The sun approached the horizon from beneath, forcing a new morning sky to glow bright and gold as it emerged. Vera's pupils were reduced to pin-holes as she stared into its glory. A vision came to her, breaking her concentration and causing her eyes to dilate, letting the sun momentarily blind her as she twisted away and covered her face with a wing. "I cannot fly there in time to prevent this."
As her sight returned, she flew back to the town her friends had so recently left to alert Fenchone Plantation's pokecenter staff that her trainer would be arriving in a few hours with a minor injury and to request that they keep a room readied and a doctor in the office rather than calling for one after the patient arrived. She knew that her request would be granted at a price of a few simple readings performed for the center's staff.
The coffee felt as thick and heavy as molasses, and burned like a powerful acid. Fiona rubbed her eyes to see her tormentor and his ninetales standing tall above her. She was back on the chain.
"I told you before; you can't escape, you little shit." The hiker crouched next to her and leaned in closely. "I think you need to be trained double from now on. It'll cost me a small fortune buying revival salts, but what is five grand a year when it means getting to see you jerked out of your beauty rest to receive a second wallop?" His ninetales leaned in closely, too. She could feel the fox's hot breath ruffling her fur and feathers.
The hiker began to yell at her. "Get up! Get up, Fiona! We've got things to do, today." She felt the hiker place his hand on her; she knew that meant he was going to beat her personally this time, and lost control of her bladder. This was a shock, since she rarely was given enough water to urinate properly, but she had received plenty of water the night before, during and after her evolution. He released her, leaned back, and said something indistinct to his ninetales, but she knew what it had to be; something along the lines of "what a lazy little shit, tear her to pieces for me." The two leaned in again. "Hey, can you hear me? Get up, you're hav--"
Fiona screamed and slashed the hiker across his face, yelling. "I'm not a little shit! Not anymore, and--" she clasped her hands over her mouth. Theodore glanced at her with daggers in his eyes as he shoved Vincent out of the tent to tend to his wound, half-colliding with Zap, who bleated as he struggled to get up and out of their way. Fiona looked first at the blood on her claw, then at the puddle on her master's bedding, before squealing in shame.
When she regained her composure and peeked through the flaps of the tent, she saw Hal and Tio tending to Vincent. The scratch on the trainer's cheek was luckily superficial, no more than a cat scratch, but his nose suffered a deep cut. Theodore and Hal each took a turn sifting through Vincent's bag, equally unsuccessful in finding any first-aid products that would be useful to a human.
With a growling groan, Hal ripped a few scales from the tip of his tail--permanently revealing shining blue scales beneath--and stuck the gooey orange ones that he removed onto his master's nose. "That will hold the wound shut, but we gotta take you back to town and get a doctor on it."
Zap was still standing next to the tent, and startled Fiona when he spoke. "You ought to be more careful. It's not nice to attack a friend like that."
Vincent threw his hands into the air, "only half a day each way, right?"
Fiona approached slowly and nervously. "I'm so sorry, Master, I, I thought you were, I heard you talking but I saw him and it felt so real, and I, I went, I--"
Vincent barked an order at her. "Close your eyes." She obeyed, and he activated a luxury ball.
With his entire team--except his surfing vaporeon--recalled, Vincent hanged on tight as Phil skimmed along the channel that connected both halves of Lake Myrcene toward an array of windmills that stood tall but distant. To their fortune, the repel supply held out until Phil and his charge entered Fenchone Plantation via a small, neglected dock that leaned into the waterway.
Once back land, none of the trainers they crossed along the town's outskirts were rude enough to bully a wounded man into a field battle. Even a skinhead biker wearing an eye-patch let him pass, after petting Phil, who bravely approached the man, and after having a good laugh at discovering that this young trainer's bleeding nose was a result of being slashed by his new weavile who had a nightmare and pissed his bed roll.
After passing by a few small but well-maintained and beautiful gardens that surrounded the town, Vincent and Phil discovered that their destination was indicated by a familiar xatu standing upon a tall rotating pokecenter signpost.
Vincent was ambushed by a prepared medical team as he entered the building that Vera suggested. He released Tio and narrowly gave the typhlosion his ball belt as the trainer was ushered into an examination room.
Theodore recalled Phil, approached the reception counter, and laid his team-members upon it.
The nurse on duty rolled her eyes. "I know that teaching pokemon to speak is all the rage, but that doesn't make you a human."
Tio wanted to make a joke about her age and old-fashioned viewpoint, but it was not his place. He advanced the luxury ball. "The boss wants to register this pokemon for some dumb reason. It's a runaway with no name, but the boss started calling her Fiona."
The nurse placed Fiona's new ball into a rejuvenator. Its healing phase ran much longer than usual. As it conducted its business, the nurse's terminal activated and displayed diagnostic information.
"Well, according to our records, this pokemon was captured in a different ball six years ago. That ball's serial number is on file as sold, but it was never taken to a center or registered using any trainer's field device, so there's no telling who trapped this pokemon with it. All I have is the status information from the ball's wireless, and, oh, my. It's nothing more than a 'recall/FNT' or 'recall/BRN' every week." The nurse activated the luxury ball and Fiona reconstituted atop the counter, shocked to find herself inside a building and happy that it was not a cabin.
Fiona said "hello" meekly and half-waved, trying to be polite without her gesture being mistaken as threatening, remembering that one of her right-hand's claws was still tipped with crimson.
The old nurse showed no reaction. "The owner of this ball apparently wants to register you as his pokemon. Since you were previously trapped by an anonymously-owned ball with a log ending in a ball-break, I need to ask if you were released deliberately or if your previous owner would still claim you."
Fiona jumped up and shouted, "no! I broke that ball and that makes me not-his anymore and I'm never going to let him or his damn ninetales touch me again!" The old nurse arched an eyebrow before entering a few commands into her terminal.
"Congratulations, then, you are now the property of whoever owns the ball that this unattended typhlosion wandered in here with. Take these papers and give them to--" the nurse waved her right hand carelessly while glancing away from the two pokemon and reaching for her coffee mug, "--anyone you like. I swear, I miss the good old days of one-way communication."
Doctor Fulton leaned back. "Well, you're all set. Just don't touch it for the rest of the day and it should heal up flawlessly. I've never seen dragon scales used that way before. You should thank your dratini's fast thinking to use its shed-skin ability to make a bandage with natural healing properties for you; you would have required stitches and had a scar without it."
Vincent scratched his head. "Hal is fully-evolved. I didn't know they could still use their old abilities."
The doctor looked puzzled for a moment. "Well, you should thank him twice then, because as far as I know they can't, so he must have actually peeled some of his skin off to help you."
The trainer hopped off of the exam table. "Wow, I will."
As soon as Vincent stepped into the center's lobby, he had a weavile's arms wrapped around his abdomen. "It's official and everything! Take me to a gym, I wanna get some fights out of me!"
Her new trainer shrugged and agreed. "Today is pretty much shot anyway, we're not in a hurry for anything, and we are in town, so why not?"
Fenchone Gym was running open-entry one-on-one ladders to fill eight brackets who would compete for a shot to duel the gym leader's champion that night. Fiona started her official league record off right, with more wins than losses in the first-timers matches. After her fifth win, she complained of being light-headed for a moment, before straightening up and asking Vincent if he somehow did something to her.
He did not respond immediately. Not knowing enough about Fiona's abilities to guide her battles any better than she could herself, he was just letting her have fun while reading printouts that the old nurse prepared for him. It included a summary of Fiona's old ball's statistics and relevant species information from the public-access national pokedex service.
"Oh, uh, I think that's just the sensation of you getting stronger. You're new to fighting, so you'll probably feel that a few more times in the coming days."
Theodore butted in, "enjoy it while it lasts, you only get so many of 'em. Then, you only have mating to look forward to when you want a quick high."
Fiona was not listening. "I feel taller. Do I look taller? I want to be taller. Can I evolve again and get taller?"
Vincent ruffled her crown, "I don't think so, but you can dream about it. Two of your dreams came true this week; unlikely as it is, you might as well keep trying, right?"
Fiona was not listening. Instead, she was watching one of the other trainers tending to his pokemon, giving it pills from a bottle. "Hey, what are those?"
Theodore glanced over, and slipped into an impression. "Vitamins. Looks like calcium; good for the bones, good for the kids. T pities the fool who doesn't have enough minerals in his diet."
She did not understand the reference, and looked to her trainer with begging eyes. "Will they make me stronger?"
Vincent did not look away from his papers. "They can, since you're new to fighting."
She raised up onto her toes, letting break a sly smile. "Will they make me taller?"
He realized that she was going to get the attention that she wanted one way or another, and laid his papers on the table as he faced her. "Probably not, but I can't say that they won't."
"I want some! Just to see if they'll make me better!" Her smile transformed from sly to feline.
Vincent could not say no to that face, though he knew that he needed to. "Fine, but I'll have to find a place that sells them."
Fiona heard announcements begin for the next round. "Don't worry, when you get back I will have won all the fights and you'll be proud of me!" she shouted as she ran off toward the combat circles.
The town's store proved far less humble on its inside than it appeared from without, and offered a variety of general merchandise, including music. Vincent released Zap and offered him ten minutes to browse by himself. Most of that time was spent trying to find someone with a key to unlock the prison that protected their pokemon drugs from theft. Once Vincent noticed their prices, he felt like he was the one being robbed. "For one bottle? That ought to be a case!"
The clerk had heard that countless times before. "If you want them cheaper, go butter up a champion to go to Battle Frontier and win some for you, or go earn enough badges to get into B.F. yourself."
Vincent bought the pills and Theodore made his point by melodramatically tightening his imaginary belt.
Zap was waiting for them near the main door. "Nothing but new music, thanks though. What did you buy?"
Tio spoke in a low tone. "You don't want to know."
"I see. I don't want to walk either, I was having a good dream."
Vincent recalled his yawning ampharos walked back to the gym.
Along the way, he and Theodore overheard bits of conversations as people passed by them on the street, all referencing a recent incident involving a weavile without a trainer. Vincent entered unnoticed, but when Theodore stepped inside behind him, a half-dozen trainers pointed and said, "she came in with them!"
The event coordinator approached with Vincent's trainer card in hand. "I'll make this short and sweet. You are suspended from all registered competition for fifteen days, and banned from this gym for three months. You already have our badge so don't bother us with an appeal."
Vincent received his card and ran his thumb over a punch indicating a league warning. "Should I ask what she did, or do I even want to know?"
The coordinator walked Vincent and Theodore through the rear hallways while reciting a list of minor fouls and major breaches of conduct: attacking before being signaled, physically dragging non-participant pokemon into circles between rounds, and even joining into doubles matches to "even things up" when one team was down to its last pokemon. The coordinator had more to say but was happily silenced by their arrival at a door near the end of the deepest hall.
Through a window in the door, Vincent saw Fiona strapped to a gurney. The coordinator explained, "she would not stop causing trouble, she wouldn't listen to anyone's commands, and her trainer wasn't here, so we used a tranquilizer dart. I was concerned it would be an overdose since that stuff is for stopping rhydons, but she has already regained consciousness. You've got a nightmare on your hands. Just take her out of here, and don't come back to visit when your official ban expires, either."
Vincent walked up to Fiona, who was drooling like a gloom until she noticed his approach.
"Massssta Vinnnie! You shhhhouls've seen me! I beat 'em all and then I beat thhhheir asses and their asses' asses."
Her trainer unfastened some straps and began to gather her up.
"I told you you would you'd proud of... beat asses! Haaaaaaaaa--whooo! I'm flying now, whhheeeee!"
She kicked her feet and swung her arms around as he carried her over his shoulder and arm, making his way to the pokecenter. Word had gotten around town and the trainer was met with a combination of cheers and jeers; jeers from other trainers whose day at the gym was disrupted, cheers from spectators who enjoyed the show that Fiona had given them. A cycle in the Center's restoration machine left Fiona in a rational state of mind, but with a pounding headache that aspirin could not quite tackle, although it did help. Vincent returned her to her luxury ball and released Phil.
"Alright guys, a quick stop at the market again to get another can of repellent, and then we're off. I'd like to get back to camp posthaste."
Vincent deliberated as he looked at his options. The larger cans cost more per-volume for some reason, yet he would have to beg for change to afford two of the smaller ones. He had never been wealthy, but he was not one to worry about finances under normal circumstances. The high price of trainer products reminded him of his disdainful opinion of those who he felt took competition too seriously while putting him in an uncomfortably unfamiliar budgetary situation. Vincent selected the larger can and turned to approach a cashier only to find himself facing a familiar friend who had silently stood beside him while he was performing mental arithmetic on the price tags.
"You're far too grown-up now to be wasting your money on temporary solutions like the juvenile trainers do." Vera withdrew an arcane slip of paper, laminated within thick plastic, from her purse.
Vincent gave it a quizzical look, then gave the same to Vera.
"I foresaw a few unique opportunities today, and thought you would appreciate my taking advantage of this one. Lend this cleanse tag to Phil and your journey will be uninterrupted." Vera swiftly exited, taking a moment to sneak up behind Theodore, who was watching a demonstration television, and pinch him on the ears. "You watch enough of that during the off-season, Theodore. This store sells books, too."
Theodore returned to his ball as he, Vincent, and Phil approached the disheveled docks. Vincent dug through his bag and withdrew a small collar, attached the cleanse tag, and drew it around Phil's neck, hiding it behind the vaporeon's natural collar. They set off along the path they came by, and as foretold, their journey was not delayed by any encounters with the river's wildlife.
They re-established camp where it was the night before, at the cost of having half of the evening already passed before getting there. While the others worked in silence, contemplating what Vincent's suspension would mean for this summer's journey, Fiona sat quietly, nursing her headache and reflecting.
"Fifteen days. I didn't make you proud of me at all, did I?"
She was beginning to realize what an ass she had made of herself during her debut when Vincent presented her with her gift, hoping to cheer her up. Phil, Zap, and Tio were dutifully cleaning the boss's bed roll. When Zap saw the vitamin bottle, he snapped, and flashed the entire team, except for Vera, who knew when to cover her eyes.
"Damn it, Vince! Did she steal your berries when she stole your berries? You release me tonight so I can help clean these sheets that she pissed all over, to find out we can't compete in League for two weeks because she has less manners than a stag in rut, and you punish her by buying her vitamins on our budget? Except for Tio, have you ever spent that much money on any of us?"
Theodore scowled at the ram.
No one spoke for almost half of a minute. Hal approached Zap and hoped to calm him down, reaching out to him with his heavy hand.
Zap slapped it away, allowing an arc of static to bridge across his horns, before shooting Hal, and then Phil, a dirty look. He took a step closer to Vincent as he continued his monologue. "I've been with you for years. You said wanted to shoot for the top and I wanted to, too. Then you stalled and procrastinated. Then this turned into The Tio, Hal, and Phil Show. I sit around being your glow worm while you and your favorite three do all the fighting. The only time I see action is if a big water hits the ring, or you need someone to get clobbered while you figure out how to win with one of the pokemon you actually care about. You do that to Vera, too. When was the last time she was conscious at the end of a battle she was involved in?" He turned to the green bird and asked her when.
Vera approached Zap slowly, looked into his eyes, and touched his cheek as though she were saying goodbye, before stepping backwards and sitting next to her trainer. "I chose to be a part of this team. I followed Vincent throughout his visit to the ruins and I persisted until he understood my decision and captured me. I foresaw exactly what my station would be, and while our stations on this team are similar, Zap, our emotions regarding them are not. I am compassionate for you, knowing that you expected me to support your position, but I do not feel the way that you do."
Vincent threw Zap's opened pokeball to him. "You know how it works, this decision is yours."
Zap looked it over for some time, before twisting its halves sideways and breaking his premiere ball's hinge. Hal tried to call the ampharos's name, but while his breath moved, no audible sound came out.
As Zap walked East, toward the next town, Vincent called out to him with one final message. "For what it's worth, I kept you out of battle because you were getting knocked out more than anyone else on my team. You are slow, and you will still be slow tomorrow, but tomorrow your friends won't be near enough to watch your back for you."
Zap's tail gem blinked twice, slowly and faintly, before disappearing into the foliage.
Theodore set a campfire and his team split a can of beans in silence before retiring. There was nothing useful to say. Vincent, Theodore, and Fiona took their positions in the tent. Tio was asleep immediately, but the girl was restless.
"I never really had friends until now, and already I've lost one, haven't I?"
Vincent hugged her gently. "I guess so, but not really. Zap is still our friend; he is just walking a different path. There is a difference between walking together and just walking the same way at the same time, but you can't really tell until someone changes direction." All three were asleep a minute later.
Fiona scrunched her face and rubbed her eyes. Sunlight through the window shined a brilliant white, accenting the white of her nightgown and the sheets of her bed. She descended a flight of stairs and trotted into an unfamiliar kitchen, where she saw Vincent dressed for work, sitting at a white table. She bent down slightly and squeezed his shoulders as she walked by.
"Why didn't you wake me? You have to leave in five minutes, I hardly get to see you when you let me sleep in."
Vincent set his blank, white newspaper on the white table. "Maybe I'd rather spend five minutes with a happy, well-rested weavile than an hour or two with a grouchy one?"
She rolled up the paper and tapped him on the head with it as Theodore surfed down the stairs on the pads of his feet. He was in impression mode again.
"Coffee: wakes you up so you can make the grade. T pities the fool who sleeps through homeroom."
Vince chuckled lightly, Fiona wondered what made that funny. Theodore poured a mug and went into the neighboring room to flop onto a couch and watch whatever drivel was on morning television.
"Alright," Vince glanced at his watch, "I've gotta get out of here, I'll spin by at lunch time, though, so you better not be out picking fights with school kids who think their rattatas are ready for the big time."
She stood on her toes to reach his level and they shared a quick kiss. Fiona thanked the calcium for the extra inches that she had wished for.
"Hey, Tio, I'm going to make some toast, want some?" Theodore rarely turned down food, but there was no response from the den.
A voice she never wanted to hear again emerged from the other room. "That fat badger won't be helping anyone for the next six hours or so. My tyranitar saw to that." The hiker stepped out of the rear corner of the room, causing Fiona to retreat into the white kitchen. "I told you before, you can't escape, you little shit." Even without his height advantage, looking at him brought back at once all the years of torment. She slid backwards along the edge of the kitchen counter, and quickly regretted noticing, and glancing at, the pot of coffee. He cracked a smile in response.
"Ha, I'm surprised you would even have this stuff in your house. Maybe you learned to like it. Let's find out."
Backed into a corner of the kitchen, Fiona tried to get around to the other side of the table, but the hiker was too fast. She collapsed to the floor with a shriek as the coffee scalded her entire back.
"I guess the jury is still out on that. Anyway, it looks like you have some cleaning up to do." The hiker picked up a white sponge from beside the sink and flung it at the whimpering creature. "You know the drill, and here comes the sergeant."
A massive paw burst through the wall of the kitchen, lifting the roof from the house as though it were a simply a lid. Hovering above the new opening, Fiona saw the titanic face of a ninetales that must have stood forty feet tall at his shoulder. The monster gave her a particularly-voiced bark, one that most frequently was a prelude to his most painful attacks, this time just for the fun of watching it make her cower in fear. It was effective, and she immediately began to lose control of herself. However, this time she did not feel ashamed, but instead, angry. She had tasted freedom and friendship, and she was not going to give it up without a fight.
The hiker looked up toward his ninetales. "Look at the little shit." He addressed the weavile again. "What are you making a mess like that for? We haven't even started yet! Save it for when we give you something to really be afraid of." The hiker began to unfasten his belt. "Something like this..."
Fiona did not give him a chance to reveal what the "this" would be. As he took a step toward her, she kicked a white chair into the hiker's knee, scrambled to her feet, and slammed him against the white kitchen counter, pinning his arms behind himself.
"You know what, this reminds me of something. Something from a long time ago. One day, I was in the forest, and I found a little bird, and I was hungry. So when the care-free, pampered, fat little bird was busy chirping at nothing, I pounced, and I pinned its wings behind its back, and then I reached around like I'm doing to you right now, see, I put my claws right here, so I can puncture your lungs and you can't make any more sound, while I do things to you, like maybe take a bite out of your neck--"
The hiker began to yell as he felt the weavile's claws slowly digging through his flesh and spreading his ribs as they pierced deeply into his chest. Fiona paused briefly when she heard Vincent's voice call out for her to stop.
"I'm sorry, Vinny, but I have to end this. I have to kill him; it's the only way for me to be safe."
She groaned with effort as her claws burrowed into the hiker, rendering him mute as she began to tear the man apart just as she had done to his pidgey on the day that changed her life. Everything white was now red with blood. The ninetales' angry muzzle hovered motionlessly. Vincent put his knuckles on the table as Fiona ended her furious assault and leaned against the kitchen counter, crying and laughing at the same time, before licking some of the hiker's blood from her claws.
Vincent looked at the ruin of a man, and then at the animal he once felt was worthy of rescuing, of a chance to begin a new life. He spoke with a harsh tone. "Is that it? Is that what you needed to do?"
Fiona pushed herself up and sat on the counter awkwardly, looking at Vincent with a sly smile. "Yes. That was it. And it felt so good, too."
Vincent looked at her with a scowl. "Killing a man?"
Fiona kicked her legs out and wiggled her toes. "I am, was, a sneasel, we like tearing things up--but, no." She hopped back to the floor and started to approach her master with a slightly slinky gait. "Mostly, just knowing he'll never hurt me again is what feels good." She reached her blood-soaked arms out to to him looking for a hug.
Vincent stood up straight and took her arms by the wrists. "Good, because I don't want to need to buy a new pillow every time you have a bad dream."
Fiona opened her eyes wide.
Zeke bellowed a half-taunt into the bushes.
His master responded with an admonition, "I don't have all day, quit playing with your food."
The nidoking listened for motion amongst the foliage, and when a poisoned ampharos leaned too heavily on a twig, causing it to snap, he was three seconds from being pummeled once again. Zap passed out as his body slammed into an old tree's trunk.
The hiker patted his nidoking with his left hand while his ninetales stood at his right. "Good work. I was afraid I was going to have to find a T.M. that teaches how to do my laundry, and I'm pretty certain neither of you are pining for that job."
His ninetales looked at his lower-ranking teammate with a condescending grin; confident that in any case, he would not be the one stuck with house chores.