coiled, serpentine, around one of the jags of blue rock. "That would be quite impossible. I am stronger, faster. I am the wind; should I will it you would die now, your lungs empty."

"You will face my proxies, champions," the girl said, standing feet apart, arms raised. Three spheres rested on either hip.

It laughed again. "You will use a succession of monsters, command them to fight me. And I will kill them," it said, red lips parting to show needle teeth. "They will break upon me like the sea upon the shore, scatter like cloud and dust. I will sear them from existence."

The girl shook her head. "You underestimate them."

"Do I?" it purred. "Even then—it would take six of them to defeat me. More than six. And what is that? It is a gang, it is a mob. I will not recognize such an aggressor."

"Then—if one of them can defeat you?"

Its pupils widened a moment, narrowed. "Yes," it said. A forked tongue tasted the air. "Show me your champion."

A flash, and a single monster stood there, short and fat.

The dragon blinked, gave a rumble that one might construe as a giggle. Then guffawed, its bellows echoing out like thunder.

"What's this? What is this? Is this a trick? You think I will forbear to hurt this, this child, this egg?" It reached out delicately and picked up the shroomish, licked it and tossed it back at the girl. "Oh child, your spores tingle! Even now I feel myself slipping off to slumber!"

The rayquaza boomed laughter, and spiraled into the air. It circled the platform, ran loop-the-loops, then slithered along the stone, rolling like a cat.

"No, really, my kit, my calf—try again! If you leave now I promise not to kill you! Try again, if you dare!"

It flexed its arms, brushed against frost that was incongruously forming against its scales. Their breath, the dragon's and the human's, was visible in the air. The dragon gave a little cough, shook its head and sent snow flying in the wind.

"What—"

And suddenly the rayquaza froze, went rigid, dropped to the platform with a gasp and a clatter of scales and bone. It breathed hard against the ice that coated its mouth and nose, battered its face with a claw as frost shut its eyes.

"What are you—" It struggled, ice forming on its middle and breaking, but speeding up on the extremities. The dragon collapsed, gasping, sheathed in ice.

"Hello, wind," said a voice. "I am ice."

Wind gusts battered the platform more and more crazily. The girl slowly moved toward the dragon, flat against the stone. The rayquaza noticed her and began to struggle again, ice cracking and flying, becoming razorblades in the wind. It stopped, eyes glowing.

The girl gasped, tried to claw her way across the stone with empty lungs.

A figure seemed to step out of the shadow and the girl was encased in a shield of light. The girl took a grateful breath and pressed an ultraball against the dragon's side.

The wind died as the platform exploded in yellow light. The ball bounced on the stone, shuddering ferociously. Eventually it was still.

The girl collected the ball and walked to her champion. She touched hands with the tall spirit, black-skinned and white-haired and garbed in an elegant night-blue kimono embroidered with dragons.

"What will you do now?" said the hexx.

"What else?" said the girl. "Show it off." She sighed, wiped at the blood on her face. "I didn't want to have to do that."

"For some, force is all they understand."

The girl looked at the hexx and noted the ambiguous phrasing. She sighed.

"Let's get out of here."


"Release me, human, I dare you."

"I dare not," said Ciaran, sighing. "I sense you are unhappy about the terms of our agreement."

"You deceived me."

"All battle is deception, is it not?"

"When I am free I shall suck the blood from your living body."

"Rayquaza live on water and aeroplankton. Don't bluster."

"I will make an exception, just for you."

Thank the gods for the ability to speak with a pokémon under containment. The screen glowed with the rayquaza's anger and a crude fishbowl-like representation of its head and eyes.

"Please listen," she said. "I don't want to keep you. I just need your cooperation for three weeks. Then you can go back to floating in space or whatever it is that you're so keen to get back to."

"So you can show me off to your monkey friends, a tame beast? How great is this trainer, who uses monsters, bludgeons them into submission and steals them away to perform in circuses!"

"You won't have to do anything degrading, just fight some battles. You like fighting, don't you? You were so keen to defeat me. Now you're in a bad mood since I won."

"The hexx won, not you, human."

"Who do you think cared for her, supervised her training, supported her? We're partners."

"I will not negotiate with my captor."

"You're making it awfully difficult for me to release you, then!"

"Ciaran." The girl felt a cool hand on her shoulder. "Let me."

"Sure, Morena," said Ciaran. "Maybe you can talk some sense into it."

She left the booth containing the stasis projector and wandered around the pokémon center. A couple of three-summers were having a battle outside, a nidorino versus a snover. She listened to the teenagers call out commands and the two pokémon struggle ineffectually for a while, then went to get a drink.

Eventually the hexx joined her in the cafeteria and passed her the ultraball.

"So?"

Morena arranged her dress, a plain cotton gown, and sat down on the bench primly.

"Your negotiation leaves a lot to be desired, petit," she said, putting a hand on Ciaran's hair.

Ciaran shrugged.

Morena smiled to herself. "He'll fight. But he wants the attention to be on him, not you."

"Conceited little bastard." Ciaran waved a hand. "Of course it should be about him. I'm not looking for stardom."

"Not stardom." The hexx smiled.


"This is about darkrai guy, isn't it?"

"No."

"It's always about darkrai guy. Let it go, Ciar!"

Axel followed Ciaran down the winding streets of the Indigo Plateau townsite, despite her best attempts to lose the other trainer by passing shoe- and candy stores. Neither Shikokuyama nor the smell of fudge could deter Axel from this nag.

"Look, I know you have the hots for that guy, but think about it for a second," she said. She was silent a moment as Ciaran ran across the street to catch the very end of a walk light. "What kind of person catches a legendary pokémon using government money and then immediately shows it off at a tournament? One of his pokémon attacked someone in the audience! Is this the kind of person you want to spend time with?"

"I caught a legendary pokémon, if you didn't notice," Ciaran said defensively.

"Excuse me mademoiselle, want to battle?"

Ciaran kept looking at the restaurant menu. It was for Axel. Young men always wanted to battle Axel, who was tall and blond.

Axel waved the kid away and kept talking. "Anyone can catch a legendary pokémon these days. Keeping them is the hard part." She watched Ciaran suspiciously. "How are you keeping that rayquaza, anyway? You can even let it out of the ball!"

"Force of personality."

Axel snorted. "And then darkrai guy disappears. Where do you think he's living now? You went to all this trouble to show off during a tournament just so you can impress some hobo living in the woods in Johto or somewhere? Do you think he even has a TV? Honestly!"

"And that's another thing," said Axel as Ciaran tried to lose her in the press of a crowd coming out of a movie theater, "men don't respond to feats of strength. They're looking here and here and that is the end of it!"

"That's awfully sexist, don't you think, Ax?"

"Look, that's been my experience. It's one of a few reasons why I'm glad I prefer women—oof!"

When Axel was finished righting the trash cans she'd walked into, Ciaran was nowhere in sight.


The rayquaza drank fortified water out of a huge trough, towering over Ciaran's other pokémon. The practice yard was scarred and scorched by its attacks.

"How are you guys doing?"

"Ray is uncooperative and sees little value in teamwork," said a yanmega, perched on the railing. "That sums it up."

Ciaran nodded. "Thanks, Dammit."

"So what's the plan, Ciar?" said Tesla, the magnezone. "You haven't really given us much to work with."

"No strategy, really, just let Ray blow up everything and Tiamat or Yoko will be out to take hits for him. Or try to, he's kind of a big target. How are you doing, Ray, having fun?"

The dragon snorted, spraying them with water. "How much longer?"

"A week, tops."

"Then things are getting better and better."

"You'll miss us."

"If I miss you, you are either extremely skilled or extremely lucky."

"Cocky. Can you hit Dammit? Lightly, please."

The rayquaza glared at Ciaran a moment, then fired off a quick hyper beam at the dragonfly pokémon.

The melted metal railing clinked gently. Dammit nodded admiringly from his perch on one of the dragon's horns.

"Nice job, boss," he said. "You go in with a controller like Tesla and you'll do alright."

The rayquaza grumbled and swiped at the yanmega. It clearly wanted to say it didn't need a partner for two-on-two battles, but they all knew how Morena had got the upper hand on him.

"Great. See you tomorrow at dawn, okay Ray? It's time for the opening matches."

The rayquaza flew into the air without saying anything, creating—likely unnecessary—dust devils in the practice area.

Axel shaded her eyes, watching the dragon pokémon ascend into the sky. "You can trust it to go off like that and come back?" she said, too stunned to continue her rant.

"S'right. We have a deal."

Axel watched Ciaran disappear into the pokémon center, her team following her single-file.

"Show-off," she muttered.


"Great day for a battle!" said the announcer, her amplified voice echoing through the stadium. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the sixth round of the Indigo Plateau winter tournament. We've had an exciting few days so far but nothing's compared to the revelation of a legendary pokémon participating!"

"That's right," said her partner male announcer, "there were rumors at the beginning of the tournament of a trainer who had a rayquaza, but this was treated with some skepticism. Rumors of amazing pokémon to appear precede most tournaments; the larger the tournament the more rumors, and the more fantastic they get."

"Imagine our surprise when that legendary pokémon took the field in the third round! The trainer, Ciaran Santos, hasn't been responsive to the media, and in fact she's been nicknamed "Rayquaza Girl" to reflect her non-personality. On the other hand, the rayquaza has been positively soaking up the attention."

The male announcer laughed. "It really knows how to play to a crowd, and the fans are turning out in droves to see rayquaza girl's matches!"

"On a more serious note, the rayquaza's appearance has re-ignited the debate as to whether legendary pokémon should be allowed at tournaments. Unfortunately the record looks bad: of the two dozen instances where a legendary pokémon has been used by a trainer at an official league tournament, half immediately escaped and most of the remaining half caused a serious disturbance where the safety of the trainers, other pokémon and/or spectators was endangered. Although there exist some very rare trainers capable of controlling a legendary pokémon, there is a definite concern over the power of those pokémon, not only for the safety of those involved but because some say their use just isn't sporting."

Ciaran smiled wanly as the rayquaza nearly one-hit an arcanine with a devastating ancient power technique. The fire-type was struggling out of a pile of debris and rubble while its partner, a gardevoir, tried to hypnotize Morena. The hexx ignored that attack and hit the gardevoir with a shadow ball while the rayquaza finished off the arcanine. Her opponent, a professional trainer from Hoenn who would have otherwise put up a close fight, quickly forfeited and recalled his pokémon.

This was, as planned, ridiculously easy. It was unfair, really.

She could hardly believe how much the rayquaza loved the attention. For all his disdain for humans, etc. etc., he was mugging for the camera with all his worth. At night he had taken to resting on the plateau cliffside, which attracted numerous fans and gawkers… at a respectable distance.

Ciaran was moving up rapidly. The next round was the second last, and she was one of the final four. It was intoxicating. It was incredibly tempting to keep going for the grand prize.

But she knew how all these stories ended.


The night was starry and clear. She had the rayquaza meet her in a dark glade in the forest at the foot of the plateau.

"What is this about, human?" The dragon pokémon's markings glowed faintly in the low light. He licked the dew off the damp grass, bored.

"You're free to go." She showed him the ultraball, deactivated and dead, then tossed it into the dark.

The rayquaza blinked. "You're not done. The tournament isn't done. Don't tell me that you went to all that trouble to… give up? Use me as a boost? Do you feel guilty, suddenly?"

Ciaran shook her head. "I never planned to win this. Final four is nice, means I get a little prize for my troubles. I'm going to forfeit and go home after this."

"Why?"

"Never wanted to win. I just wanted to… make a point."

He growled. "A point? Like what? You're better and stronger than me? Than them? So good you don't need to finish?"

Ciaran waved her hands placatingly. "No, no. I just wanted… someone's attention. To show that I'm better than him, maybe."

The dragon subsided, put his head down so that he was on eye level with her. "I don't understand you. At all." He licked the grass again. "I was amused here, despite myself."

"Same time next year, then?"

"No. Too noisy, too close and too hot here, down at the surface. But it was diverting. In two hundred years, maybe."

Ciaran laughed. "I won't make it until then. Peace."

"Peace, little human."

He shot into the sky. She could see his glow for a little while, then he was just another star.

"Ah. I've been here before."

Ciaran started, whirled around with her hunting knife drawn.

It was darkrai guy.

"You have?" she squeaked.

"Not here, per se. This situation." He waved his hands, explicating. Same easy smile.

He pulled a battered, dull masterball out of a pocket. There was a stain on it that looked like blood.

"She's long gone. You can't keep them that don't want to be kept," he said.

They stood a moment, watching the sky, thinking of an old summer.

"Want a beer?" said Ciaran.

"Yes, please."


Author's Notes: I've mostly fallen out of pokemon fandom but I found myself writing this the other day.

Ciaran-and-Axel are a kind of siamese character. One's short and dark and silent and the other is tall and blond and chatty. Together, they fight crime-I mean, do stuff. They form a kind of duality. I haven't done much with them-they were originally RP characters, and then they were supposed to appear in Gods and Demons. Unexpectedly, they popped up here.

A hexx is a made-up evolution for jynx.

Far be it for the writer to tell you what a story is about, but I will anyway. This story is a sublimation of some of my own experiences, and a desire to break free of a stagnant period of my life. But mostly it's about battling monsters.

Hope you enjoyed.