Disclaimer: I don't own Pokémon or have any rights to it

Viridian Forest was an odd place for a stroll. Humans without pokémon avoided its dark and imposing canopy. Something always seemed to rustle the leaves, startling most travelers.

Vander and Molly had traversed the woods several times. They weren't easily lost.

Molly led the way, scanning the flora with well-honed crimson eyes. Her sleeveless shirt and tight jeans revealed a toned well-muscled body. She kept her brown hair in a single braid wrapped around her neck like a collar. One hand was always at the knife on her utility belt.

Vander looked like her son, but he wasn't. He stuck close to Molly, mimicking her as well as he could.

Molly stopped in a small clearing. "Look." She pointed to a patch of purple flowers growing near the base of a tree. "Those purple flowers, they make a great tea."

Vander crept to the tree, knelt, and yanked a plant out by the base of the stem. He eyed the taproot. "Can we eat the root?"

"We can." Molly knelt beside him to pluck her own. Then she stood and looked around. "Can you identify…those berries?" She pointed to a tree with spherical purple berries.

"Oran Berries." The name rolled off his tongue. He spotted some vines wrapped around the base of a tree. He noted that they weren't climbing the trunk. "Weird vines," he murmured. He unsheathed his pocketknife to take a sample.

Molly grabbed his shoulder. "Look more carefully." She pointed to something barely visible around the side of the trunk.

He followed her finger and saw the yellow object. "What is that?"

"It's a weepinbell. A big one." She let go of his shoulder. "It's waiting for something to get too close."

"An ambush?"

She nodded. "Wild pokémon are smarter than people think. They can make their own plans. Don't ever forget that." She then moved to pick an Oran Berry and took a bite. "You're teaching Firebrand now, but someday she'll evolve. Then she'll be smart enough to teach you."

There came a sound of breaking twigs and rustling leaves. Small pokémon scattered. A charmander emerged from the bushes. Her tail flame was bright yellow. She stopped, panting to catch her breath.

Vander knelt in front of her. "Firebrand! What happened?"

Firebrand screeched and frantically waved her arms. Then she turned and ran back with the two humans in tow.

They moved west, and emerged from the forest into a nursery. Firebrand led them past the four greenhouses and into the large cottage that sat atop a small hill.

A machoke lay passed out on the living room couch. His breathing was labored. A drop of sweat trickled down his temple. He groaned periodically.

A meganium, stood next to him. Her neck petals glowed and exuded a multicolored fragrance. She extended a vine to grab a cloth from the coffee table and wipe the sweat from the machoke's face.

Molly knelt beside her and touched Jeb's forehead. "Jeb's burning up! Has he been like this long Willow?"

Willow shook her head.

Molly nodded and went upstairs to her room. She was soon on her computer, contacting Viridian City's Pokémon Center through the videophone.

Vander came up just as the call ended.

"I'll Jeb to the center," Molly said as she extracted Jeb's poké ball from a drawer. "Look after things until I get back."

Vander's crimson eyes went wide. "What's happening to Jeb?"

"He might have a virus," Molly replied. "The nurse wants him at the center over night. He might even be there all week."

Vander watched Molly as she left with Jeb. Her brows were creased. Her skin had paled slightly. It was all he could think about as he awaited her return.

A couple hours passed. The pokémon were soon asleep in the living room.

Vander was sitting at the kitchen table. He stared at the berry field through the sliding glass doors.

Ring! Ring!

He dashed up the stairs, startling the pokémon.

Molly looked even paler through videophone. "Jeb's gotten worse. They need to treat him at the Saffron Center."

"The Saffron Center? That's a full day away!"

She nodded. "I don't feel good about sending Jeb there by himself."

Vander took a deep breath. "Maybe…I can take care of the nursery. I mean until Jeb gets better."

"Are you sure?" Molly locked eyes with him. "The murkrow will be here soon. Do you think you can handle them?" She thought back to last year's attack. She had let Vander sleep through it.

"I don't know." Vander ran a hand through his ink black hair. "But…you can stay with Jeb. Willow, Webster, and Firebrand can help me here."

She raised an eyebrow and frowned.

Vander tried to harden his stare. "Jeb needs you."

Her frown gave way to a tender smile. "Okay. I'll trust you. If you need anything, call the Saffron Center and ask for me."

He gave a stiff nod.

"Also, don't go out into the woods by yourself. Always go with one them okay?"

He nodded again. His hands were in his pockets and his arms were stiff. This would be new for him. Vander practically felt the extra weight on shoulder.

"Hey relax." Molly gave a toothy grin. "If anything goes wrong, you can call for help. You remember all the numbers right?"

"I do."

"Good." Molly then heard the nurse calling her. "I need to go now. I'll call when I get to Saffron City."

They said goodbye.


Vander shut the greenhouse door and bolted for the fields. He stopped near Willow, kneeling as he caught his caught his breathe.

She had been absorbing sunlight on the cottage's back patio.

"Did you see them?" he asked between breaths.

Willow opened her eyes, resisting the urge to roll them. She shook her head. Then she grabbed him with her vines, steering him to the back door.

Vander turned to protest. Then he saw the sun. It was partially obscured by Mt Silver. "Oh…I forgot it's tea time." He went inside to boil the kettle and get food ready.

Firebrand soon joined him. She spewed fire onto her hands to clean them.

Webster, a politoed, arrived moments later. He hopped over to the nearest bathroom.

Vander gave Firebrand her bowl of meat and set another bowl for Webster. Then he bit into his peanut butter sandwich. His eyes wandered to the field. He could see most of it from the kitchen. "Hey Webster," he asked when the politoed returned. "What are the murkrow like?"

Webster shrugged. He started flapping his arms and make pecking motions.

Vander sighed. "I know that they fly and peck." He cupped his chin. "Are they smart or strong?"

Webster tapped his head, and then nodded. After that he flexed his arms and then shook his head.

They're crafty, but weak. Vander opened his mouth, but Webster had already started eating. He opted just finish his sandwich.

Once finished, they all joined Willow on the patio.

The sun was setting.

"I checked the forecast. It'll be raining soon. So I guess we really just need to weed and…there's the murkrow." Vander took a deep breath. Part of him wished he'd been awake during the last murkrow attack. He had dreamt about the impending horde every night since Molly left. Every day, he'd stare at the fields in anticipation, wondering what it would be like when they finally arrived.

His wait would last another two days.


Webster had been weeding the fields with Firebrand. Willow had left her usual perch at the patio to help Vander germinate seeds in a greenhouse. Grey clouds had arrived. They blanketed the sky and made it look like evening.

A black feather glided to the ground near Webster.

He saw it and stiffened up. His eyes squinted as he examined it. He looked up and saw nothing. Then he was off. He found Firebrand several rows away.

Her pulse quickened at the sight of the feather. She continued weeding, but kept one eye on the sky.

Webster then left the field. He found Vander and Willow among the greenhouses.

"They're here?" Vander looked up at clouds. "You two should get to the fields. I'll lock up here so they can't get at the seeds." After locking the greenhouses he retrieved a wooden club from Molly's room. Cleary meant for an adult, it felt heavy and unwieldy in his ten-year-old hands.

The pokémon had formed a triangle. Willow watched from the patio while Webster and Firebrand patrolled the edges.

Vander quickly moved to the middle of the field. His eyes were glued to the sky as he paced back and forth. He would cock his head at the slightest sound. Hands held the club in a vice-like grip. Arms were ready to swing.

A lone black feather floated to the ground.

Vander took one look, and then resumed scanning the sky.

Glass shattered. A cottage window had been broken!

Vander tensed. "Willow, go check that out!"

She nodded and ran around to the front.

Vander's mind wandered a little. Molly had said they couldn't break glass. He stood stiff until something struck him in the back.

There was cackling.

Vander leapt to his feet, grabbed his weapon, and whirled around to find nothing. Was that a murkrow? He began circling as he paced.

None of the berries had been touched.

A loud high-pitched cry rang out from the other side of the cottage.

"Willow!" Vander heard Webster and Firebrand moving towards the cottage. They were leaving the fields.He hesitated. Another cry from Willow had him running for her.

A jet of fire shot through the air and several murkrow scattered. Firebrand had reached Willow.

Something else shot up even faster.

Vander could hear Firebrand and Webster battling when he reached the patio. There was a chorus of cackles. They shouldn't have attacked like that!Molly had told him they were disorganized.

There was an even louder chorus of cackles, and what looked like a large shadow descended from above the clouds and onto the fields.

Vander turned in time to get punched in the gut. All he saw was a dark blur before he was winded and on his back. He sat up, wincing from his aching abdomen. He saw what looked like a larger murkrow standing a few feet away.

It had a straighter beak, a larger and smoother hat with a much bulkier build. A prominent tuft of white hair covered its puffy chest. It opened its wings, revealing red inner feathers and was airborne with a single flap.

Vander stood quickly and ducked as it swooped over him to land on the cottage roof. Uber Murkrow? He picked up the club, holding it like a baseball bat.

A ball of blue energy shot up from the other side of the house and entered the clouds. The downpour began moments later.

The murkrow shrieked and headed for shelter in the forest.

Vander heard Firebrand cry out and the sound of the front door opening.

The larger bird looked up at the clouds before locking eyes with Vander.

He gulped, then ducked as it swooped over him before circling around and disappearing into the forest.


"…And it was larger and stronger than the other murkrow." Vander finished story to Molly over the videophone. "I checked the crops this morning, the rain is keeping the murkrow away, but they got some of the berries."

Molly smiled. "It always happens, even with Jeb around. That's why we grow high value Pamtre berries." She ran a hand through her unbraided hair. "You said the murkrow shattered one of the windows, and then attacked Willow."

"Yeah. Firebrand was able to weld the glass shut, but it doesn't look pretty. Willow's okay, but I told her to rest today."

She nodded. "You're doing well." Her face turned grim. "Webster's Rain Dance brought the rain early. It's only bought you a couple days. The murkrow will be stuck until the rain lets up."

"I'll try and find out about the big one."

"Do that," Molly replied with a nod. "I have a feeling it's what caused the change. I might be an evolved murkrow."

Vander nodded. "How did you fight the murkrow with Jeb around? You said they were never this aggressive, but the field is so big"

"They came down in disorganized mobs and just wanted easy food. We could usually drive them off fairly quickly with strong attacks. If the winds were correct, Willow could spread Poison Powder or Sweet Scent around."

"That big one is the real problem." He remembered how calm it had looked, even when the rain started.

Molly's cell phone began ringing and her eyes widened when she saw the number. "I have to go now. There is an update on Jeb's condition. Focus on finding out what that mystery pokémon is. I'll call you later."

Vander closed the phone app and opened a browser.

Firebrand crawled into his lap to watch. She was almost charmeleon-sized.

"Some people might think you're ready evolve," Vander said as he adjusted to her weight.

Firebrand gave a coy smile. She purred when he scratched her chin.

"First we need to know what we're looking for. It's definitely not a murkrow, but it looks similar." He typed 'evolved form of murkrow' and got several results. "…Honchkrow?"

The link led to an encyclopedia. The article's image matched what they had seen.

Firebrand's eyes lit up. Her inert flame grew slightly

Vander began scrolling and reading out loud. "Same type…Evolves with a dusk stone. How does a wild murkrow find a dusk stone?" Vander cupped his chin. "I guess it just needed to steal one or something." He shrugged.

They were soon all gathered in the living room.

"My guess is that Honchkrow took control of the flock and organized it. So beating Honchkrow might make them panic."

The other three nodded.

Willow, who had been lying next to the sofa turned to look out the window. It had been pouring all night. She slowly got up and eyed the muddy terrain.

Vander joined her at the window. "That'll make running difficult." His eyes drifted to the trees. "They'll be sleeping up there. Maybe if we attacked while they were still in the trees, we could drive them off." He turned to Willow. "Can you reach up into the canopy with any of your attacks?"

She shook her head.

He nodded and stared out into the forest. "I'm going out there. We'll need to see where they're sleeping. Murkrow are usually nocturnal so they probably won't attack."

Firebrand tugged at his pants. She wanted to follow him, but the rain made it impossible.

Webster gave her a pat on the head and volunteered himself.

They left once Vander was in his raincoat.

It was dryer than expected under the canopy. They had not walked far when something fluttered above them. The branches were filled with murkrow!

Most were asleep, but Vander saw a few glancing around. "I'll bet Honchkrow's on one of the higher branches." He turned to Webster and put a finger to his lips.

An hour later, they had mapped out the roost. It stretched the entire border between the forest and nursery. After returning home they drew out a rough map of where it was.

"They'll be attacking from the east. We might be able to beat a bunch of them back, but Honchkrow will be tough and there are so many of them. We need something to knock out or occupy as many murkrow as possible." He turned to Webster. "Know any ice moves?"

Webster shook his head.

"Then we'll…maybe." Vander quickly put on his raincoat. "Let's go back out Webster, I have an idea." He began tying the laces on his boots. "Maybe we can get some forest pokémon to help."

They moved past the roosting murkrow.

"What we need to find is a large group of pokémon. Maybe a flock of pidgey."

An hour-long search failed to turn up any pokémon they could talk to. Most were up in the trees, and calling them didn't work.

Webster spotted something and grabbed Vander's raincoat sleeve. He pointed to a nearby tree with several kakuna hanging from it.

"Where there's kakuna there's beedrill. We can't ask them for help." His eyes widened Then he tested the forest floor and found it relatively firm. "Hey Webster, do you think you can outrun a swarm of beedrill?"

Webster's eyes widened and he shook his head vigorously.

Vander smiled. "Maybe I can," he whispered.

They moved on and found a river. It looked to be flowing south, past Viridian City and towards the northern edge of Pallet Town.

He followed the river with his eyes. "It looks deep and the current's pretty strong. Could you drag us both against the current if you had to?"

He nodded, staring intently. Vander wasn't giving him much to go on, but it looked like he had an idea.

They followed the river to a point where it widened. The rain was making it swell slightly.

"Look." Vander pointed out a weepinbell.

It was trying to hide behind one of several riverside trees.

Vander spotted several more, each behind a different tree. "They're waiting to ambush whatever comes for a drink." He smiled and approached them slowly.

Webster grabbed his pant.

Vander gave him a smile. "Don't worry. I have a plan. He turned back to the grass pokémon. "Hey!"

They pretended not to notice.

"Weepinbell! Are you hungry!" This garnered some response. "I have a idea for you." He cautiously inched towards them.


Willow closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She was frowning. If only the clouds were thinner. Her frown deepened, muscles stiffened. Then her neck petals glowed bright gold before shooting large gold beams into the clouds.

It was the mother of all Sunny Days.

Willow smiled proudly as the clouds parted. It would last at least five hours.

The cackles started twenty minutes in. A large black mass erupted from the trees.

Vander watched carefully from his spot behind a greenhouse. He clutched Webster's poké ball in his right hand.

Willow mustered up what strength she could, swiping at the swarm as it passed overhead.

Several murkrow fell to her attacks while most neared the field. They were in a fairly tight formation.

Firebrand emerged from between the rows and spewed out a jet of fire.

They scattered. Several were knocked out.

Willow saw Honchkrow a few minutes into the battle.

It descended upon her, beak first.

Her vines pulled back. She braced for impact. The blow shook her to the bone. Willow quickly wrapped her vines around its wings. Now she could only hold on as Honchkrow slashed and pecked at her.

Vander's heart raced as he ran up to the patio and grabbed an unconscious bird by the neck. "Hope this part works," he muttered.

Honchkrow saw him and shrieked.

Vander turned and sprinted for the forest.

The bulk of the murkrow swarm turned to give chase.

Firebrand had her hands full. Three murkrow were circling and attacking her. She leapt above one's peck only to get knocked to the ground by another. Then she rolled aside to avoid a third.

Willow kept her eyes shut. Each blow from Honchkrow sent a sharp pain coursing through her. She squeezed her vines as hard as she could around its wings.

Firebrand leapt back as the murkrow dove at her. She spun and sent ember pellets at the three.

They blocked with their wings.

Firebrand tackled one to the ground. She put all her weight onto its head as they fell. With one down she turned and received a peck to the chest.

The murkrow tried to pull back.

She ignored the pain and grabbed its hat.

It screeched and struggled, but was soon engulfed in fire.

The third murkrow backed away. A glare from Firebrand made it retreat.

Then another black swarm emerged from the trees. Honchkrow had held back half the flock. Driven by hunger and seeing an opportunity, they flew over the cottage and onto the berry fields.


Vander's lungs were burning as he ran through the forest. He had slowed a little, but could still keep ahead of the pursuing horde. The trees actually gave him an edge.

The angry caws of the murkrow swarm echoed through the forest.

The kakuna and beedrill were still asleep when he ran by their tree. They didn't know he threw something, only that a murkrow slammed into one of them.

The noisy murkrow flock flew by.

A swarm of beedrill soon followed.

Vander smiled when he heard a faint buzzing amidst the angry caws. He had reached the river. Now it was Webster's turn.

Webster emerged from his poké ball and then dove with Vander into the river. He was soon towing Vander against the current. Both could hear the murkrow flying above them.

Angry caws quickly turned to distressed shrieks.

They surfaced several feet away from the battle.

The beedrill easily overpowered the surprised murkrow. Twineedles dispatched their less experienced opponents in a few hits. Only an unlucky few fell to the river.


Willow felt her strength slipping away. Honchkrow was almost free. Her vines were slacking.

Then Firebrand leapt onto its back. She latched on with her claws. When Willow lost her grip, Firebrand clung on as Honchkrow flew into the air. Her eyes were tightly shut.

Honchkrow flew in loops, swooping and diving at high speed. It shrieked when Firebrand wouldn't let go.

The murkrow ignored their leader's distress. Grumbling bellies drove them to ignore the battle and feed. The fields looked unguarded. They eyed the fruits lustfully, each one picking a tree to gorge itself.

Firebrand focused and spewed out a spiraling flame, engulfing herself and Honchkrow.

It shrieked, tapping into even greater speed. Firebrand dug into its hide, but Honchkrow dislodged her after several loops, not without losing few feathers. It flew away, still engulfed in flames.

Firebrand's tail flame turned bright yellow as she plummeted to the patio. She shut her eyes, Her body tensed for impact. Then she felt something wrap around her torso and slow her fall.

Willow set Firebrand gently onto the patio. Then she closed her eyes and collapsed.

Firebrand thanked her, and then looked out at the fields.

The murkrow had eaten their first berries when they began feeling strange. It was more difficult to move. A few looked down and bolted, flying shakily to the forest. Vines crept up the base of the trees, coiling around the ankles of the oblivious birds. A chorus of surprised chirps filled the field. Those who hadn't flown away were yanked down the sides of the trees.

Vander and Webster came running out of the woods. Both were soaked, but neither was damaged.

Webster had to stop and catch his breath.

Vander spied the retreating flock. "It worked!" He promptly returned Webster and then found Willow. He knelt beside her. "Sorry you had to go through that." He rubbed her head and then went inside to retrieve her ball.

Firebrand met him at the door with the ball in hand. Her flame was its normal color, but flicked about more vigorously at the sight of her trainer.

Vander took Willow's ball. "I saw Honchkrow on the way here. It was on fire. Good job." He knelt so he could reach her chin and scratch it.

Firebrand purred at sensation.

Everyone was soon inside. Willow and Webster were resting in their balls while Firebrand sat with Vander in the kitchen.

"The weepinbell will probably leave when the rain starts up. Let's avoid the fields until tomorrow." He looked at the sky. Clouds were only just starting to come back. "It won't rain for a while. Willow really outdid herself." He stood and got ready to go back out.

Firebrand looked up from her bowl of meat and hopped down from her chair.

Vander held out his hand. "Keep eating. I'm just going to check on the greenhouses before the rain comes back." He left and started a brief sweep of the greenhouses, plucking any weeds he saw from the flats.

Twenty minutes later the clouds were noticeably thicker.

Vander shut the door to the last greenhouse. He had only walked a few feet when a powerful blow to the back sent him face-first into the muddy ground. Rolling onto his back he scanned the area.

A black feather floated to the ground behind him.

He stood and saw it. His heart raced. He needed Firebrand. A sound behind made him turn around. He raised a fist only to double over from a blow to the gut.

Honchkrow landed a foot away. It waited until Vander looked up before slapping him with its wing.

Everything felt shaky. He was on all fours, trying in vain to stand. It felt like his body was too heavy while the ground was spinning and tilting. Then a sharp pain struck his back, followed by several others.

Honchkrow's pecks drew blood. It chose a new spot each time. No single wound got too deep.

Then Vander found his voice.

Honchkrow was unfazed by the screams and the blood as it peppered the boy with more pecks. It could've kept at it for hours.

Firebrand's angry screech finally halted the bird's attack. Her flame was triple its usual size, bluish white and flickering violently.

Honchkrow locked eyes with her. Its feathers were singed, and its back still ached from the claw marks. A few wing flaps had it airborne.

Firebrand spun around and sent embers flying from her tail to its face. Then she flattened her body against the mud as Honchkrow sailed above her. The mud made it difficult to push up.

Honchkrow turned just as she stood up. It knocked her back down and circled back for another pass.

Firebrand raised her head and spat out a jet of fire.

Honchkrow swerved left to evade. It circled and swooped at Firebrand's back.

She predicted the attack and flicked embers from her tail.

Vander stood. His jaw clenched from the searing back pain and his aching bruised eye. He saw Firebrand stop Honchkrow with an ember

The bird recovered quickly and circled round.

She needed to get off the ground and grab it. Vander saw Honchkrow swooping in. "Use Flamethrower to get off the ground!"

Firebrand inhaled deeply before sending a larger jet of fire into the ground below her. It pushed her into the air.

Honchkrow tried to stop, but its momentum carried it past Firebrand.

She dove head first, arms outstretched. Her claws grasped Honchkrow's tail feathers. She tucked her tail between her legs to avoid dragging it.

Honchkrow tried to stop and dislodge her.

She held tight. Her momentum pulled Honchkrow.

They were both on their backs in the mud.

Gripping with one hand, Firebrand turned onto her belly and opened her mouth.

"Watch its legs!"

Firebrand caught an incoming kick. Her grip was ironclad. She released the tail feathers to grab its other leg.

Honchkrow couldn't kick. It tried to shake her off with brute force.

Firebrand opened her mouth and spewed out a jet of fire. It scorched Honchkrow's white chest feathers.

Vander felt a rain drop on his nose. His smile faded.

It was drizzling.

Honchkrow howled in pain. Its movements were more spastic.

"Use Fire Spin and break away!"

Firebrand had felt the drops. She spewed out a spiraling flame that engulfed Honchkrow's body. She let go moments later.

Honchkrow kicked her off rolled over and took flight. The searing pain didn't last long in the rain.

Firebrand tucked her tail between her legs to shelter her shriveling flame. It was turning bright yellow.

Honchkrow swooped at her. A white aura engulfed it.

Vander started slinging mud.

The first glob struck its side, throwing off its aim. Honchkrow circled around and received another in the chest.

Firebrand shuddered as more raindrops fell.

Vander saw Honchkrow land atop a greenhouse. He scrambled to Firebrand. The cool raindrops dulled his burning back.

Firebrand's flame was a mere flicker.

Vander tucked her underneath his t-shirt.

The downpour picked up.

His clothes would be soaked soon. Vander wished he had brought her poké ball. He turned to Honchkrow. His heart was racing.

It stared down at them.

Their eyes met.

The boy and charmander were weak now. It could finish them with a strong attack. That would leave it drained and caught out in the rain. Its wings still held a fair amount of mud, hours of preening. Its flock had scattered. They were probably scared without it to guide them.

Vander knelt as Honchkrow swooped at them.

It barely missed his head.

He turned and saw it retreat into the woods. Then he ran for the cottage.


The flock didn't return. Molly came back with a healthy Jeb the following week.

Molly and Vander were drinking tea at the kitchen table. The pokémon had gone outside to enjoy the midsummer weather.

"I told Professor Oak about the murkrow attack."

Vander took a sip. "Is he mad?"

Molly chuckled and shook her head. "I started by telling him that you and Firebrand were okay. First he asked me a bunch of unanswerable questions about Honchkrow."

Vander cracked a cheeky smile.

"Then he told me that he thinks you're ready."

There was a moment of silence.

"I can travel now?" His eyes went wide with excitement.

Molly reached over the table to ruffle his hair. "Just wait until your wounds heal up."

Vander cringed a little when he accidently leaned back. His back was peppered with reddish spots. They would scar up. At least his black eye would disappear.

"The professor isn't just letting you leave. Firebrand is technically still his pokémon. There will be rules."

Vander gulped down the last of his tea. "What are they?"

Molly nodded. "Take notes on what you see." She finished her tea. "The professor working on a portable encyclopedia for young trainers. This is also the first time he's let someone leave with a rare pokémon. Naturally he wants updates on how Firebrand grows."

Vander nodded. "Got it." He stood to put away the teacups.

"Also. If you see you-know-who, don't go after him. You're forbidden from trying until after you beat the Elite Four. Then Firebrand will officially be yours."

Vander nodded. "I understand." He gave Molly a hug. "I'll come back and visit you a lot."

She nodded. "Come back if you ever feel scared." They parted after a few seconds. "You should start getting ready now. Go tell Firebrand, then make a list of what you need."

Vander nodded and was off. He would set out a few weeks later. By then his black eye would have faded and his back wounds given way to diamond-shaped scars.