"I don't see how the hell you come up with these names," Ree said, patting Mordecai on the neck. The sawsbuck flicked an ear, tolerating her presence.

"I don't, either!" Maya replied hotly. She gestured to her leavanny, who paused in her preening to regard them royally. "I've gotten used to Lili—"

"Lilith," Ree corrected, and she and her (old) pokémon shared a grin.

"She won't listen to me if I call her that," Maya said and crossed her arms. Lilith returned to running her claws over her antenna. "I've gotten used to her. She's a good pokémon. We trust each other, and I love her. But—it's just not what I would have named a sewaddle."

"I wouldn't have called a deerling Mordecai. Or," Ree caught the floating reuniclus out of the space between them, "anything Edgar. That name is three centuries too old for either of us."

"It's not that old of a name," she retorted and snatched her pokémon out of her sister's grasp. Pokémon training didn't really come between them; like all good siblings, they just used it as fodder for more arguments. Such as Maya training predominantly grass types, and their wildly differing naming choices. "And I like her, I really do, but did you have to get her attached to Zara?"

The maractus, Maya's Christmas present, perked up her long ears at the sound of her voice.

Ree broke into another wide grin. "If you had been on time, you wouldn't have given me time to get her used to it." Maya had been four days late in her return journey, held up by a bad snowstorm. Ree had spent those days holding mock battles between Zara and Aubie.

"It's just... I like elegant names. Refined names. Sophisticated names." Maya waved an arm over her team. Bo was pushing it, but Mordecai, Edgar, and Talia were certainly prim and proper.

"Lilith is plenty proper," Ree replied. The leavanny nodded in agreement.

"But she doesn't let me call her that!" Maya cried in dismay. Talia giggled, until Lilith threw a snowball at her for it. The lilligant fumed and would have started a fight—secretly, Ree would have paid good money to see Maya's properly trained and oh so special team degrade into a snowball fight—but Maya interceded. "So I get Lili and Zara..."

"Just think of them as exotic additions to your sophisticated team. Lilith, from the days of years gone by, given to you by a long lost and loving sister, and Zara, queen of the desert sands and heat!" There was a pause. Maya visibly braced herself. "Because she's from the desert. Because I named her after—"

"I know she's a video game character! I just wish I could have named her something... else. Like... I don't even know. I give up. I guess the silver lining here is that I have a full team. So you have no excuse to try to interject more clashing names into my team."

"Think I can get 'Mor' to catch on?" Ree asked the sawsbuck beside her. He snorted and shook his head. "Worth a shot."

-.-.-

Chapter Twenty-Five: Ree Majors' Wonderful Journey Of Shocks

-.-.-

Sharp little teeth pressed into her cheek. It was a firm pressure, not enough to cut skin, but a definite threat. Sleepy Ree was not the sharpest Ree, and it took so long for it to even register as 'danger' (beyond the odd and startling sensation) that the teeth eased off on their own. They withdrew but the pressure remained. The thing on her cheek sucked and licked at her.

That sensation was a little more familiar, but one she normally attributed to Scott. Registering 'Scott' in her sleepy brain, unlike the teeth, gave her a kick of alarm that finally had her awake.

"What the hell?!" Her voice came out as a hoarse screech, but it was enough to get the situation moving. Whippy jerked in the sleeping bag and Harper, right next to her head, awoke to find the mystery kisser in front of her beak.

"Qu-Quill?!"

"I don't—ouch!" The thing zapped her, a sharp little jolt that had half her face tingling afterward. "Get the fuck off of me!" Without thinking further of the implications of the zap, she grabbed it with her hand and tried to pull it off.

She got her hand shocked for her efforts. Her hand, almost numb and painful where there was still feeling, came away and became rather useless. The teeth returned to her cheek. Harry awoke across the camp, blearily questioning, and Whippy tried to fight his way to the top of the sleeping bag. Harper wasn't going to wait. She lunged forward, before Ree rolled away, and pulled it off with her beak.

It squealed, flailing for a moment, and then discharged electricity with a flash. Harper squawked and released it, her feathers ruffled and looking a little dazed overall. The creature wasn't very large, about the length of Ree's forearm, and was white with big, dark eyes.

Ree didn't get a better look than that due to the fact that it let loose another bolt of static, the bright flash destroying her night vision.

Another squawk and then a sharp gust of wind. Whippy finally fought free of the sleeping bag, slithering out to stand protectively between Ree and the now distanced pokémon. Ree rubbed at her eyes. "Wh-What the hell is that thing?"

"Is that a pokémon?" Harry asked as she woke Shady up. The litwick dipped her head into the coals of their fire, and flames sprung up, illuminating the scene. Ree swore again and covered her eyes with her palms.

"Whippy—someone just take care of it!"

"Ser!"

As she blinked the spots out of her vision, she could see Whippy wrestling with the pokémon. Her first impression hadn't been wrong—it wasn't standing. Or sitting. Or flying. It was just... floating, and he was having difficulties trying to pin it down. Its sparking had already weakened considerably, until it was just barely glowing and panting to boot.

Whippy continued to try to drag it to the ground to subdue it, but it wouldn't budge out of the air. Harper called encouragement, and he used his vines, but not even that would do it. At one point, he was actually balancing on it and they were still aloft. Eventually, he gave up and simply wrapped the exhausted thing in one of his vines, using it as a leash.

He brought it over to Ree and saluted. "Servine-ser!"

"Thanks, mister." She rubbed at her face. It still felt a little tender. Harper settled down, but her eyes remained fixed on the other pokémon. "Wait, where's Lala?"

Lala was still in her nest. She snored loudly and rolled over.

Ree narrowed her eyes at her. "Figures. At least all of that extra running around took its toll. Well, thank you, you two, for being brave knights for me."

"Ree, what is it?" Harry called, still in her sleeping bag. She had both ends of Jackster's scarf in her hands; the blitzle was watching with large eyes, clearly otherwise wishing to bolt. Hattie, too, was awake and watching with curiosity. At least hers were all awake.

"I dunno, a pokémon," she said with a yawn.

"Ty!" it squeaked.

"Let me find my pokédex, okay, because that doesn't help at all." Whippy helped her fish through her bag, using her cell phone as a light since the firelight wouldn't reach, and she eventually found the red machine. She yawned again as it booted up, as the pokémon gave another pathetic spark, and then the light came on. She tapped the screen, pointed the camera at the interloper, and waited for the information to load up. "Tynamo, electric type. Figures."

"Oh, they're found on the other side of Driftveil. In that, um, cave-tunnel..." Harry shifted Jackster's scarf and crawled closer. "Chargestone? Sparkstone? Um, something like that..."

"We're on this side of Driftveil. And it says here that they usually travel in groups..." Ree looked around nervously. One was easy enough, but a dozen may be more problematic. The forest was silent all around them, however, save for Lala's soft snoring. "Well, if that doesn't prompt a hoard of shocking little shits swooping down on us at midnight, I don't know what will."

"I-I don't think the universe works that way—"

"Tynamo, hmm." Traveling with Harry had given her insight into just how useful electric pokémon could be. She even had a special collar for Jackster to wear that could act as a charger for smaller electronic devices. He could start fires (if done properly), and, of course, he took care of bird pokémon like they were made of paper. Granted, he was a big blitzle and this was a little tynamo, but they evolved, didn't they? Ree had a hard time believing something that small and cute wouldn't evolve.

And, perhaps she wanted to prove she could catch another pokémon. Their team would go on. It would have to go on, she ruthlessly reminded herself.

"Ser, servine-vine?" Whippy asked incredulously, seemingly just catching onto his trainer's plan.

"Quill," Harper replied, her tone cold.

"Just hold it for a moment longer. Let me find a pokeball..." She rummaged around in her bag again, once again using her phone for light.

"You're going to catch it?" Harry asked. Jackster's ears perked up and he stopped tugging so often on the scarf.

"Yeah. We need a little more variety, and it doesn't seem too evil or anything. Unlike some slumbering monsters. Anyway, there's a flying type gym, isn't there? We'd need something for that, Harper couldn't take on the entire gym by herself..." She was pleased with how practical she sounded. This was business. She caught Harper nodding in firm agreement. Whippy shuffled his feet and didn't seem so keen on the idea.

Ree's fingers brushed the urn and she stiffened. It felt like another electrical shock.

Breathe, she thought, forcing her hand to move again. She reached carefully around the urn and found one of the little minimized pokeballs that were always rolling free in her backpack. The sooner they moved on, the better. Ree had no qualms about forcing them past this particular bump; their team needed more firepower. No self-respecting trainer would willingly limit her own team.

"Okay, let it go."

Whippy's vine slithered away from it and it drooped in the air, though it didn't fall completely. That would have to be investigated. The pokeball snapped it up and it hardly rocked. A ding, and it was really that easy. Ree's hand still felt numbed when she picked it up and connected it to the pokédex.

"Female, thirteen months old, half a pound and nine inches... She knows four moves already. Electric ones, which is good. Another teammate for the tourney, so that's good, right?" With another click, she unhooked the pokeball from the machine, rolling it along the ground in front of her. Not how she had imagined adding to her team, but it could be sorted out in the morning. The adrenaline was subsiding and the dark of the night was making her sleepy again.

Or maybe she just didn't want to think about replacing the fourth spot in her roster.

-.-.-

It had been a hectic and downright chaotic week in Driftveil City, but Scott had to give Clay props for how he'd handled everything. Well, everything prior to last night.

Team Plasma was formidable enough. While the group wasn't nearly as strong as it was years ago, the little groups popping up occasionally to call together rallies and wreak minor terrorist acts, this past assault had been the biggest he had ever seen. Not exactly terrifying, but well-coordinated and easy to read.

When half a dozen pokémon poachers, thieves, and other criminals had been captured and arrested in a sting, they had swooped in to secure the building. It wasn't totally alienating; they only demanded that the criminals' pokémon be released (or, incredibly, put into foster care; that created more than one sympathizer in the news that evening). The public generally stayed away from the area and a couple trainers watched from rooftops.

Clay had refused the dozen Plasma grunts' demands. That may have been due to the fact that they also wanted permission to execute three of the criminals (two of whom were under sixteen). Scott had spent the day idly watching newscasts after the round in the tournament, wondering why they simply didn't kill them while they had the power. They simply seized the building, battled off anyone who tried to approach for anything but talking, and politely asked permission to release all of the pokémon and kill three people.

The gym leader had refused, citing things like trials and due process, as well as maintaining that it would be unfair of the pokémon until they could get everything sorted out. Aside from participating in the tournament himself, the man stayed by the building every time Scott saw him. He was vigilant and devoted to his city's safety, but the blond boy hadn't seen them as any kind of threat at the time.

And they weren't the threat. The sociopaths with the guns and stronger pokémon were.

Scott had texted Ree then, prying to see if she was still in the city or not (he had a sneaking suspicion, proven true, that she wasn't). The group of four and their teams pulled control from Team Plasma, holding them hostage, and when they started addressing each other with pokémon names, he knew they had problems. Clay stubbornly refused to cancel the tournament, since it was in its semifinals, and dropped out in order to handle the matter personally.

Scott really did admire the man's sheer audacity. He took a pickaxe to a gun fight. He enlisted willing trainers from the center to help storm the building, but that only got things bloody. To the man's credit, he backed off again immediately and ordered no one near it until the situation was taken care of.

"I can't believe these people are in Unova!" Maya had called him that evening, fuming. The media was trying to be hush-hush about the 'mysterious' terrorists, but it was clear that they were Sayre followers. Maya's reaction only proved it.

"There's only four, and it seems as if one of them doesn't have full control of his team. This will get sorted out once someone sneaks in."

"They have guns, Scottie. These people are crazy, you haven't seen them firsthand."

"I'm sure it won't come to that."

It came to that.

The local media caught on fast enough to not broadcast anything, but national news didn't have the same censors put in place, and that morning, just before breakfast, it leaked out that Nicholas Sayre was dead.

Again, Scott was impressed. He had only just gotten the news when the commotion started. That time, he couldn't resist seeing things closer, and headed out to see what the situation had degraded into. Maya had already left him two messages by the time he hit the police barricade, guarded by Unovan Field Operatives and a hydreigon. They weren't messing around.

Alder came down personally with Grimsley in tow to help Clay. Two of the followers were critically injured, another had a broken arm, and one surrendered after seeing her compatriot gutted by a bisharp. One of the Team Plasma people had been killed and another was found unconscious, both presumably attacked by the followers, but everyone else was okay. Not forty-five minutes had passed since the news had broke before Alder was sneaking out of the view of the cameras, as per usual, and Clay was trying to talk Grimsley into paying some sort of bet they'd made.

Scott took a picture of the elite four member and gym leader to send to Maya. "see, its all okay and ree didn't get into a bit of trouble!"

Once Alder and Grimsley left, late that afternoon after being coerced into giving statements, new Team Plasma members retaliated. Scott distinctly remembered facepalming. They were far less polite that time around, springing their remaining comrades and attacking the hospital where the followers were at, killing at least one. And then they went back for the captured criminals that started the whole thing.

Clay responded at once again. Fearlessly but not recklessly. He personally guarded the hospital until everyone was moved (to a far less publicized location), and then went for the new building. He had evidently gotten permission from Alder to tolerate less bullshit in general, since he and a gym trainer took control of the building by themselves.

"I'd kill the criminals myself just to get some quiet around here!"

"Scott, you shouldn't be saying such things right now—"

"I'd love to see what kind of asshats they have in there, if everyone and their mother wants them so badly. You'd think it was Nick Sayre himself!"

The death threats earned him ire. The swearing earned him attention. The last reference earned him a seat in front of a lieutenant with a temper.

And then, the fact that he was hanging around in Driftveil while owning the badge got him thrown into a cell for the night.

Scott wholeheartedly blamed Clay for overreacting to the trainers' annoyance with the goings-on. He knew he wasn't in any real trouble—he knew what that looked like, thanks to Ree—but he was separated from his team and his phone. He knew Maya would throw a fit. Would Ree notice his absence?

He sighed and counted the other 'inmates'. Three he recognized from the center. They were in actual jail cells, with metal bars and walls and everything, a dinky little one instead of the fancy prison that had been attacked. "What're you in for?" he asked, sitting down on the cot.

"Me and Andy thought it'd be fun to try to pick our pokémon codenames," the teenage girl in the cell next to his replied dryly. An older guy in the cell on her other side chuckled with obvious embarrassment.

"That's just stupid."

"I guess pokémon nicknames are the new bomb threat," she lamented.

"I think it's wiser just to not talk about anything related to Sinnoh or pokémon or Plasma for the next week," Scott said. It was just past eight and he wasn't tired. Great.

"Were you ever worried during all this?"

"Nah. We have some pretty competent gym leaders, and that's what UFOs are for, right?"

"Clay ordered them down."

"They were still there. Didn't you try to go see the building?" Scott asked.

She shrugged. "I could get pretty close before anyone started looking at me weird. They could've had backups in the city and no one would've known until they slaughtered a city block."

He and another girl, across the hallway, snorted. "Puh-lease," she groaned. "They didn't have enough manpower for that, y'know? That and look at how fast Alder arrived. I bet he was just waiting for the sign to come down. If people had started dying, he would've gone on a rampage on his own."

"Just what we need," Scott added sarcastically.

"I think they were more worried about the trainers than either group," the other boy, Andy, piped up. "Look what trainer riots have done to the other regions. Clay didn't want to start anything if he could help it, Lana."

"Didn't expect Team Plasma to retaliate like that, though. I haven't heard of them doing anything that violent since I've started training," Lana, between them, replied.

Ah, forced trainer bonding, Scott mused, smiling to himself. The last time he'd been through this had also been due to illegal pokémon activity, come to think. And also involved some amount of anti-government complaining. Maybe Sinnoh's criminals were onto something there.

He started ignoring the talks when they turned towards the logistics of taking over and holding a building. He grudgingly lessened his blame for Clay. Maybe talks like that really were the last thing that needed to be heard. He personally doubted that anyone in there was about to become a mass murderer or a pokémon poacher, but who knew what sort of ideological arguments they could have started if in a larger crowd. Or without bars to separate them.

The next morning, as the night batch were filling out paperwork and getting the last of their lecturing out of the way, a pair were brought in, evidently early arrests for the day. It was a UFO who brought them in, together, too. Scott wasn't the only one craning his neck to watch as they were escorted in.

"Tori?" Lana asked incredulously. It was loudly enough to catch most everyone's attention—it was already crowded, and the lieutenant had them filling out their forms at tables side-by-side—but the blue-eyed blonde brought in with the UFO was the one who jumped and turned. "I thought you were the good girl! What'd you get brought in for?"

She stared at them for a moment, and then her eyes fell on Scott. He was hard pressed to think of any other time he'd seen someone's face drain of color so quickly. "Th-This morning, there was... it was nothing."

"Not nothing, these two were caught up in a fistfight downtown," the UFO said severely and gave them both a little push to get them working again. It was a small place, though, and they were kept waiting while new forms were brought out. Ah, paperwork, the best conversation continuer in the world.

Scott, perplexed by her look, tried to recognize her. Absolutely nothing came to mind. She looked to be younger than him, so likely not a classmate, and she didn't sound like she was from Castelia or that area, even. "I wasn't fighting! I was trying to stop—trying to break up the fight!" Tori exclaimed. The boy beside her chuckled without humor.

"Until we get this sorted out, you two can cool it down here."

"Why does a fight involve cops now?" Lana demanded, paperwork all but forgotten. Most of last night's batch of delinquents had similarly stopped, listening in without shame.

"It didn't involve pokémon battling for starters," the UFO replied. Lana's glare hardened and he groaned, rolling his eyes beneath his goggles. "It did involve a knife, and I'm in no mood for violent bullshit right now. So you lot—if I find any of you have anything sharper than a cooking knife, you're coming right back in!"

Normally blades just got confiscated from trainers; it wasn't terribly unusual for them to arm themselves with things other than pokémon. It wasn't exactly smiled upon, but neither was it completely forbidden. Tori shifted uncomfortably, and then said loudly, without direction, "Y-You know, you should all leave Driftveil. And tell your friends to stay away from the city, too. It's just not safe until this cools down, right? It'd be safer to just—stay away and not get into trouble."

Was it just him, or did she glance at him? Scott tapped his pen against the table, narrowing his eyes back at her. He still didn't know who she was, but if she was trying to insinuate that he was a troublemaker... Okay, granted, he'd had his fair share. But nothing too bad.

"Who're you trying to protect? That's unlike you," the guy beside her asked, speaking for the first time. He still didn't sound thrilled with their situation.

"It's unlike you to work in broad daylight!" she snapped back. He shrugged and looked away again. "Lana, I'm headed out after this, so this is goodbye, okay? I—you should leave, too."

"What's got her so spooked?" Andy murmured. Only Scott was close enough to hear him, or else Lana completely ignored him.

"Can we stop with all of this rampant paranoia now?!" the unfortunate field operative groused, even going so far as to stomp his boot. "We have this situation under control, and it's taken care of. Just so long as we don't have loudmouth kid trainers and idiots with weapons running about, this will be forgotten by the time the finals roll around."

The other boy's laugh sounded far more amused than it did earlier.

The night batch were turned loose onto the streets once more, and they passed another kid—a howling, freckled preteen—carried in by the scruff of his neck on their way out. Andy excused himself as soon as he had his team back, but the rest of them wandered back towards the center with growling stomachs and rumpled clothes. A couple of them were already placing calls, and a boy went straight to the nurse on duty for a check-up for his sick liepard. He had done nothing but complain about it the night before.

"Yay, roommate shuffle," Lana said with a groan. Since the center was so busy with the influx of trainers, and since they hadn't been there the night before, some of them had gotten kicked out as the rooms had been filled. "Aha, yes! Tori saved my space for me!"

"Lucky, I got booted," Scott said with a grimace. He didn't mind much. It was only a minor hassle to apply for a new room. "Say, who was that girl?"

"Tori? She's been my roommate for the past... four nights? Five. Would've been five last night," she said, counting off on her fingers. "Good girl, but a little stuffy. Why, you know her?"

"No, I don't. She normally act like that?"

"No, she's usually a lot calmer. Early to bed, early to rise, really proper gal. She's about the last person I would have expected to get taken in for a fight, but it'd make sense if she had just been trying to break it up..." Lana trailed off, head tilted.

A blaring ringtone prevented him from asking further about them. Excusing himself, he ducked down a quieter hallway of the center, surprised to see it wasn't a call from either Majors sister, but from Carly. "Hello?"

"Okay, Scott, you've had your vacation. But we need you back here now."

"Nice to hear from you, too, Carly," he replied. Normally he was used to her straightforward approach to conversation, but the long night and stress of the past few days frayed his nerves. "Oh, I'm fine, by the way. Just the usual assortment of dire trainer dangers, you know the drill."

"Can it! We booked a gig as an opener for Damned Ditto when they play in Castelia next month!" Carly barked.

"...Wait, Damned Ditto? The Damned Ditto?"

"Yes, that Damned Ditto! It'll be us and some Castelian band opening, and we cannot afford to pass this up! You are getting back here so I can run you ragged, getting you back into shape, and we have to practice Famous more—"

Scott tightened his grip on the phone. "I—that's really great, Carly. But... This seems really abrupt. I still haven't caught up with Ree—"

"You two still fighting?"

"We're not fighting! It's just... complicated," he said, pleased with his neutral choice of words. ...Because it totally didn't sound like they were fighting if he called it complicated. Scott sighed and ran a hand through his bangs. "Have you told Ree about this?"

"No. Why would I? This is our band—anyway, I haven't talked to her since her birthday. Don't drag me into this. Scott, if this was some smaller gig, I wouldn't even be telling you. We've already played once down at Sahara Nights without you."

He felt hurt to know that, though he had given them permission before he'd left. It wasn't like he was the lead singer, and Bryce could handle a guitar just as well as he could. But Ree...

"We haven't finalized anything, but I know Daisy is pushing for Airplanes to be one of our numbers, and you're the only one who can do Hayley's part. And—we just wanna know, Scott. Are you really going to become a trainer again? A full-time trainer? Or is this just something—a fling, or something? Is this just because of Ree?"

"It's not because of Ree, don't sound like you're blaming her," he snapped on reflex. Carly grumbled over the line. "I... don't think so? I don't really know what I'm doing right now, Carly."

"Well... We could really use you on this. I feel like we can really break into something bigger if this goes well. We can take this more seriously. I don't want to make you choose, that makes me sound like a bitch, but yeah, maybe it'll come up in the future."

"I. Um." He was already out of the tournament. He didn't need Clay's badge. And what did he have of Ree? Text messages, a picture of her servine's gums, and awkward phone calls. Maybe giving her some space would be good for her; she had already reached back out to him after he had eased off.

And Ree had yet to miss any of his performances.

"...Yeah, Carly. I'll get back there as soon as I can," Scott told her.

-.-.-

"So... Hm." Ree, cross-legged in the grass, leaned forward. The tynamo wriggled up through the air like she was swimming, and then pecked her nose. She wrinkled it in response. "Let's just lay off of the electricity for awhile. At least until I figure out how much charge I can stand without worrying about..."

Harry wasn't listening, really. Not eavesdropping. But Ree had hardly left camp, and her voice tended to carry... The redheaded trainer looped Jackster's scarf once more around his neck. They'd be in Driftveil by that evening, and the day after, the tournament started. "You've been keeping a charge in the wool, right?"

"Bli," he replied and sparked. The green scarf crackled along with him. Harry sighed, unable to help her relief. Mareep wool was so handy, too bad it was so expensive... If only there were other types of material that were so helpful to all types of pokémon.

"I suppose I could make really small scarves for you two..." Harry looked over at her other two pokémon. Hattie put her snout up in the air.

"Sew-waddle?"

"Y-Yeah, I still need to finish his..." She was making Whippy's large enough that it should still be reasonably sized for him as a serperior, but it was mostly guesswork. She had never seen one personally before. "But it doesn't take me that long to finish scarves anymore. They're easy," Harry added with a nod.

"Hey Harry, how much did that collar thing cost?" Ree called over.

It took her a moment to place what she meant by 'collar thing'. "O-Oh! Um, mine was an older model, and I bought it secondhand, but it wasn't terribly expensive... It was under two thousand, but not by much. Still, it was a one-time investment, and I've only ever had to fix it once."

That was mostly because she didn't use it all that often. Charging her phone and pokédex in pokémon centers usually carried her through the bulk of her journeying, and it wasn't as if she used either very often. But it was very reliable. Ree nodded and turned back towards the tynamo floating before her.

"Blitzle," Jackster mumbled, flicking his ears.

"Oh, I know you don't like to wear it. But it's not all that often, right?" She scratched his neck, along his mane, and that seemed to please him. "Hmm... I guess I could make a scarf out of something very flammable, and that could be some sort of one-time power-up for Shady?"

"Flammable?"

Harry hadn't been aware Ree was still listening. She blushed, and then nodded, hesitantly. "I was just thinking aloud, sorry."

"It's always good to have an ace in the hole, especially when it concerns some sort of raw power. I mean, think of Lala and her stun spore. It's gotten us out of fire battles. I wonder if a spark would start it..." She reached out and pushed on the tynamo. She squeaked, but wouldn't float any lower. The brunette and her servine seemed absolutely fascinated by this, even if the electric pokémon wasn't quite as happy with the curiosity.

Still, their detached, low-key sort of scientific approach was... cute. Ree scooped up the tynamo and she squealed, hovering above Ree's hand. Not as far as the distance between her and the ground, but a difference anyway. Ree tried tossing her into the air, and she floated back down after another excited squeal.

"I have a levitating, leech-y, 'lectric... hmm. I need another L word."

"Are you going to name her something beginning with L?" Harry asked in amusement.

"I don't know. I've looked over my name list twice now, but nothing seems to jump out at me. I want it to be something... special. I hadn't known a pokémon this weird existed."

"Ty!" she cried, clearly affronted.

"Sorry, special then."

"Ty." Strangely, she didn't seem to like that word usage, either.

"Different?"

"Ty!"

Harry noticed since the bird was positioned behind her trainer, but Harper cocked her head to the side suddenly and got a confused look on her face. Ree continued on, unaware and growing frustrated, "You are clearly different here. You don't touch the ground—you can't—and you spark and you look like a fish or something—you're like... I don't know! Some sort of bizarre mixture of things you shouldn't be."

"Um, if she didn't like you calling her weird, why would that make her feel better...?"

"Well, now it's a matter of intellectual pride," Ree pouted. "First, my L noun escapes me, and now... Do you know how many romance novels I've read in my life?! I should be able to come up with a synonym that doesn't offend her delicate tastes!"

"Maybe she doesn't want to be different. She looks like she wants to join your team."

"She is part of the team, but we need a name, and it has to be something that fits her."

Harry looked over at Whippy, Lala, and Harper. Even Mitzi... Ree's naming scheme was beyond Harry's mere mortal comprehension, to be sure.

"I just want it to be a special name," Ree added. The tynamo sparked again, zapping her too-close finger. "The name will be special," she hissed.

"Tyna."

"Servine!"

"Scott," Lala added. Whippy laughed, trying in vain to cover his mouth with his claws.

"You guys suck at naming more than I do. You said these things aren't really found around here, so I could potentially get the jump on people, right? Thus, she must have a name that is equally surprising and unique."

Actually, Harry had said no such thing. But it was little surprise that sleepy Ree had had selective hearing. "Then pick a name that starts with something unusual. It—It would be a start, anyway. X, or Y, or Z. Maybe a vowel like U or O. Q has some potential, maybe? Um..."

"Well, I can look over the list for fun letters as we walk again."

As they traveled back toward Driftveil, Ree made sure her new pokémon didn't stray far. Lala attempted to bring her pokémon to battle, but their trainer shooed them away. (Harry wasn't pleased when the whimsicott brought them to Jackster instead, though she ought to have seen that coming.) In between calling out random names for feedback and testing the tynamo's levitational skills, Ree stayed oddly quiet.

It wasn't that she was acting different, but she sort of was. Harry couldn't put her finger on it. She seemed distant, interested and engaged with the tynamo and yet utterly detached from her. New pokémon were always difficult to get used to, she knew that, but she hoped Ree would manage. It would kill her if Ree quit training because of Mitzi's death.

She didn't knit as she walked (although she did have such a talent), but instead let her mind wander, keeping an ear open for Jackster and Ree. Shady was asleep in her pokeball, and Hattie was taking turns between riding on Jackster and trying to ride on the tynamo. Evidently, the fun new thing was to see if any of the pokémon could get the poor newbie to touch the ground. No victors yet.

Ree will do better in that tournament than I will, but she only has four pokémon. One of them is new, and poor Harper can't fly.

Harper hopped down off of Ree's shoulder, flapping both wings quite well, and landed on the tynamo. They sunk about an inch and stubbornly hovered above the ground. The tynamo gave a spark, enough to earn a squawk and some ruffled feathers, and Harper flapped back into the air. "Harper, not yet!"

...She shouldn't be flying much, Harry mentally amended. But I'm not much better. Hattie won't evolve until Jackster does, otherwise she probably would be a leavanny by now, wouldn't she? Poor Jackster... Maybe Lala is good for him?

It was hard to trust the whimsicott. She just seemed... sort of mean at times. Jackster's confidence had improved, if only through sheer force of Lala's will, and he was certainly a stronger battler. But he still spooked so easily, and he preferred not to battle unless Harry was somehow involved. He had zapped Lala at one point, who had thought it'd be a good idea to target the redheaded girl in an effort to spur him into action, and he still chased away wild pokémon who got too close to her.

What if we got another teammate?

Harry hadn't put much thought into it. She wanted a mareep, but that was for wool, not strength. Four pokémon was still very manageable, and it didn't have to be anything large or ferocious. A bird would be handy, and it could help her deliver things. She could shear whimsicott, too, and bouffalant, though she found the latter's fur a little too coarse for most projects. Zoroark and stoutland could be sheared on the odd occasion; at least, she had seen things spun from their fur in shops before.

"Ugh, I still think about a new pokémon in terms of knitting materials," Harry lamented. Jackster nickered in sympathy. The redhead gave her starter a weak smile. She had gotten him because he was sweet and cute. He had nothing to do with knitting or yarn. Hattie didn't, either, and Shady was related to her grammy's chandelure. When had she lost the desire for pokémon for the sake of having pokémon?

"Unika!" Ree suddenly crowed, nearly upending Harper from her shoulder as she waved her naming book wildly. "It means unique! That is the best fucking name ever."

"Uni... ka...?" Harry repeated.

"I'm tired of looking at this thing. There were no good L names, and this one can be shortened to Uni." Harry wasn't sure why Ree wanted to shorten it to Uni. But the brunette seemed pleased with her choice and dug out her pokédex to make it official.

"...Ty," Unika agreed with a thoughtful bob.

Maybe Harry really had lost touch with the training world. Maybe getting into a battling tournament would be good for her.

-.-.-

"I-I don't think this is a good idea," Harry squeaked.

"We'll be fine. Three on three battles, so you're good!" It also meant that Ree had an excuse not to use Harper. The tranquill wouldn't be pleased, and she was flying around already, but sending her into battle made Ree nervous. Just a little more time, she told herself.

The line moved forward as Harry continued her fretting. "But—oh my gosh, Shady is still so young, and Hattie is a tiny pokémon! What if—what if it comes down to Hattie and a haxorus? Or a mandibuzz? She'll be eaten!"

"Use Jackster against the mandibuzz."

"That's not what I meant!" the freckled trainer cried shrilly.

"Look, Harry," Ree said and placed a hand on each shoulder, "you'll do fine. These are trainers around our level, not part of the elite four. Jackster is strong, and your other two—well, Hattie's smart, isn't she? And Shady's a fire pokémon! Just have her burn up the arena if you can't get out of it."

"Her fire isn't that strong," she whispered.

"You'll be fine!" Ree insisted, and then the line disappeared. "Ree Majors."

"How many pokémon to register?" They could register up to six pokémon they could use throughout the tournament, even if the rounds were only three on three.

"...Four." A round a day, and Harper was getting stronger and stronger. Ree would rather have her available just in case. She rolled over her pokeballs and they set them in the machine, and then Ree stepped aside as Harry registered her team. Most of the trainers looked to be around Harry's age, in their early and mid teens, though there were some adults and younger kids scattered in between the waiting crowds. Very few pairs and groups, however, and several trainers gave the girls dirty looks as they walked past. "Jeez, what's crawled up everyone's asses?"

"I don't think stronger trainers like to travel with others. I-I know rivalries are common with older trainers," Harry answered in a sulky mumble.

"Ugh. Well, with a crowd this size, at least it will be harder for Scott to find me." Just in case, Ree pulled her hat lower on her hair.

"Will participants of the first section of round one please find their arenas? It will be starting shortly," the intercom announced. Harry paled.

"Come on, I'll be your cheerleader!" Ree said and grabbed her before she could impersonate her blitzle. Her battle wasn't until later, so she got to play moral support until then. Driftveil's new stadium was large, but even it couldn't hold hundreds of battles simultaneously.

"I-I should just forfeit—"

"Hell no! At least make your opponent sweat!"

Ree wasn't allowed to accompany her onto the field, but managed to muscle her way to the front of the crowd. The battle arena, national standard size, was split into two for the first round battles; apparently, once the number of participants thinned, they would use the full fields for single battles.

She scanned the mass of people for that familiar head of blond hair, but she didn't see him anywhere. He didn't know Harry's name, but he had seen her before. Would he even try to look for her, or was he waiting for Ree's battle? ...Come to think of it, she hadn't talked to him in several days.

"And... begin!" She snapped back to attention at the call and Harry, with shaking knees, released Jackster. Ree cheered, perhaps awkwardly, and then gave a real scream of joy when she saw that her opponent had released a dewott.

"You can do this! Fuck him up!"

Harry blushed furiously and several people around her turned to glare. But Ree felt vindicated when the first round went to Harry; Jackster had gotten lucky early on when the dewott had become paralyzed, and he had managed to finish it off before it made it to him.

Her opponent put out a darmanitan, and after a beat, Harry kept Jackster out. He was just faster than it, and it turned into a sort of tag—the fire pokémon tried to catch him with flaming fists, growling and getting progressively more and more frustrated, and Jackster would whinny and neigh and spark and kick. It would have been a good strategy, especially after one lucky kick that sent the darmanitan tumbling with a swollen lip, had it not suddenly turned to stone.

"...Um," Harry said and Jackster slowed to a trot, eyes wide. The darmanitan statue remained immobile.

Its trainer, however, broke into a feral grin. "Now it's time to heat things up. Incinerate!"

Jackster practically shrieked when the statue suddenly blew out a jet of fire at him. Harry danced back, away from the wall of flame, and the blitzle ran about the smaller arena, trying in vain to avoid the worst of it. The end of his scarf caught fire and he reared. "Bli-ii-ii!"

He managed to put out his scarf once the attack died down, stomping it down, and then nosed the burnt end with sad little snuffles. "It's okay, Jackster!" Harry called encouragingly, but he hardly looked up. "Just—it doesn't look like it can move! Try to keep attacking at a distance!"

It was amazing how unspecific Harry's commands were, but then Ree remembered that her pokémon didn't even listen to hers. Maybe vagueness was the way to go.

"More fire!"

"Keep running!"

More tag, but with the added bonus of an amazing amount of flames. The referee and part of the crowd had to back up at one point. Eventually, the darmanitan's fire died down, but it remained a statue. "How the hell do we tell when this is over?" Ree called.

"Is your pokémon unable to battle?" the referee asked.

After much pleading and prodding, the boy conceded the round. Unfortunately, it wasn't the best of three pokémon, but until all three pokémon on either side were knocked out. Still, Ree was very glad to see that her friend was doing so well. "Good job, Harry! Only one more!"

"Jackster, come back now." He limped back to her, flanks heaving with his exhaustion. Harry examined the edge of his scarf with a frown, murmured something soothing, and then returned him.

"Both trainers, send out your next pokémon!"

After much deliberation, literally weighing one pokeball in each hand (Ree groaned), Harry sent out her litwick. And fortune favored her once more; her opponent sent out a whimsicott. "Start off with a stun spore to slow it down! You can outrun this one, easy!" the poor, ignorant soul called.

Ree stepped away from the edge of the arena. Harry was looking rather pale as she shuffled backwards, too. They both knew how this would end.

"Shady, um... Just start preparing a big fire attack, okay?"

The litwick cooed and shuffled towards the middle, the flame on her head growing steadily larger. The whimsicott raced by, lacing the area with golden dust, but missed its first pass. And its second—its speed was actually preventing it from getting enough on Shady to paralyze her. But it was sprinkling the area with plenty, and Ree personally knew how easily that stuff got stuck in whimsicott fluff.

Ree caught a couple other people backing up; apparently the trick wasn't as secret as she thought. And then, the whimsicott learned the hard way just how stun spore reacted with a flame when it finally caught Shady with its attack. The resulting boom scared the archeops in the other arena, and Shady and the whimsicott were both thrown clear out of their half. Shady, looking a little squishy, got back up with a dazed groan. The whimsicott didn't.

"The winner is the red side!" The referee looked a little dazed himself.

"You won!" Ree hopped over the edge, not caring about the angry yells that followed her, and swept Harry and Shady both up into a hug, lifting them off the ground. "See, you did great! Jackster beat two pokémon on his own, and you were worried over absolutely nothing!"

"R-Ree, we blew up part of the stage to win," Harry pointed out, embarrassed.

"But you won! Second round, easy!"

"I'll have to fix Jackster's scarf..."

"Wick!" Shady said, smiling vapidly up at them both.

Ree caught Harry smiling to herself as she checked in with the registration table once more. She wasn't worried about herself, since her team was pretty awesome, but she was glad that Harry hadn't lost her first tourney battle. It would have been a blow to her already shaky confidence as a trainer.

"Now it's my turn."

-.-.-

Next Chapter: Ree takes the tournament by storm, unaware of the turmoil lurking beneath the surface of Driftveil City. Harper is back in the skies, but she's fallen behind, and Unika is still new to them all.