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Gaiien Region: Gods and Demons: Chapter 6

by Keleri

Keleri The gang heads to the second gym; the gym leader has a surprise for his final pokemon.
A/N: The pronouns in the pokémon fights here were a mess, let me know if you see any errant ones. Thanks for reading!

Chapter 6

Hubris / Our Lady of Thorns / My Great Joy

- June 30th 128 CR

Verdure Town's gym was a greenhouse, a steel skeleton holding hundreds of glass composite panels. The three of them entered through a double set of doors into the humid interior and were instantly surrounded by rich beds of plants and fully grown trees. An attendant registered them for battles with the gym leader and directed them further inside.

They crossed bridges over artificial streams, boots thumping on the wood, and passed a number of decorative koi ponds. One such pond contained a number of water plants that, upon closer inspection, proved to be a collection of lotad: the young pokémon burbled excitedly when they approached but lost interest just as quickly. A few of the forks they took terminated in a circular space with benches or an art piece.

The path wound around and through the plant collection, meandering until Matt was nearly jogging, annoyed, impatient to see the gym leader. At last the plants opened into an arena cut into the gray rock of the mountain.

It was a different style than the modest setup Tierra had had back in Umber Village: the arena was stone with a moat cut around it and two raised trainer boxes at either end. No bleachers, but you could stand at a railing behind the moat as a spectator or referee. It was more technological than Tierra's as well; there were cameras on rails above the arena to record matches and contacts for an energy shield for high-level matches.

Moriko wondered suddenly how Tierra conducted S-tier fights without damaging her gym. Then again, a high-level ground-type match was likely to just be earthquake after fissure after mudslide attack, so maybe she had another site well outside the town.

"So nice of you three to join me. How'd you like my maze?"

The gym leader, Hawthorn, approached them. Moriko recognized him from the headshot from the gym website. He was a good-looking Asian guy with sea-green genehan hair and eyes, and he was wearing a pristine and crisp white suit. He had six pokéballs on a carrying loop in his hand.

"Pretty, certainly, but not a challenge," Matt said.

Hawthorn bowed, a trifle mocking. "I value the aesthetic quality of my greenhouse as much as the confounding, so I shall take that as a compliment. Welcome to the gym. I'm a plant-type specialist, as you've probably researched. Who wants to go first?"

"I will," said Matt. "Matthew Reyes."

Rushing ahead again. Moriko couldn't figure out if it was for her and Russ's benefit, letting them see how the leader battled before jumping in; or for his own, to try to catch the leader off-guard. Or both, or some other tooth-grindingly clever strategy.

"Two-on-two, no items, no time limit, switches allowed. Do we have an accord?"


Moriko and Russ moved to the railing to observe. Matt and Hawthorn made their way to their respective trainer boxes, which elevated smoothly at the touch of a button.

A league referee in black and purple stepped out of a hidden stairwell and took her place behind a row of monitors, which would track the battle, the attacks used, and pokémon health. That was more like it: Tierra's gym had been casual and friendly, but it was good to get these official matches recorded.

"Trainers ready?" the ref called, her voice amplified. "Select your pokémon!"

"Go, Tak!"

"Go, Casey!"

Matt's new honchkrow cawed derisively at his opponent, a venusaur. It was probably newly evolved, given the gym's level bracket and its size: it was smaller and had a less massive flower compared to the hoary old obaasans you saw posed beside their equally old Kantoan trainers on TV.

Tak chattered something that Moriko barely followed—swear words, probably—and the venusaur blinked and let a few of its vines snake out.

"You may begin!"

"Wing attack," Matt said.

"Sleep powder."

The venusaur shook its leaves, releasing a large cloud of bluish-gray powder, but Tak sped through it, heedless. Twirling, he struck his opponent with outstretched wings.

Hawthorn snapped his fingers and muttered something that his mic half picked up; it sounded like "insomnia". Ah. Honchkrow's ability.

"Dive bomb it, Tak."

The honchkrow flew up high and dove toward the venusaur. It stood its ground, summoning a cloud of razor leaves. Tak punched through them, but it took some of the force out of his attack, and Casey followed it up with a body slam that caught the honchkrow on the rebound.

Tak flapped awkwardly away, and his opponent had a wound on its side that was bleeding dark plant-type ichor freely.

"Finish it off," said Matt.


Tak came around again with another wing attack, and took the toxic attack full on, the poisonous gel clotting on his feathers. He scraped along the venusaur's side, slicing off leaves while weathering fitful slaps from its vines.

Casey looked like it was almost out, but it fired another blot of poison at Tak, and this one looked like it stung. The honchkrow screeched, dropping to the ground and hopping to right himself, and finished his opponent off with a flurry of pecking attacks.

"Return, Case," Hawthorn said. He replaced the venusaur's pokéball and selected a new one, and then smiled at Matt. "Nice work so far, but I'm going to have to negate your type advantage. Go, Illa!"

The gym leader's next pokémon was a sort of small camel: it had greenish-yellow fur with gold strands like long, dry grass along its neck and jutting out from its shoulder blades.

Galvallama, the static pokémon, said the pokédex. A plant- and electric-type, it evolves from alpavolt with age or a thunder stone. It is quite docile and is used as a pack animal in the mountainous areas where it resides. When its mane is sticking straight out, its electrical power is fully charged.


"Thunderbolt, Illa."

"Night slash."

Tak was flagging, poisoned, but he charged at the galvallama and raked it with his talons, just in time to take the full force of the thunderbolt attack. He cawed weakly as Matt recalled him.

Matt thought for a moment, the counter ticking down, before tossing Bjorn's great ball out onto the field.

The wood-brown ursaring seemed to unfold as he stood on his hind legs, and gave an enormous roar. He towered over the smaller galvallama.


"Thunder wave, Illa."

"Slash, Bjorn."

Bjorn growled and loped towards the galvallama. Illa emitted a pulsing wave of energy as he drew near; with a roar, the ursaring swiped at the plant-type—

And halted suddenly, a few centimeters from contact. Bjorn twitched and shook, every muscle locked in a state of paralysis. Illa warbled a laugh and headbutted the ursaring in the belly.

Bjorn struggled to his feet again, massaging his stomach and trying to get his wind back. Meanwhile, Illa was dancing just out of his reach, taunting, laughing and occasionally sending a thundershock or two his way. Enraged, he tried to lunge at the cheeky galvallama but found that all his limbs were stiff. His gait was lumbering before, but now it was a painful shuffle. He swiped jerkily as Illa darted in and out of range, getting angrier and angrier—

"Bjorn! Think for a second!"

The ursaring actually stopped in his tracks as Matt said that. Then, bizarrely, he dropped to all fours, hid his face, and… started crying? Bjorn had turned his back on Illa and was making sad, mewling cub sounds.

Moriko frowned. "What the…"

"Is this a technique?" muttered Russell.

The galvallama was equally mystified; it crept around its opponent in a wide arc, staring. Bjorn crawled closer, sobbing.

"Illa, watch it—"

Bjorn's feint attack caught his opponent with a devastating blow to the head, and it went tumbling across the arena. It lay there limply, the referee's flag shooting up on the sidelines as Hawthorn recalled it.

"Fake tears," said Hawthorn. He shook his head. "I should have known. Congratulations—you can pick up your badge from the attendant."

Matt returned Bjorn and leapt off the platform before it had fully descended, landing catlike on the concrete floor.

"Whew!" he said. He pushed his hair back from his sweating brow. "I was a little worried for a minute there."

"That was a dirty trick," said Russell, grinning. "I'll have to remember that one."

"Who's next?" asked Matt.

"I'll go, unless you want to, Mor," Russell said.

"All yours."

Russ scanned his trainer ID and rode the trainer box to its higher point over the arena. His ID photo flashed onto the screens near the referee's station. Moriko winced at the old picture, but it was quickly replaced by a live one, a camera focused on him.

"Same conditions as before?" Hawthorn asked.


First flag from the ref. "Select your pokémon!"

"Go, Keigan!"

"Go, Xylia!"

The gym leader's choice was a leafeon. It seemed small and drab next to Russ's new springbuck, whose pink and blue hide and white spiraling horns all demanded attention.

"This might be interesting," Matt commented, arms folded as he regarded the brief pre-battle posturing.


"Leafeon are tough and strong—the springbuck better stay out of its way."

"Shouldn't be too hard, he can fly—"

Second flag. "Begin!"

"Xylia, swords dance."

"Gust, Keigan."

Keigan's small wings fluttered. He hovered like a cotton candy reindeer, using his air-type powers to fly, and he whipped up the gust attack.

The leafeon leapt and whirled. The gust didn't interrupt its dance; its ragged, kinked leaves stood out straight and took on suddenly keen edges.

"Stay out of its reach, Keigan," Russell said. "Gust again."

"Razor leaf."

Xylia shook itself, producing a cloud of leaves that shot up and after the springbuck. He maneuvered in the air, dodging, but several hit and sliced through his pelt, leaving streaks of red. He exhaled another gust attack that the leafeon tried to sidestep, but it struck and scattered some of the extra razor leaves.

"Aerial ace."

Xylia disappeared and reappeared, almost teleporting, and struck Keigan a ferocious blow that hurled him to the ground. He righted himself just in time, hooves skidding on the stone of the arena instead of the full-body hit he'd seemed destined for. His eyes glowed pink and the leafeon's second aerial ace faltered, but still hit him hard.

"Charm," Matt commented.

"I know."

"Whirlwind, Keigan!"

The vortex caught Xylia at close quarters and it was trapped, buffeted by the wind.

"Gust and horn attack!"

The springbuck added more power to the whirlwind, and his opponent was jounced around, silvery air-type energy slicing along its pelt. He charged in to strike at it with his horns. The leafeon bounced out of the whirlwind, and Keigan followed up with more gusts, leaving it looking battered. Hawthorn finally recalled it.

Keigan wasn't in good shape, though: he was panting after weathering those powerful blows. Too bad, it would have been nice for Russ to sweep the leader's team.

Hawthorn paused for a moment before selecting another pokéball and tossing it into the arena.

"Go, Jurojin."

A mooskeg appeared, brown and green with crowning white antlers; Moriko thought of the younger wild mooskeg she'd seen a few days before, smaller and less impressive.

Jurojin wasted no time after the flag from the ref, and charged Keigan as he rose into the air, striking him with its horns.

"Gust, Keigan! Keep your distance, same again!"

"Wrap, Juro."

Ah-ha. The mooskeg produced trailing vines from its neck, and it reached up to drag its opponent out of the air. Keigan flew higher, sending down another gust, but his attacks were getting weaker and easier to dodge as he grew tired.

Moriko keyed on her pokédex. "He's not that hurt, he has a couple good turns left before he faints."

Matt shrugged. "Wild pokémon don't fight until they faint, normally. He hasn't really internalized the idea of the pokémon center. He thinks he's gonna die."

Moriko felt a chill at that, and felt bad for forgetting. Wild pokémon lacked that safe refuge and effortless recovery; no wonder they'd often run from battle.

Russell also seemed to realize that Keigan wasn't ready to give it his all, and he recalled the springbuck.

Next up was Sylvia: the timbark arrived snarling, putting on a show, and Jurojin shuffled backward. The mooskeg was big, but so was Sylvia; she was getting ready to evolve, the branches on her shoulders widening their span.

"Horn attack."

"Crunch, Sylvia!"

The mooskeg charged in, Sylvia dancing around it and sinking her fangs into the meat of its neck, and it bellowed with pain. Its antlers yawed as it tried to hit the timbark, but that just dug her fangs in, worrying the muscle, and it could only scrabble at her with its hooves, panicking.

Pokémon weren't the same as animals, but the similarity to the wolf and the elk seemed to form a dreadful resonance, destiny pulling them on.

"Focus, Juro! Use wrap!"

The mooskeg remembered its vines and grabbed Sylvia's back paws, sweeping them and forcing her to let go at last. It staggered backward, its neck and chest a pulped mess streaming blood and sap—and glistening with poison, courtesy of her new poison fang technique.

Moriko's pokédex pinged as the PSN decal appeared on its readout.

Hawthorn surveyed the scene with his lips pursed, and finally recalled the mooskeg. "That's enough of that, I think," he said. "Congratulations, Russell. Good work, Sylvia."

Sylvia relaxed, her tail wagging as she accepted the compliment.

"Thanks! Great battle," Russ said politely, and recalled the timbark. The platform sunk to the ground and he dismounted from it, calling, "Your turn, Mor!"

Moriko exhaled, nervous claws sinking into her belly. She had a type advantage on two counts, so… everything would be fine.

"What?" she said, realizing Matt was talking to her.

"I said, good luck," he said, amused.

"Oh… thanks."

She nodded at Russell as she passed him and stepped over the gap onto the trainer's platform. Her heavy boots rang on the metal; she grasped the railing, taking care to keep her balance as the platform rose.

"Two-on-two, no items, no time limit, switching allowed. Agreed?"


Moriko's picture flickered onto the referee's display as she registered the battle.

"Select your pokémon."

"Go, Tarahn!"

"Go, Tuktu."

Hawthorn's latest choice was a yulerein, dark green in its summer forme with forward-arcing antlers bristling with pine needles. Moriko was used to seeing it as a cartoon, white and shining and surrounded by delighted children, but this one looked like it meant business.

Yulerein, the sleighing pokémon. An ice- and plant-type. There is a tradition where its antlers are decorated during the winter solstice. It is used in polar regions as a draft animal for its strength and endurance, and its resistance to cold.

Tarahn paced, the bells on his head and tail taking on a minor-key jangling, and from his posture she imagined his eyes wide, glittering with purple fire, and his mouth open with poison fangs bared.

Suddenly she felt disconnected, regretting and dreading the violence she sought, and she clutched at the steel railing hard enough to hurt.

Get your head in the game, kid, she thought. Let my eyes be their eyes; let my wisdom—such as it is—be theirs.

"Trainers, begin!"

"Frost breath, Tuk."

"Use poison claw!"

The yulerein exhaled a cloud of ice, white shards twirling and then shooting toward Tarahn, aiming for eyes, nose, belly. The raigar slowed, warbling in pain and rubbing at his face with a paw.

Moriko winced. "Watch it, Tarahn!"

Tuktu closed the gap between them, charging into the raigar with a headbutt. Tarahn scrabbled on the stone, reversing motion, and leapt onto the yulerein, his hind legs propelling him vertically. He swiped down Tuktu's flank with his claws with their whole weight behind them.

The yulerein bellowed in pain and shied away, stumbling, with dark blood and oozing poison coloring its fur.

That was more like it. "Thunder wave, Tarahn."

"Icy wind!"

Tarahn pointed his body at the yulerein, waves of electricity gathering and pulsing to arc between them. Tuktu's muscles seized, and it shuddered as it stood rigid. With an effort, the yulerein exhaled another blast of cold air.

Heavy crystals accumulated on Tarahn's fur and on the arena floor; they stabbed into his feet as he tried to shift position. He moved gingerly, sweeping with his paws while not taking his eyes off his opponent.

"Venom spray, Tarahn."

The raigar's physical attacks would do more damage, but he'd have to get there first. The battle had slowed to a crawl as both opponents circled each other, limping.

Tarahn hacked up a clot of poison, splattering Tuktu. It shuddered and exhaled another frost breath. Tarahn whined as the shards homed in on critical areas, and he shook, sending glittering frost crystals tinkling onto the arena floor.

The yulerein suddenly charged again, head lowered, catching Tarahn up and onto its antlers—shoot, it must have thrown off the paralysis—tossed its head to throw him—

Tuktu screamed as Tarahn clamped onto its neck with his claws and dug in, ripping gouges into the hide. It tried to throw him, and it overbalanced and fell, clattering, onto the stone. Tarahn yowled as he landed on the antlers, but managed to scrabble to his feet. He dove in, biting at the yulerein's throat—

"Tarahn! Stop!"

The raigar snarled, backing off, but the yulerein didn't rise. Plant-type ichor surged out of the wound in its neck. It kicked its legs weakly as Hawthorn recalled it.

Hawthorn took an ultra ball off his trainer belt and passed the other five to an aide, who took it into the back to an in-house pokécenter facility.

Moriko exhaled. "I think you'd better stop too, Tarahn."

The raigar was limping, leaving red footprints on the stone. "If you insist," he said lightly, but she could tell he was relieved.

Moriko clipped the raigar's scuffed pokéball to her belt and selected Rufus's ball, flicking it out into the arena. With a burst of red light, the fire-type bull materialized, bellowing, his mane and tail burning blue near the hide.

Hawthorn didn't throw the ultra ball. Moriko squinted across the arena at him; he was turning and turning it in his hands, looking down at his pokédex with an expression of dismayed fascination.

"You were unlucky today, Moriko. I forgot that I'd left this pokémon on my belt," he said eventually. "It's… not one that I usually bring out for tier two battles. It's just under the level limit or we wouldn't be having this conversation. You having a fire type makes me feel slightly better for my… oversight. You might actually have a chance."

Moriko felt a chill. She was used to pre-battle boasting and other dubious claims, but that flat, expressionless tone… "You can't go get a different pokémon?"

He sighed. "In the middle of a battle? Illegal. The match would be invalid." His wrist was curled inward, as if he could restrain what was in the ball with his body. "You can forfeit, when you see it, and come back tomorrow."

"You could forfeit," Moriko heard herself say.

Hawthorn's mouth quirked. "I… still have my pride. As do you. Let us dash ourselves upon the rocks of hubris. Are you ready?"

"Whenever you are."

Thorn nodded, looking tired. "Go, Spinoza…"

Moriko watched the ultra ball curve upward and hang in the air for a limpid moment before descending, and in yellow light—

It was like nothing she'd ever seen.

Thorns, thorns in a ball, and they unfolded: thorns and needles on long arcs of twisting metal and old, gnarled vines. It uncoiled like a mass of snakes, with the sibilant scraping of wire on wire.

It was tall and thin, the central body small with long arms and legs. Headless, its eyes opened, twin glowing holes in its chest.

Thornlem/Akanthamaton, the automaton pokémon (debated synonyms). A plant- and steel-type. It follows orders without question and will fight to the death. However, it will not attack unless instructed to, and birds nest in it for protection. According to legend, it is an artificial pokémon.

Moriko watched it wait for commands in utter stillness.

It will fight to the death.

She felt a yawning pit of violence open up before her, of humanity's attempts to coax new pokemon—artificial pokémon, clones, variants—out of nothing, out of the ashes of failed attempts, twisting energy and genetic matter in secret and terrible experiments. What resulted rarely thought well of humans.

She could forfeit.

But he'd know, he'd know she was coming, the girl with two double weaknesses to ground, and if he didn't have a torterra already he surely had something that knew dig or—hell—mud-slap. No. Well, it was grass- and steel-type, right? Two could worry about double weaknesses.

She looked down at Rufus, who was shifting with impatience. Couldn't hurt to try, could it?

"And so?"

She looked across the arena at Hawthorn. "Real spooky," she said, with a bravado she didn't feel.

Hawthorn swept his arms. "Behold my treasure, my lady of thorns. The royal family of Nalea commissioned an alchemist-adept, yea, long ago at the dawn of days, to create elementals that did not tire and did not sleep, and waited only to act on their command. Rangers find them, sometimes, wandering. From death, life; from silence, a word; from stillness, action. Can you stand against the akanthamaton, Moriko of Port Littoral?"

Moriko kept her face neutral, listening to the gym leader's obvious pride and sudden animation.

You shit, this is tier goddamn two. You're supposed to surprise me with a starmie, not an arcane pokémon.

The referee hadn't intervened, so it was all legal. She glanced at Rufus, who was looking up at her; he lashed his tail and snorted fire.

Fine. "Let's get started."

Hawthorn smiled. "Night slash."

"Incinerate, Rufus!"

The burnox arched his back, fire charging in whorls before merging into a sphere that launched at the thornlem, trailing embers.

It waited, as still as a statue, and then dropped to one knee with a whispering hiss. The fire attack dissipated harmlessly on Hawthorn's trainer platform.

Spinoza shot forward, swiping at Rufus with a hand full of needles and dark energy. The needles screeched over his metal armor and caught him on his unprotected hide, and he groaned, flinching away. He retreated and spat a burst of embers.

"Try incinerate again!"

"Again, Spinoza."

Rufus' second fire sphere connected directly: the thornlem was lit up now and yet indifferent to the flames licking along its vines. It tore at the burnox with another brutal clawing hit. Rufus shuffled backward again, bleeding freely.

Hawthorn leaned on the railing of his trainer box. "I'm sorry, Moriko… but your burnox just isn't on our level. We'll make an appointment for you for tomorrow."

Moriko wanted to snarl, her lips peeling back from her teeth and her hands clenched on the railing, accusations martialling: what a trick, a trick to torment traveling trainers, "accidentally" you cheating fuck—

"It's time to end this. Spinoza?"

And in the way the golem moved it became apparent that the blows it had dealt before were mere horseplay. Spinoza struck robot-fast, reaching out in a brutal backhanded swipe before Rufus could react.

He groaned, shaking his head. The second strike sent him tumbling, and he bawled as he skidded on the stone, metal armor drawing sparks and screeching.

Rufus rose, agonizingly; a trickle of blood dripped out of his mouth as he panted, every breath labored and painful. His flames had been reduced to a flickering trail of red-orange.

Moriko could barely think. Two pokémon with a type advantage, and this asshole with his too-strong pokémon—Oh, excuses!—What good was a trainer who couldn't win, who couldn't direct her pokémon effectively, who had to win with borrowed ones—


Matt's voice broke her out of her reverie. She looked up to see Spinoza going for another blow. Where was the ref?

She whipped out Rufus's pokéball. "Stop it! Ret—"

The arena erupted in light.

The thornlem stopped, halted in mid-swing. Moriko shielded her eyes, trying to see what was happening. Rufus was—

The light slowly faded, revealing an enormous figure. A minotaur, armored with overlapping steel plates over crimson hide with dark smoky splotches. His flames were burning with a burst of energy from the evolution, and he had pipes venting smoke on his back and shoulders.

Oxhaust, the furnace pokémon. A fire- and steel-type, it evolves from burnox near level 36. When it gets fired up, its body gives off thick smoke. It uses its heavy armor to withstand attacks up close. It is believed to have developed from exposure to ironworking and steam engines.

Rufus flexed, testing his new body, and he bellowed a stream of fire that flared blue at the arena ceiling.

With a hum, the shielding flicked on.

Rufus shifted, staring at Spinoza. It moved backwards very slightly.

He lunged, grabbing its outstretched limb, heedless of the needles, and vented an enormous flamethrower right into the center of its body.

The thornlem was engulfed in flame, its needles falling around it like rain, and it stood still for a shocked moment before its shape writhed and boiled. There was no sound from the creature save a dragging, knife-sharpening sound as its body rearranged itself with machine efficiency.

It no longer stood on the ground. It held onto the oxhaust with four arms, spiderlike, shedding steel and ash as it burned, and it fought on. It dragged its deadly fingers along Rufus' armor, finding the spaces where the hide was unprotected.

Rufus snarled, trying another flamethrower; the fire spread to its limbs, and he roared as it stabbed its big thorns into his hide, into seams at his neck and belly. He wrenched its grasping hands off him with a sound like twigs snapping and punched the golem right in the eyes. It flew through the air, still burning, and landed with a screeching wrench of metal.

It rose—still!—it rose again, one of its legs falling off with a clatter.

Hawthorn silently recalled it, yellow energy taken up and bundled away. He laughed quietly. "Pride," he said to himself, the mic barely picking it up. Louder: "You were lucky—"

"Funny how my luck changed," she said tightly.

The gym leader's face crinkled into an ironic expression. "You can pick up your badge at the front. Stay lucky, Moriko. Nice timing, Rufus."

Moriko nodded, not quite trusting herself to reply. Rufus sagged, his injuries reasserting themselves in the wake of his evolution: the blood was shiny and dark on his hide, fire dimming and dwindling. She recalled him as well.

"Great job, buddy," she whispered, putting his pokéball back on her belt with trembling hands.


The Seed Badge, and a little prize money from the league for their dwindling stores. Not enough to celebrate on, although Moriko found herself looking at the total on her pokédex wistfully and thinking of restaurant food. They walked out of the gym, heading down the street and back to the pokémon center. Matt let Maia out, the tibyss demanding attention after not getting to fight.

"There you go," Matt said. "Nice clutch evolution, but that only works once."

Moriko sighed, brittle.

"That was kind of scary, to be honest," Russell broke in.

"Yeah, he has two of those things," Matt said, showing them the photos on his pokédex. "He has a bigger one that he uses for S-tier battles. What an asshole. Imagine if Erika or Gardenia pulled that, people would lose it. Arcane pokémon shouldn't be in gyms, or not at tier two, at any rate."

Russ frowned. "Why does he—"

"Why do you think?" Matt gestured with his pokédex. "Look how upset she is."

"I'm not upset!"

Russ made a softening gesture and Matt shrugged. Russ hugged Moriko, one-armed, as they walked.

"Hey, you did it! And Rufus evolved!" He watched her expression. "You don't seem pleased."

She thought of all the blood and the huge gouges in Rufus' hide, of burning eyes in a monster's body that was unable to scream.

"That all was... heavy. He evolved in pain and fear. A little heavy for tier two."

"That's how they live," Matt said, quietly. "Blaze ability, to surge up strong in a pinch, to evolve in a pinch. It's what's driven their forms for thousands of years. They have always fought."

"And they fight for us. Is that fair? A fair trade? It's all their skin in the game." She looked at Maia.

The tibyss stared back. "I am made strong by humans. I can fight as much as I like, and afterward I am made whole. You have seen the wild ones running, have gnashed your teeth over it. They run because they must only snatch a bit of power here and there. Too badly hurt, they will diminish; too badly hurt, they are prey for killers and opportunists.

"Moriko, this is my great joy, to be here. Believe these words. But I speak only for myself. Ask him."


Rufus reformed out of energy in the pokémon center yard and looked around with interest, his gaze eventually coming back to Moriko.

"Hey," she said, softly.

The oxhaust crouched down to see her better. His eyes were blood-red, set deep into the armor on his face. He put out his hand, three-fingered and leathery, and she put her own on it, tiny, tiny.

"You seem sad," he rumbled.

"I'm sorry you got hurt today," she said.

Rufus rolled his shoulders; for all the severity of the cuts, they hadn't been life-threatening, and the pokécenter healing had closed them up without a mark. "Getting hurt isn't fun," he agreed. "But that was a good battle. I turned it around." He grinned, showing pointed teeth, and she felt nervous at the change in him, all those familiar bovine gestures replaced by humanoid ones. He watched her. "You don't like me, like this?"

"No! No. I do. Look how cool you are," she said, touching his metal-shod horns and spiked gauntlets. "I just felt worried that it... happened too fast. Happened badly. I was scared for you, scared of that... thing."

"It was creepy," Rufus said. "But it wasn't… mean." He stretched, swinging his arms, flexing the changed muscle. "I don't think it was anything," he said, contemplative. "Never seen that kind of pokémon."

A made thing. They'd made pokémon in labs, famously, the great drama of their time. But mewtwo and genesect were like any pokémon, eager or gloomy or cantankerous as the mood took them, or at least the movies had made them seem so.

Humans had always made pokémon. They'd shaped them for some destiny, some far-away fight that maybe never came, or that came much too soon.

She stared at her hands. "I was worried maybe it was too much, and you wouldn't want to battle anymore. If you feel that way I won't make you. You can do what you want."

Rufus exhaled a smoky, spicy breath. "I like battles. I like winning. Why stop when we're winning?" He squinted at her. "Do you want me to stop?"

"No! I mean. I want you to be happy, not scared or hurt. I'll do whatever will make that happen."

"Good. Tell me I look cool."

He straightened up and flexed his arms, doing bodybuilder poses. She laughed and started taking pictures with her pokédex camera, his spirit flames outlining his body and the faint smoke rising into the summer night.

  1. Keleri
    Thank you for reading PM!!! I had a lot of fun with this one.
    Nov 16, 2017
  2. Psycho Monkey
    Psycho Monkey
    Moriko vs Hawthorn was probably the coolest battle you've written yet Keleri! Pretty dickish for a Gym Leader to use what I'm assuming is a Legendary or Pseudo-Legendary. I had a feeling Rufus was going to evolve and turn the battle around and you certainly didn't disappoint on that! ^_^
    Nov 16, 2017
    Keleri likes this.