This chapter gave me tons of trouble. I realized too late that I had left myself with a narrative problem last chapter, and then a mix of poor attention span, constant rewrites, school and holidays kept interfering. As a result, I'm not the happiest with this chapter, but I figured that giving it a push and letting it stick was a better idea than being stuck for another month. I'm always too critical with my stuff, anyway.

Merry Christmas/alternative holiday and Happy New Year!

Sensi waited in the main battle hall, the crackling of her flame collar the only indication of her impatience. Patience had long been the virtue that eluded her the most, try as she might to suppress and conceal it from those she interacted with. Back when she was a simple Cyndaquil, her tendency to rush her opponents in battle had caused innumerable losses and endless frustration for her trainer, as supportive as he remained.

A wistful smile flashed across the Typhlosion's face and she shook her head slightly. It had taken a lot of work and special training to curb the reckless style, and even though it was far from easy, the results were well worth the effort. Evolution to Quilava was the first true mark of her progress, and larger scale battles eventually followed.

Still, waiting for her clients was more than a lesson in patience. It was a greater inconvenience, and a disrespectful waste of her time. If clients showed up late, they seemed to expect the full session despite the tardiness, and doing so often kept a punctual client waiting, even for a few minutes, and that kept the cycle of tardiness going until her lunch break. If she wanted to re-synch the schedule, she had to cut it from her personal time, and there was no way that was fair to her.

To add another layer of annoyance, her current appointment was with one of her most difficult clients. It wasn't so much that Tamashii was difficult to train or had trouble with basics like some of her other clients did, but rather the Froslass lacked any sense of self-control, and her powers were still well beyond her ability to handle them. Sensi was willing to pin the blame for tardiness on a lack of social manners, but that didn't excuse how annoying it was to have her time wasted.

A subtle change in room temperature swiftly snapped Sensi's attention back to the doors in time to see the icy ghost phase through the wood as if it didn't even exist and float towards the center of the hall.

"You're late, Tamashii," Sensi noted, her tone neither angry nor accusing, but a cold statement of fact. The Froslass giggled, placing a paw before her mouth in what she undoubtedly hoped was a gesture of innocent apology. Sensi was unfazed. "Punctuality is a key virtue to have. Make more effort to be on time, please."

"Of course," Tamashii said sweetly. "I just stopped by your guests. I didn't know you were still taking on new students..." she trailed off, her green eyes flicking inquisitively to meet the Typhlosion's. Sensi dulled her gaze, focusing on the space directly between the Froslass' eyes.

"I'm not. They are not expected to become long term clients," she replied, keeping the explanation simple and to the point. A common rule with her was to avoid discussing details about her other clients with another, barring specific circumstances where elaborating on information was crucial to the lesson that needed to be established, and this was usually done with permission.

"Really?" Tamashii mused, tapping her chin thoughtfully. She giggled mischievously after a moment. "Shame, they looked like they have potential. Guess you don't want to chat about that, though..."

"Not particularly," Sensi agreed. "Speaking of potential, you should be returning my loaner today, yes?"

Tamashii winced, but extended her paw. A sphere of light formed in the palm of the Froslass' paw, expanding until the light faded from around the object, a red rectangular stone. Sensi observed the action with genuine fascination.

"I've always wondered how ghosts do that," she mused aloud, stepping nearer and taking the stone with great care. "But in any case, what did he need to borrow it for?"

Tamashii shrugged and giggled. "Dunno, didn't ask. But I guess it wasn't what he was looking for, because he didn't have any problem giving it back."

"Good. I don't particularly like loaning my things to people, even on the recommendation of someone I trust," Sensi said, walking over to one of the many trophy cases, lifting the case and placing the stone inside, at last turning back to the Froslass. "Have you been keeping up with your exercises?"

"Of course," Tamashii giggled, pretending to be offended. Sensi didn't crack a smile and the Froslass' amusement faded. "Yes, I have," she answered more soberly.

"Excellent. Then we can proceed with today's lesson," Sensi said, walking to one side of the battlefield. Tamashii giggled and floated to the side opposing the Typhlosion. She pointed one paw dramatically towards Sensi, and the other one doing likewise, but held above and behind her head, like a magician about to cast a spell. Sensi raised an eyebrow slightly, but chose not to comment.

However, they barely progressed past the warm-ups when Asgard entered the room, his wings twitching in awkward agitation. Sensi raised a paw to call a halt and the two of them turned to face the Togetic.

"Did you need something, Asgard?" Sensi asked sternly. It didn't need to be explained aloud what he was supposed to be doing, or more importantly, why he was supposed to keep his distance during training periods if he was actively playing a role in the client's training. Therefore, she was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that whatever had brought him here was important enough to pay attention to before admonishing him.

"Yes, actually," Asgard said, coming up to her shoulder so that he could speak more discreetly. "My understanding is that Tamashii stopped by Aeris and her friends, and after she left, Syren became fatigued. The other two are concerned about her health, and I'm doing what I can to try to reassure them, but I'm not sure what..." he trailed off helplessly, glancing at Tamashii with a casual smile. The Froslass waved lazily, confirming she probably hadn't guessed she was the subject of the conversation.

Sensi frowned slightly. Tamashii admitted dropping by the other guests, but hadn't elaborated very much about what she had said or done in their presence. Even so, she had a pretty good idea what was at the root of the problem.

"Would I be correct in assuming they followed you back here?" Sensi asked. Asgard looked blank, but then turned towards the door and fixed it with a vaguely annoyed look. There was a quiet squeal from behind the door and Asgard groaned. Sensi chuckled quietly, raising her voice. "Come in!"

There was a noticeable pause in sound, and then Aeris bounced through the door, pausing to assist the Glaceon with walking in and supporting a sleeping Buizel. Sensi raised an eyebrow. Why had they carried her all the way back here? Then again, leaving her behind would hardly have been courteous.

"Watch her head," Sensi called sternly as the Glaceon stumbled. Aeris squealed and made to support the Buizel's head. "Just...just set her down," the Typhlosion sighed, shaking her head. Brio fixed Tamashii with what could only be interpreted as a passive death glare, which she replied to with an innocent smile.

"What did you do to her?" Brio burst out, his fur bristling.

"Me? What do you mean?" Tamashii cooed, floating nearer, but stopping when Brio growled. It wasn't a particularly aggressive sound, but nevertheless effective in getting his mood across to the Froslass.

"It could just be a coincidence, but I don't buy it," Brio answered. "And dismissing it as a coincidence and playing the skeptic doesn't get us anywhere. So I'm going to confront the issue and get answers that way."

There was an awkward pause from everyone present. It didn't seem to be the kind of silence where no one understands the speaker, but more in the vein that everyone was taking a moment to question whether the speaker had any idea how weird he sounded, and yet it didn't seem like an appropriate time to actually point it out.

"Anyone else feel like Sy was supposed to say something there?" Aeris chirped. Brio blinked at her and she shrugged. "Just breaking the tension."

Brio stared at the Gligar for a moment or two longer before seeming to remember he was accusing the ice ghost. He glanced over at the sleeping Buizel, then back at Tamashii. "So what'd you do to her? And if you didn't do it, who or what did?"

"I don't follow," Tamashii said sweetly, her green eyes widening innocently, but her mouth kept twitching into a mischievous smile, which only seemed to agitate Brio, try as he might to remain still and calm. "I was just talking to you guys, seeing what you were doing. The usual clients are so exclusive...you could wait weeks before getting an interview, much less a lesson," she said, giggling.

Sensi fought the urge to sigh, instead sharing a look with Asgard, who nodded blandly in response. Tamashii was precisely the type of Pokémon that Sensi had created her filtering system for. If it weren't for a personal recommendation, she'd have preferred Tamashii to have been trained by someone more knowledgeable of ghost training, especially since there was said to be an expert in just the nearby city. Tamashii had little control over her powers and her personality and behavior were unstable at times. There was little doubt this had been caused by her method of evolution, as a Froslass was the sole species in existence that evolved from a formerly living creature to a ghostly existence.

"What does that have to do with Sy?" Brio asked, calming down enough to look mildly bewildered. Aeris, in turn, was losing the playful demeanor and examining Syren's sleep with increasing concern.

Sensi cleared her throat. "At this rate, it may be more beneficial to both of us if we rescheduled your session, Tamashii. Tardiness and interruptions are already taking their toll on today's schedule."

The Froslass frowned. "How long would it take to be squeezed in again?" she asked, but Aeris stomped her foot on the ground. It lacked the force to have any significant impact outside of being a gesture, but both Sensi and Tamashii paused to glance at her.

"She needs to answer his question!" the Gligar said, crossing her arms defiantly.

"She'll be fine," Sensi assured Aeris. "If you can excuse me a moment, I can get you two up to speed...with Tamashii's consent, yes?" she glanced sternly towards the Froslass.

"Oh please, he's a skeptic," Tamashii said lazily, waving an arm towards Brio. "I could show him much easier."

Sensi stiffened. "I don't think that would be-"

"Show what?" Brio asked blankly. Tamashii giggled and floated nearer, prompting the Glaceon to tense, his icy fur bristling into needles.

"Relax, won't hurt you," Tamashii cooed, lowering herself to eye level. "Look in my eyes; do I look like a liar to you?" The Glaceon instinctively flicked his gaze to meet hers and then stopped, his gaze becoming slightly unfocused. Aeris tensed, readying her pincers to strike. "You feel...lost, drifting away now...so unfocused and distracted," Tamashii cooed.

"That's enough!" the Typhlosion interjected sharply. The Froslass blinked, but promptly withdrew from Brio, who shook his head and scowled.

"What was that?" he demanded.

"I took you for a know-it-all at a glance, but now I see it better," Tamashii mused, wiggling one paw happily. "I guess I wasn't that far off. Love the books, fascinated by the worlds they show."

"Wha-?"

"Your Buizel friend is a passive romantic. Loves the attention, but can't bond with many. Shame, really, she's easy on the eyes and knows it, yet so humble," Tamashii continued, sounding like a schoolchild who had known more on the material than necessary, and eager to show it off to the class.

Brio frowned, mulling the statements over. "You can read minds through eye contact?"

"Close enough," the ghost giggled.

"She is harmless," Sensi assured the Glaceon and the yet-to-relax Gligar. "Or, more accurately, she is not malicious. Syren will be fine, but your concern is understandable and the situation is not being taken lightly."

"Are we still rescheduling?" Tamashii wondered. Sensi sighed softly. It was quite the challenge to balance her emotions and the methods of venting, and the complications that Tamashii herself had created were not helping matters.

"I think that we-" the Typhlosion paused abruptly. "Asgard...?"

"I heard it," Asgard responded. "Were you expecting anyone at this time?" Sensi shook her head, a slight frown creasing her expression. "Oh...maybe a new client? You do have a reputation in the city."

"I'll check for you," Tamashii offered. Before anyone could reply, she disappeared from the room. In the time it took for the other Pokémon to exchange looks, the Froslass reappeared with a dramatic flourish. "It's just a Servine. No human trainer, but she seems to know her way around," she said.

"She?" Brio repeated, sitting up abruptly. Aeris looked at him blankly, and Sensi considered the information. "Did she have..." he gestured towards his chest. "...something there?"

"I said she's a Servine, not a human," Tamashii said mischievously. Further elaboration could not be gained before the door was pushed open and a bipedal green lizard Pokémon stepped into the room, Sensi recognizing that Tamashii had identified it correctly.

The Servine paused, scarlet eyes sweeping the room, pausing on Brio and Aeris. The calm composure of the lizard faltered. Aeris took note of the green stone tied around the Servine's chest, and immediately leapt up, anger flashing in her eyes.

"Why are you always around?" the Servine demanded of the Glaceon. He gazed back at her uncomprehendingly. Sensi could almost feel the tension gathering in the room.

"Hold on, everyone," she ordered, stepping forward, the flame mane crackling loudly to add to the forcefulness of her command. "Who are you?" she asked of the newcomer.

The Servine twitched, but her gaze shifted to Sensi, making eye contact without hesitation. There was a dominant sense of confidence in the gaze, but the Typhlosion was unintimidated.

"I am Huntress," she said curtly. Asgard flinched, sudden concern and realization mixing on his face, but Sensi had something better to worry about.

"And what did you want?" the Typhlosion asked, without losing the force in her words. With Brio and Aeris clearly on edge around the grass Pokémon, she needed to stay in control of the situation in case a fight was going to break out under her nose. They were already a bit scrappy due to Tamashii, and it would not do to let impulse and emotion override logic.

Huntress smirked, her scarlet eyes flicking towards Brio and Aeris before returning to meet Sensi's gaze. "In present company, it's hardly a secret, so let's go straight to bargaining." She paused to tap the green tablet dangling at her chest. "You have one of these interesting little Plates, and I'm here to add it to my collection."

Sensi's eyes narrowed. "Where did you get that?" she demanded suspiciously. The Servine raised an eye scale inquisitively. "That's a Meadow Plate, and the only one I've ever seen in my life belonged to a friend of mine. We won them in a tag-team tournament some years ago."

"I know. My presence is no coincidence. Yet judging by this room and your reputation, I daresay you cherish your Plate with undue sentimental value," Huntress said softly, waving a paw derisively at the trophy cases. "Let us be done with the unprofitable small talk. If you won the Plate in battle, then it will be seized in the same manner!"

A crude challenge, but a challenge nonetheless. Sensi studied the Servine carefully for several seconds, judging what she could from the Servine's demeanor and tone. The sense of self-confidence was overwhelming, but another flavor could be detected, far subtler. Huntress was battle-hungry and her manner reflected her thirst clearly. There was no backing away from the conflict, and only one answer suited the situation.

"As you wish," Sensi stated coolly. "But you're on my turf, so I set the rules of combat. It is a strict single match, you against me. The first to be rendered unable to continue is the loser, and her opponent is declared the winner. We will wager my Flame Plate against your Meadow Plate, and those are the only foreign items you may use. The winner claims both prizes. Obviously, only non-lethal attacks and strategies are permitted."

Huntress snickered. "You have so many advantages, but I agree. The huntress shows no fear to her prey." She flicked her paw, extending a green blade of energy and assuming a battle stance.

"Mom...be careful," Asgard warned nervously.

"I never drop my guard, no matter the opponent," Sensi reminded him. "If you could referee the match, that would be most helpful. The rest of you, stay out of the way."

There was a moment of reluctant assent, and the other Pokémon backed away from the center battlefield, allowing Huntress to step into the ring.

"Unless you have something dramatic or conclusive to say, perhaps we should get started," Huntress suggested, after several seconds of just sizing each other up. Asgard flushed and waved his paw to signal them. "That's better," she snickered.

Huntress wasted no time, darting forward with impressive speed, her Leaf Blade poised to strike. Sensi did nothing, not even as the Servine passed within striking distance. The first Leaf Blade was aimed for a crude slash across the Typhlosion's midriff, but she deflected it with a forepaw, gaining a mere scratch on her paw instead of a more serious cut. The sudden shift in momentum caused Huntress to lose her footing, and Sensi slammed her other paw into the Servine's chest, the paw erupting with fire before impact.

The force of the blow sent Huntress tumbling backwards like a rag doll, burn marks forming on the scales that had not been shielded by the Meadow Plate itself. Sensi did nothing to gloat, nor did she drop her guard. She calmly observed the fallen Servine, the flames on her paw simmering down. Brio winced, but didn't comment.

"That was…clever, I'll give you that," Huntress hissed, leaping to her feet nimbly, her red eyes alight with frustration. A pale green aura surrounded her body, although the Meadow Plate itself did nothing. Brio did a double take.

"Did she really take that much damage?" he wondered aloud, albeit in a whisper to Aeris.

Huntress chuckled, brandishing her Leaf Blade. "The hunt is just getting interesting. Don't disappoint me."