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Gaiien Region: Gods and Demons: Chapter 11

by Keleri

Keleri A rescue. A confrontation. A contemplation. A parting.
Chapter 11


—June 20th-21st 128 CR

Moriko and Russ were halfway to the ranger rendezvous when they got a text from Matt's pokédex.

Syl hurt need help

Russ's face went pale, and his hand went to his belt for a pokéball that wasn't there.

"We need to—Sylvia—we—"

Moriko grabbed Liona's pokéball and then froze. "Shit, how do we—I don't have a water-type—"

"We could—"

The mooskeg. She should've done this hours ago.

She threw its ultra ball, and it reformed, bellowing. It slumped to the ground.

"Gods," it was moaning, "gods of my ancestors, why—what is—ah gods—"

Moriko had a potion ready and some candy. "Hey! How are you feeling? So, my name's Moriko and—"

"You! You! You imbecile, you walking parasite infection, you did this to me? I will end you—"

Rufus burst out in orange light, intercepting the mooskeg's vines and letting them wrap around his arm.

Moriko jumped backward. "Shit—"

"Don't fight anymore," Rufus grunted. "You lost already."

"I? Lost? Against two—three!—assailants, assassins, sneak-thieves, you will see just how hard I can fight and shall continue to fight—"

Oh gods. Moriko had her hands up, placating, half behind Rufus to shield herself from the mooskeg's vines and snapping teeth. "The battle's over! I'm here to heal you. Listen, I need your help—"

"My help? My help? Ah yes, what a persuasive way to ask for help—"

Rufus grunted as the mooskeg soaked him with a water gun. It started a wobbly charge and he grabbed its antler, spinning it around in a counter that left it collapsed on the dirt trail.

Moriko stepped forward again. "Listen, there's a ronin in the forest, burning it! We saw an arboar, it said its child… they all killed a ronin and its child ate it. And our friend went to capture it—"

The mooskeg brayed a bitter laugh. "Fool trainer, you run away from ronin and the idiots who take up their ghost-eaten souls, not toward!"

"Our friend is stuck, we need your help, I need your water attacks to—"

"I will do absolutely nothing and you will restore me, you putrescence, you bird mess baking in the sun, you brainless, spineless streak of animal piss—"

Moriko recalled the mooskeg.

"Huh," Rufus rumbled. "It seems upset."

"Mor…" Russ said.

"I need to heal it," she said. She didn't look at him. I need to keep it. She blew out her breath. "What do we do? We only have Liona now. I guess I could take Conall—"

Russ shook his head. He started tapping out a reply to Matt. "No, we need to meet with the rangers. How could you fly back with Matt when Liona can't carry double?"

"Godsdammit!" Moriko burst out, frustrated, but he was right. "Let's go, then."

They made it to the rangers' camp some time later after a breathless, marathon hike. For once, there were no rangers they recognized, and their pokédexes didn't trigger notifications on scan.

The rangers had a mobile monitoring station set up, with computers showing weather and aura radar. The aura map still showed swirling fire- and air-type energy, but the juniors on screen duty assured them that it was energy from the forest fire and not the ronin. It had died or been captured.

They had a healing machine for the pokémon and rations for Moriko and Russ. A ranger-lieutenant and an adult ranger insisted on going out to retrieve Matt on their own; they took off on a large skarmory and wartinger, flying off over the treetops. Moriko watched them go with mingled annoyance and relief. Sylvia needed help, but flying to the perimeter of a wildfire was best left to the professionals.


Matt sat alone, shivering with pain and nausea. Maia was hurt, Bjorn was hurt, Sylvia was hurt, Tak was… not hurt, but not reliable. He'd walked away from the battle site, the stray energy sure to draw scavengers. This was pathless forest, only accessible by flying pokémon or a long, careful journey on foot, and he walked upwind, away from the smoldering destruction the svarog had left behind.

Leaving his bag and gear with Russ and Moriko for expedience had seemed smart, earlier. He hoped they'd got his text. He really did.

He climbed a tree, wedging himself against the trunk. Back in Johto, a hiker had shown him and Sam the trick to napping up there, but it had never quite worked for him. He either stayed put, sleepless, or went limp and fell. He sighed. That sounded like a metaphor for something.

The shadows lengthened as he waited; the air was hazy, but the wind didn't change direction. The more quiet, the more still he held himself, the more he felt the presences of his pokémon in their pokéballs; the more he felt the presence of the forest, a vast organism. There was a world of spirit overlaid on a world of matter, and pokémon and humans stepped between them, sometimes at their peril.

He must have dozed after all, because suddenly the light was dim, and he saw a dozen arboar looking up at him from the forest floor. His heart thudded in his chest, watching their eyes glitter in the light from their spirit flames, and he remembered that fire tended to burn upward.

Matt waited for someone to speak. He wondered if they wanted him to throw down the svarog's pokéball or release it, but he did nothing and so did they.

Eventually one put its head down and moved off, and then another and another, and soon the wood was dark again, the procession of flames departing and disappearing among the trees.

Were your parents sad when you left? he asked Maia.

She laughed, a mental ripple. My parent had more energy than he knew what to do with, thanks to the breeder. No hard-fought-for, cherished child was I. He looked to the next egg, and I to my trainer.

I'm sorry.

There is nothing to regret.


The rangers returned with Matt in the evening. He was more or less intact, and he returned Sylvia's pokéball gratefully—a symbolic gesture, as it and Matt's other pokéballs promptly went into the healing machine.

The rampaging pokémon had been a svarog, the arboar's evolved form, and they studied and whistled at the database entry for it on their pokédexes. He held it back from healing temporarily; it wasn't fatally injured, so it could sit in its pokéball. He needed to meet it one-on-one, first, and a healthy pokémon could break out of the ball if it figured out the trick.

Moriko had held back the mooskeg, too. It was kind of scummy, but sometimes it was a good negotiating position. Russ was right: she should just release it, but it was strong and she needed a water-type for the fire gym. She might be able to persuade it; it liked to fight, and anyway it could leave if it really wanted to.

She had to win here. She couldn't boost again.

The rangers' captain soon came around to speak with them, a stocky, muscular guy with pink braided hair.

"Ranger-Captain Tanager, west Gaiien wing," he said, shaking their hands. "So! You're the kid who went after the ronin," he said to Matt. "That was an incredibly dangerous thing to do, and quite frankly, you risked your life for nothing. I'm going to need you to surrender that svarog to me."

A tense silence descended. Moriko watched Matt carefully not react. How are you gonna get out of this one?

"We met a relative of the svarog in the forest," Matt said slowly. "It asked us to capture it in the hope that it would recover from its delirium. It deserves an opportunity to learn to control its power."

Tanager raised an eyebrow. "And what makes you think a mid-level trainer can provide that better than the ranger corps?" Nevertheless, he pulled out his pokédex. "You'd be dead if you thought a ronin was just a powerful pokémon you could put to your own advantage. I respect the bond that's formed when a trainer captures a pokémon and all that horseshit."

"I'm right here, dude," a sceptile called to him across the clearing, and Tanager grinned and gave it a cheerfully rude hand gesture.

Matt's pokédex beeped.

"Meet me there outside of Russet Town tomorrow, and we'll see how your svarog is feeling after a healing and some rest. If it's still out of control, you'll surrender it to me. If you try to skip town, you'll never be able to come in range of wi-fi ever again, because as soon as your pokédex pings I'll be there waiting for you. We clear?"


"Good. Until then."

"I feel like we've really had rangers up our collective asses this summer," Moriko said, when they were out of earshot.

Matt snorted. "They're usually around on most routes in other regions, helping kids and passing out food and water, and berries for pokémon. I admit I haven't seen so much of this side of them, the fist instead of the picnic basket." He yawned. "Russ, I… Sylvia saved my life. Thank you very much." He bowed formally.

"You can thank her," Russ said easily. He passed Matt and Moriko each a can of juice. "And you don't get to say something like that without telling me the entire story. I want all the details."


Russet Town, the tier four gym town, was arranged along the road up Cardinal Peak. There was an uphill climb from the pokémon center at its lower end, the road switchbacking along and lined with houses and hotels. Higher up were the entrances to the hot spring pools, and the fire-type gym.

The rangers gave them a ride into town, on flying pokémon that touched down at the pokémon center after covering the distance in a few hours. Moriko was embarrassed by how she staggered, bowlegged, off the helpful ranger-borfang's back; she really needed to get used to flying.

Moriko's mood nosedived when they saw Angela and the rest in the 'center, clustered around a table in the cafeteria. They looked exhausted, hair mussed and unwashed, with dark half-moons under their eyes. Moriko doubted her group looked much better after the night they'd spent terrified of being attacked.

Why would they look tired, anyway, when Angela had the item storage device that Rachel had bought her? Moriko had had to carry everything and cut down on weight by sacrificing items and doing without. With the expensive storage devices, they could carry extra food, water, all their comforts at their fingertips. She was almost offended. What could they possibly—?

Moriko realized that someone was missing.

"…Where's Dave?" Russ asked.

"Dave is en route to the hospital in Porphyry City," Angela said blankly.

"Shit, is he okay?"

Vic laughed too loud. "The last time I saw him he looked like a slasher movie, so, not great."

Angela started crying, and Russ sat beside her and hugged her. Moriko fled; she didn't have words for them.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Russ asked.

"Ophelia attacked Dave," Vic said dully, after Ange couldn't get a word out without sobbing. "Rio and Garon managed to faint her eventually. Then we used our emergency beacon."

"What the fuck," Russ breathed, his head in his hands. Dave had received Ophelia at the same starter distribution the rest of them had, and he'd watched her grow up with Sylvia and Rufus and the others. Images of Ophie as a sylpup and a timbark whirled through his mind.

Images of Sylvia rearing taller than him and coming down, jaws open, whirled through his mind. He shook his head to clear it.

"Was it a mistake? A borfang is a big pokémon…"

"No," Vic said, her gaze far away. "No, it was… sustained. She was coming for him. For us."

"Did she say anything? Did—fuck. Fuck, I'm sorry, I'll stop prodding. I just…" Russ trailed off.

"I know," Kai said. He held up Cavall's pokéball. "I want to know what he did wrong. I want to know that he did something wrong."

Moriko eavesdropped on them, around the corner of the pokémon center lounge.

It was easy to believe that Dave had done something unforgivable, something out of line, to make his pokémon attack him—that meant she was safe, because she had never done anything bad.

Hadn't she?

The mooskeg was in its ball on her hip, hurt and disoriented and trapped.

She felt sick. She took it to the healing counter.


"Your friends from school are back," Matt said to her.

"They're not my friends." Moriko pulled off her boots and put up her feet on the coffee table. She sighed, sinking back into the plush couch.

The pokécenter had gone for that old second-crossing mountain-stronghold look, with mortared stone walls and thick carpet and wall hangings. There were oil paintings of mountains and lakes arrayed around the room, and one depicting a hunting scene, with spear- and bow-wielding medieval people chasing rabbits, pheasants, deer, a boar. An unlit fireplace dominated the center of the room with a wide flue up to the rafters, and TVs were mounted around it playing a news channel with scrolling messages and talking heads.

It was late; a couple of other trainers passed through the lobby with a suiline and a Gaiienese teddiursa, turning in for the night. Moriko had heard the phrase 'too tired to sleep', and she felt like she knew what it meant. She'd try to just sit, get a drink from the self-serve fridge in the cafeteria, and by the time the pokémon were done healing maybe she'd be ready for bed.

"What did they have to say in there?" Matt asked.

"The pity party? Dave's borfang attacked him. They don't know why."

Matt looked at her sharply. "'Pity party'? Did Dave survive being attacked by a dragon-type?"

"Sounds like it. They airlifted him to Porphyry for regen," she said, ignoring his tone.

"You don't care?"

"I care about his pokémon." She didn't look at him. "If she attacked him, it must have been for a reason."


"He'll be fine. Ophelia might not be," Moriko said, thinking of Liona's brother. Killer pokémon were made, Captain Grouse had told her. Made by abuse or hardship, surely? How the fuck had the comfortable, boring lifestyle of a suburban hobby trainer done it?

"What did he do to you that warrants maiming?"

Moriko's lip curled. "Not—ugh, look, I don't care about him or that group. Sucks for him he got hurt I guess. I do not have the mental energy to waste on them."

Matt was watching her. "What did they do?"

"They were just—" She rolled her eyes. "They were shitty to me in middle school. Always. I didn't know what a friendly question sounded like then, it was always a prelude to an attack, something I'm currently reliving."

Matt laughed. "They never changed?"

"Oh, they stopped in high school. I'm sure they saw some educational video on bullying and changed their tune. But I know what they're like under the smiles."

Matt nodded. Something about his expression had softened. "I'm glad I was homeschooled."

"Trainer Moriko Sato, come to the front desk immediately."


The mooskeg had burst out of its pokéball as soon as the healing was completed, and now it was snarling at everything—the lights, the unfamiliar surroundings, the blissey and audino on duty. A wintris barked an order at it and it readied its vines, challenging.

"Stop this at once," the blissey said, throwing up dual reflect screens in the hallway. "You need to go outside—"

"Uh," said Moriko.

"Are you the trainer?" the audino demanded.


"Moriko Sato?" one of the pokémon doctors—a human pokémon doctor said, a tiny woman with a severe expression. "Return your pokémon to its pokéball and come with me."

"No! No! Not again!" the mooskeg bellowed, slapping the reflect screens with its vines.

"—or not," the doctor said.

"You're fine! You're fine! No pokéballs!" the blissey roared back.

"Dr. Zadie, I told you it was pokéball-phobic," the audino said, reproving.

"…You did, yes. Sorry, Li Li."

"So, you want me to…?" Moriko asked, her eyes darting between the doctor and the furious pokémon.

The blissey and wintris managed to herd the mooskeg outside into the exercise area and then turned their backs on it, ignoring it to return to their duties indoors. The mooskeg visibly calmed in the open space, swiping in their direction half-heartedly with its vines.

"You should be fleeing," it said, unconvincingly.

Moriko and Dr. Zadie followed it outside.

The doctor turned toward her. "Do not bring dangerous pokémon into the pokémon center! Did you even check up with it after capture?"

Moriko smiled uneasily. She didn't think it would learn to open the ball that fast.

"It did seem a little agitated, so I thought bringing it in for a healing would be best," she said. That wasn't exactly a lie.

"That is a large animal that could hurt someone very badly, no levels needed. As a trainer you must exercise caution, not just for your own safety but that of those around you. Do you understand? What are you going to do next?"

"I was hoping to talk to it again—"

"Release it. Show it the deactivated pokéball and tell it to go. It is not happy," Zadie said. "Clear?"

"Clear," Moriko said meekly.

The doctor nodded and went back inside.

Moriko watched the mooskeg. It was calmer, inquisitive, watching the other pokémon in the yard and the city lights, smelling the unfamiliar night air. Moths fluttered against the lights around the 'center. The yard wasn't enclosed. It could leave at any time.

I can't boost again. I can't. It has to be me.

She took a deep breath, and she released Tarahn.

The mooskeg's head snapped around. "So!" it boomed. "You think you can beat me a second time?"

Moriko put up her hands, placating. "No, we—"

"Yes," Tarahn said.

"Tarahn. I just want to talk."

"The time for talk was long before you attacked and abducted me, human trainer," it said. It walked around the yard, head raised as it peered around, more and more confused. "Where are we?"

"This is Russet Town, we're a few days' journey south of where I—fought you."

"What is that smell? I will return to my forest at once."

Okay. Okay. Moriko opened her pokédex map application and pointed north. "You'll have to go that way, the fastest route is—"

It narrowed its eyes. "Through what danger? Through whose territories? You will take me there."

"I can't right now, we're fighting the gym in town—"

"Ah yes, it is too inconvenient to guide me back to my home, but it was not too inconvenient to abduct me, to spirit me away—"

"You don't know anything about humans," Tarahn said smugly. "If you did you'd know—"

"I know many things about humans! I have heard that they send their young away to schools to do battle in ferocious tests of strength and skill! They have invented dry nutriments to sate their terrible hunger, which they indulge on the flesh of animals, and they walk into our territories and abduct people!"

"No one gets abducted," Tarahn protested.

The mooskeg whirled. "Then why am I here? Why am I here despite my protests?"

"Just leave if you want to so bad," Tarahn said, annoyed. "You can tell the chansey—"

"To where? I do not recognize these trees or roots or this fire and sulfur in the air! Where is my river? Where is my wood?"

Moriko keyed her pokédex. "If you look at this map—"

"A box with colors! What does that mean?" it demanded.

"I'll take you back!" Moriko shouted. "I'll take you back. I will. We will go back. I will walk you there. Just. We can't leave right away. We're challenging the gym. After that."

The mooskeg sighed. "Yes, yes. I await your convenience."

"And…" Images whirled through her mind, of broken bodies and mangled ones, of the mooskeg screaming and groaning when she'd let it out of the ball. "…Maybe you'd like to battle the gym leader? It's a fire-type gym, you'd have the advantage." It was easier once she'd said it; she thought of Matt enticing Tak the honchkrow. "They probably haven't seen a strong mooskeg for a while. You could show them how it's done."

It snorted. "Oh please, you are as transparent as the rain."

"Are you sure?" Tarahn asked. He flopped onto his side. "Gyms and gym training are how I got strong. I beat you, after all."

"It took two fighters to beat me," the mooskeg muttered, but it looked thoughtful. It shook its head, antlers yawing. "Say I fight. What then?"

"Whatever you want. I'll escort you straight back to land you recognize."

"How soon after?"

"As soon as we're rested and healed and provisioned. The next day, maybe two if something happens."

"What if I say no? I don't want to bleed for you."

Her chest tightened. Come on—no. I'm doing it again, she thought. It doesn't have to. "No problem, I'll escort you back after we fight without you. It might take longer, though," she added. "I need a pokémon with a type advantage."

The mooskeg blew out its breath. "Ach. Very well. I will fight against your elder. Stop!" it added, seeing Moriko raise the ultra ball. "You will leave off that accursed thing this moment!"

Tarahn got to his feet, and Moriko backed away, shoving the ball back into her pocket. "It's just—to fit in buildings—"

"I will not!" the mooskeg shouted.

Moriko yanked the ball out again and keyed the app on her pokédex. Confirm release? With a pulse, the color and luster went out of the ball.

"You're released! It's dead. It won't work on you."

The mooskeg looked at the ultra ball, trembling. "Prove it," it said, thickly.

"Return," Moriko said, pointing it at the pokémon. Nothing happened.

Moriko jumped as the mooskeg's hindquarters hit the ground, and it panted in huge gasps. "Disgusting. Disgusting," it whispered.

Moriko felt ill, watching it. A phobic. She hadn't understood. It was so automatic, the punctuation of conversation with a pokémon; you returned them to the ball at the end. "Sorry, I guess you—"

The mooskeg's head snapped around. "Sorry? You're sorry for torturing me in that thing, in that traveling nothing? Try releasing your other thralls, next! Try not traipsing around the forest stealing children!"

"What is with you?" Tarahn asked, putting his head on the side. "It's just a pokéball."

"I pity you, raigar," the mooskeg said. It sniffed. "A long imprisonment, it no longer fears the torture—"

"Uh, it's just a place to sleep. You know? When you get hurt, you find somewhere to rest and recover, right?"

"That thing is as far from a resting place as I can imagine! Perhaps you have been with humans so long you can't remember."

The fur was standing up on Tarahn's back as he argued, baffled. "No, and, you can ask Liona if you want, she just joined us—"

"Pah! Enough, pet. Find some child to gull, or better, bite your tongue out of your lying head." The moose pokémon punctuated this with a click of its teeth. It stalked down the length of the yard, toward the pool.

"So, you'll come with us to the gym?" Moriko called, following it.

"Yes, yes, you monkey. And then you will take me home."


Matt watched the auras on the visualizer whirl angrily and throw out-of-bounds errors. He wondered what the techs at the Global Pokémon Database thought of the data, or if they were deleting it as an outlier out of hand. Some hick with a keyboard is trolling us, they were probably thinking. He went to remove the svarog's ultra ball.

"What on earth is in there?"

Matt carefully didn't react: it was Moriko's latest mistake, the mooskeg that wanted nothing to do with her. What was it still doing here?

"It's the ronin that was burning down the forest. Were you there for any of that?"

"The other human mentioned such. You imprisoned it, I see. Cruel, but for the best."

Matt blinked, ignoring the 'imprisoned' bit. "You don't think it will recover?"

"It took up a killer's ghost, and therefore all the angry ghosts of everyone it ever ate. Better that it had died and let all those roiling souls go back to the earth," the mooskeg said.

Memory struck him, glass-sharp; he knew a thing or two about angry ghosts.

"Is there any way to fix it? It won't get better on its own?"

"If the one it ate was only in its first shedding it might still be in control, but otherwise, no. Find your elders and ask them to kill it—and keep fool children away from the carcass, this time."

Matt felt his heart sink, despite himself. The pokémon doctor had been troubled but far more optimistic.

"Can you think of any other scenario where it might recover?"

"Well…" The mooskeg turned away, thinking; it clearly enjoyed being the guru, but it seemed to want to hold this next nugget of wisdom back. "If it didn't consume the entire soul. But it's no guarantee! There's a reason why ronin are mad and dangerous."

Matt nodded, keeping his face neutral. Pokémon killing each other was rare; it was taboo, a grave transgression. But researchers suspected that pokémon did sometimes kill and consume other pokémon in secret, and return to their groups stronger, ready to challenge for leadership or to make an egg. There was a way to do it without losing control.

"Can you sense its energy?" Matt asked, gesturing at the analyzer. "Can you tell if it… ate all of the first ronin's energy? Its parent said that the energy made it evolve."

"What, those colors? More human nonsense. Just use your sight." It snorted and peered at the ball. "Using up the energy to evolve would be a good trick," the mooskeg added thoughtfully. "Maybe."

Matt nodded, taking the ultra ball and clipping it to his belt again. The challenge had rankled, but letting it out under Ranger-Captain Tanager's eye would be best to avoid posing danger to the town. Or himself. He'd have almost needed that ranger rescue even if Sylvia hadn't been hurt. He'd been racked by pain and nausea; it was still with him, like a touch of the flu. It was what he paid for going off-leash.

"Kill it," the mooskeg said, watching him. "You trainers! What does it take to get you to hear a 'no', for the godssake?"

"Ha! You're right. You're right." He looked at it sharply. "What about you, did Moriko hear your 'no'?"

"Eventually." It snapped its jaw closed, annoyed. "But she will not go back to my forest until you all win against your gym elder. True?"

"Yes, we'll take you back there, certainly. I can tell you the coordinates, and a ranger will take you now if you like," he added. Sorry not sorry, Moriko.

The mooskeg's ears perked up at this, but it seemed to weigh the options. "I do not know this ranger, and with Moriko I have a bargain," it decided. "Though you may renege on it as easily as a murkrow," it added gloomily.

Matt laughed. "Less easily than murkrow. We will take you back. Did she ask you to fight at the gym? That way you get to test your strength against other humans, at least. Let the trip not be for nothing."

"Yes, I have heard much of your battles—to the death, in high places, under the eyes of a blood-mad crowd."

Matt flinched. "Generally not to the death, unless a serious mistake is made," he said, wondering if the mooskeg believed him. "Or if you fight someone very bad indeed." He drew a shaky breath. "Just to fainting or incapacitating injury, normally. And the machine can heal any physical damage if applied fast enough—decapitation, dismemberment, complete exsanguination—"

The mooskeg huffed. "You are exaggerating," it said, uncertain. "But I will not need it. You will see the strength of Vleridin, Thuridin's get."

"I'll be watching."


After a healing, the svarog reformed under the eye of the ranger-captain and several S-tier pokémon. Its smoke boiled off of it into the cool morning air, obscuring its outline, with a few details picked out in the light of its smoldering flame patches.

Matt watched it, senses screaming at him, icy fingers pulling on his innermost heart to drag him away from danger. He rested a trembling hand on Maia's shoulder, his tether to earth.

It raised its great, heavy head and black eyes to look at him, and he remembered it burning, shattering wood, crushing things underfoot.

"Where's my dad?" it asked.


"Why are the humans uneasy?" Keigan the springbuck asked.

"One of their number was nearly killed by his borfang—his first pokémon, whom he had raised from childhood," Maia said.

"Why would that one do that? Had he been mistreating them?"

"I would've just left," Tarahn said. "Zip out, find a new trainer, done. There's nothing stopping any of us from doing that right now, by the way." He looked at Tak, who flipped his tail feathers. "No need to go bonkers and try to kill people."

"I have recently learned the technique to open the ball," Keigan said proudly. "I can serve as tutor for anyone curious."

"We should speak with them," Liona said, troubled. "I want to hear what they were thinking."

"They were taken away already, the trainers said," Maia said.

"Convenient," opined Tak.

Maia was looking at Sylvia, and one by one the gazes of the other pokémon went toward her too. Conall the dirfox grew nervous and skittered out from between her front paws.

"I knew Ophie," Sylvia said. "I don't know why she would try to hurt Dave."

Keigan: "Why would she, when it is surpassingly simple to leave?"

"It's when you love someone so much," Sylvia said slowly. "You love them so much, that even when they make you unhappy you still love them and you want to stay. And then they're nice again and it's okay. But it's not okay, actually, because it keeps happening, and they tell you it's your fault. And you stay, because you want to fix it." She put her head down on her paws. "I saw it in a movie, with Russ. You can't imagine leaving. But if they loved you they wouldn't hurt you, over and over, the same way. And so it's better to go." Her tail thumped on the grass.

"Sounds like somebody who should've got eaten in the egg," Tak laughed. "Only weak people let someone hurt them. You fight back. Do something! You can fight a human! We're all so much stronger than them."

"Shut up, Tak," Sylvia barked.

"No—he's right. They are so weak," Maia said. She looked at the newer group members, at Conall and Keigan, and Tak and Liona. "You cannot imagine how easy it is to hurt them. You will do so accidentally. And they take so long to heal, days and days. That is why they need our protection. We can get so strong, but they are so fragile. If you do not care for your trainer, just leave. The chansey can transport you anywhere or find you a new trainer."

The honchkrow whistled derisively. "Say what you mean, tibyss."

"If anyone hurts Matt, I will kill them."


"Do you want to come say goodbye to Angela and them?"

Russ giggled at the disgusted look Moriko gave him, but he looked a little sad.

She sighed. "Let's get this over with."

They rode rental bikes to the airport at the foot of the mountain. 'Airport' was a bit of a stretch; 'landing strip' was closer. There was a runway and a couple of pads for jumpcraft, and Angela, Vic, and Kai waited in a small building nearby. A mightyena and a security guard dozed by the metal detector, and a tiny, chattering porygon darted in and out of their pokédexes, searching for illegal modifications.

Moriko stood aside, looking at the tourism board posters inside while Russ chatted with the others, and eventually a jumpcraft touched down in a burst of sound. It let off a load of tourists, and a cleaning crew and mechanics descended on it.

Shortly it was time for three of them to leave. Russ hugged them each in turn, and Moriko stood slightly aside to offer polite goodbyes.

Angela approached her. Moriko folded her arms, looking at a point beyond her right shoulder.

"See you, Angela. Hope Dave is all right."


Her eyes flicked over; Angela looked her in the eye, searching, and finally she reached for Moriko's hand and pressed something into it.

"Stay safe, alright?" Angela said, and she left.

The jumpcraft took off a short time later, heading for Porphyry. There would be another flight back to Port Littoral. Home.

Moriko looked down at a handheld unit with a tough plastic screen and a bright yellow casing. It was Angela's item storage device.

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