MONSTERS IN PARADISE

Chapter Six

By: Curtis Wildcat

Pokémon and the Touhou Project are the properties of their respective owners and copyright holders.

Brace yourselves for some confusion fu.

Finding The Lion King reference gets you some chocolate cake.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

The last few days had been restless ones for Patchouli. Following her initial meeting with Akyuu, she'd been testing Skarmory's strengths and weaknesses, its attacks and defenses, and cataloguing anything of note that she could find. It was fun and exciting for her to learn things about these visitors to Gensokyo, although one couldn't tell by looking at her face.

She'd learned that Skarmory's ridiculous defenses had their limits. Any attack- - -at least those that were not governed by the Spell Card system- - -that was expressly intended to defeat it in a single hit would not succeed, as the bird still had enough in it to fight on; anything after that would KO it (while attacks that would defeat anything in one strike were ignored altogether). An abundance of minor attacks would demolish it, as Marisa and Sakuya had already demonstrated. And- - -this was the big one- - -Skarmory had recoiled and flew off into the library's depths when Patchouli triggered her Fire Sign: Agni Shine spell card; it utterly refused to have anything to do with fire. I'll list that as it's major weak point until something else comes up.

Helping Skarmory recover from these tests was easier than expected. While collecting what vegetables she could from the garden, as it wouldn't be too much longer before cold weather started to set in, Sakuya had found some out-of-season fruit growing on one of the trees. When she tried one, she had discerned them to be horrendously spicy and too much for her taste buds to take. On the other hand, Skarmory loved them: eating just a few of them helped it to regain its strength swiftly and miraculously, and after a bit of rest it was ready to go again. Koakuma had found this to be nothing short of amazing.

To a lesser degree, the rooster that the Mansion's residents now knew as Blaziken had also been subjected to some tests. It was quickly established that Blaziken did not like water, as he always stayed as far away from Misty Lake as possible whenever he fought. He was especially wary of attacks coming from the air, and he seemed to have been hurt more than he should have been by one of Meiling's earthshaking Yellow Quake Kicks. He too relied on food to keep himself at full strength, having a preference for sweet things (as Sakuya discovered firsthand when a snack intended for Remilia went missing).

But just like Skarmory's armor only being so strong, Patchouli could only take so much excitement. Conducting the tests, or really any sort of prolonged exertion, quickly tired her out. Finally deciding that enough was enough, she set her research materials aside and decided to rest for a while. The Pokémon weren't so important that she couldn't allow herself some breaks.

/-/-/

At the back of the area set aside for Patchouli's study were two bookcases facing each other, much smaller than the rest of those in the library but still twice as tall as she was. On their shelves were, not magical tomes of eldritch lore, but some of the finest literary works in the world that had her stamp of approval. Anne of Green Gables. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which Remilia insisted was loosely based on a true story). The Canterbury Tales. The collected works of William Shakespeare... and the list went on. Many of them had been gathered by Patchouli before the Mansion was transferred to Gensokyo, while still others had been in the hands of Kourindou's owner at some point or another afterward.

Sitting parallel to the bookshelves and perfectly aligned between them was a velvety cushioned couch, soft enough that a person could melt into it just by sitting down; to the side of it was a small polished wooden stand, perfect for snack placement. After selecting her reading material and setting aside her cap, Patchouli laid down on the couch and set her head against one of the armrests. She closed her eyes for just a moment, savoring the comfort that the couch offered, then flipped past the first few pages of the book and began reading. In her mind's eye, people and places from an unknown land took form...

/-/

She wasn't sure how long she had been reading when she felt a slight chill creeping over her. Bringing herself back to the here and now, Patchouli could hear the distant rumble of the library's door closing. Someone must have entered a few moments ago... Remi, probably. Well, she's just going to have to wait a little while. She started to call for Koakuma, but paused when she remembered that her assistant had taken up her work where she had left off. "Oh, bother... Sakuya?" she said aloud, signalling for the Perfect Maid. "A blanket, if you please?"

There was no vocal response, but only a few seconds later she felt the warmth of a woolen blanket covering her from her ankles to her elbows. Patchouli wondered why the maid hadn't greeted her, but decided it didn't matter. Sakuya's been fairly busy recently, just like the rest of us. It shouldn't be surprising that she wants to get everything done as quickly as possible. She sighed and continued to read silently. For all that I mock her and Meiling for their inability to keep Marisa away, Remi did a good thing by offering her employment here. I'll have to speak with my friend later and convince her to let Sakuya have a day off, give her a chance to recover.

A few more short minutes passed. Patchouli yawned quietly, then grimaced when she realized it. I'm feeling a bit tired, but I'm not ready to put this down just yet. I need a quick fix. "Sakuya?" she called. "Some tea and chocolate, please."

It was the work of only a minute before a teacup and a saucer- - -a little block of chocolate on the latter- - -turned up on the stand. Patchouli took a sip of tea, finding it tasteful and lovely. "Ah. Thank you, Sakuya."

"For what?" the maid's voice asked.

"...!"

Patchouli looked up and to her left over the back of the couch. Sakuya was standing there, another teacup in her hand as she wiped it off with a cloth. "What are you thanking me for? I haven't done anything for you yet today."

"Explain this, then." Patchouli gestured first at the blanket, then at the tea and chocolate. "I called for you and asked you for these things, and you brought them. What's so hard to remember about that?"

Sakuya frowned. "I did not hear you, so I do not recall ever doing that for you. I've been waiting on my lady for the last fifteen minutes. ...And speaking of which, she's been sitting at your desk wanting to speak with you."

"Tell her that she'd better get a deck of cards and start a game of rummy with Koakuma. I'm trying to rest." This didn't make sense. Who was it that had gotten her the things she'd wanted? "...Never mind. Koakuma!" Patchouli barked.

Her assistant was quick to respond, flying over the bookcases seconds later. She alighted next to Sakuya and bowed. "Yes, Lady Patchouli? What is it?"

"I need the both of you to check the area. We have a visitor here, and there's a good chance that it's up to some mischief."

The two of them became fully alert, although in Sakuya's case it looked like she'd been close to putting things together. Accepting the order, the two of them began their search. They checked around the bookcases, in the bookcases and over them, around the magical light just overhead...

"Found it," Sakuya finally announced. She and Koakuma were both on their knees, checking beneath the couch. "There's something alive down here, but it's too shrouded in shadow for us to tell what it is. Should we get it out, Lady Patchouli?"

"Please do."

Koakuma nodded and reached under the couch with both hands, but this accomplished nothing. "OW!" she yelped as she hastily withdrew them, wincing as she found the red marks at the tip of one of her fingers. "The thing bit me!"

Sakuya took a brief moment to examine the wound. "It doesn't seem too serious, but maybe you ought to get that treated just in case."

Patchouli didn't want to leave the comfort of the couch, but she supposed that if she wanted to get this over with so she could get back to her reading, she'd have to get clever. "You go and take care of that," she told them as she sat up, setting the book down and gathering the blanket around her. "There's something I'd like to try." She lowered her voice to a whisper and added: "Sakuya, if you hear me call for you, don't answer."

The others wondered about this, but they agreed. A second later they were gone, carried away by the Perfect Maid and her time mastery.

Patchouli waited a few more minutes before putting her idea to the test. Simple in form and execution it was, and it stood a good chance of working. Shifting over to the other end of the couch, she said aloud: "Sakuya? May I have my hat, please?"

Now that she was fully focused on something other than her book, Patchouli could detect some quiet shuffling and a vaguely feminine voice murmuring incomprehensibly to itself. Something grunted, and a flash of green and yellow swiped her cap from its resting place; the librarian narrowed her eyes, but waited...

And a moment later, she felt a very slight weight on her head as her cap was placed there. Before any other actions could be made, the librarian spoke sharply: "Sakuya, stay. Why are you hiding from me?"

"...Swa?" came a questioning voice. There was no mistaking the surprise with this one.

"We will not keep any secrets." Not anymore, Patchouli amended, remembering Flandre. "I do not doubt your willingness to help, but I do not wish to be served by a shadow. There's no need to hide what we are. Not in the Scarlet Devil Mansion."

Roughly ten seconds of silence passed by as whatever it was mulled over this, which Patchouli figured was enough time. She patted the cushion next to her. "Now get down here, please. Let me get a good look at you."

"Loooooon..." that weird something crooned, and she felt the cushions move as the creature landed next to her.

Patchouli looked down at it, taking in every detail of its appearance. The creature was unquestionably another Pokémon; most youkai that she knew of didn't have this kind of guise. It has its own name already, so it probably belonged to someone else before it came here. There's a strange coincidence in that it too is called Sakuya, and it has the marks of a capable assistant. You wouldn't expect this out of a creature of this size. She cupped her chin with one hand, frowning. And there's something familiar about how it's staring at me- - -...

Time shifted as Sakuya and Koakuma appeared nearby, interrupting Patchouli's thought process; the maid's task had been completed. Koakuma screeched in delight, clasping her hands before her; Patchouli silently noticed that her bitten finger had been treated, then lightly bandaged. "Look at it, look at it!" her assistant squealed, eyes on the Pokémon. "It looks just like you! It's adorable!"

"I concur." Sakuya couldn't help but smile pleasantly at this as she retrieved the teacup she'd been wiping off earlier. "How fitting it is. What do you think of it, Lady Patchouli?"

And for all that it was a yellow bug thing covered in a leafy blanket, with not a trace of purple or lavender anywhere, the resemblance between the librarian and the Pokémon was uncanny. Looking at that tired face and perpetual frown was like staring at her own reflection.

Patchouli's eye twitched when she realized this. "Anyone who thinks this is funny shall suffer," she hissed. "Forever."

...

Somewhere in space and time, a fat guy with glasses and a Detroit Tigers T-shirt felt an unexplained chill.

/-/-/-/-/-/

The new presence in the library didn't go unnoticed by the mansion's mistress for long.

Remilia disliked having to wait for long periods, as she tended to do strange things when she was bored. So it was with reluctance that Patchouli finally went to her desk to see what she wanted. 'Swadloon', which Koakuma figured was probably the Pokémon's species name, had decided that the best way to travel would be on top of Patchouli's head. This led to a problem: as light as Swadloon was, the librarian still wasn't willing to bear the weight for long. The creature wouldn't let Koakuma carry it for some reason, and it was rather leery of Sakuya's knife holsters, so Patchouli was left with no alternative: with the aid of a small stone, she cast a simple spell on the bug that temporarily reduced its weight by half, making the situation more endurable for the time being.

Of course, this still meant that it was a pillar of grumpiness that arrived at Patchouli's desk. And it was said pillar that got Remilia sniggering and giggling.

"Eh-hee... eh-hee-hee... eh-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee..."

Patchouli glared at her best friend. "It is not funny, Remi."

Remilia clapped her hands over her mouth, but the laughter could not be contained. "Eh-HAHAHAH-HAHAHA HEEEE...OH-HOHOHOHOHO...!"

This could not go unpunished. Patchouli whipped a Spell Card out of her sleeve and slammed it onto her desk. "Earth Metal Sign: Emerald Megalopolis!"

The laughter was cut off as a set of jeweled pillars erupted from the ground around Patchouli, one of them uppercutting Remilia's chin and slugging her ceilingward; Swadloon's jaw dropped open as it witnessed this, while the others decided that the whole thing was facepalm-worthy.

Thirty feet overhead, Remilia righted herself and decided: 'Hey, if she wanted to fight, she should've just said so'. Spawning four cloud-like familiars around herself, she rained bullets of all sizes down onto the stationary Patchouli and the emerald shields. They didn't break apart under the assault, but they did recede into the ground after a short period of time and necessitated evasive action on Patchouli's part.

As the librarian grazed a group of bat-shaped bullets, she rolled her eyes at the cringing Swadloon. "You know, any time that you wanted to jump off would be a good one. I need all the speed I can muster."

"Swa," the leafy bug told her nervously, hunkering down instead of preparing itself to jump. "Swad-looooon."

"...Don't want to get off, huh? Well, have it your way," Patchouli warned. "Just remember that Remilia's going to start playing mean in a few moments-"

"Destiny: Miserable Fate!"

She was cut off as Remilia's scarlet aura burned to life around her and flung itself towards Patchouli in the form of a multitude of chains. "Okay, so I guess my estimation was off," she admitted, her flight pattern becoming increasingly erratic as she tried to dodge all of the chains, some of which were homing in on her position. I'm feeling about as well as I'll ever get, so I'd say that rest did me some good... maybe now's a good time to test that new Spell Card I've been working on...?

That thought was as far as Patchouli got before she was distracted by something inconsequential. The jittery Swadloon, frightened by the sight of Remilia's attack, decided that perhaps getting herself clear of the duel was a good idea after all. It rolled off Patchouli's head and to the left, spitting a stringy substance akin to spider silk at the nearest bookshelf and swinging towards it.

By coincidence, the String Shot's threads were pierced by one of the danmaku chains, causing Swadloon to swing off course and fall. Panicking, it spat out more string to try and stabilize itself before it hit the ground, aiming at the closest object that wasn't a bookshelf.

Said object...

"GU-WAH! What the- - -?!"

...was Remilia's face.

Two of the three onlookers watched with bemusement as the Mansion's mistress stopped her barrage to try and remove the sticky stuff from her face. Red claws formed on her fingertips as she carved it all away. By then, Swadloon had been able to land safely on a shelf near the floor; the little Pokémon turned to see what the racket was all about, but found itself unimpressed by what it had caused.

Remilia shook her head as she finished, her vision no longer obscured. Seeing no bullets flying at her, she planted her hands on her hips and huffed: "First you don't want to get involved, and then you do. Make up your mind- - -"

She felt something papery press against her back between her wings, and she froze up. "It was not the creature's choice," Patchouli's voice quietly uttered from behind her. "But I digress. Everything you say and do in my library, whether it involves complaints or laughter, I will hold you accountable for. Water Sign: Newton's Wave Cannon."

Even as Remilia could be heard screeching "Newton's Wave WHAT?!", the entire world turned a deep blue.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/

"Aah...aah...aaah-choo!" Sniff. "Ugh. Why, Pache, why?"

Patchouli had no answer, staring down at the floor and feeling a slight hint of shame. From its place on her head, Swadloon had regained its disinterested stare in the aftermath of all the excitement earlier. Standing next to Remilia's bed, caring for her drastically weakened mistress, Sakuya had an expression that flickered between respect and tranquil fury.

"Why?" Remilia repeated. "I thought Marisa was the thief." She tried again to sit up, but she couldn't do so much as prop herself onto her arms. She gave up, resting her head against her pillows. "What on earth possessed you to create a water-element ripoff of the ever-loving Master Spark? Aaah-choo!... Excuse me."

"...I've been experimenting with some new Spell Cards since before the Pokémon arrived," Patchouli admitted, shoulders sagging; Newton's Wave Cannon had taken about as much out of her as Royal Flare usually did. "You and Sakuya both have Last Words to call your own. I decided it was high time I began work on one for myself."

"Strong as it is," Remilia commented, sniffing, "I get the feeling that it isn't what you wanted. Spell Cards are supposed to be elegant and pretty, after all."

Patchouli nodded a fraction. "You'd be right. Aside from this one, I already have Royal Flare and Silent Selene...that makes water, sun, and moon. Once I've gotten a look at the other four cards, I'll combine their best qualities into one. At that point I'll have to decide whether I should continue to use them or just leave them in my personal album."

Sakuya's face lost some of its fury. "It would be a truly dire situation for you to use such a Card to start with, wouldn't it?"

"..."

For someone whose most prominent weakness after sunlight had been exploited by her best friend, Remilia was remarkably concerned. "She's right, Pache. We ultimately don't mean any serious harm when we utilize danmaku. If your higher-tier cards already leave you very tired, what would that say about your Last Word?"

"..." Patchouli slowly nodded, closing her eyes. "Please forgive me, Remi. I got a bit carried away when you began laughing at us- - -" She opened her eyes as the weight on her head jumped off of it. "Huh?"

With a 'plop', Swadloon landed on Remilia's bed. Digging beneath the covers a bit, it gently dragged her hand out from there as the others looked on in confusion. Then, utilizing a bit of String Shot, it tugged Patchouli closer to the bed and placed her hand over Remilia's. That action done, it relinquished its hold and shifted off to the side, sounding almost indignant. "Swadlooooon."

Sakuya chuckled. "My lady, Miss Patchouli, I think its trying to tell you two something."

"Well, of course- - -hya-choo! ...Pardon me again." Remilia's grin was wide enough to make Patchouli wonder whether there was a leucrocotta somewhere in her ancestry. "It's telling us to stay friends forever, and all that goody-goody sort of malarkey. Like we needed it to tell us of all people that, correct?"

While nowhere near as wide, Patchouli's own smile showed a fair bit of teeth. "Correct. It will take more than some good-natured laughing at my expense to make me genuinely angry at you." She paused for a few moments, frowning. "I assume that it was good-natured, right?"

"...Um...yes?"

Beat. "...Fine. That's what we'll go with, then." Patchouli withdrew her hand from Remilia's, discreetly wiping it off with a small cloth. "So, what was it that you had wanted to talk to me about earlier?"

"Nothing major..." Sniff. "...But we had a visit from someone earlier. Sakuya?"

"Yes/Swa?" chorused the maid and the Pokémon, both standing at attention.

Remilia would've facepalmed had she not felt so weak. "Wait, you're named Sakuya too? ... Never mind. Sakuya Izayoi?"

"Yes, my lady/Swadlooon?"

"Oh, you're kidding me!" Remilia protested, disbelieving. "The same family name, too?... Oh, never mind. Just one of you tell Pache about our visitor!"

Sakuya the human was able to field this one. "It was the flower master, of all people. She claimed that she found something unusual while she was out on a walk recently." The maid handed Patchouli a strange, misshapen orange rock. "She caught wind of your knowledge of lore, decided that you could determine what this was, and asked that you get back to her when you had the time."

Patchouli accepted the rock, quietly noting the odd power at its core, but tucked it beneath her arm instead of examining it more closely. "I'll look into this later. Right now, I'm feeling tired both physically and mentally." She got up and slowly flew out of the room. "Come with me, Swadloon."

"Swaaa..." the Pokémon muttered, hopping off the bed and following her out.

The room was quiet for a minute.

"...Sakuya?" Remilia asked quietly.

"Yes, my lady?"

"First Meiling, then Flandre, and now Pache... when is it going to be our turn to get involved in some shenanigans?" the Mansion's mistress all but whined.

Sakuya sweatdropped. "You're hardly in a condition to worry about that right now..."

/-/-/

It was a short time later that Patchouli was resting again on her couch, the blanket covering her and the book she'd been reading earlier in her hands. Upon her return, she'd given Koakuma explicit orders that she was not to be disturbed and headed straight for her home within her home, pausing only to leave the orange rock at her personal quarters. If she had her way, she would not leave the couch again until she was good and ready- - -...

"Swadloooon."

Patchouli glanced out the corner of her eye at her newest assistant, resting on the back of the couch almost right over her head. "You're sure you want to hang around here? I'm not the most amiable person around, and I don't have anything for you to do presently."

The Pokémon nodded. "Swa."

Patchouli gave it a long look, then nodded and returned her attention to her book. As long as it doesn't bother me, it can stay here as long as it wants. I suppose I should probably be learning more about it, but that can wait. She turned a page, riveted. I'm more curious about this man's genius... how can he possibly learn the identity of an enemy attacker from its artwork?

/-/-/

Munch.

Munch munch. Chew, swallow.

Munch, munch munch chew ouch.

Wait... that didn't come out right. Once more, with feeling!

Munch, chew chew chew OUCH.

Flandre's left hand went straight to her mouth, her eyes tearing up. Not what I was talking about. NOT what I was talking about! "Owww," she whined, trying to soothe an unexpected ache. She looked down at the dinner she was served, wondering why Sakuya's usual high-quality meal had hurt her mouth. I need a second opinion, one that's not my own. Swallowing her mouthful and setting down her silverware- - -gently- - -she called: "Ditz? Miss Ditz Queen?"

A quiet thump, a muffled "Ouchies", and then her chamber door opened. Perched atop the canopy bed as usual, Skarmory was immediately alert... but it was only the nice fairy that was assigned to her. "Call me D. F., funny sister," she said cheerfully, hand on her forehead next to the spot where it had hit the door. "Everyone else does."

"Could you try this and tell me what you think?" Flandre requested, handing her what was left of a chicken leg.

D. F., needless to say, was thrilled. "Thanks! Don't mind if I do!" she exclaimed, taking the meat and happily chewing it off the bone piece by piece.

The next minute passed by quickly. By the time it was over, no trace of meat was left. D. F. did a little mid-air dance, waving the bone about. "Scary lady can cook, scary lady can cook!"

"So... there wasn't anything wrong with the meat?" Flandre asked.

"Tasty meat, tasty meat! It's good for your health!" D. F. sung, still dancing.

So there isn't anything wrong with the food. A worried gasp. ...But that means... there's something wrong with ME! Flandre ran to the still open door, sending D. F. for a spin, and shouted at the top of her lungs. "Sakuya! Sa-ku-yaaaaa!"

Thankfully, it was the human that responded and not the Pokémon.

-GAP-

Lindsey Elliott was worried about her younger sister, as older siblings were supposed to be. This matter was more troublesome than she'd believed, though; she'd seen the document that Merril had discovered, and if that really was Miss Yakumo, then nothing short of Groudon itself would keep the girl away. And if Merril began to experience more symptoms of the autoimmune illness she'd been diagnosed with...

So the Vigoroths' big bad gang leader set about preparing Merril for a journey, gathering the things she would need and sticking close to her like a nervous Kangaskhan. The red-eyed blonde swapped her sister's Vigoroth jacket and other attire for scarlet-colored slacks and a long-sleeved blouse, both with white around the edges; she'd wanted to go for a full-blown dress, but Merril objected ("I'm not going out looking like a doofus" were her exact words). Amongst other things she'd slipped several bottles of sunscreen into her pack, placed a wide-brimmed sun hat on her head, and found enough space yet in her pack for a parasol. Lindsey even updated her PokéNav with a half-dozen emergency contacts.

Finally, Lindsey stood back and gave Merril a once-over, closely followed by a thumbs-up. "There," she declared. "Now you look like daddy's little girl!"

"I look like an idiot in this hat," Merril protested, attaching Slakoth's Poké Ball to her belt. "I can understand the umbrella, but the hat on top of that?"

"I'm just trying to make sure you stay safe and in good health." Lindsey sat down in Merril's chair and hugged her sister close to her. "I wonder what Mom and Dad would say if they could see you now. I don't want them to have said that I wasn't doing my best to take good care of you." She sighed, letting Merril go. "Are you sure there's no way I can talk you out of going?"

"Big sis, my gut's telling me that I can't just ignore this." Merril double-checked her pack to make sure that her laptop and plug were already inside. "If I don't go, I'll regret it the rest of my life. I want answers from Yakumo and I'm going to get them, so this is one call I've got to jump at."

Lindsey wasn't pleased with that comment. "...The gang's right. You do spend too much time on the Internet."

"The gang can't tell the difference between a Caps Lock key and a Scroll Lock key, Lindsey. I wouldn't be taking their words at face value."

"That's what I'm talking about, Merril." Lindsey's frown was full-blown parental, and Merril's protests died on her lips. "Perhaps keeping you in relative seclusion due to your lupus was a mistake. Certainly letting you keep that computer in your room was. You've been staring at that screen for hours, doing next to nothing. Your abilities as a trainer have been growing stagnant; there've been no significant increases since you earned Wattson's badge."

Merril was thankful that her hair hid her eyes from view, distressed as she looked; getting a talking-to from her big sister always made her feel miserable. She opened her mouth to say something, but Lindsey answered her without knowing what she'd been wanting to tell her. "And don't give me any excuses about Slakoth being difficult to train. Maybe it is and maybe it isn't, but the rewards are definitely worth it. Just because it is a truant doesn't mean that you have to be; do you think its Ability kept me from raising it to a Vigoroth? For that matter, do you think it stopped Petalburg's gym leader from evolving his own Vigoroth into Slaking?"

Merril stayed quiet, all of her arguments having fizzled out before she could offer them. She knew all of this already, of course; the topics had been raised on multiple occasions. Still, she knew that raising someone who was four years her junior could not have been easy for Lindsey, especially after considering that the older girl was still grieving in her own way for her long-dead parents. Therefore, she didn't open her mouth as long as the scolding was in progress.

Finally, Lindsey's argument ran out of steam. She took a long moment to catch her breath, then sighed. "I don't know why I bother. It's not like anything I say is going to stop you. Just... be careful out on the road, and be wary of thieves. I'm sure you know of those disappearances already."

"Don't worry so much, big sis. I'll be fine." Merril regained a bit of courage, offering Lindsey a quirky smile. "And if you don't mind me saying this, stop crying over Mom and Dad while I'm gone. It's not like you need to dress up as a Crobat and haunt the night for the rest of your life."

Merril saw Lindsey's eyes open wide at this, and she picked that moment to give her a hug of her own. It lasted only a few seconds before she let go and turned away, securing her pack. She waved at Lindsey and departed the room, giggling like someone half her age, and left the building as quickly as she was able.

...

...

Lindsey couldn't help it. Sadness from her departure, amusement from her parting remarks, and joy that she could finally make a name for herself hit her all at once and sparked an inevitable reaction. It wouldn't be for another minute and a half before she could regain control.

"Heh... eh-heh... eh-ha-ha-ha...wa-ha-hahahahahaha~!"

Her little sister was leaving, and she had wished with all her heart that Merril would choose to stay at home. She'd had a long-standing fear that something terrible would happen to her, due perhaps to lupus's side effects or external threats, and that her Pokémon wouldn't be able to help her. But now that the little geek had chosen Plan B instead of A, Lindsey found that she could do nothing more than wish her a safe journey. It wasn't like she could protect the girl forever.

If anyone had been in the room with Lindsey as she laughed, they would've seen her canines become significantly sharper.

-GAP-

Despite assurances that she was alright, Yukari had to put up with a large group of people clustered around her, asking questions and trying to help her out. You'd think they'd never seen a youkai before... wait, never mind. "Look, people. I'm fine. I'm fine." She brushed aside another hand, trying to focus on the conversation she was embroiled in. "This is a library, isn't it? Please don't make me yell."

That made a few people stand aside, but not all of them. She sighed quietly, finally accepting that they wouldn't leave her alone, but thankful that at least they'd stopped yammering. With one distraction down, she focused her mind and words on dealing with the severely ticked off librarian that was glaring at her.

I can understand why she won't listen to me, Yukari thought even as she talked with the Rustboro Library's caretaker. I can tell by looking at her that she's unwilling to understand. Hers is a mind firmly rooted in common sense. With that in mind, if I bet that she wouldn't last long in Gensokyo, I'd probably make some easy money.

"..."

"...No. No. Absolutely not, with a capital 'A'." Mrs. Harrison's fists tightened as Yukari wrapped up her explanation. "I refuse to believe that you traveled from Mauville to here in less than 20 minutes on a bicycle."

Sometimes I hate being right.

"..." The child got up from the desk and walked away as they discussed this, trudging up the stairs.

"Well," Yukari offered, scratching her chin, "maybe those mapmakers were telling the truth after all... ...Eh, maybe not."

"What are you talking about?" Mrs. Harrison indignantly asked, irritated.

"Whoever created this was not using a proper scale of measurement." Yukari pulled out a map of Hoenn and unfolded it, showing it to her. "Judging from this, if you had a full load of Repels to keep wild Pokémon away, you could probably make a complete circle of the Hoenn region in the time it takes to have a full six-on-six battle."

Midori's Poké Ball rattled a few times, then popped open to let her out. The Ninetales leaned as close to Yukari as she could, trying to get a closer look at the map and making little disapproving noises throughout.

Roxanne's Geodude gently maneuvered a few people out of the way, letting the gym leader get close enough to see what they were talking about. She frowned. "Madam, this map's older than I am. It's no wonder you're confused about this; before the advent of more advanced technology, cartographers were frequently confused about the exact size of Hoenn and its nearby islands. No one's ever been able to figure out why that was so, whether some Pokémon were messing with them or something else."

"Now that I'm thinking about it," Mrs. Harrison commented, "the exact same thing happened with Unova. Some explorers discovered the place some five-odd centuries ago, and it wasn't until recently that its true size became more apparent." She shook her head. "Which is why I don't buy your story, lady. It should've taken you three hours at the least to cross the distance between the two cities, even on a Mach Bike."

"It doesn't matter whether you believe it or not, Madam Librarian." Yukari folded the map back up and put it back inside the pack. "The fact remains is that it's the truth. Yes, I realize that it's highly improbable, but it's not impossible by any means."

"...Mother?" The child's voice gently called down from upstairs, barely heard over the librarian's disgruntled growling. There was something odd about her voice. "...Mother, there's something wrong with the scenery."

"...'With the scenery?'..." Mrs. Harrison softly wondered before she hurried off, jumping up the stairway two steps at a time. Yukari, Midori, Roxanne, and several of those who had witnessed the crash followed her up; the youkai knew what the child spoke of already, but perhaps some visual proof would clear the doubt from their minds.

The little girl staring out the window was calm as she could be; Yukari was at a loss as to why she could stay that way in light of the destruction that had been caused. In an easterly direction through and over trees, a mountain, yet more trees and even a few buildings was a long furrow. Acres of foliage had been snapped and thrown aside, widening the paths; rocks from the mountain were strewn all over the route; dirt had been torn up and scattered about; distressed Pokémon were wandering about in the distance, trying to comprehend what just happened... and that was just what could be seen from the window. All in all, the routes to Verdanturf and Mauville had been extensively... modified.

As one, all eyes turned to Yukari. She met their disapproving stares with an indignant one. "Don't blame me. Blame the bike. It's evil!" she defended herself, folding her arms.

Mrs. Harrison squeezed her eyes shut, trying to purge the image of a cackling, deranged bicycle from her mind and wondering if she should just go home and cry. Roxanne shook her head at Yukari's childish response and walked away, deciding that finishing her work and getting out of the library would mean a return to a saner reality.

/-/-/-/

It took some time to get things straightened out. Amber had little choice but to contact Officer Jenny, and she in turn dragged the librarian and the youkai both aside for questioning. Yukari unashamedly admitted that she had purchased the bike earlier that morning, and that she'd been intending to travel to Littleroot, not Rustboro (although granted that would've been her next stop). She also brought up that it had not been her intention to cause trouble for the residents, whether they were human or Pokémon.

Jenny and Amber both found it hard to believe that anyone could have that much difficulty riding a bike, to which Yukari rolled her eyes and said she was surprised that she wasn't carted off to jail right then and there for the destruction she caused. Jenny's response was to point out Midori- - -who was pressing up against her trainer's legs and licking her fingers worriedly- - -and tell Yukari that if the Ninetales had showed any signs of being mistreated, jail time would've been the least of her concerns. Comments about double standards simmered in the overseer's mind, but she decided to keep quiet.

Upon wrapping things up with the officer, Yukari was informed that she would be let off the hook on two conditions: One, that- - -in lieu of a trainer's license- - -she submit a complete and truthful profile about herself to the police department, for submission to the rest of Hoenn's police force in case something like this happened again; and two, that she do whatever she could to help clean up the library's entrance (fixing all the damage she'd done was probably too much to hope for). Yukari saw no problems with the first condition, but the second one made her understandably nervous.

What I don't understand is why she didn't take that bike away, Yukari wondered irritably as she swept up the broken glass, remembering that the bike was completely undamaged from the trip. I imagine calling it 'Calvinbane' would be rather fitting.

"Niiiiwf?" Midori questioned her from the front desk, where she'd chosen to wait while her trainer finished her work.

Yukari couldn't understand the Ninetales, but she could make a reasonable guess. "Don't worry about it. I'm fine." Some of the glass shards were transferred to a storage bin for the locals to deal with. "Just a minor inconvenience, I assure you."

Beat. "Niiiinewf?"

"Maybe I could, maybe I couldn't. I'd still prefer to get my license before anything else goes wrong," Yukari muttered, scowling. "Ugh. I'm not cut out for this sort of work..."

Amber sipped her coffee, keeping a close eye on her. "Sheesh. You haven't done an ounce of honest work in your life, have you?"

"Why do that when I can get everyone else to do it for me and make them feel like they accomplished something important?"

"You're... not kidding, are you?" came the cautious question.

Yukari's smile gleamed under the library's lights. "Is this a face that would lie to you?"

"Yes. Not only would it lie to me, but it would give me half-truths and shaded facts while having the gall to claim they were legitimate."

Yukari sunk down a little, only managing to support herself thanks to her broom. "Well, just remember that I'm telling you the truth. Like I said, it doesn't matter whether you believe it or not."

"...So you're claiming you're a strategist," Mrs. Harrison's daughter commented from her seat, speaking just loud enough to be heard. Her nose was buried in the same book she'd been reading when Yukari had slammed onto her desk.

A puzzled look was directed the girl's way. "I never once claimed to be a chessmaster, little girl."

"...It takes a lot of planning to mislead people into thinking that they're responsible for their own actions." Page flip. "...Only someone incredibly lucky or incredibly devious could pull it off. ...By your own admittance, you're lazy but brilliant. ...You delegate your work to others without their awareness, and they feel satisfied when it's done. Meanwhile, your feet are up on the desk while you treat yourself to the alcoholic beverage of your choice. ...Everyone wins."

The library was silent. If you listened carefully, you could probably hear crickets somewhere in the room. If you looked carefully, you could see Midori eating one.

"..." Ellen's eyes flicked up, staring past her book at the look Yukari was giving her. "...Close the blinds. Your disbelief is showing."

It took until the end of that sentence for Yukari to realize that she'd been sweeping the same square foot of space even after all the glass fragments had been cleaned up. Stopping, she reached up and closed her mouth manually before turning to Amber. "Has she always been this..."

"Rude? Disrespectful?" Amber finished sourly. "Anti-social?"

If Ellen was offended by those adjectives, she chose not to show it.

"I was going to say 'brilliant'. She took my own words, separated the pieces, and put them back together in a way that summarized my personality more or less accurately. For a child, she has an incredibly sharp mind."

Amber finished the last of her coffee and sighed. She didn't answer her at first, instead turning to her daughter. "Ellen? What would you think of visiting Wally's place for pizza later today?"

"...Okay, mother," the child agreed, her book once more concealing her face.

That was the response Amber expected of her. She stepped as close to Yukari as the counter would allow and hissed: "You, too. You and I need to have a little chat."

"Well, I do have some research I'd like to..." Yukari started to say, but interrupted herself after seeing the librarian's perturbed look. "...Hmmm, alright. It's been a while since I last had any pizza. Why not?"

As long as tofu isn't one of the toppings. I could never understand why Ran adores it so much. Shaking her head, she reluctantly returned to the task at hand. Much as she would've liked it to, this mess wasn't going to clean itself up.

/-/-/

Early that afternoon...

The restaurant Amber spoke of was rather small-time, but had enough costumers to stay in business; most were locals, including a few first-stage Pokémon that accompanied them, with only one person noted to be a travelling trainer. The head chef- - -the eponymous Wally- - -introduced himself to Yukari as a former corporate engineer from Unova's Castelia City, having moved to Hoenn after accepting a hefty retirement package. The youkai was about to ask why he switched to a lower-paying job before deciding that she didn't really want to know.

Amber ordered a medium-sized pizza with some assorted vegetable toppings; almost as an aside, she also asked for some food that Midori would probably enjoy. Afterwards, while Wally was at work, Ellen slipped away towards the ladies' room; Yukari noticed that all the females in the restaurant, barring herself and Amber, stood up as one and followed after her. The youkai snorted quietly at the phenomenon.

A glint in Amber's eyes signalled that she was ready to speak, and Yukari turned her full attention on her. "I have a confession to make," the librarian murmured. "Ellen is the black sheep of the family. She should've inherited her father's drive to help others, my enjoyment of watching others learn and grow, our fondness of good Pokémon battles, something that gives an indication that she's definitely our child. Her siblings certainly did."

"Essentially she's not a born and raised stoic," Yukari summarized. "Something else made her that way."

Next to her, Midori kept trying to climb into the booth alongside Yukari. Due to her size and how bushy her tails were, all her attempts kept ending in failure.

"Yes. I don't know what or who, but something influenced her to have a pessimistic view of the world and retain that insufferable calm." Amber didn't look up when a glass of fruit punch was placed before her. "She's not your standard child. Regular children, they say things like 'mama' or 'dada' when they speak for the first time. The first thing she ever said was 'you're standing in my light, please move'."

Yukari's eyes narrowed as she sipped from the glass of ice water she'd been given. "It doesn't take a psychologist to figure out that's not normal. How old was she when she first spoke?"

"Four years old."

Blink, and blink again. Yukari ignored Midori when the Ninetales pressed against her, trying to fit inside the booth. "Four? Eeeesh... and what about when she started reading?"

"When she was about a year or so old." Amber clasped her hands on the table. "At first it was just books with simple lettering, colorful pictures of cute Pokémon and such, the sorts of things any toddler would read. By the time she was two and a half, she'd stopped getting involved in her siblings' usual antics and focused entirely on making sense of the library's botany books. Most of it she couldn't understand, but that didn't last long." She sighed deeply.

Botany...? Sip. "I see..."

"That girl absorbs knowledge like a sponge, but she's delegated almost everything else as a second priority," Amber continued. Across from her, the whining Midori fell sideways out of the booth.

Knowledge... "How so?" Yukari asked as Midori tried again, pushing heavily against her side. No question as to whose analogue she's supposed to be, then. I'm surprised that purple's not her color, but I suppose not all things are universal.

"No desire to have a Pokémon for herself, a complete refusal to travel and see the world, anti-social with no friends..." Amber locked eyes with Yukari, her face the epitome of parental worry. "I've tried everything I could to bring her out of her shell, to no avail. I've heard the stories about Team Galactic's leader; I don't want her to turn out the same way. She may be an oddball, but she's still my baby girl."

"Mm." Sip. "Excuse the change of topic, but... Team Galactic's leader? Who's he?"

Amber frowned. "What rock have you been under the past few months, Ms. Yakumo?"

"Humor me. Who is he?" Yukari asked, focusing past the nine tails that waved in front of her face.

"You don't know who he is? Really, now - - -"

"...Don't tell her anything, mama," Ellen's voice interrupted. She climbed into the booth next to her mother. "...She's not good people."

"Ellen dear, I'll decide whether to tell her something or not. How do you know she's not a good person?" Amber inquired testily.

"...I'm getting the shivers just from being in close proximity to her." Ellen was, of course, as calm as the wind at the equator. "...Look at her face. Look at her eyes. Then you tell me she's not a monster, mama."

"Youkai, technically."

"...Say that again?" both mother and daughter asked, not caring that Midori had finally succeeded in fitting into the seat across from them.

"I'm a youkai, not a monster." Yukari took a drink, working her glass down about halfway. "Bit of a difference there."

Amber and Ellen gazed first at Yukari, then at each other. The overseer could see the metaphorical light bulbs fizzling on and off as they gave her statement some serious thought. The mother took a good long drink of her fruit punch, placed the cup down... then they both stared Yukari in the eyes and said:

"...What's a youkai?"

"...Never mind." Yukari shook her head as Wally reappeared briefly, giving Ellen a smaller glass of fruit punch before getting back to work. "If you don't want to tell me who he is, fine. But as long as I'm needing to do research, I may as well ask around for that person's identity."

"What sort of research are you intending to do?" asked Amber, holding out her hand to keep Ellen from interrupting.

"Legendary Pokémon." Yukari's half-closed eyes glittered as she spoke, and this time she was sure that Amber, too, could feel some dangerous vibes from her. "Care to hear the details?"

"I saw a coffee stain once that looked like Groudon's head," Wally remarked as he showed up at the table with Midori's meal. "I added some more coffee and gave it Pikachu's body." He placed the bowl of specially-made food in front of the Ninetales, waited until she started eating, then returned to attend to the pizza(s) in progress.

"...On second thought, maybe we can continue the discussion later," Yukari admitted, completely thrown off by the chef's non sequitor.

Both Harrisons nodded, sensing that the mood train had been derailed. "Agreed."

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

It was one of those rare days where she was permitted to take some time off from her job. There was no need to look after the reactor, as a select team of kappa and several of the Underground's more unique youkai had been tasked with keeping things in order until she returned. It would be tough going, sure, but the bunch were confident that there'd be no major disasters requiring the 'services' of the Hakurei shrine. She'd shared what knowledge she could with them, then left for home to see what she could do today.

However, although Utsuho was gifted with powers far beyond the understanding of mortals...

"SHINYYYYY!"

...birds will always be birds.

/-/-/

Satori turned the stone over between her fingers a few times, appraising it. There wasn't anything special about it; it was only about as big as her thumb, and its coloring faded from orange to a light gray. It was about as common a rock as any in the Underground, and most people probably would've discarded it.

It said something that Utsuho was willing to show it to her, though. Ravens and crows typically hoarded any pretty-looking trinkets they found, and they fussed and chattered if anyone tried to take the things from them. If Utsuho wanted to give it to her, it was a sign not only that the hell raven thought highly of her and wanted to please her, but also that Satori took excellent care of her pets.

"It's a very lovely gift, Utsuho. Thank you."

As she was thrilled that Satori had liked her gift, Utsuho's face was made of grin. It faded when Satori asked her: "So. Did you think about how you wanted to spend your time today?"

Utsuho gave the floor a dejected look; she honestly hadn't given it much thought. "Um... where's Rin?"

"She told me that she wanted to improve her 'Cat's Walk' Spell Card," Satori explained to her. "So, she's asking around for someone to give her dancing lessons."

"...Dancing lessons? I don't get it."

"Neither do I, Utsuho. Neither do I. But it made perfect sense in her mind, and she promised to be home in time for dinner, so I let her off for the day as well." Satori placed the rock on her desk, next to the manuscript she'd been writing when Utsuho had arrived. "So. What were you wanting to do?"

What was I wanting to do? ...What was I...? Oh! The oni! The oni said that someone new showed up to challenge them! "Master, I think I want to see... um..."

"Whoever it was that was foolish enough to accept an oni's challenge?" Satori finished for her. "Well, if that's what you want to do, then by all means go ahead. Be careful, alright?"

"Okay!" Utsuho whirled around and flew out the door, wings flapping furiously in her eagerness. "See you later, Master!"

There was a short wait before her pet could no longer be heard, likely having left the Palace by now. Taking the rock she'd been given, Satori reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a small jar. After dropping the rock inside the jar and watching it land between all the other trinkets she'd been given over the years, she put the container away and resumed her writing where she'd left off.

...

Utsuho stopped in front of her door a second later, gazing curiously at her. She gave a little half-smile, thoughts ringing with goodwill, then left as quietly as she came. Satori looked up towards the door, a question mark appearing over her head, then shrugged and went back to work.

/-/-/-/

"Ma-chooooke!"

"Come and get it, big guy!"

A small crowd had gathered in the Underground City, watching Yuugi and her opponent- - -a musclebound humanoid akin to a tail-less reptile- - -trade blows and occasional danmaku bursts. The humanoid couldn't fly, and its bullets were limited by its need to concentrate prior to shooting them, but for now the combination of strength and martial arts skill balanced out Yuugi's raw power. Yuugi for her part was holding back, more interested in having a good fight than in overwhelming her foe with her Spell Cards.

It was this scene that greeted Utsuho when she arrived. She hovered at the back of the crowd and looked on as the fight progressed; she cheered with everyone else when Yuugi seemed to get the upper hand, and quieted when the humanoid put her on the defensive.

A chop from its left hand missed Yuugi by centimeters, giving the oni what she believed was an opening; she wrapped a bullet around her hand and tried to tag the humanoid's shoulder with it. No fool, the creature cut its chop short, tightened its hand into a fist and swung out to intercept the punch. Both fists connected solidly with each other, the bullet bursting on impact, and for a few seconds both combatants strained to push the other one back.

Assorted commentary did the rounds around the crowd, some of them making bets on who would win while others were content to see someone give the oni a worthwhile match. Utsuho overheard someone say that it was a best 2-of-3 competition, with Yuugi winning the first bout and the humanoid squeaking past in the second, but none of it really sunk in.

Utsuho turned to the nearest onlooker, the question she wanted to ask finally taking form. "Excuse me, but who's that she's fighting?"

"The Underground's newest resident, he is," said the small green youkai. "The brute showed up from out of nowhere, heavy lifting and such it does. Then the oni he walks up to, showing off its muscles. Been fighting for a week, they have."

"A week?" Utsuho looked unsure. "Nonstop? How would they have that much endurance?"

"Not nonstop," the youkai chided her, watching as Yuugi jumped over a fiery fist. "Meet everyday for fights, they do. Our language the brute can't speak, but suffice to say that barrier is no obstacle."

"Hmmm..."

Utsuho's brain latched onto a specific thought. What would it be like to really understand someone, whether it's through fighting or something else? There's no one else like me who can fully comprehend the powers I control. None of my fellow birds are capable of it. Some amongst the kappa try, they really do, but even they can't make much progress. What else is there? What can I do?

So distracted was she that she missed the whump that signalled the end of the fight. Utsuho looked up in time to see Yuugi stand up straight, the defeated brute lying dazed in a small crater. "Hah. You're getting stronger, I'll give you that... I may need to up the ante soon," the oni decided over the crowd's murmurings. She stooped down and helped the brute to its feet. "Keep working at it, big guy. Same time tomorrow?"

"Machoke," the humanoid replied, smiling toothily and giving Yuugi a thumbs up. The Deva grinned back and waved, then the two parted ways. The crowd around them dispersed, returning to their own lives and talking to each other about the latest fight.

Utsuho walked off absentmindedly, her mind working as best as it could. She still had the rest of the day ahead of her, and there were any number of things to do. Should I try to find more pretty rocks? Try to meet someone new?

Utsuho flew past Utsuho just then, minding her own business and chewing some sort of sweet treat. The hell raven opted not to notice. Maybe I could try to find Rin, see if she found someone to teach her how to dance. Maybe she could teach me how to dance, too? It sounds like fun. I wonder what Master Satori would... would...

Things finally clicked in the birdbrain's head. Waaiiiit a second! Did I just go past here? Where was I going?... She gasped. The Palace! Home! What would I want there? Why am I going there?

...Well, only one way to find out!

Thus distracted from her original goal, Utsuho whirled around and flew off towards home. I hope I didn't take my control rod. I need it more than I do!

/-/-/-/

Utsuho hadn't taken her control rod.

The Searing Divine Flame had only returned half a minute before, licking her lips after she finished eating that nice little snack that someone in the city had given her. She pondered what else she could do for a few seconds before deciding that her time was best spent exploring. There was a lot to see, and so little time with which to do it.

She searched her room for any spare change. Some shiny yen here, a bit of copper there...

"Heeeeyyyyy!"

The door to her room burst open, and Utsuho flew in. Expecting a fight, she'd rushed to retrieve her control rod from its hiding place before racing straight for where she'd expected herself to be. With her free hand, she pointed at herself and shouted: "Listen, me! I know I'm very good looking, but I want me to leave. Now!"

Utsuho shook her head at the order. "Why should I? I have no authority over me any more than I have authority over me."

"But you're going around being me!" Utsuho protested. "That's just wrong. The only one who's allowed to be me around here is me!"

"What kind of silly logic is that?" Utsuho retorted. She pointed at herself. "If I'm me..." ...and then at Utsuho. "And I'm me, then by all rights I should be allowed to go around being me."

Utsuho huffed. "That's not fair. Why couldn't I be someone else?"

"Why would I want to be someone else? There's nothing wrong with being me."

"But if both of me are being me, I wouldn't be able to live with myself, and then one of me would have to go."

"I raise a good point. Okay, how about a challenge? If I can prove that I'm allowed to be me, then I'll stop being me. But if I can't, then I'll keep being me. Does that work for me?"

Utsuho nodded. "Okay, but how will I know when the challenge will begin? I don't have a means of keeping time, and unless I don't, I'm stuck- - -"

"SHHUUUTTT UUUUUPPPP! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up, shut up!"

Utsuho and Utsuho, both of them beside themselves with shock, whirled around to face the door...and Rin, presently in the midst of a freakout. "Rin!"

"I don't know why there are two Utsuhos, but that can wait!" Rin tried mightily to calm herself down, but was only partially successful. "Just... stop being so confusing! You keep referring to each other in the first person, like you were yourself, and it's just... I can't understand a thing~!" she wailed.

One nuclear bird looked at the other, their wings drooping and their arms lowered. "It wasn't what we meant to do," the one on the right admitted. "It just came naturally to us, is all."

"Weren't you going to take dancing lessons or something?" Utsuho wondered.

"Yeah, I found someone to teach me, but I'm not starting until tomorrow... c'mon, we're getting off track!" Rin pointed at both Utsuhos in turn. "Which of you is the real deal? Which of you is my best friend? Which of you is Utsuho?"

"That would be her," said the one on the right, pointing at her lookalike. "She's the one with the metal stick on her arm."

"And the galaxy on her cape isn't moving," Utsuho pointed out. "So by default, she's the imposter."

Rin blinked, surprised. Um... alright? "Wait, it's that easy?"

"It's that easy," said not-Utsuho, sitting on the bed. "For the sake of the simple-minded, my race can completely transform themselves into other beings." She ignored Utsuho's awed chirp. "Those at high enough levels can imitate humans, too... or I suppose the correct term would be 'youkai', in your case."

The birdbrain was immediately hooked. "So... how'd you know to turn into me? Why not Rin, or even master Satori?" she questioned her, removing her control rod now that there wasn't much chance of a fight breaking out.

"I was in the reactor yesterday, and I'd seen you at work," the imposter confessed. "I was new to the area, so I wanted to look around and see the sights. Borrowing your form seemed like a good bet to make."

Now managing to regain control of her emotions, Rin was just as fascinated. "Well, you didn't cause anyone any trouble, so we can let you off the hook if you behave yourself. What do you really look like?"

Not-Utsuho obliged their unspoken request... turning into a small pink blob. Said blob saluted them the best it could. "Ditto!"

"Aw, it's so adorable!" Utsuho stooped down and picked Ditto up, holding it in her arms. "Where's master Satori? I want to ask her if I can keep it!"

"Aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself?" Rin asked, sweatdropping. "Yeah, it's cool and all, but we still don't know where it came from."

"But it's so cute! How can something so cute be dangerous to us?"

"Not all cute things are harmless," the kasha reminded her. "You should know that better than anyone."

"...Oh. Right," Utsuho murmured, wings drooping again. She set Ditto back down on the floor. "But it's still adorable. ... Wait!" she shouted, a finger raised. "It can turn into me, right? If I taught it how to work in the reactor, wouldn't it be able to earn its keep?"

"Wouldn't people start wondering if they start seeing two of you around, though?" Rin leaned against the door frame. "I know I did."

Ditto glowed white, re-transforming into Utsuho for the sake of communication. "I wouldn't need to look exactly like her," she suggested. "Remember, I can completely transform into other beings." She smiled. "Becoming a male of her species won't be a problem."

Rin's eyebrows raised. "I don't have any better ideas... ...well, alright. But this I just have to see."

Utsuho nodded, staying quiet for the moment and likely wondering if the claim was true.

Seeing that they were both in agreement, Ditto again showed off its transformative abilities. The clothes it was mimicking shifted into more of a formal uniform, and the bow in its hair turned into some sort of strange hat (although the average outsider would've recognized it as a baseball cap immediately). The feminine features became more masculine, proving Ditto's claim, and Rin had to admit that a male raven youkai was easy on the eyes.

Utsuho agreed. Wholeheartedly. She staggered back a step, then forward again. "...Rin? ...I think... I think I..."

"...Uh-oh," Ditto managed to utter before Utsuho, completely overwhelmed, fainted into his arms.

Rin had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing. "Hee... I bet you have girls falling for you left and right back home, huh?"

"It's not my fault, I swear!"

/-/-/-/-/-/-/

The next day...

"Master! Master, master, master, quickly, quickly, quickly!"

Satori set aside her quill pen as the excited voice and thoughts of her hell raven became too much to ignore. She turned to Utsuho, curious at the repetitive 'happy happy joy joy' that circulated in her mind; the nuclear bird was in the doorway, jumping up and down over and over. "Yes? What are you so excited about?"

"Come quickly! Come quickly!" Utsuho repeated, beckoning her. "I have to show you something!" As soon as the last word was out of her mouth, she whirled around and flew off.

Well, she's in a remarkably good mood this evening. I wonder what's gotten her feathers ruffled?

Satori obligingly got up and followed Utsuho out of the room, flying at a more sedate pace; by the time she reached the room set aside for the raven's use, her pet was all but bursting at the seams. "Well, Utsuho? Are you going to tell me what the news is, or am I going to have to guess?" she asked, smiling kindly.

Utsuho pointed at her bed, giggling. Quirking an eyebrow, Satori examined the bundle of blankets that lay at one end. A bit unusual... they're usually more strewn about than this. There was an indentation pressed into the center of it... again, strange. Why is it...

Then she saw the eggs. There were five of them, each of them a light cream in color with specks of black and brown... and just as Satori fully ascertained what they were, Utsuho picked her up in a joyous bear hug. "Master Satori! I'm so happy... I'm going to be a mother!"

...

...

...

...

There was really only one word that fit this situation, and Satori knew it.

"...What."

/-/-/-/-/-/-/

"Young mistress, could you open your mouth wide for just a moment?"

Flandre couldn't help but offer Sakuya a curious look. "Hm? Oh. Okay." She did as she was told, her bright white teeth all but gleaming in the dim light.

Sakuya leaned in for a closer look, examining the inside of her mouth from several different angles. Finishing the checkup, she straightened and frowned. "...Well, young mistress, I don't have an answer as to how this happened, but I think I know why you've been having trouble chewing your food."

"Really? What is it?"

"It's your fangs."

"Huh? What about them?" Flandre made no effort to keep the worry out of her voice.

Sakuya hesitated a few moments before she answered, having trouble believing what she was saying: "Your teeth are no different from mine or those of my co-workers, young mistress. Your fangs... have shrunk."

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/

Swadloon's Moveset: Bug Bite, String Shot, (Unknown), (Unknown)

Approximate Level: 22

Patchouli's Notes: There is little that I wish to say about my newest assistant, aside from it being unable to get along with Koakuma. Leave me be.

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Ditto's Moveset: Transform

Approximate Level: 58

Utsuho's Notes: What can I say? This is wow. Just pure and utter wow! Not only is it me, but it can be a male me! Or an oni! Or an earth spider! Or a satori! Or a tanuki! ...Wait, that's a reindeer. Don't be mad at me, doctor, I'm not sick or anything! I'm just happy!

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-ORIGINAL CHARACTER ALERT-

Name: Get That D&-/ Fairy Out Of The Kitchen!, or D.F. for short.

Quote: "No, I'm not confusing, just stupid."

Age: Unknown.

Species: Fairy.

Physical Description: A green-garbed fairy maid, one of many in the employ of Remilia Scarlet. Has the physical body of a 7-year-old human. Has twig-shaped wings with thin membranes. Short but unruly brown hair, and eyes of the same color. Wears a dandelion-shaped hair decoration behind her maid's headdress.

Personality: Like the rest of the fairies at the Mansion, D.F. is a few doughnuts short of a bakery... from a human's standpoint; from the view of her fellow staffers, she's clueless enough to make them look smart. Previously unnamed, it is said that she earned her moniker by causing a complete mess the first time she set foot in the kitchen. She lumps most of the people she knows into either "funny", "scary", "funny and scary", or "scary and funny" categories (and in her mind, it isn't as redundant as it seems). Absolutely loves sweet-tasting foods.

History: Lived in the Forest of Magic for many years before happily becoming the 'pet' of a noblewoman's descendant. Leonard Kirisame, amongst others, is rumored to have successfully convinced Remilia Scarlet to add the then-unnamed fairy to her staff later on (although how he did so remains a mystery to this day). Since every chore she ever tried to do ended in a spectacular disaster, it was decided that she could best serve by keeping a post near Flandre's chamber and alerting Sakuya whenever the younger Scarlet needed something. Even this at times is too much for D.F.'s tiny brain, but she willingly follows her instructions anyway.

Abilities: Dessert detection; if anyone is eating a sweet treat in the Mansion or in the surrounding area, she knows it. Aside from that, she also has the generic fairy powerset: flight, danmaku, and regenerative immortality.

-SEMI-ORIGINAL CHARACTER ALERT-

Our little stoic child may be Patchouli's analogue in this story- - -no need to hide that fact- - -but she's still a by-product of my mind.

Name: Ellen Harrison

Quote: "...You're standing in my light."

Age: 10 years

Species: Human

Physical Description: A bit short for her age. Has dark brown hair, almost black, that doesn't quite reach her shoulders and comes equipped with a pink alice band. Favors a blue shirt and pink corduroys. Has average strength, and keeps it that way by swimming and gardening whenever she isn't occupied with her books.

History: Pretty much the way it was described in-story. It should also be noted that although she doesn't have any Pokémon, she finds grass-types fascinating to watch.

Abilities: That enhanced intelligence of hers is not entirely natural...