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Gaiien Region: Gods and Demons: Chapter 24

by Keleri

Keleri Moriko and the others head to the rendezvous with the Pokemon Rangers.
A/N: This chapter has a short sequence with some unusual line breaks and text alignment. Please let me know if this is unreadable for you for any reason (mobile, screenreader, etc.) and I will provide an altered copy of the chapter to your specifications.

Chapter 24

The Sea Gives Up Her Dead / Caacrinolaas / Spirit of Wrath

—Aug. 25th, 128 CR

It was clear and cold on the mountaintop, and all the gray peaks of the Spine of Gaiien loomed, jagged, receding into the north and into obscurity. There were wisps of cloud high above, stretching out far in the distance above ice that never melted, and valleys that glittered with the green and blue of summer.

Sunset Mountain had been crafted during the days of the second crossing, its peak flattened into a vast platform circled by columns. Many of them were still standing despite age and weather, and beyond them were the ruins of watchtowers, narrow eyries that had faced in all directions and could only have been assaulted from the air. Their enemy had been within the walls, all along.

Mountain plants and lichen grew among the tumbled-down stones now, and the only sound was the sighing of the wind, rushing off the sea and bringing with it a breath of winter from the north.

Mighty was the work, but time always runs.

Nocturna looked better and better with every step she took, like a plant suddenly given water and sunlight. There was a light in her eyes and an eagerness to her gait that hadn't been there before. She harnessed her hydreigon, composite straps and buckles for serious flying, and she threw down a pokéball to reveal a shiny caligryph with white feathers and scales.

"Albus, please carry Matt," Nocturna said, working quickly.

The caligryph sketched an elaborate bow. "Charmed, I'm sure," it said.

"We're flying to these coordinates," Nocturna said finally, firing off the message to their pokédexes. "We'll be in the air several hours. I will communicate through Tet when we're taking breaks. Let me know if you need to stop."

"Where are we going?" Linden asked.

"The whiscash is coming our way, so the ranger base camp is moving. We're going to meet them—and we're going to stay the hell away from demons, mystics, and rubberneckers. Do you understand?"

"Alright," Linden said. Matt nodded.

Moriko did not hear. She did not see the mountains; she did not see the sky. She saw only her friend, tormented somewhere near, and she could not go to him.

She held onto Liona's back, face pressed into the feathers, as they soared in the cold, thin air. She did not see the leagues of forest, or the shimmering turquoise lakes, secret tarns reachable only from the sky. Russ was dying, had died, murdered by demons and energy stolen.

I could go. I could still go. I could leave the pokémon with Matt to protect them.

Faster to just let go now, for the same result, Vleridin murmured to her, not unkindly.

What do I do?

There will be time for retribution. There will be opportunity.

We're going to where the rangers are, she thought. Maybe we'll be able to fight him. Maybe they can help us.

Yes, Vleridin agreed, but they both knew how reliable wishes were.


The rangers' base was anthill-busy, with high-level pokémon and rangers in red and orange running to and fro intent on errands. PRED soldiers and soldier-pokémon kept a watchful eye over the proceedings, their combat armor steel gray and intimidating, and the former bulging with guns and anti-pokémon devices.

Borfang were the stars of the operation, with dozens around the camp in varying shades of green and the purple shiny variety. There were grizzled veterans with their treelike hides speckled with lichen, and new recruits as bright-eyed as Sylvia—had been? Oh, gods—A wide variety of other pokémon were present as well: flying pokémon and water-types, psychics, aura specialists, pokémon that knew specialized moves or field moves.

Moriko's blankness had given way to fits of crying, and she kept a wad of tissues pressed to her face to avoid having to interact with anyone while they waited to be seen. Nocturna had been hailed by a stocky man with white hair and eyes, trailed by an antepard—Polaris, the ice-type gym leader—and had gone off immediately to fulfil her gym leader's duties.

They espied Lapis and Aria of the Elite Four from far off, but they weren't in the mood for fangirling, even Linden. There were legendaries present as well, famous ranger-pokémon with the age, acuity, and power to operate independently. Moriko was almost cheered by the sight of Atlitzin the suicune appearing in the faintest of auroral haloes and then snarling at a junior ranger to bring her a cup of coffee.

Belladonna walked by, and she started when she saw them.

"How do you all keep turning up?" she said, exasperated. "I told you to go—"

"The Gray Prince has our friend," Matt said. "We need a ranger."

Belladonna blew out her cheeks. "I told you. Come on."

The gym leader drew them past the lines of pokémon rangers and guards, and strode into an operations tent. Inside were three rangers with captain's insignia crowded around screens, with haphazard bundles of cables strewn around and half-hidden under covers. The dim interior was a kaleidoscope of interfering light from the monitors, as weather- and aura- and other radars Moriko didn't understand wheeled in false color.

"Lark, the demon mystic kidnapped a kid," Belladonna said, by way of greeting.

The ranger-captains looked up at her, and the two women went back to the reports they were reading or hearing. Ranger-Captain Lark made a show of removing his headset before approaching Belladonna. He was short, with close-cropped gray hair, and his ranger uniform's sleeves rolled up and coat open in the closeness of the tent.

"Which one?" he asked.

"There's only one, Lark. The Gray Prince."

"Mm-hmm." He typed something into his pokédex and snapped it shut. "I'll see what we can do after this."

Moriko pushed forward. "Russ needs help now. This is the video call the Gray Prince sent with his pokédex. Russ isn't moving."

Lark watched the video, his face grave. Moriko winced at the sound of her own recorded voice.

Ranger-Captain Petrel watched briefly, too. "The Fire is there," she said quietly. She looked around the same age as Lark, with a thin and severe face, and black hair tucked under her ranger's cap.

"Don't tell the terrible two," Lark muttered.

Lark checked the metadata, sending the geolocation of the call to his own pokédex. He turned it off carefully and handed it back to her.

"I can't help. Not right now," he said gently.

"You must have someone—"

"All of my people are on essential jobs. We're gearing up for another flight. The Gray Prince isn't a trivial task, I can't spare the crew needed."

"What's the use of rangers, then?" Moriko choked out, furious. A tantrum. She didn't care. "He's dying! He could be dead! He needs you!"

"I have to protect everyone. Everyone." Lark sighed and pulled out a squashed tissue pack, and put it in her hands. "Not just me, not just you, not just your friend, not just my people—everyone. And we have to make judgements on that basis. I have to. I have to even when it hurts. I'm sorry."

Ranger-Captain Lark gestured, and a couple of juniors appeared to escort them out.

"Moriko," Belladonna said outside the tent, halting. "I'm sorry." She left, intent on her own duties.

Matt wiped at his eyes. "Stupid," he muttered.

Linden looked between them, and finally took Moriko's hand.

Moriko squeezed Linden's hand, and she looked angrily out at the camp. "There must be something we can do."

They approached the staging area where flying pokémon were preparing for their next runs, and the gym leaders were there with their strongest acolytes in the mix. Belladonna spotted them again and mouthed "go home". She was securing the flight harness on her enormous mantigore, bigger and higher-level than the one Maia had fought in Porphyry.

They tried to find someone who looked like they were in charge and were suddenly facing Dragut, one of the Elite Four. Moriko had met him briefly on Thalassa Isle; he'd been wearing his battle costume then, but here he'd shed the pirate garb for a more sensible altitude-flying jumpsuit. It wasn't flattering, built more for function than form, but he was good-looking enough to make it look like an amusing affectation, and his thick black ringlets spilled out from under the hood.

"Are you three lost? Do you need help getting inland?" Dragut asked.

Moriko shook her head. "We need your help, sir—the Gray Prince is here and he's taken our friend."

"Speak to the rangers—"

"We already did."

Dragut smiled sadly. "If they said no, then it's no. Listen, let my assistant help get you to an evac site. You don't want to be here when the whiscash gets its act together. This could be the big one."

A ranger flicked something onto Dragut's pokédex in passing. He read it briefly and then laughed. "Moriko Sato, eh? Didn't I meet you earlier? I give you one of my patented pep talks, but you go off and get in trouble all summer?"

Moriko smiled nervously and tried to see his pokédex screen, but he turned it off and let his arm fall.

"I know how it is, once you've got a taste for danger, but this is not the same. We will go look for your friend when the whiscash is done."

Dragut's hurocco ambled over, its translucent body shifting under its rocky armor studded with barnacles and dried salt. "We can't work if we have to protect you at the same time," it said. "Think about your pokémon."

They allowed themselves to be pushed off by the elites' helpers. The three found a spot to watch the proceedings, hoping for another shot at persuading someone to go find Russ.

"…That is an absurdly pretty man," Moriko said.

"Right?" Matt muttered.

Linden huffed. "You guys are weird."

The camp shifted as the start time for the run grew closer, and the rangers' activity intensified. The ranger-captains strode out of their tent flanked by juniors and PRED soldiers.

A proximity alarm peeped and several soldiers pointed their guns at the sky. People dropped to the ground, swearing.

The woman in black landed on her bare feet, blue fire still streaming out of her mouth and nose. To Matt's delight, no one paid her any attention after the initial scare: the PRED soldiers relaxed their weapons and moved off. Even a few soldier-pokémon flipped their tails at her dismissively.

Ranger-Captain Petrel rolled her eyes and Crane shook her head; they left it to Lark again. He folded his arms, watching the Black Queen, and waited.

She ignored the rest of the ranger corps just as effectively. "My enemy is coming. Be ready," the woman said to Captain Lark, portentous as usual.

He made a quick note on his pokédex. "Will do."

The Black Queen shifted, as if expecting more, and then she reformed into the charizard and shot into the sky. Matt smiled at seeing her discomfited for once, if only a little.

Lark watched her go. "Great, like I needed this. Maybe she'll die this time."

Matt sputtered, his head snapping around. "You… want her to lose?" he said, slowly. He seemed to be shocked that he was saying it.

"Do not do anything she says," Lark said. "It's the longest con on Gaia. Fucking mystics."

"Look, I don't like her either—I don't like her at all, but the Gray Prince is real—"

"Oh, he's real, and he would be far less dangerous if not for her."

The three of them stared at him.

"…What?" breathed Matt.

"Without her he just steals a little from people who have some adept talent, and what happens to them? They get tired, they get sick." Lark grew conversational, happy that he had an audience. "The Wandering Fire kills people, sometimes, mostly he just hurts them. More people get hurt falling off of logs in Kanto where there's a ranger hobbling behind every ten-year-old with a bandage and a juicebox. But then she shows up and it's fucking Ragnarok, it's miles of destroyed woodland or reef and villages burning to the ground, and he drains his victims fighting her."

"She's—don't tell me he's fucking not that bad are you fucking joking—"

Lark frowned, turning stern. "She is just. As. Bad. I hope they both die, but I will accept either, and frankly I wonder what she will do when he's dead."

"He kills people," Matt snapped. "Don't tell me he just—don't fucking tell me—"

"What, do you know him or something?"

"He killed my friend! I've spent ten years—"

"Well, sorry. Look, I have to think about the numbers. I told you: my duty is to everyone. She has no loyalty, she has no duty, she just has the hunt. She will throw you into her war, same as him. He puts a drain on you, but he leaves you somewhere to sweat it out. She tells you that you owe her and makes you fight. You will die, and she will not even break stride."

They stared at him, shocked.

"…And what are you still doing here?" He pulled out his pokédex. "O'Shea, can I get a junior up here to send these three lookie-loos home?"

"If you can't go find Russ the least you can do is let us help. We can speed up the fight!" Moriko said, trying another tack.

Captain Lark laughed. "You three will be about as useful as a fourth head on a dodrio." He counted on his fingers. "You don't know the techniques, you don't know our call signs, you don't have our training. We have to work together carefully to attack at effective range without putting ourselves at unreasonable risk. All of my rangers have drilled and flown live for hundreds of hours."

"I've been on a dozen expeditions, I'm an S-tier trainer—" Linden protested.

"Regardless of how good a trainer any of you are, you do not have the expertise to be here." He listened to something on his pokédex and shook his head, holstering it. "Look, I'll cut you a deal: you can stay in the ops tent and watch if you're quiet, and behave."


Waiting for them at the operations tent were three legendaries, which instantly made this both the best and worst day of Moriko's life.

Chasseur-Droit and Chasseur-Gauche the mewtwo were there with Atlitzin the suicune. They were less famous than the heavy hitters in the elite pokémon tournaments, and few pokémon's names were as well-known as that of Primus, the first mewtwo, but they were still significant ranger-pokémon in their own right.

Droit was smaller and slighter, mew-like, while his sister was towering with a buck kangaroo's not-quite-human musculature and a calcified club on the end of her tail. Atlitzin had a paper cup clutched in one of her white streamer tails and was sipping coffee.

Gauche made a mental buzz, an indeterminate throat-clearing noise. "Heard you guys are having a rough day."

"You could say that," Matt said, eyeing them.

"We heard you got Nocturna to leave her gym. Thank you." Droit nodded to them. "It's been two years, someone said."

"We set the demon pokémon that was in there free, too, so you might not be thanking us in a little while," Moriko said glumly.

Gauche laughed. "We'll cross that bridge. In the meantime, I wanted to let you know that we hear you, and we're going to do what we can."

"Why aren't you going now?" Moriko asked, anger sparking as she looked up at the seven-foot-tall legendary. "Everyone telling us wait, wait—the Gray Prince is real! The scars he leaves on people are real! The deaths are real! Do you not know? Why is this such a low priority?"

Moriko jumped as Atlitzin crushed the empty cup and ate it. She rose to her feet, stretching.

"You tell me, kid. We're just as much in the dark," the suicune said.

Droit spread his hands. "The Ranger Corps takes the Prince seriously only when it comes to not engaging him. Their policy is to avoid him and all the other higher-level demon pokémon entities unless absolutely forced to. I've been driving the Fire out of Kantonian cities for twenty years and wondering if maybe I should let him go after people, just for them to take it seriously. As soon as he leaves town they lose interest."

"We know what they're like," Atlitzin said. "I've known for centuries. When this place was all pagodas I knew. The ranger higher-ups don't like when it turns out weird legends are real. I don't know why, I'm an old, weird legend and they cut me a paycheck every two weeks."

"The too-long-didn't-read is that we want to help you and we will," Gauche said. "But we have to neutralize the whiscash first. It could level Porphyry City with earthquakes or worse."

"He's dying, Gauche. Help him. Please."

Gauche sighed and took Moriko's hand; the mewtwo's skin was soft and rubbery, like a dolphin's. "This isn't a comfort, and in some ways it's worse: it is rare that he'll kill someone. But it's extremely common that he'll toy with them. Torture them. He may live. Hold on to that, alright?"


They watched the flights proceed on the viewscreens, piped in by camera drones: the gym leaders and elites and their acolytes, the ranger teams and ranger-pokémon, PRED soldiers and soldier-pokémon, all flying in formation to bombard the whiscash while dodging its weather and hazards.

The bombardment grew almost banal, proceeding with clockwork efficiency. The whiscash had no ability to avoid attacks or even react. It had not fainted only because of its enormous energy and stamina. The random movement of its waterspouts was the greatest danger; its absurdly powerful but agonizingly telegraphed attacks could do nothing but miss. Eventually it was like watching people bring down a wall with their bare hands: significant, but gods, so slow.

Fatigue had caught up with Matt, and he was curled up on Maia's side, out cold. The tibyss's eyes and spots shone in the dimness of the tent. Linden did not obey the order to be quiet, but no one hushed her: the technicians were bored too, eagerly answering her questions without taking their eyes off their screens. Vleridin rested at Moriko's heart, waiting, waiting.

She fell asleep eventually, because she was woken up by a buzz from her pokédex. She frowned; she thought she'd turned off nearly all notifications, and they had poor reception out here anyway—

1 new message – Russ (Pokédex)

Her hands shook. Don't open it. Don't open it. I don't

But it could be information, it could be a clue, some hint, some weakness.

What do you want, you gray fuck

It was a video message. Russ's face appeared, poorly contrasted.

"Moriko," Russ said, eyes wild, "Moriko, they're gone for a moment—tell the rangers—tell them where I am, Moriko, please, tell them, I can't connect—I'm running out of battery—help me—" He looked around and swore. "Get through you piece of shit—"

Message ends.


She jumped. Matt shrank back. She realized she was crying.

"What do I do?" she whispered.

The rangers wouldn't go. They had triaged it out and they would not go.

The tent erupted, multiple systems screeching and flashing harshly. The aura radar spiked way out of range, and the display flooded with out-of-bounds messages. One of the rangers tipped his chair over with a curse, and Linden jerked awake from her doze.

Another ranger spoke hurriedly into her headset, fingers flying over the projected keyboard. "Charlie Alpha this is Bravo One, do you copy? Three bogeys on radar zenith, aura four hundred, confirm. Over."

"Bravo One this is Charlie Alpha actual, confirm bogeys. All units full abort. Repeat: all units full abort. Over."

Camera drones scrambled, altering course to get close-ups of the whiscash. Two human figures had landed and were perched on its head as if on the prow of a ship. Something dark and winged was coming down out of the sky toward them; its outline blurred and melted into more winged shapes, and an enormous deepsea gyarados reared out of the water.

It was the Prince and the Fire and the Queen, and all her ensouled pokémon. Attacks started to pelt back and forth, shadow and fire, stone and water. The ranger techs were ignoring the show, speaking low and urgent to everyone who needed to hear.

A burst of energy knocked out drones and set monitors peeping as their displays garbled. When it cleared, there was something red and horned and burning on the whiscash, screaming out fire into the air. Hyper beams lanced back and forth in searing blue-white.

Moriko's vision shook. She had only one thought.

"Russ is unguarded," she said aloud.

They shot out of the tent. Moriko flung Liona's pokéball down, and the griffin pokémon reformed, already crouched to lift off.

Matt stopped, helpless. "I don't have a flying pokémon."

"Sylvia?" Moriko gasped out, climbing onto Liona's back.

His hands opened and closed. "…She could be hurt. How are you going to bring Russ back?"

Linden froze for a moment and then shoved her flygon's great ball at Moriko. "Help her, Myrmel! Go, Moriko! Run!"

They shot over the dark forest, Liona's wings pumping. The wind rushed past them as she manipulated it, thinned it and turned it behind her to fly faster and faster.

"We'll find him, Moriko!" Liona called back to her.

Moriko watched their position tick down to the coordinates that had been on Russ's message; they were nearly the same as what the gray man had sent. They came to a break in the trees, and Moriko could see something white and red lying in the grass.

Liona descended carefully. Moriko stayed on her back a moment, waiting, scanning with her pokédex. Nothing on the app but her pokémon… and Russ's. They were all there. Moriko trembled, nearly fell as she jumped down. She was crying again, shaking with terrible hope and relief and the sudden absence of terror—

Sylvia was lying in the grass too—

They weren't moving—

Moriko flung herself forward, breathing hard, nearly sobbing—they were all right, they were fine, they just fought with the demons and were a bit hurt, it was fine—

She took huge gulps of air and tried to calm down, checking Russ for injury—there was no blood—he was fine, he had to be—

demons could take human energy
draining a pokémon's energy killed it


She put her fingers on his throat, tried to feel his pulse, but she was shaking too hard, teeth chattering. Come on! Get it together!

Something green, something steadying at her heart. Calm, now, Moriko.

She felt his breath on her hands, and she just wept. It was all she had left.

"I'm sorry, Russ—come on, let's get you home—" she managed to say. She still wasn't sure what his injuries were, and jerked her hands away at the thought of spinal ones, tricky to regen. She should call Matt and Linden and get them to send a ranger at last with a board—

"Hello, Moriko," said a voice.

Moriko shot to her feet and threw down Rufus and Tarahn's pokéballs. Vleridin leapt out of her body in a burst of green light.

There was no one there.

The three of them stood around her as she scanned with her pokédex. No one, just them, just Russ's pokémon—

"Over here. Let me get a look at you."

A woman smiled at them. She was pretty and well-dressed, with her long hair framing her face.

"Do you remember me, Moriko?"

A face that the eyes slid off like oil. What color was her hair? Her skin? Her clothing? It was obvious, it was on the tip of the tongue, and then one looked away, drifted.

"Oh, my dear," she said, "you have great rage in your heart. You belong with me. You always have."

Moriko's eyes raked her face, again and again, uncomprehending.

"Who are you?" she managed to say.

"Long ago I had a name, a name that no one spoke. Fire-bringer, they called me, gift-giver, the Spirit of Wrath. Bane was I to queens and to devils. Armies would fall before those I had chosen. I am the raised hand and the falling sword. When a vixen fights a wolf for her kit I am there. When the horn sounds and spearpoints rise over the ridge I am there. When the earth trembles and brings forth fire I am there.

"I have a gift, a gift that I give but rarely, a gift of a clear eye, of heart's fervor unfettered at last."

She was smiling, but Moriko could not see her face. "Do you remember me?"

Moriko swayed.

There was an ember at her heart, and if she did not touch it, did not look at it, but held it suspended, it could never burn her.

"I gave them my gift when you were young. I let them see each other clearly. Did you see?"

"Shut up," Moriko said.

"Rise, Russell Scott," said the Spirit of Wrath. "Rise, Sylvia, wolf's daughter, dragon-born. See clearly."

There was a long, breathless moment, the shadows growing between the trees and the mist thickening. Gone was the sun; they stood in the memory of a day long past, overcast.

Autumn. The house by the brook.

Russ stood, he stood at last, his head and arms as limp as a puppet's, and as the demon let fall her hands he fell too.

Moriko rushed forward to support him. "Russ! What did she do? Say something, please!"

"Sylvia…" Rufus rumbled, following. The oxhaust knelt on the forest floor, and he stroked the borfang's limp shoulder, his broad armored hands gently mussing the fur.

Sylvia lunged for his neck.

Russ found his footing and grabbed Moriko's arm and yanked, throwing her to the ground.

The air thudded out of her. She was so confused, there must have been some mistake, in a moment Russ would help her up, Russ would take her hand and apologize, Russ would—

He grabbed her throat. She couldn't see his eyes, his face. What was he thinking?

It got dim, it got far away.

Tarahn yowled and tackled Russ, and Moriko could breathe again. She rolled, gasping, and something slashed at her and left red-hot lines on her back. She lurched, scrabbling to her feet.

It was Sylvia, fighting Rufus: her wings lashed out; her jaws left furrows in his armor; her claws skittered over it; her tail glowed with teal dragon-type energy and thudded on him. Her eyes were rolled into her head, sightless.

"Moriko!" Rufus called to her. He tried to hold Sylvia out at arm's length. "What do I do?"

Her vision swam. She was dazed; important information was beating on her brain, but it made no sense.

She saw Russ stand up, eyes rolled back, limbs dangling inhuman and grotesque, as if something had yanked on his strings.

"Knock her out!" Moriko forced out, and she stepped back, dodging clumsily, as Russ came for her again.

Vleridin snorted and put herself between Moriko and Russell, and she grunted as he struck her.

"Moriko! Why is he—?" Tarahn shouted.

"Thunder wave him! I don't—he's not—something's wrong!"

Tarahn reared up and cuffed Russ—no claws—sending him staggering, and followed it up with a pulse of yellow electricity. Russ fell, twitching, but kept trying to stand, his legs working furiously and driving his face into the dirt. He lunged, drawing his own blood.

"Russ! Russ!" Moriko heard herself saying. Begging. "Snap out of it!"

Rufus hit Sylvia harder and harder, and it still wasn't enough to get her more than a few feet away before she surged back, wrapping her claws and clawed wings around him and driving them into the spaces between his armored plates. His fists were a mess of green and black ichor.

Russ and Sylvia didn't speak; all she could hear was the violence of their breathing and the thuds and screeches of their blows. Rufus' breaths were starting to sound like sobs.

"Counter, Rufus! She has no control!"

Rufus blasted her back again and again, but he was panting from the cuts while Sylvia had no end to her furious energy. Vleridin summoned vines and wrapped them around Sylvia's neck and forelegs, and at last the oxhaust could use his greater weight to pin the borfang's flailing limbs.

"He sees you clearly now, Moriko," the Spirit said, from somewhere in the mist. "Do you want to see him?"

"Stay away!" she shouted back.

Tarahn thunder waved Russell again, and the two of them backed away. Russ kept coming, crawling.

"You will see him, Moriko."

The demon's voice came from behind them, and they spun. Nothing there.

"You will see him so clearly. Don't you want to? Don't you want to know? I can tell you, you know. I can tell you every secret. All is laid bare."

Russ punched Moriko in the face as she turned, and she dropped her head, limping away. It felt like nothing and then it felt like fire and ice; the blood ran down the curve of her lip and fell in the dirt. Tarahn headbutted Russ in the groin and pushed him down again, but he hit him and found his feet, oblivious.

"Vleridin, help! Rootbind!"

Gnarled vine shot out of the ground and curled around Russ's limbs, and he shredded his skin twisting out of them.

"There's no need to hold back, Moriko," the demon said. "No hesitation. No compunctions. No quarter. Just clarity."

"Get away from me!"

"Do you feel this, Moriko? You do. I know it. Your heart is so loud."

"Let him go! Stop this! I'll kill you—"

"Do you see?"

Moriko fell to her knees; her skin felt hot, shot through with needles.


The green anger at her heart turned red, turned white, turned searing, and

she wanted to hit something until her knuckles were raw and bloody​

she wanted to bite something until her mouth was filled with blood and her teeth were loose​

she wanted to drive her fingers into skin and eyes and dig out slithery organs and brain matter

she wanted to kill​

she would kill​




just like

A clear tone rang out in the clearing; it chimed again, and louder, a sound as pure as sunlight. Moriko plunged into water, the hideous, hot feeling evaporating away in an instant.

The red mist cleared, and she was staring into Tarahn's horrified face.

"…Hi?" he said.

She slowly became aware that she was hanging in Vleridin's vines. Her whole body ached; her limbs felt wrenched from their sockets, and there was blood all over her face. She sniffed experimentally, spraying Tarahn, who flinched back in disgust.

"Sorry," she said, and winced. She probed around her mouth with her tongue, gods, what—

"I may have hit you. You tried to bite me," Vleridin murmured.

Memory came back to her in a sick flash. "Where's Russ?" she asked desperately. "Where's the demon?"

Russell was lying on his side, breathing shallowly. Rufus stumped over after a moment, carrying the limp and battered Sylvia.

And that suffocating presence of the Spirit was gone.

Celeste stepped out of the trees.

For an instant Moriko didn't recognize her; for an instant she was as tall as the sky, horned and crowned and mailed in glittering scales and wreathed in shimmering feathers. But the moment passed and the celestiule was there in sunset colors. Moriko's head was pounding, and her body ached from the blows she'd taken.

"Rest, now, Moriko. Well done," Celeste said.


With the fight against the ancient pokémon disrupted, a few junior rangers were free to help them. They flew in on a transport to take Russell and his pokémon away. Matt and Linden came as well, and they lunged for Moriko, hugging her. She patted them awkwardly, dazed and sore.

"Moriko, what happened? Were there minor demons? I should have gone!" Linden said, looking at the dried blood on her face and groaning.

She shook her head. "I miscounted. There were three figures in the call. Celeste drove her off."

"Fuck, there was a third one? Who?" Matt asked.

"She called herself the Spirit of Wrath."

"Never heard of her."

Moriko took a deep breath. "I had. I think I had. Not by name, though."

Matt was about to say something, but Ranger-Captain Lark interrupted, swaggering off the transport. He clapped his hand on Moriko's shoulder.

"Very brave," he said. "Nearly-fatally stupid, but very brave."

Moriko showed her teeth. "Anytime, sir."

Lark laughed, and he beckoned them over to the jumpcraft.


Moriko lay down in the med tent after a swallow of painkillers and a spritz of potion. She was utterly, bonelessly exhausted, but her nerves were still jangling.

Vleridin shoved her velvet snout in her face. "Don't ever do that again," the mooskeg said.

"Do what?" Moriko asked, peering at her blearily.

Vleridin huffed and sank to her belly beside the cot. "Humans!" she said savagely. "You are too fragile to be permitted to go about—you die, or are permanently paralyzed by falls, by physical injuries, are burned, freeze to death—and you keep us in pokéballs!"

Moriko laughed and studied the tent ceiling. "Well, what's the alternative?"

"What's—Moriko! When we fought the grendile, I took all the injuries, and so did she. You and Belladonna walked away untouched. Stay in my body! Walk with me! I can fall pierced at the heart and become energy and be well that evening thanks to humans. Your twig body has deep bruises from simple blows that will be days healing. Foolishness! Unutterable foolishness!"

Moriko smiled and put out her hand to scratch Vleridin behind her antlers. They'd avoided ensouling at first, unless it was necessary, but after the battle with Belladonna… Well, they'd spent so much time on trains… and then it'd started to feel normal.

She thought of the dreams she'd been having of swimming, of salt water and cool mud and deliciously green water plants, of battling friends—and foes, their blood in her mouth and on her hooves.

And she thought of how useful ensouling was and how no one did it, and she thought of the woman in black and her ten pairs of eyes.

She tried to say I don't think we should do this anymore. She didn't.
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