1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Gaiien Region: Gods and Demons: Chapter 22

by Keleri

Keleri As the giant pokemon threat looms, Russ forces the group to head to Sunset Village.
Our pokémon casts have gotten real unwieldy, so here's an inelegant summary as we head into the last few chapters. Illustrations for our main characters and all these fakemon and their evolutionary lines can be found in my gallery. I should probably make a wiki or something:

Moriko Sato - Rufus (Oxhaust, fire/steel minotaur), Tarahn (Raigar, poison/electric cougar), Liona (Nigriff, dark/fighting griffin), Vleridin(Mooskeg, water/grass moose), Thanasanian (Oberant, fairy/bug anthro moth)

Russell Scott - Sylvia (Borfang, grass/dragon wolf dragon), Conall (Dirfox, psychic/ground swift fox), Celeste (Celestiule, light/dark mule) [CURRENTLY MISSING], Keigan (Springbuck, fairy/flying antelope), Sauza (Geysard, fire/water iguana)

Matthew Reyes - Maia (Tibyss, water/ice panther), Bjorn (Ursaring), Takktktkk (Honchkrow), Dzalar (Svarog, fire/grass boar), Sai (Dragoon, dragon baboon)


Chapter 22

Cold Air / Down in darkness we found what we fear / Long ago the land lay covered in forest, where dwelled the spirits of the gods

—August 18th-25th, 128 CR

Tarahn pressed the release on Thanasanian's pokéball and got it to work after a couple tries.

The oberant reformed in red light, looking around the room. "Is something wrong?"

"We're going out flying! Do you wanna come with us?" the raigar asked brightly.

"Ah, in the city? It is very... crowded..." she said, rubbing her forelegs together over and over.

"It's okay if you don't want to," Tarahn said. "You'd be with us in a group so you don't have to be worried."

"I should... I should rest. For the next battle," Thana said, and hopped back into her ball.

Tarahn flipped his tail, the bells jangling, and he went out into the yard where Sylvia, Liona, and Keigan were waiting.

"She said no," the raigar told them. "Are you coming, Maia?"

"No, thank you. I've got the best spot under the tree, and I'm not giving it up."

"As if anyone would refuse if you asked for it," Tarahn said, admiring.

Maia laughed quietly.

Tarahn hopped onto Sylvia's back, carefully not using his claws, and settled in between her wings.

"Let's go!" the borfang called, and hopped into the air with a flap of her wings and a burst of wind energy.

The human city and its buildings dwindled in size below them, until it was as small as a leaf covered in ants. Tarahn whooped, accidentally pressing his claws into Sylvia's wings, but it was on her wooden scales and didn't really hurt.

"They really are fascinating creatures," Keigan said, as they angled over the ocean. "What's the point of all their houses? Why the bigger and smaller ones?"

"Sometimes they share them," Sylvia explained. "Some of them aren't for living in, they're where humans go if they get sick, or if they need to get food."

"I suppose I have seen animals in caves and so on," the springbuck allowed. "It must make them feel safe."

"A cave is a good defensive position," Liona said. "No-one can sneak up on you. But you can't get away, either. I don't think I'd want to be surprised in a human house."

The three of them dove and turned loops in the sky, manipulating air-type energy. Tarahn yowled happily, hanging on and encircled by Sylvia's vines. Sylvia and Liona practiced their techniques, wing attack and wind slash and others, commenting on the shape and use of the energy. Keigan fired off wind blasts and tried a cyclone attack, but it still needed work, the wind whirling and then dissipating early. Tarahn offered to hit them with a thunder wave so they could practice shaking it off, but the three flying pokemon declined.

"Save that one for on the ground, please," the nigriff told him.

"Alright, but I think it's—whoa!" Tarahn yowled suddenly, fur standing up on his back. "Who did that? Air pressure just dropped, you trying to do a tempest attack?"

"Not I, my feline friend—" Keigan began.

"Dive!" Sylvia barked, and the three of them folded their wings, Tarahn yelling in consternation.

Even hitting the edge of it, the burst of turbulence sent them all tumbling. Sylvia, Liona, and Keigan descended rapidly after righting themselves.

"Merciful powers, but I could taste the ice in that!" Keigan yelled.

"You're telling me," Sylvia said, shivering. "Where was that from?"

"North by northwest, but what's over there? There's nothing but ocean."

"Moriko and the others were scared, back on the train," Liona said. "There was something coming down out of the north, the human elders were telling them." The nigriff looked out over the sea. "Something terrible."

"I'm cold," Tarahn whined. "I want to see Rufus."


Linden was missing.

She still had the demon pokémon; she'd kept them hidden in her clothing and hadn't let them out in view of her three companions. Russ had demanded that she transfer them back to Prof. Linden and Prof. Maple, with a severity that had surprised them all. It had inspired Abram the metagross to discourage further outbursts by standing casually nearby Linden at all times, phasing through walls when necessary.

Russ had called Prof. Linden and left furious voicemails to no reply, and finally he started ignoring her outright. Annoyed and sulky, Linden had gone out and not returned.

Moriko went to call Prof. Linden several times, but her fingers stopped above the keys, paralyzed. Where was Linden Jr.? She'd talked about pretending to be a junior trainer to hustle tourists down at the pier, so maybe that's where she was, and she was having such a good time that she hadn't checked in with them. For two days.

Had she turned around and rode the train back to Port Brac? Why, then, there was no reason to call! But Prof. Linden had given them money for the train to Sunset Mountain, and maybe he'd take it back if Linden wasn't with them.

And Moriko contemplated calling Prof. Linden and begging him to take it back anyway, because then they'd have to go home to Port Littoral.

A day in Porphyry, Russ had said—but he'd changed his mind, lingering, battling at the dojos, going to clubs, dragging Matt off when he felt like it.

All around them the city was tense. The ancient pokémon was still far to the north, north of Thalassa Heights and north of the Sisters, multiple days' ferry ride away, but the sea had grown rough and unpredictable. The pier—where was Linden?—was closed off by striped barriers patrolled by police and pokémon while the sudden and asynchronous swells washed the boards.

The water receded several times, sending everyone scattering to avoid a tsunami that didn't come, and the rangers were furious: people would stop reacting if that kept up, and get swept away by a real one. The irregular waves knocked berthed boats together, and harbor workers and their pokémon were scrambling to find their owners or just moving them out to sea where they could ride harmlessly.

Tourists and traveling trainers stood around in worried knots, watching the livestreams and body-cam footage from the rangers and pokémon that were attempting to fight the ancient pokémon. Better recordings had revealed its species: it was a giant whiscash, riddled with decay and shimmering with chemical rot, whooping mournfully in a tsunami-siren voice.

Weather effects, indistinguishable from the real thing, obscured the cameras and made the audio useless: sheeting rain and lightning, black thunderheads, seemingly-graceful waterspouts, waves the size of tumbling apartment blocks. Area attacks like whirlpool and hailstones whirled around the daikaiju, little inconveniences in the arena blown up to Charybdis size and danger.

There were dozens of pokémon attacking it: swooping rangers' pokémon dropping parasite mines; S-tier pokémon firing off attacks at maximum power, slow and ponderous and searing moves that a child could have sidestepped but the giant didn't notice; spinning missiles with drill heads that burrowed deep inside the monster before exploding. There were legendary pokémon—two mewtwo and a suicune—using attacks that made the aura readings on the footage peak out of scale.

The thing didn't react, not to plant-type energy screaming green across its flanks, not to tree-sized roots with thorns like swords piercing its hide, not to liquid oxygen or acid lobbed into its mouth and eyes. It swam on.

Flights out of Porphyry were full.

There were fewer stalls on the streets and the ones that were there were quiet, their proprietors' eyes glued to their phones or pokédexes instead of potential customers. People were huddled around screens in bars and coffee shops, drinks forgotten and tepid, and they spoke urgently in low voices or yelled for silence at a new clip or segment.

Russ was bored, obtuse, pushing past the knots of worried trainers.

"Let's get out of here. We can leave tomorrow with these tickets," he proposed, showing them the website.

Moriko's eyes nearly fell out at the price. The company was gouging them. There were laws that limited the multiplier in the midst of natural disasters, but it still obliterated their fairly generous stipend from Prof. Linden.

"Let's just keep the old ones," Matt said. "We'll have money left over for the return journey, meals—"

Russ nearly growled. "This place is useless—no one wants to battle, they're all obsessed with the ancient pokémon. Let's just move on."

"To be frank, I don't think we should. We don't have the levels."

"Oh, whatever—we can train in the gym town. Nothing happening around here," Russ said, gesturing around at the streets, devoid of mid-level pokémon battling.

"Sunset Village is even smaller than Umber, and that was a sleepy place. Honestly, we're at the bottom of tier six, we've been rushing around, we got the last badge as a courtesy—"

Moriko spoke up. "Russ, I think we should go home. Let's put the continent between us and the ancient pokémon—"

"Running again?" Russ drawled. "I see this is becoming a theme."

She frowned. "Yes? Running from ancient pokémon is what one does—"

Russell whirled, speaking too loudly. "I'm tired of your cowardice, Moriko. We can't be afraid of a little risk, and here you are whining at every turn. Are you a trainer or not?"

Her jaw worked. "Russ, you… you've been acting weird. Really weird, since Sere Island."

"Russ…" Matt said, staring.

"Oh, are you on her side?"

"Russ—that's not—"

"Tell you what," Russell said, "we'll fight it out. Sylvia!"

He tossed her pokéball down, but she materialized with her tail down and wings folded, looking between them.

"Russ, we can't—we can't have a high level battle in the street—" Moriko said, shocked. She looked around wildly for a ranger or a police officer and then stopped, her stomach twisting. Gods, as if they hadn't run in with rangers enough on this journey—

"Who cares? Choose your pokémon, or I'll have Sylvia remind you to," he snapped, like a rival in a trainer drama.

"Russ, are you serious—"

Sylvia laughed but looked back at him nervously, her wings unfolding and then drawing down again. "What?"

"Don't battle him," Matt said quietly.

"I know!" Of course she wouldn't battle, of course she couldn't use a high-level pokémon without shielding. And yet…

She found herself wondering what she had done wrong, what she had done to lead Russ to act like this, and wondering what she could possibly say to fix it.

She knew she couldn't.

And beyond that thought lay anger, that Russ had at long last revealed that he too would tease and taunt and belittle her, openly, publicly, too many times to forget. She felt an electric pulse of rage at her heart, at her throat, at the corners of her eyes, at her brow like a crown.

She let Rufus' pokéball fall from her fingers.

Rufus stood, his flames licking in the wind, a thin trail of smoke leaving his pipes. He was as uncertain as Sylvia, who couldn't help holding herself in readiness at the appearance of an opponent, but she looked at him, beseeching, needing this confrontation to make sense.

He turned back to look at Moriko, and all her anger evaporated when she saw his gentle eyes, points of light in the steel.

"Rootbind, Sylvia!" Russ yelled.

That attracted the attention of passerby, who started pulling out their pokédexes, and then recoiling and moving well away. She'd destroy the street at her level. Rufus would melt it.

Sylvia looked at them, her tail dropping, and she glanced back at Russ. "What's this about?"

"Just use physical attacks, then! Body slam!"

The borfang flinched, wanting to use the move—well trained, well trained—but the whole thing was wrong, and she knew it. They all knew it.

"Use—" Moriko said, reflexively, and she bit off the rest of the sentence.

Sylvia and Rufus looked at each other for a long moment, silent below the sound of an onlooker very audibly on the phone with pokémon ranger dispatch, and they both turned around to face their trainers.

Moriko looked up at the oxhaust's massive face, wreathed in pipes and crowned with fire, and she held his hand, touched the soft hide under the scorched metal.

"We can't battle here, Moriko," Rufus said.

"I know," she said, the fight gone out of her. "We shouldn't battle him anywhere."


Sylvia was ignoring Russ's commands, putting her body between him and them, herding him away.

"Sylvia! Listen to me!" Russ leapt onto her back and tried to pull her around.

"You need a nap," Sylvia said, trotting away toward the pokémon center.

Russ seemed to wrestle with her briefly, but the borfang was far stronger. Moriko was relieved to see that he even now didn't stoop to trying to hit or kick her, not that he could possibly hurt a high-level pokémon with his fists, but…

She walked away, and Russ dwindled in size, seated backwards between Sylvia's shoulders. "We're leaving tomorrow!" he shouted.

Moriko shook herself, disgusted. How many times was she going to let him hurt her like this? Over and over and every time it was just as bad, it was like a knife—

She jumped; it was just Matt putting his hand on her shoulder, and he backed off.

"Come on," he said. "Let's go to the caf. We need a break."


They found a corner in the mall food court and used the pokémon center vouchers on bad bento and hot tea, with Tarahn and Maia providing moral support and low-key begging.

Several of the shops were shuttered. Noise spilled out of a restaurant where more screens had the same news channels and the same footage on loop. There was one playing the kids' channel, where colorful pokémon wearing scarves were asking the audience to point out the hidden zorua character. A horrible fountain in the center with a statue in bronze of a cascade of fish and dead-eyed children stood silently, powered off and drained.

"He's not the same, Matt. The drinking, the fights, the sleeping with strangers—"

"He can do what he wants," he said, pushing the uneaten umeboshi around the wreckage of his lunch. "I wouldn't go around telling people who and how much they should fuck—"

"Matt! No!" she groaned. "It's not—I think—Matt, I think he is impaired."

He got still at that. "Impaired by what?"

"Matt, on Sere Island, I thought I saw… more darkwater. I might have dreamed it. But I think I saw Russ… absorb it. A lot of it. Way more than we gave him in the desert."

He said nothing. Maia stared at him.

What had the woman called it, the darkwater? Gray essence—a god's blood. It made a demon like the Gray Prince more powerful. What did it do to a human being?

"I think we need to call her, Matt."

He shook his head. "You can," he said.


Russ swept into the pokémon center and announced that he'd bought them all tickets to Sunset Village. Departure time, half an hour.

They yelled at him, wasting time for all the good it did, and then they were in their rooms, stuffing clothes haphazardly into their packs. They had to run to make it, pelting through the streets, sleeping bags wadded up in their arms. They almost missed it.

Unasked-for, underhanded, and they had to pay him back. Of course they did.

Moriko spent the entire trip in her bunk, furious, with Vleridin cooped-up and bored in her body.

She was starving, with only the complimentary crackers and soda to eat on top of her own meager rations; there'd been no time to arrange sack lunches from the pokécenter. The train crawled, checking in at every stop to monitor the ancient pokémon's progress, and to take on daredevils and complete idiots heading for the staging area at the northern passage.

And they'd ditched Linden. It was silly—the 14-year-old had eight badges from Kanto, hell, she was protecting them—but she was a kid and it was cruel to abandon her. She'd ghosted on them, maybe, if she hadn't just forgotten to come back to the pokécenter. Moriko sent her a couple of emails that went unanswered.

At last they came to Sunset Village: tiny, barely more than the train platform and a building that was probably town hall, inn, pokémon center, restaurant, bar, and every other function. Small, skulking houses receded into the forest with dirt trails linking them.

Moriko stepped off the train and hoisted her bags on the platform, and she breathed in the cool air and the smell of pines. Maybe it was the hunger, maybe she was a little motion-sick, but she turned around and saw the mountain, soaring above the valley and wreathed by clouds, and she stumbled.

"Whoa, careful now," Matt said. "You want me to take your bag?"

"Ah—I'm good."

"See? What did I tell you?" Russ punched Matt's shoulder. "This is more like it. Let's find out where the gym is."

Moriko let them draw ahead, Russ with his red bag and Matt with his gray one. They were throwing down pokéballs, the pokémon bursting out gratefully and putting their noses to the ground to smell the rich forest dirt underfoot.

She looked up at the sky, at the pines all around her casting long shadows, and above them, stern, was Sunset Mountain.

All anew she felt that terrible longing: to see the wild places of the earth, to see the pokémon there, to touch pure life and water, to run fast and powerful on four legs on the hills and riverbanks and in the valleys and on the gray sides of mountains, to touch the sky itself and be wreathed in wind and storm, to answer to nothing and no one, not even the gods.

And she could not say where her desire ended and Vleridin's began, and could not tell if they had not always been the same.


They checked the trainers who had come through and stayed at the center, looking up their public profiles, and at once it was clear that the three of them were underlevel. The gym's level was level sixty-ish, and their pokémon were at low-to-mid fifties at best. On a normal course they would have trained at Sere Island, and Porphyry should have been the real time to catch up.

Russ, for all his impatience, at least had the ability to recognize the disparity in the numbers, and he allowed that they had work to do before challenging Nocturna. However, there was no local dojo: the place to train was the gym, and the local people declined attempts to challenge them, whether politely or rudely phrased.

"Well, all that's left is wild pokémon, then," Russ declared, and soon they were heading out into the nearby Regional Park at Sunset Valley.

The park was nearly empty; there a couple other groups of tents set up, whose owners they saw only on the way to bed. There was a tension in the air, a buildup, as if before a thunderstorm. The wild pokémon didn't seem to change their behavior if they felt it; they were almost common for once. The trained pokémon outstripped them in levels, though, and the wild ones fled after single attacks.

Russ caught a wintris and then released it almost as quickly, saying it was "too weak" and leaving it behind, confused, on the path. Moriko was too tired to log any more of his uncharacteristic statements, which were coming thick and fast, but this was too much. For all she knew, he was getting signals from the moon.

On their last night before heading back to the village, Moriko awoke, shivering. She pushed her way out of her tent to see white stuff—snow—falling, and Matt building the fire back up.

"It's August," she said, shocked, her breath steaming.

"Cold air from the north, and snow falls at high altitude," Matt said, rubbing his hands together. "It's not hard to understand—" He bit off that habitual criticism. "Don't worry, it will probably be hot again at noon."

Moriko tossed out Rufus' pokéball and leaned on him gratefully.

Maia rolled in the snow, ecstatic and undignified for the first time that Moriko had ever seen, and the tibyss looked at her sternly for a moment before resuming.

"Ach, ice," Vleridin said, snuffling the dry flakes and then sneezing. "I'm not sure I've ever seen it from the sky, although my sire told me of such things."

"I haven't either, except on TV. At winter solstice they always show the winter sports in Sinnoh and it's all white, white snow everywhere. People dressed as the winter spirits come out with sawsbuck and yulerein and help children decorate their antlers. We could do that with you, to be festive."

"Don't touch the rack, human," Vleridin growled, mock-serious. "Are we going back to the town? If there's one thing you all have done properly, it's your heated houses."

They dug hats and sweatshirts out of the storage device, rumpled things that had lain at the bottom of their bags and then been taken up as energy in much the same condition. They'd warm up as they walked, they hoped, their breath steaming away into the trees.

Cold air from the north, Moriko thought. North was the ancient pokémon, and its real weather, its unfathomable power turning rain dance into real thunderheads and hail into a real storm, pelting rangers' pokémon with melon-sized ice chunks.

The weather had changed. That put a dark, cold feeling in her stomach, despite the news from the park office's internet assuring the public of the mastery and competence of the rangers and, above all, the great distance the ancient whiscash still had to travel to reach any concentration of people.


The Sunset Village pokémon center was more like a bed and breakfast, with a rustic interior instead of spare and sterile white. They sent the pokémon in for healing and left Vleridin with the attendant, who was nervously directing her to decorporealize and use the healing net instead of the ball healer.

In the kitchen they helped themselves to bread rolls just out of the oven with jam and margarine, and hot tea and hot chocolate. Moriko tore the white bread and gazed upon the crumb with religious reverence before eating three without pause.

At times like this, she could almost feel like—

"Slow down there, snorlax," Russ said. "You gonna hibernate?"

"Jesus christ, Russ," Matt said, after a silence.

Moriko rose without saying anything and left, picking up her pokémon at the attendant's desk. Vleridin followed her without a word.

It was already warming up, like Matt had said, but there was still a bit of crispness in the air. Moriko sat outside with Rufus dwarfing the picnic table bench and Tarahn sprawled across her lap. Vleridin dozed standing up while Liona flew up above the pines, stretching her wings, and Thanasanian perched on the table, her antennae twitching nervously.

"You're sad," Rufus rumbled.

Moriko shrugged, paging through her pokédex and petting Tarahn absently. "Russ is being a jerk. I shouldn't have come, I should've just turned around in Porphyry."

"What's wrong with him?" Tarahn asked. "Is it a human thing?"

"What's a human thing?" Thana asked him.

"Humans have a lot of glands that make them do strange things, especially when they're growing up," Tarahn said authoritatively. "It's all very fleshy and disgusting."

"Gross," said Vleridin.

"I agree strongly," Thana said.

Moriko laughed, quiet. "I'm sorry, I'm letting Russ waste my time, and all yours, too. Do you still want to go to the gym?"

"Yeah, duh," Tarahn said, while Rufus nodded.

"Wherever to get stronger," Vleridin said. "Standing answer."

"I... will go, of course," Thana said.

"Liona?" Moriko called to the treetops.

A margue fell to the forest floor, screaming angrily, and ran off into the bushes.

"I agree with Tarahn, whatever he said," the nigriff shouted back.

"You sound a little doubtful, Thana?" Moriko asked her.

The oberant turned away. "I will not oppose the will of the group."

"No, it's okay, you can tell me if you have anything to bring up, or things we should think about."

Thana shivered. "I am just... cold. It is nothing."

"You can tell me. Are you homesick? Maybe you'd like to head back to the desert?"

"No, I must complete my mission," she said, not looking at anyone.

Rufus extended his hand to her across the picnic table, and the fairy-type touched it tentatively, flinching at his steel armor.

"You don't have to be afraid," Rufus rumbled. "A team protects each other. Like a family."

Thana's antennae perked up a little.

Moriko smiled. "What do you all want to do after the gym? It's the end of the summer. Should we go back to Port Littoral?"

Tarahn made a face. "Ugh, your aunt is there. Let's go somewhere else."

"That's where Prof. Willow is, though," Rufus said.

"That's true, she's much better. You all will like Prof. Willow," Tarahn said to Vleridin and the others. "She gives very good scratches."

Moriko frowned, thinking. Prof. Willow's lab was probably her best option, and she could get her old job back for the autumn. Putting herself back in reach of her aunt and cousin, though...

"It doesn't matter where," Rufus said. "It doesn't matter where we go as long as we're with you, Moriko."

Moriko nodded and held his hand, and Tarahn bumped her face with his. Liona trotted over and Moriko scratched her under her beak. Vleridin bit Moriko's shoulder playfully, and she put her hand across the table to touch Thana's segmented claws.

"Alright," Moriko said, surreptitiously rubbing at her eyes. "Alright. One last adventure for the summer. Then, who knows?"


In the morning, Russ had disappeared.

He wouldn't answer pokédex messages or calls. He didn't seem to be at the inn, and they walked up and down the town's one street looking for him unsuccessfully. Matt shrank shyly as Moriko quizzed him, if he'd seen anything, or if Russ had… gone out looking.

"Gone out looking for who, in this town? Everyone here is a child or over fifty," Matt said. His expression flashed with new thoughts and finally, he said, "He's been colder to me, the past few days, and I… I haven't been that interested. Maybe."

At last, they guessed that he might have already gone up to the gym without them. What was that about? Was it revenge for the two of them wanting to go home? She and Matt had done everything he'd asked!

What now? They could leave; Moriko had reserved enough cash to get back to Port Littoral—well, enough to have gotten back outside of the price-gouging. Maybe they could do odd jobs in town, get the pokémon to haul wood or clear land.

Moriko looked up, past the tree line. What if they went to the gym, too? They'd been training. They could give it a try.

They'd have to climb up, though: Russ had taken Sylvia, so their flyers were Liona, who could carry one person, and Tak the honchkrow, who was too small, and unreliable besides. They asked the front desk if there was a preferred route up the mountain.

"You need to hire a guide," the concierge said, a bored boy who usually had his feet up watching livestreams of pokémon contests. "The trails aren't well marked or kept up. Couple of years ago, a kid went down a rockfall and broke his back, and his pokémon couldn't move him. Eventually they figured out to split up and get help, but it took days."

Moriko nodded and looked back at Matt. "It's probably true," he said quietly. "Brings in money for the town, and this is a wild area with not enough rangers. We're supposed to be big-time trainers with a flying pokémon at this tier," he added ruefully.

"Do we have the money?" Moriko asked.

Matt looked at his pokédex and winced. Moriko sighed.

They went out to scout the paths in and out of the town. Aside from the main track through the village and to the regional park, the others were barely more than game trails through the pine needles and soft moss. The trees crowded them, with outcrops of gray stone covered in lichen.

"What do you think?"

Matt shook his head. "I think this is a good place to die, without a guide or a flying pokémon or a teleporter."

"The plant-types could sense their way through the forest, and Tak can scout even if he can't carry you."

He nodded, thinking. "That might work. We can log the route carefully on our 'dexes."

They went back to the village to eat and think it over, and consult with the pokémon. At the station another train was arriving; they watched as a couple people offloaded and headed for the inn. There were still passengers staying on and going further north: some sedate, to various mining or logging towns, or the weather stations at the Northern Gaiien Passage; and some raucous, to get a glimpse of the ancient pokémon.

There'd been a report on it on the rangers' website, entreating people to stay away and let professionals do their jobs, but they weren't cracking down on it yet. They had that power, to stop people from traveling further, or to order an evacuation if it got closer to land.

Linden got off the train, and they all stood around for a moment, shocked.

"Linden! What are you—how are you doing?" Moriko said.

She approached them shyly. "Hey, I—I wanted—" she faltered.

"Come with us to the inn," Matt said. "Let's chat over lunch."


"You still have them?!"

"Shhhh," Matt said, looking around.

"You still have them?" Moriko repeated, hissing.

Linden's expression was hard. She pushed her pokédex across the table to them, and pressed a button.

Prof. Maple's face appeared on the screen.

"A notice to all pokémon rangers, pokémon professors, pokémon doctors, etc.," the recording said, "this trainer, Astrid Bernhardsdottir of Mossdeep City, ID no. 021983267, has been given special permission to carry undocumented pokémon in locked balls according to pokémon training and research statute number—"

They listened to the long string of legal terms, and Moriko looked up at Linden. "How."

Linden pressed her lips together. "I'm a demon master," she said quietly.


"Only I can carry them safely, and only I can try to make a future for them," Linden said. It sounded rehearsed. "They can't take energy from me, like they did from Russell or from the people on Sere Island. But I can give it," she said.

"For you, they're regular pokémon," Matt said.

Linden nodded. "I've always had this power. They wanted me to try training with another demon pokémon, which is why grandma asked her pokémon to go with me—I'm a good trainer, they all listened to me too, for all that they were at tier five after inactivity and me just a sprout—"

Moriko waved away Linden talking herself up again. "What happened to that demon pokémon?"

"That was a while ago, it escaped. Prof. Maple studies demon pokémon and shadow pokémon and stuff. She knows what to do now. With me they have a reason to stay. They don't have to keep stealing."

"Don't they like stealing?" Moriko asked, tightly.

Linden looked away. "They can be nice, like a regular pokémon. I have to show them—"

"Linden, I still don't think—"

"Maybe this is the best place to test it," Matt broke in. "In the wild, far from cities, among an… inconvenient people," he said cynically, and Moriko knew a little of the history. The people of the second and third crossings had not always seen eye-to-eye.

Linden looked at them. "What? Which people?"

Half-second-crossing Matt waved a hand, never mind, and half-second-crossing Moriko didn't want to talk about it.

Linden shrugged. "So, will you let me stay?"

"Why do you want to travel with us so bad?" Moriko asked.

"You guys are cool, and you get me," she said, hopeful.

"You're wrong about that first one," Moriko said automatically, but she drummed her fingers on the table.

"We do need a third person," Matt said.

Linden looked up. "What about Russ?"

"We don't know where he is. He might have gone to the gym this morning, but he isn't back yet."

"Why didn't you follow him?"

"He took Sylvia, and we were riding double on her before. I don't have a large enough flying pokémon," Matt said.

"I have a flygon! Oh wait, no, I think you guys are too big to ride double," Linden amended.

Matt nodded. "So we have to walk up, and for that we need a guide, and for that we need money."

"Oh, money!" Linden grabbed her pokédex. "My dad gave me an allowance, and I kicked some tourist butt in Porphyry. I'll pay for the guide."

"You're the tourist," Moriko muttered, but she was feeling relieved already.

"We couldn't," Matt said politely.

"I insist," Linden said, and that was that.


Matt went to go speak to the concierge about hiring a guide.

Linden wanted to talk strategy. "What pokémon are you going to use against Nocturna? It will be three-on-three or four-on-four at this tier, or it should be."

Moriko smiled. "Thana and Liona have a type advantage, and I guess Tarahn. We have native pokémon like margue, caligryph, hellion—"

"You should think about the battle style as well as types," Linden advised. "The oberant is part-fairy but she's fragile, and Liona is good but her own evolution could get her with flying-type attacks. Dark-types are usually sneaky and squishy—if your oxhaust can stay calm through the taunts and illusions he could tank their attacks well."

"I heard that there are a lot of TM or tutored ground- and fighting-type attacks at this level, especially among gym leaders," Moriko said. "Sharpedo and crawdaunt are pretty common ocean catches as well."

Linden nodded. "She could have her personal pokémon at this tier instead of just the revolving door of native catches, too, if their level has decayed a bit. That's a mean trick, though. You can do the levels in a summer, but the experience of a ten- or twenty-year battler can be real nasty." She grinned happily.

Moriko laughed. Linden's grandma's pokémon. Not for the first time, she wondered how much of that S-tier rank was Linden and how much was Abram and Betsy.

"Maybe you should fight her first and we can see what it's like."

"At S-tier it will be way scarier than what she'll throw at you," Linden said proudly, "but I can do it if you want. In the Kanto summer tournament last year I had a good run with Peggy and Abram, Peggy is my ampharos, and—"


There was a guide available: the kid at the pokécenter desk said his great-aunt could take them up, and he called her on her pokédex. They waited outside to meet her while Linden took pictures with her pokédex, especially of the soaring peaks around the town, and poked around inside the one store Sunset Village had to offer.

Abram stayed behind, his metal hide heating up in the sunlight. Eventually he shifted, approaching Moriko. He fixed her with a red eye, close enough that she could see the faint circuitboard-like patterning on the iris.

"You must be kind to Astrid," the metagross said solemnly. "She is lonely."

Moriko nodded, feeling vaguely chastened. She looked down at the goring claws protruding from his wedge-shaped legs. "I don't know why she's interested in us. We're nobodies and she's an S-tier trainer with a pokémon professor dad."

"You are older. She desires your regard, and your admiration. You share a secret."



"Should I treat her differently?"

Abram's eyes half-closed, and there was an air of amusement in his voice. "I will advise against flattery. It makes her insufferable. Treat her as an equal. She desires this more than anything."

"Okay. Thanks, Abram."

"You are doing well. This is a strange land, full of monsters," said the metal spider with a mouth on his belly. "You are unlucky to have your journey interrupted by a giant, and by demons also."

"Yeah, this summer was… it was all the worst things that could happen. Boredom and then fucking insanity, and not much in between. Were there demons, or, or other weird, terrible things, when you went out with Linden's grandma?"

"No demons. There were giants, some years. We were afraid of legendaries in those days: they brought fire and ice, or hurricanes, or drought. We understand them better now. We understand humans better now." He looked at her sidelong, and then at Linden, taking a selfie in front of the village's mother-stone. "Perhaps we will understand demons better, too, one day."