Starts off clean, but later chapters get naughty. :P And no, this is not a Harry Potter crossover!
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Author's Note: Holy crap... it's been ages since I've updated this. :c Big thanks to all of you readers who have been unbelievably patient waiting -over a year- for a new chapter. I sincerely hope you will enjoy. :3 It must be noted that this chapter has been split from its initial length, as it was becoming far too bloated to release as it was. Because of that, I did a slight re-shuffle of the content, and what you see here will present a much nicer package than the giant conglomeration that has now been split into chapters 20 and 21. It also means there won't be another year until the next part is released. >_<
Without futher ado... read on! :3
All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Chapter 20: Shooting Sparks
Pure, boundless life shot between her paws, dancing and twisting in crackling leaps. Each strand blazed with silvery blue fire, stretching and warping, tickling her pads with a feathery touch. She stared down at it in utter fascination, completely lost in each twitch and spasm of the buzzing wonder, her nose filled with the crisp scent of burning ozone.
“Good, good. Now, get ready, and do it just like I showed you,” Shawn’s warm voice murmured. She didn’t look up, but, almost subconsciously, braced herself, balancing on three paws and her haunches. She was far too focused on her power’s hypnotic flow to meet his eyes.
His hand moved beneath her upraised paw, just out of range of the arcing lines of fire, cupping his palm against the tiny storm as if to ward it away and form it to his will. The moment seemed to freeze as she drew in a great breath of clean air, the lungful popping and fizzing with stray flickers of the invigorating force as it rushed in to fill her chest. The fur on the back of her paw rose, stretching up to try to meet the sky and dance among the clouds like the lightning wished to.
She almost cried out as the heady flow abruptly doubled in volume and intensity, rivers of molten air streaming from her trainer’s outstretched fingertips to merge with her own, the space between her paws lighting up with a glare so bright she could barely stand to look at it. She couldn’t look away. So beautiful, she thought, distractedly.
The fresh lightning poured into her like the breath she had taken a split second earlier, sizzling from hand to paw in thick ropes, darting through her fur to tickle playfully at her skin. Already she could feel it coursing into of her, ignoring her skin and bones to race gleefully through her veins, an answering crackle coming from the core of invisible light residing somewhere in her belly. Vines of new-born electricity shot down tiny roots into every fibre of her being, networks of light pulsing with life. Yet instead of growing, they began to wither and shrink, retreating into her very essence, attempting to answer the call of the static power that lay within her.
No... Have to... Breathe out.
A seed of rebellion attempted to sprout, reluctance to excise this incredible wellspring from her body, but she squashed it firmly, her jaw clenching with focus. She could do this. She. Would. Do this!
The power was nearly as reticent to let go of her as she was of it. Resolute, she shoved it away from her centre, fancying she could hear a grumble of protest. A light touch here, a guiding prod there, steadily cajoling it into a loop, back around her belly, up again through her chest, down to her paws...
She blinked rapidly, spots dancing behind her eyelids in that brief moment of darkness, the hiss of the steadily lapping tongues never ceasing their whispers in her ears. Dancing lines of brilliance now flowed down from her paw to his palm, twisting and coiling like tiny Sevipers, slithering up to his wrist and around his shirt-sleeve, writhing there for a heart-beat, before darting around over his shoulder and behind his back. She still hadn’t taken another breath, yet it seemed like the ordeal had lasted hours.
“Atta girl, don’t let it sink into you. Okay, let’s keep the loop going. Try to push it harder.”
The words were immediately heeled by the return of the same power she had just rejected. A thick ribbon of light leaped from the fist clenched around the hilt of his grounded sword to his upturned hand, the forking bolts fleeing back into her body as if chased by some horrible monster. Her haunches quivered, the tingling rush bubbling through her muscles as she repeated the process. It was hard to tell which was more difficult: guiding the electricity to her will, or fighting the urge to simply allow it to drain into her and add to her strength. Once again, she forced the mighty flow away, sensing its disappointment almost as sharply as her own.
Yes! I’m doing it!
Shawn grunted something half-heard as the skyfire lanced back into his palm, running wild up his arm and shoulder, making the entire circuit in half a breath. Life infused her for the third time, the eager bolts not quite like her own inner element, yet close enough to be its twin. Every part of her called to the lightning, beckoned to it, caressed it. No, she was the lightning, everything she knew fading into those flashing silver streams. Snapping, sizzling, slicing the air. The unfettered joys of seemingly infinite speed and power. Blazing a glowing pathway and gone again in the flutter of an eyelid. A heartbeat from horizon to horizon. Moving, always moving. Life!
She lost track of how many circuits they made, the intertwining rivers of light crashing and surging faster and faster, her only indication of passing time the amount of breaths she took. In as he pushed, out as she pushed back. Her own power smouldered, begging her to release it, to join its brethren and dance in her fur with the sheer joy of freedom. No! she shouted back at it, drowning out its clamouring. If she allowed it free, it would disrupt the chain, and she’d lose this connection to Shawn, the glowing rope that bound them together. Everything would fall apart, shreds of lightning darting away in every direction. She winced inwardly, recalling how narrowly she’d missed zapping her sister barely an hour ago...
“Focus, Kirin, you’re absorbing it again.”
She snapped instantly back to the task at hand, almost jumping at his grunted words, but remaining frozen in place by the nimbus of arcing energy. Her eyes narrowed, determination setting into her posture as she grimly coaxed the power back into the shape she wanted. He was weakening this time, surely! How fast could he make it and still hold on? The amount of time the glowing force was absent from her body had been cut in half, and now it raced to fill the void almost as soon as she shoved it away.
She risked a glance away from the flickering radiance, noting the set look on her master’s face, his own concentration written in his eyes and brow. His blue gaze met hers, sparks seeming to dance in the depths of his eyes from the glimmers that drew them together. They were so close, she could almost sense... she didn’t quite know what, but in that breathless moment, it was like they were one, bound together by the ropes of power surrounding them.
A warmth poured through her that had nothing to do with the lightning, a strange affinity she couldn’t define suddenly leaping between them, moving with greater speed than even the power they fought with. A ghostly sensation pulsed in the very back of her mind, soft, rhythmic thumps, like the sound Cheri’s tail made against the ground whenever she looked at Shawn. Yet, that wasn’t quite it. This was more regular, more defined, and somehow... comforting? Was that his heartbeat she could hear? Her own thudded heavily in her ears, each beat sounding at the exact moment as that other, more distant thumping.
You can do it, push back a little harder, don’t let it slip free. Wait, had that thought been one of hers? Acting purely on instinct, her inner self guided the energy on its journey, her paw pressing down against the crackling force that repelled it, pushing into the heat that tickled her pad from a hairs-breadth away...
Warm skin met the roughness of her pad, fingers clenching convulsively around her paw for an instant, feeling as if a crushing weight lay in their grip, nails digging almost painfully into her toes. A strangled noise escaped the human, his eyes locking with hers. Then, in a great, final rush, blinding light erupted from between paw and palm, a massive tower of it leaping straight into the air, arrowing up to seek out the clouds.
There was no sound. Her fur ruffled in a flurry of wind, tree-tops, sky and the pillar of lightning whirling past her vision as she tumbled end-over-end backwards through the air, positively alive with the electrical discharge. She didn’t even feel herself slam down onto her back, completely lost in the giddy onslaught as the lightning found a home in her body at last, seeping into her like water into sand. She panted, stunned, legs twitching randomly as stray volts clambered through her fur, congregating around her mane.
Wow, she thought, a bit unsteadily, feeling a goofy grin stretching her muzzle. That had a kick! It hadn’t hurt in the slightest. The electricity had sheltered her, acted as a living shield, as if she were a strange cub born from the thunderstorms themselves. Her entire body crawled with the excess energy, tiny sparks of it swarming out into her fur, imbuing her with the strength to run, leap, soar, anything! Distantly, from a fluffy cloud of euphoria, a still-rational part of her noted that, with the exception of a small part of that which had burned the sky, she hadn’t even expelled any energy of her own. She’d just taken the lightning from-
“Master!” Kirin rolled to her feet, shaking vigorously to wake herself up from the buzz. Oh Arceus, what had just happened? Sparks flew away from her mane as she shook vigorously, tiny flickers of excess electrical charge spraying like water. “Master, are you okay?” She spotted him immediately, lying on his back a good distance from where they had been sitting, not moving...
“Master Shawn!” She leaped towards him, the high beginning to fade from her system as the ordinary world came back into focus, leaving a crawling worry in its place. Please let him be alright! Oh Arceus, he isn’t getting up! She could just catch a faint movement, spasms seeming to rack his prone form. What had she done? Why hadn’t she kept in control?
It wasn’t until she was almost on top of him that she realized he wasn’t jerking about in electrified pain, he was laughing. She skidded to a halt, barely avoiding crashing into him, staring incredulously as he heaved himself into a sitting position, leaning back on his hands and regarding her with a curious expression, his lips twitching oddly. A few stray threads of current still wove around his arms and body, but as far as her cursory glance could tell, he wasn’t hurt.
“Guess that’ll teach me not to underestimate on my surge protections, eh?” he said, somehow forcing a smile despite what she’d just done to him. Her eyes roved frantically, searching for any tell-tale burns, the pained winces that would show where she’d nailed him. Oddly, she found none. “I didn’t expect you to boost your output so dramatically at this stage,” he continued, conversationally. His hair gave him a somewhat feral appearance, frizzing out at odd angles like the fur of an enraged skitty, matching the excited gleam in his eyes. “What made you think of intensifying the current through manual compression?”
She dropped her gaze in shame, scuffing a long tuft of grass with a paw. A malicious worm of guilt wriggled in her belly, eating away the last lingering bits of her giddy high. “Is that what I did? I-I’m sorry, Master, I don’t even know what that means. I didn’t mean to... to-” A burning jewel of moisture obscured her vision, her voice cracking. “I’m not very good at this, am I?”
“Hey, hey, what’s with the sad face?!” he exclaimed, a gentle hand cupping her chin and raising her gaze to meet his. Her ears and face felt like they blazed merrily, but the heat failed to dry the single tear that trailed down her cheek. He flipped it away, the brush of his skin bearing the barest kiss of lightning, tingling delightfully and making her shiver. “There’s nothing wrong with what you did. On the contrary, it was fantastic! Do you have any idea how long it took me to learn that trick?”
“But, I wasn’t trying to hurt you!” she cried, now confused about her own sudden onslaught of emotion. He seemed okay, yes, but the sight of him lying there like that... “I lost control of it, didn’t I? I zapped you when you weren’t ready for it.”
“When I wasn’t-” his brow furrowed, but then his eyebrows shot up, and he let out another hearty laugh, ruffling her ears playfully. “No no, that’s not it. It was more than I thought it would be, true, but you didn’t hurt me, Kirin. I’d be crazy to try something like that without a safety net. Don’t worry, I’m fine! You’d have to try a lot harder than that to break through my secondary protections.”
His words helped, but she still couldn’t shake the lingering sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, the possible horrible outcomes flashing through her mind, all of them her fault. “But, what if I had? You weren’t moving, and I t-thought I had...” The quaver had snuck into her voice again, and she couldn’t force herself to meet his eyes. He’d been so still at first, almost like he was... she couldn’t even bear to think the word. “What if I lose control again, and... and-”
She cut off with a squeak as he swept her up into his arms, drawing her close in a tight hug that squeezed the air out of her. His warm body pressed tight against her smaller form, and she could feel her heartbeat escalate wildly against his chest as he drew her close. Her mouth worked, but no further words escaped, for which she was partially grateful. Her muzzle rested on his shoulder, her nostrils flaring as she caught his scent, slightly sharper and saltier than usual, rising off the back of his neck. His fingers squeezed lightly at her lower back in a way that made her melt into his embrace further -not that any part of her wanted to fight it- forcing her unsaid words out in the form of a blissful sigh.
“Thanks for worrying about me, Kirin, really,” he murmured softly next to her ear, his breath tickling her lobes. A hint of a chuckle entered his tone. “It’s nice to know you don’t want to take a strip out of my hide just yet.” She felt like protesting as he drew back to arm’s length again, but the ability to speak seemed to have run off and hidden somewhere. Arceus, how did he do that to her?! One little touch and she went from out of her mind with worry to completely falling to pieces! Did he know? Was he doing it on purpose?
His eyes held hers captive as he continued, his smile turned slightly rueful now. “I forgot, you and I haven’t done any full-contact training yet. I’m sorry, I really should have warned you in advance. You don’t have to worry about hurting me when we’re training together. I always keep myself protected with a magical shield, and I know exactly how much it can take before we need to take a break. Kinda like your aura, really.”
His fingertip traced the line of her cheek down to the tip of her muzzle, resting briefly under her chin as his other hand teased across the fur of her shoulders. The touch was almost imperceptible, but it seemed to burn against her skin, zipping through her innermost being, just like that glorious, mind-boggling vortex of sizzling current had. Kirin clamped down on her tongue, desperate to keep from spewing forth any of the confused gibberish that would surely result from this little mental short-circuit, the abrupt shift in her emotional balance summoning back an echo of that giddy buzz. Great. This was nearly as bad as when she’d been in heat! She wanted to scream in frustration at herself. She wanted to jump on top of him and-
She yanked her gaze away from wandering lower down his body, forcing it back up to his face. “-I apologize if I scared you,” he was saying, his gaze feeling as if it were boring right into hers. “Can you forgive me for it?” She could do no more than nod, mutely. Did he know what she’d just been thinking? Oh sweet Mew, what if, by some crazy method, he could read her thoughts like in those weird contests he had with Jasmine? Even as the notion crossed her mind, the image of his shirtless form popped in mischievously, and what about more than just his shirt? What would he do if she suddenly-
Abruptly, Kirin realized her forepaws were still resting on his legs -quite high on his legs, in fact- and she yanked back faster than if he’d suddenly caught on fire, stifling a gasp. Immediately, that cursed, uncontrollable, completely irrational side of her began berating her for not jumping the other way, into his lap instead of away from it. She shoved it away with all the force she could muster, attempting unsuccessfully to ignore how brightly her ears were burning. She’d nearly been touching his- Ice beam! Yes, think about that instead. So cold, freezing in fact. Ouch, it really packed a punch too. How did it feel when she’d been hit by it before?
Shawn was giving her an odd look, one eyebrow raised inquisitively. “Everything okay, Kirin? You look like you either just bit into a habanero, or you’re trying to sell me that you’re holding a royal flush and not a pair of twos.”
Saved! Kirin hurriedly covered by encouraging him to forget her reaction, wiping her... whatever goofy expression she’d been wearing... away and replacing it with her most genuine perplexed frown. “A what or a what?”
He shook his head, the corners of his mouth tugging upwards again. “Nevermind, you’re right, bad example. Don’t worry about it. Sure you’re okay? You didn’t fly into anything during the fireworks, did you?”
She nodded vigorously, breathing an inward sigh of relief that he’d left it alone. “Yes, I’m fine, really!” Now that they weren’t touching, now that her nostrils weren’t being hammered with the full force of his distinct, masculine aroma, she could think clearly again. Now that she wasn’t imagining his hands sliding lower down her back, caressing her haunch- Whoa now, ice beam hurt, yes, but how about those fire moves? Flamethrower, yow! If she needed any more motivation to move quickly in battle, that was it! Some of the things Cheri could do now... Made her glad they were on the same team! She would hate to get on the arcanine’s bad side, especially since being on her good side apparently meant- Nope! Surf, or how about mud shot?!
Sheesh, this is getting ridiculous. Kirin busied herself with hiking her back leg up to scratch an itch. If I don’t sort myself out and stop wandering off on these wild fantasies, I’m never going to get anything done! He’s already got Cheri, and I don’t deserve to even think about him like that. He’s not going to want me as well.
The itch turned out to be a stray, tickling spark, which skittered away from her paw to crackle briefly in empty air, dissipating its static charge. Not to mention, you don’t even know what you want, girl, and you’re not that special, so get a grip! As she snarled inwardly at herself, Shawn levered himself to his feet and stretched with a groan, arching his spine and pressing his hands into the small of his back. There was a soft popping noise, and he sighed happily, grinning down at her.
“Okay, so, what have we learned so far?” he said, re-seating himself in a more comfortable position beside her, leaning back onto his hands and stretching out. The temptation to climb into his lap came rushing back, full force, but she squashed it firmly. Now was not the time. She was supposed to be learning things, not getting all mired down in the muddle of her own emotions.
“Umm, I learned that I can blast you with electricity whenever I want!” she said brightly, giving him an innocent look and sparking her mane.
Shawn snorted and shook a finger at her in mock severity. “None of that now! I’m not a particular fan of the electric shock alarm clock, thank you very much! Besides, what could possibly make you want to zap lil’ old me?” He gave her an innocent face of his own, which, while an admirable imitation, was easy to resist compared to Hina’s big-eyed pleading.
“I don’t know yet, but I’ll ask Cheri. She’ll probably keep me well supplied with reasons if I ask.” Kirin grinned evilly at him, appreciating the sudden faltering in his expression, which proved he really wasn’t so keen on the idea. It was nice to get the verbal betterment of him for once, and nicer still to finally be in control after being run off all over the place with her emotions.
“Now, aside from all the ways you can abuse your poor, innocent, worn out trainer, what’ve you learned from this?” he asked, steering the conversation back to its original direction. Right, training. Time to get serious.
“I learned that I can do what I want with incoming electricity, instead of just letting it absorb? And, that thing you said, about manual something or other. How does that work?”
His lips pursed, his eyebrows drawing closer together in thought. Uh-oh, she recognized that face. It was the one he got when he was trying to figure out a way to explain something complicated, and do it in a way she would understand. It didn’t always work. Sometimes, he got so caught up in what he was talking about, he wouldn’t notice that she was staring blankly at him until he’d run well on past the point where she’d stopped getting it. Idly, she wondered if it was a human thing, a wizard thing, or just a Master Shawn thing. Maybe it was all three. It was usually interesting though, even if she didn’t understand more than half of it.
“Okay,” he said abruptly, switching back to her own language. Ah, so it was a difficult one. “Do you know how a spring works?” He paused expectantly, and Kirin shook her head to the negative. “Good, because it’s not really anything like that.” Well, that made perfect sense as an example then.
“See,” he continued, ignoring the flat look she shot at him. “It’s not a simple matter of force being compressed into a small space, like a spring is, because the force in the spring is contained and channeled through physical matter. With this, you’re acting to affect the force itself. With me so far?” She was, actually, more or less, so she nodded, indicating that he should go on.
“Since you can touch and manipulate the force -in this case, electricity- directly, there’s no need for a physical object to act as a proxy. So, when you put all that force into a small space, it has nowhere else to go, and if the containing field -my hand and your paw, in this case- isn’t made to withstand the amount of force you put inside of it...” He threw up his hands in an explosive gesture, punctuating it with a strange word of human language “Blam!” He looked at her expectantly. “Do you see?”
“Err...” Kirin thought she had it, but some part of it was eluding her. “So, when the electricity is squished, it explodes?”
“Not necessarily. It depends on what’s being used to contain it. It’s kind of like...” He trailed off, feeling around on the grass until he found a good clump of it, yanking it free with a mutter that sounded suspiciously like an apology. Separating a few blades, he balled it up inside his fist, and held it up for her inspection.
“With this amount of grass, I can squash it down to easily fit inside my fist. So, what happens when we add more?” He did so, shoving more of the lush green stalks into his palm, balling them up with the rest. “Still no problem. I can easily hold onto it and keep my fist closed tight. It’s not a lot of ‘force’ yet, and I have plenty of strength to keep it bottled up as long as I want.”
This time, he seized a sizable clump, adding it to the mess of mashed greenery already present in his grip. “But then, if we keep adding more, and more, and more, eventually...” The wad of greens was significantly larger now, and she could see the muscles of his forearm tighten as he scrunched it all down together. “Eventually, there’s going to be so much force trying to fit into a small space, that the muscles in my arm aren’t going to be enough to crunch it all down and make it fit. And when that happens, all the ‘force’ I’ve been holding is going to fly out in every direction, because I’ve been holding it in one place for so long when all it wants to do is go.” He paused, relaxing his grip on the wad of grass, raising an eyebrow at her inquisitively.
“But, won’t it just fall out of your hand when you let go?”
Shawn snorted, opening his hand and allowing the wad of mangled plantlife to drop, proving that indeed, she was correct. “You’ve got me there. It’s not a perfect example, but it serves to illustrate the point. The idea is, there’s ‘more’ occupying ‘less’ space, so instead of its power being spread out over the ‘more’ space, it’s being squashed into the ‘less’ space. That’s why there was such a big explosion. You packed the lightning into a space that was progressively less and less than what it wanted, so when we couldn’t contain all of it anymore, all the power of it erupted right in front of us instead of being spread out over distance.”
Kirin nodded slowly. That seemed reasonable enough, and explained a few other things too. “So, that’s why small pokémon like pikachus can give such a powerful zap, right?”
“Nah, they just like to drag their feet over carpet a little too much.” Kirin blinked, stumped into silence by that comment. He managed to keep his expression deadpan for a moment, meeting her puzzled gaze evenly, before he broke into a grin, adding with a laugh, “Kidding! I never really thought about it that way, but I suppose that might be it! They’re like natural ultra-capacitors, and you are too, in a way.”
“I’m an ultra what what?”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s a human thing that does what we just talked about.”
Kirin shook her head, deciding to take his advice and not dwell on it. This was the frustrating part of these conversations. It felt like no matter how much she learned, there was still a vast sea of knowledge out there, and she was barely keeping herself from drowning in it. “Master, when am I going to learn things like thunderbolt, or discharge? When are you going to show me some of the other neat tricks you can do?”
Shawn drummed his fingers on his knee, looking thoughtful again. “All in good time, don’t worry. You’re getting closer than you think. You can already do things a jolteon of your level of experience wouldn’t normally be able to. We still have to get you to a point where you’ll be able to control that kind of output reliably, and not hit an innocent bystander.” He shot her a wink. “Like me.”
Kirin’s ears twitched, the frightening image of her trainer lying flat on his back, struck down by a bolt of power she’d initiated, invaded her mind once more. She shuddered, immediately sobered by the thought -a grim reminder of what could happen when she couldn’t control her abilities.
“I... I’m sorry, you’re right. I need to wait until I’m ready for it. I’d hate to hurt someone by accident, like you or Hina.” Why had she let her little sister talk her into using electric moves for dodging practice? Hina hadn’t been hit with anything serious, but after seeing what could potentially go wrong, Kirin was not going to go back to that particular training game.
Still, it was frustrating to feel so powerless at times, especially after watching Master Shawn train with Cheri or Marty, and some of the ferocious blows those two could unleash. “It just feels like I’m not getting anywhere with this, like I’m never going to figure out how to do all the things you can.”
Shawn blew out a long breath, running his fingers through the small patch of fur he grew on top of his head. It was quite a bit longer now than it had been when they’d first met, and he seemed to take note of this fact at the same instant. “I really need to get this mop trimmed.” He shook his head, meeting her gaze again with a curious expression on his face. Sad? Why would he be sad? “Honestly, Kirin, I hope you never learn all of the things I can do.” What did he mean by that?
Before she could question him on it, his mood shifted away like a passing raincloud, to something more typical, as if he were about to start laughing again. “It took me almost ten years to learn how to master my electrical powers, so trust me when I say you’re doing very well for yourself where you are right now. Pretty soon, you’re going to be the one training me!”
Kirin snorted derisively at that. “As if. Ten years?! I’ll be lucky if I learn half of what I need to know before we have to fight Cyrus. You said yourself, we don’t have years. How can you be so casual about it? Aren’t you worried that I won’t be ready?”
“Not really. I may have more experience, but you cheat.”
Her mouth fell open in shock, her ears flattening. What did he mean by that? “Cheat?! I do nothing of the sort! I- You-” she sputtered, fumbling for a suitable comeback. How could he accuse her of a thing like cheating, when she had to work so hard to learn the skills he was drilling into her? She-
He quickly put a stop to her runaway thoughts. “Relax, spiky, I was kidding.” He grinned impishly at her, reaching down and ruffling her headfur into even more disarray. “I didn’t mean it like that, anyway. You see, I can keep the electricity off me, and it won’t hurt me, but it’s not like how it is for you. It likes you. A lot.”
A questing hand dropped down her side, finding a hidden itch she hadn’t even known was there, and chasing it away with practised scritching as he continued to explain. “Because of the special ability your species has, your aura looks like a great big ball of electrical energy, so outside electrical energy sees it and thinks, ‘hey, I want to be a part of that!’ instead of attacking your aura like it usually would. That’s why it heals you instead of hurting you.”
Kirin nodded, finding herself involuntarily melting against his side with his expert touch, which was completely innocent and soothing now instead of working her into a muddled, witless wreck. “But, it’s a little bit like eating something,” he went on. “It can’t instantly be absorbed into your aura, so for a second or two, you get treated to a nice influx of extra power, which if you’re quick, you can blast right back at your opponent, juiced up a bit with a touch of your own inherent energy.” Suddenly, the delightful fingers turned mischievous, and what had been a nice scratching turned into a devious tickle, just behind her left foreleg.
Kirin let out an embarrassing shriek, tripping over her own paws in her haste to escape, and landing in a tangle of limbs on the ground. Worse, this put her fully at the tender mercies of Shawn’s assault, which he pressed with a devious grin, forcing her to writhe helplessly in giggles as he exploited her weak spots. Darkrai curse it, how had he even found out she was ticklish there?!
After a mortifying moment or two of squirming, laughing, and trying unsuccessfully to curl up and protect herself from his quick moving fingers, he let up, allowing her to roll back to her paws. “Maassterrr!” she complained, giving him the most pleading look she could muster, disheveled as she now was. “Cut that out! You’re supposed to be training me! Not making me laugh!”
His eyes twinkled with mirth and mischief. “Don’t see why we can’t accomplish both. We-”
Abruptly, he was cut off by a loud, frantic bark of alarm from Cheri. “Shawn? Shawn! Help! Hurry!”
Stupid, stupid, stupid!
Cheri’s barking didn’t let up as he charged up the small hill towards her and the others, though it had devolved from words to simple panic barking. Stupid! Even though he’d needed the space for Kirin, even though this little vale provided a perfect arena in case lightning started going haywire, he should have never allowed himself to get so far from the rest of the group. Cheri, Marty and Jasmine were all together of course, and should have been capable of handling any threat, but still... What if it was Nash? What if it was a team of Galactic thugs?
What if it’s an invading robot tentacle army from Yuron V? It doesn’t matter, MOVE!
Kirin easily kept pace with him as he ran, even as he poured on the speed with a burst of Earth energy, cresting the top of the hill. The campsite he’d picked earlier that day came into view, his tent nestled against the edge of the forest. Cheri, Marty and Jasmine stood (or floated, in the mismagius’ case) on the opposite side of the clear space, huddled around something on the ground. He couldn’t tell what it was at this distance, but he had a horrible feeling he knew anyway. The area was otherwise devoid of movement, so they weren’t under any sort of attack, at least.
“What happened?!” he called, both he and Kirin skidding to a stop behind the group. Kirin chimed in her own assertion of, “Is she... okay?” as the jolteon trotted up to squeeze between Marty and Cheri. The Swampert frowned, laying a large hand on the smaller pokémon’s shoulder and guiding her into the middle of the huddle without a word.
Cheri looked up, her expression marred by worry. “I don’t know, dear. Shawn, look.” She moved aside, for once lacking her usual sassy bounce, revealing the object of their attentions. Shawn felt his stomach lurch.
Hina lay on the ground, shivering and whimpering softly, her tiny body almost completely obscured by a veritable swarm of swirling black flecks. Shawn barely registered jumping forward, but he was already kneeling by her side, plunging a hand through the cloud of dark energy to lay a comforting hand on the eevee’s shoulder. “Hey, calm down, Hina, I’m here now. It will be okay. We can fix this.” Doubt threatened to give lie to his words, but he squashed it ruthlessly. This could be fixed, quite easily in fact. His initial visual scan of her body didn’t reveal any traumatic injuries, so it wasn’t so bad as he’d initially thought.
Or, he hoped it wasn’t.
She looked up at him, her dark eyes ringed in a teeming mass of black particles, looking much as though she’d taken to sweeping chimneys in her spare time. “T-the dark. It’s back. M-master Shawn, please don’t let the dark get me!”
“Shh, I won’t let it hurt you, I promise.” He stroked her mane, looking to the concerned faces around him, fixing on Cheri. “What happened?” he repeated, calmer now. He had to maintain his cool. It was already helping - Hina’s shivers had lessened, and the posture of the others was visibly more relaxed.
“I’m not really sure,” his mate replied, a rumble of discontent in her tone. “We were practicing, and I was teaching her how to do a proper Quick Attack. Then, all of a sudden, they started coming out, and...” Her jade eyes widened, her ears flattening. “Arceus! This wasn’t something I did, was it? Oh great Entei...”
“No, no. It wasn’t you, dear,” Shawn said hurriedly, stopping her before she could travel any further down the path of self-blame. “Not the way you’re thinking, at least.” He thought for a moment, looking down at Hina and biting his lip. Oddly, the flecks seemed to avoid the place where he touched her, filtering around his hand and forearm like a river around a boulder. It still felt like flies buzzing around his skin, even through his emergency shield. “I suspect she accidentally tapped the store of dark energy inside her while you were training. In fact, maybe...”
With a mutter, he summoned his manual from his pack to his hand, flipping it open to the blank ‘work pages’. He continued to absently scratch Hina’s neck and ears as he murmured the words of the diagnostic spell, creating small clear swaths through the black flecks as his hand moved. Hina seemed caught between the urge to purr at his ministrations, or to whimper, the resulting noise a strange cross between the two that came out rather small and confused. Within a minute or two, strings of complex data began to appear in neat lines on the open page, settling briefly before converting to their ‘simplified’ form that could be understood without at least a senior level specialization in applied medical wizardries.
“What does that mean, Master Shawn?” Marty asked, peering over his shoulder. “Are you fixing it?”
“That’s one way of putting it,” Shawn replied, his brow furrowing as he studied the readouts. As he’d suspected, none of them indicated anything physically wrong with her, aside from an elevated heartbeat. That line about “Latent energy supply” on the other hand...
“Stop being cryptic, you’re scaring her,” Cheri said sharply, butting in to nuzzle at the smaller pokémon, and awarding him a frown. Hina’s purr-whimper’s turned slightly more towards the purr side of the equation. “Just tell us what you think it is.”
Shawn raised an eyebrow at her. “I’m trying, dear, but it’s not simple. I can tell you that there is absolutely nothing harming her at the moment, but I want to be absolutely sure before I say what I think this is. For that, I need to run another scan.” Reaching down to his belt, he unclipped his ‘dex from its holster, thumbed the power switch, and flipped it open.
“Booting up! We hope you have a wonderful day, with no natural disasters or ecological catastrophes,” the device chirped in the bubbly tones it had apparently acquired recently, the image of two hula dancing stick people on the screen. Shawn resisted the urge to roll his eyes. A bit of loopiness was to be expected, especially after what the poor electronic had been through with Mew, but this new-voice-every-day business was getting to be irritating. Particularly when it tried to be ‘helpful’ by telling him the weather on the moons of Saturn, and what an excellent vacation spot the methane snowcaps of Titan were.
At least this is better than the Frankie Valli voice. Cheri was ready to torch it when the alarm went off.
Once the ‘dex had finished its virtual warm-up and stretch routine, he pointed the reader at Hina and selected the Scan option. That, at least, still seemed to be working normally. Immediately, it came up with her basic information - the stats projected by the tiny ‘tag’ that had been attached to her aura once she had been registered as his pokémon. Her aura was slightly depleted -easily explained by the training she’d been participating in- but much more interesting than that was the small, flashing exclamation point over the animated picture of an eevee that the screen showed. Pushing it brought up a second overlay, filled with the same animation, but this time surrounded by a nimbus of crazily flashing light.
“Master, much as I dislike disagreeing with your analysis, I am dubious of the accuracy of this device,” Jasmine said from behind him, hovering just over his shoulder. “She does not display any of the outwardly associated signs.”
“What are you talking about? What does it say?” Kirin asked, catching Shawn’s attention with a paw on his elbow. “Is it... bad?” Cheri looked up from her comforting of the eevee as well, an expectant look on her face.
Shawn felt himself breaking into a smile, shaking his head. “Ha! I was right!” Switching over to the Speech, he continued, “No, not bad at all! In fact, this is fantastic news.” Looking up at Jasmine, he added, “I know she doesn’t, but I’ll explain why in a minute.”
“Please, do,” Cheri said, rather dryly, giving him a flat look. “Though I think we would all prefer it NOW, rather than ‘in a minute’.”
Shawn took a deep breath, giving Hina’s mane a friendly ruffle. “Patience is a virtue, love. And, on second thought, I think Hina can answer it best. Tell me, Hina, when you were practicing, what did the inside-dark do?”
The little eevee’s face screwed up in concentration, her head tilting to the side as she thought back. “It wanted to get out, but I kept pushing it like you told me, master Shawn!” Her ears flattened, the tremble returning to her tone. “But then, I was trying to do Quick Attacks, and I tried really hard not to touch it, but it kept coming back, and... and...” She broke off, whimpering again, causing Cheri to redouble her soothing nuzzles and soft, maternal shushing noises.
“And then you touched the inside-dark when you tried to do a Quick Attack, right?” Shawn asked, his excitement growing. He hadn’t truly expected this to happen - certainly not this soon.
Hina nodded, looking more morose than before. “Y-yeah... I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to, but-”
“Shh, it’s okay, Hina,” Shawn said, kneeling down and joining Cheri’s efforts, stroking her ears and giving the eevee a big grin. “You didn’t do anything wrong, and the dark isn’t going to hurt you. See, what’s happening is that it’s trying to make you evolve!” Cheri sucked in a sharp breath, mixed with a similar exclamation from Marty. Jasmine, of course, remained serene, having already seen as such on his ‘dex screen, and Kirin must have already guessed, as her only reaction was a slow nod.
Shawn gestured at Kirin, motioning her to come closer. “Remember when Kirin evolved, Hina? How she touched the thunderstone, and the bright light came and changed her into a jolteon? Well, that’s exactly what your body is trying to do right now. Except, instead of a stone, it’s using the inside-dark to evolve you into an umbreon. Pretty neat, huh?”
Hina’s ears shot up, her eyes widening. “I’m gonna evolve? Like sis? I’ll get real big and strong?”
“Yes.” There was absolutely no doubt in his mind now, not after seeing that ‘dex reading. No matter how much Mew had screwed with his ‘dex, it wasn’t possible for it to give a false evolution reading. Not if its primary functions were still working, and so far, he hadn’t seen any evidence to the contrary.
Beside her, Cheri visibly relaxed, meeting Shawn’s eyes with a pleased rumble. “Well then... I’m certainly glad that’s cleared up. But, how come it hasn’t...” She glanced down at Hina again, puzzlement on her face. Shawn didn’t have to ask why she was confused. Evolution usually began instantaneously. It didn’t initiate, then pause for a coffee break. But, these were hardly normal circumstances.
Kirin had also joined the huddle, touching her nose to her sister’s with tender affection. “You’re planning to get big and strong, are you?”
“Yeah!” Hina’s excitement quickly erased her previous fear, her tiny form quivering with anticipation as she returned Kirin’s gesture. The black flecks seemed to be no more than a minor annoyance now, causing her to blink a bit faster than usual, but otherwise might as well not have been there at all.
“...proud of you, Sis,” Kirin was saying. “Are you sure this is what you want to do, though?” She looked back at Shawn, concern in her dark eyes. “If it’s like a stone, she can still choose not to evolve now, though, right? Use the power later?”
“Of course she can...” he paused, momentarily unsure. Could he stop this process now that it had begun? Normally, preventing a pokémon in transitory phase from evolving was apparently as simple as shaking them out of it. Though, he suspected that actually reaching inside the brilliant surge of light and energy that was released when evolution began was rather like a dentist telling you it would only be “mildly uncomfortable.”
Kirin nodded, smiling. “That’s a relief. I think-”
“But, I wanna evolve now!” Hina cut in, pawing at Shawn’s knee. “Tell me what I need to do, Master Shawn!” Her voice took on the pleading tone, used for everything from conniving extra bacon to getting out of Cheri’s tongue baths. “If I evolve, the dark won’t be so big anymore...”
“No, it won’t,” he agreed, eliciting a purr as he rubbed under her chin - a spot of particular enjoyment for the little eevee. “That’s the best part.” He leaned in close, whispering into her ear conspiratorially. “The dark will have to listen to you. How does THAT sound? Do you want to boss the dark around?”
She nodded enthusiastically, breaking the ‘secretive’ nature of their conversation with an enthusiastic, “Yeah!”
“Okay, here’s what you need to do,” Shawn said, adding silently, I think. In theory, this was no different from an evolutionary stone, however, so in that case...
“Hina, I want you to try exactly what you did before, when you were practicing. This time though, I want you to use the inside-dark like you would use your Normal energy. Do you understand what I mean?”
“O-okay,” she replied, her enthusiasm quelling slightly at the prospect of touching the dreaded “inside dark.” Once this was over, however, that latent power would become fully her own, and what was hers to use could no longer be a threat to her.
Kirin stepped back with an exclamation of surprise, as Hina’s muzzle screwed up in concentration, the black flecks starting to swirl faster around her. “But, but... w-wait!” Kirin cried, “Hina, stop!”
The eevee didn’t seem to hear, or else was too excited by the process to listen. Already, the dark cloud was beginning to give way to the friendlier light of evolution, Hina’s form blurring at the edges as her body began to undergo the radical change.
“What’s the matter, Kirin?” Shawn asked, almost in perfect unison with Cheri’s own rumbled query.
She looked up at him, ears flat, an edge of uncertainty in her tone. “She can’t do it NOW! It’s too early! She hasn’t had her final growth spurt yet! If she finishes evolving, she might not...” Trailing off, she looked back at the radiant ball Hina had become, flinching from the brilliance.
Shawn groaned inwardly. That’s right, Kirin had mentioned that strange bit of eevee physiology to him some time ago. But, what with all that had occurred since, the fact had slipped his mind completely. As well as, apparently, everyone else’s except for Kirin’s.
“Will she be hurt? Should we stop her?” Cheri asked, taking a half step towards where Hina should be standing, her body tensed to spring. “I’ve never heard of an evolution being a bad thing, but if this is different...”
“I don’t know,” Kirin said, looking from Shawn to Cheri as if unsure which was more likely to take her side. “It wouldn’t hurt her. Not... exactly.”
“No, it won’t,” Shawn said firmly, squinting at the evolutionary halo, which was starting to turn nova as Hina hit the final stages of her change in form. “But, if I understand these things correctly, she may not grow quite as large as she might otherwise.” He glanced at Cheri, seeing the knowledge settle in, taking the form of a slight clenching of his mate’s muzzle. “And we still don’t know if that’s the case,” he added.
What if this wasn't a naturally occurring hyper-energization event at all, but some sort of parting gift from the pink bombshell? Mew was the sort of Power that honestly scared the pants off him. The Powers tended to be a bit unpredictable at the best of times, but Mew seemed to have taken that erratic behaviour to a whole new art form, which was only made worse by her apparent combination of immortal entity sized ADD and unabashed sexual fixation. Who knew what sort of 'helpful' surprises she could have left behind? It had been three days since the fateful encounter, and he hadn't noticed anything yet... But that didn't rule out time-bomb spells or delayed reaction ensorcellment.
Nah, Shawn decided. If she were going to do something like that, why not do it right then and there? And besides, even if she did, what harm does it really do? Aside from perhaps incurring a debt to an extremely volatile entity that could just as easily blow him to smithereens as she could pin him down and molest him. He shook that thought away with a shiver. Mew may or may not have been a lot of things, but at least she seemed to have nothing but benevolent intentions. Even if those included a ‘fringe benefit’ of a one night stand at his expense.
In any case, it was far too late to do anything about it now. Undersized or not, the flare of light was shrinking away, coalescing into a markedly different Hina. Shawn did a double take.
Well, THAT is definitely unexpected.
Cheri and Kirin moved at once, all but smothering the newly evolved pokémon, Cheri’s wagging tail cutting of Shawn’s view.
“How are you feeling now, dear?” Cheri asked as she leaned down for a nuzzle, voicing what was surely the question on everyone’s mind. “Has the... the dark gone away?”
“Nope!” Hina’s cheery voice piped up from the middle of her surrounding family, both by birth and by adoption. “But it’s different!” It’s not scary now! It doesn’t whisper and try and get out, it just wants to be played with!” Hina held up a paw, a look of concentration overtaking her, and a small puff what appeared to be smoke wafted upwards. The little umbreon batted at it, playfully, dissipating the visible dark-type energy into tiny, vanishing flecks. She giggled, squeezing free of Cheri’s affections to come and rub against Shawn’s leg, strutting proudly. “See? I’m big like sis now!”
“Yes, just like me...” Kirin said softly, watching Hina with an odd expression on her face. She looked like she could begin laughing or crying at any moment, and couldn’t decide which was most appropriate. Side-by-side, the difference in their relative sizes was painfully obvious. Umbreons were one of the larger of the eevee lines, and jolteons one of the smallest. Yet, rather than topping her sister by a solid several inches in height, Hina could still fit under the electric type’s chin if she held her ears back.
“This is a most curious hue she assumes, Master,” Jasmine said, hovering closer and peering down at the umbreon. “I have seen only one other with rings that were not golden, and his had been dyed by his trainer in order to appear more favorably amongst his friends.” She let out a chuckle. “I seem to recall the trainer waking up one morning to find his own hair mysteriously dyed blue in the middle of the night.”
“I have never seen ones like that before either,” Cheri said, looking as if she were about to explode with pride. “You’re beautiful, dear.”
“I really like your new colours! They’re so cool!” Marty added, clapping his hands in excitement. “I’ll bet Master can show you plenty of fun things now too!”
Hina visibly preened at the praise, doing a decent job of playing the diva as she showed off her new appearance. Her rings blazed with residual energy, -almost too bright to look at directly- burning a pure, clean white. Even through the gentle pulse of the rings’ glow, alive with the excess power of evolution, it was plain to see that Hina’s markings were something special. Her raven coloured fur gleamed in stark contrast in the late afternoon sun, highlighting the more subtle changes in posture and muscle mass that the evolution had granted. Even small for her species, Hina was clearly not a cub anymore. At least, not in body.
Temporarily laying aside the role of proud mother, Cheri caught his attention, drawing him away from the others with a nod. He followed her a few paces away, noting the slight stiffness in her posture, and the serious look in her jade eyes as she turned to face him.
“Shawn...” she glanced back at the others, then lowered her voice further, her rumble turning to a whispered chuff, forcing him to strain for the translation of Speech. “Did we do the right thing? Letting her finish evolving, I mean. I’m pretty sure we could have stopped her if we’d tried. There’s no going back now though.”
Shawn stepped closer, running his fingers through her cheek ruffs and leaning in, resting his forehead against hers. “Uncertainty isn’t like you, love. I seem to recall you giving me a pep talk not so long ago about not dwelling on what couldn’t be changed.”
Her tongue flicked out, catching him across the nose and nearly making him sneeze. “I know, but it’s different where our pups our concerned. I can’t help being afraid that waiting might have been a better choice.”
“That’s a “what if” question,” Shawn said, injecting a bit of sternness into his tone. “We could argue those in circles forever and get nowhere. More importantly,” he hurriedly added, as he saw the look on her face, “evolving will make her stronger, better able to protect herself, and no longer afraid of the dark. I think that’s for the best, don’t you? And we still don’t know for sure if she can’t grow anymore.”
“Kirin said she can’t. She’s a smart girl. I don’t think she’s wrong about this.”
“True,” Shawn conceded, “But she hadn’t exactly seen much of the world before she came with us either. Besides, there’s the colour of Hina’s rings. Kirin would have said that they would be yellow when Hina evolved, right?”
Cheri tilted her head to the side, looking thoughtful. “I suppose. But, what if-” She cut herself off, rumbling a chuckle. “You’re right. Those questions aren’t any fun, are they?” She looked back towards the group, her tail beginning to wag once more. “Look at her now! With all that energy, she’ll be strong enough to fight in no time.”
Shawn followed her gaze, a smile returning to his lips as he watched Hina playing a rowdy game of impromptu tag with Marty, forcing Jasmine to levitate herself hurriedly out of the way to avoid being tackled. The Marshtomp’s bass laughter rolled through the air, even as the smaller pokémon ran literal circles around him, her white rings pulsing to a steady beat.
“She certainly doesn’t seem worried. I think it’s safe for us to follow suit.”
Cheri’s ears pricked, turning to nuzzle against his chest, the heat of her body feeling like a furry radiator. “We’ll have our work cut out for us training her. You felt it, right?”
Shawn blinked. “Come again? Felt what?”
“Hina.” Cheri jerked her head in the direction of the little umbreon. “After she evolved. Did you feel her aura?”
He hadn’t. He’d been a little too distracted by questions without answers, and the general fuss of the entire process. Curious, he muttered the short phrase to activate his magic revealing spell, at the same time clicking open his ‘dex and pointing its scanner in Hina’s direction. His eyebrows shot up.
Well, hello there. Surprise number two.
Were it not for the ‘magic specs’, he wouldn’t have believed the ‘dex reading, no matter how convincing its current neon pink background and animated dancing umbreon was trying to be.
This doesn’t count as payback for what you did, Nash, he thought. Not even close. But, it was something.
“You weren’t kidding,” he said to Cheri, resting his hand on her shoulder and awarding her a friendly squeeze. “With these readings, I’d have a hard time entering her in any sub level fifty competitions, no matter if she can’t pull off a single Dark type attack yet.” Playfully, he ruffled the arcanine’s headfur. “Better watch out, dear. Pretty soon, she’ll be running you ragged.”
“Oh, I think I can still teach her a thing or two,” Cheri shot back with a giggle. Her eyes half-closed, she dropped her voice to something approaching a purr. “After all, I managed that with you, didn’t I?”
Shawn felt heat rising to his cheeks. “I think it would be best to wait a few years before you start on those sorts of things, love. Let’s stick with teaching her how to use all of that without it blowing up in her face, okay?”
“If you say so... Master...” Cheri’s tail dipped, ‘accidentally’ brushing across Shawn’s rear. “She’s growing in more ways than one though. It’s my motherly duty to pass on ALL that I know.”
Oh god, I hope she doesn’t really mean ALL, Shawn thought, wincing. Hina didn’t need “how to find your trainer’s hot spots 101”, thank you very much! Aloud, he said, “Just start with the basics, Cheri. I know things are different for you, but humor me, if you must.”
She gave another rumbling chuckle, this time stretching up and planting a firm kiss on his lips, her long tongue sweeping delightfully across, leaving him with a pleasant tingle. “Don’t worry so much, my mate. I’m teasing you. She’s still too young, and Kirin comes first besides. But, she won’t always be, and when the time comes, I hope you don’t expect me to keep with your silly human customs of not talking about mating!”
Shawn let out a long breath, both in relief, and from the removal of the paw at his crotch. He hoped Mew hadn’t given Cheri the sort of ideas which would have her doing that in a crowded public place. “I’ll trust your judgement, my dear, and Kirin can make her own decisions. I only expect you’ll allow Hina to do the same.” Catching himself, he added firmly, “WITHOUT implying to her that I’m her only option in mates.”
Cheri adopted an expression he recognized as a canine pout. “You’re no fun sometimes.”
“You love me for it.”
Her muzzle parted in a grin. “I do. You’re cute when you get all serious. But you’re still too caught up with silly human restraints. Honestly, it’s a wonder your species reproduces at all, what with the way you act sometimes.” She tilted her head, a thoughtful look in her beautiful eyes. “I wonder if it’s the clothes? Have you thought about-”
“No,” Shawn said firmly, “I am NOT going to walk around naked, thank you. Nor am I going to cast a spell that makes everybody else walk around naked.”
She huffed. “See? No fun.”
“I love you too.”
That brought a grin back to her canine features. “I know, and thank you.” Turning, she trotted back towards the others, fluffy tail waving high, affording him a fine perspective of her hindquarters that was most likely intentional. He followed at his own pace, enjoying the lovely view whether it was on purposeful display or not. He’d never get tired of that sassy rump wiggle of hers.
Snapping his thoughts back to the present before they wandered too far down the road of what might happen in the tent tonight, Shawn stepped in just in time to rescue Marty from the assault he was enduring, Hina shrieking with laughter as she wrestled with and ‘pinned’ the beleaguered swampert.
“Alright, Hina,” he said, scooping her up off Marty’s chest and giving her a hug. “I think we’ve all had enough excitement for the day. What do you say I cook us up a special dinner to celebrate? I heard a certain little pokémon evolved today, and I think she deserves a treat. Do you know where I might find her?”
Hina squealed and wriggled happily in his arms, meeting his eyes with her own, which were now a rather startling red. That would take some time to get used to, even if it was normal for her new species. “Yeah! It’s me, it’s me!” Her ears perked to high alertness, her expression intensifying. “Do I get bacon?”
Shawn chuckled, thinking about the small package of apple smoked sausage he’d picked up on his last shopping trip, storing it in an ‘icebox’ spell for just such a momentous occasion.“Would you believe, something better than bacon?”
Hina gave him a doubtful look. “Better? Really?”
He gave her a wink as he set her down. “Really. You’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you?”
She practically quivered with joy, rings blazing. “Okay! Thanks Master Shawn!”
He grinned. “Alright then. Marty, can you go find us some fresh water, please? I’ll work on getting us some decent firewood. Cheri, Jas, if you don’t mind, can you two work on digging us a firepit? With all this grass around, we don’t want to be careless, no matter how easy it would be for us to put it out.” He could easily have dug the pit himself using Earth power, of course, but he tried to make a habit of having all of his team work on setting up camp at night. It gave them all something to do, and more opportunities for Cheri and Jasmine to bond was never a bad thing.
As the three he’d named nodded or rumbled confirmation and set to their assignments, a small voice from behind him said, “Master?”
He turned to find Kirin standing there, looking up at him with an unreadable expression. As soon as he met her eyes, she looked away, scuffing the grass with a paw. Odd. She usually only did that when she was embarrassed or unsure of herself. Why should she be experiencing either of those emotions now? He shifted a bit, glancing down to see if Cheri had managed to undo his zipper or some such. No, looked like everything was still in place, thankfully. So, why the fidgety jolteon then?
“What’s on your mind, Kirin?” he prompted, as waiting for a continuation hadn’t summoned one so far.
“I...” she looked up again, but once more her dark eyes skittered away from his. “Would you mind if I went for a walk before dinner? Just for a little while, I promise. I just need-” She cut off, shaking her head.
Need... space? Shawn thought, even more confused now. Kirin was acting like she was off to see a secret lover, but he knew that couldn’t be the case. All the time she’d been out of her ball since they’d teleported from Eternia, she’d barely left his sight. Besides, if Cheri had caught wind of anything of that sort, she certainly wouldn’t have kept it quiet. Not a moonlight meeting then. So, what?
“I dunno,” he said, trying to keep his tone perfectly casual, as though there were nothing strange about her behaviour. “You won’t miss the party, will you?”
That brought a smile at least, and she finally met his gaze. “Of course not. I’m proud of Hina too. I just need some time to be on my own and think. I’m still not sure how I feel about... things.”
Shawn recalled the slightly pained expression on the jolteon’s face as Hina’s size disparity became clear. He considered saying no, telling her everything would be alright, and that she had no cause to worry. But, maybe she did just need a bit of space to herself. She hadn’t had much of that lately. None of them had. He gave a slight nod. “I suppose it would be alright, as long as you don’t go too far, okay? I don’t particularly like splitting everyone up to wander far and wide anymore. I’m sure you understand why.”
“Of course I do, and I won’t go far. I’ll be back in time for dinner.” Her smile widened a bit, electricity sparking in her mane. “If any ‘mon tries to make trouble, I’ll be sure to give them a taste of what you showed me today.”
Shawn squatted down and ruffled her ears, returning the grin. “Atta girl. I know you can look after yourself, but don’t be afraid to yell if you need me, okay?” More soberly, he added, “And if you need to talk anything out, don’t forget that I’m here for you, as is Cheri. A lot of things are better if you discuss them with someone else.”
“I know...” she said softly, leaning into his touch, causing a slight buzz to run up his fingers from the charge in her spiky fur. “Thank you, Master. I won’t forget.” With a final nuzzle, she turned and trotted for the trees, glancing back over her shoulder briefly, and looking as if she were about to add something more, before giving a simple nod instead. She slipped between a pair of low bushes, and quickly vanished from sight, swallowed by the combination of foliage and gradually lengthening shadows.
Shawn stood, his lips pursed in thought. Whatever was on her mind, Kirin would figure it out. Cheri was right, she was incredibly smart, and tough in her own way. She would be alright on her own for a bit, and he could keep an eye on his ‘dex to make sure she didn’t encounter any trouble. Provided it didn’t decide a comprehensive performance of mariachi music was more important than the status feeds from his team.
Whatever’s bothering you, Kirin, I wish you luck.
Turning away from the silent forest, Shawn began gathering his supplies for the special dinner. It was time for a little celebrating.
Pounding bass music filtered through the closed doors of the club, all but rattling the sidewalk beneath Zara’s feet. Inwardly, she groaned. Great. Bad enough that this was a venue job, but it had to be at club Wizzmur. The place was downright notorious --and not just for the ‘cute’ name-- yet somehow, it remained in operation. Not all that surprising in this town, of course, but knowledge of that fact didn’t make her night any better.
Pausing momentarily to pull a compact from her purse, she checked her makeup. Eardrum splitting background noise or not, she had a job to do, and sloppy appearances wouldn’t get her any gratuity. A touch more lipstick maybe... It probably wouldn’t matter inside a dark club, but one never knew what even a drunken client may take notice of. Better to aim for perfection and have them not notice than to get lazy.
Wonder if guys realize how long this takes? I’d like to see one of them try and use mascara... Not to mention these heels.
Replacing the compact and lipstick into her designer leather bag, Zara adopted her ‘power posture’, and walked forward to the miserable looking security guard at the door. He perked up the moment he noticed her heading his way, his eyes flicking quite obviously over her tight, strapless dress --scandalously short, naturally, to help pick up extra clients-- and lingered somewhere between her chest and her face. That was fine. Looking was free, and lookers sometimes turned into buyers.
“Hi there, honey,” she intoned in her best imitation of her friend Lindy’s, ‘sultry voice’, laying a hand on his arm for good measure. “Do you need to see inside my bag or check my ID? Or can I go right in?”
He jolted as if she’d flashed him. On closer look, he was practically a kid. Maybe nineteen? Barely worth the sultry voice effort, but hey, who could blame a girl for trying?
“Oh, uh...” he hastily looked to her tiny purse, giving it a disinterested poke. “No, you’re fine. I just need to stamp your hand.” He held up a plastic marker with a lopsided grin.
Zara flipped her hair aside --practice, not really an actual flirt-- and held out her hand for him to do his job, hiding her grin. The kid was gainfully employed, so maybe slipping him a card wouldn’t hurt. What was it to her if he gave up some of his hard-earned money on losing his virginity? Certainly a better place to spend it than dumping it in the gaming corner, or in any of the illegal battling rings she’d heard were cropping up around here.
Arceus, I’ve got to get myself out of this town.
As he pulled away, she slipped one of her cards from a hidden pocket sewn into her dress, and smoothly added it to the breast pocket of his work shirt, including a warm smile and a pat for good measure.
“Give me a call when you’re off duty, honey. You look like you could stand to blow off some... steam.” She licked her lips on the final word, leaving no possible doubt to her intent, and then abandoned the kid to his job with a saucy wink. If the way his eyes bulged was any indication, he was a hooked fish. No one could fault her for tossing in a little hip action as she opened the door, could they? If she was lucky, he’d be worked up enough to speed-dial her service as soon as he was off shift, and if this job turned out to be a quickie, she’d get a double booking for tonight.
Inside the club, the music was three times as loud as on the street, making her feel as if her thoughts were vibrating out of her ears. Zara winced. Couldn’t they listen to something less... heart-attack inducing? No-one else seemed to be affected by it, however, nor to notice her entrance. The dance floor was packed with gyrating bodies, lit by flashing colours reflected from chrome surfaces all around.
Not all of the dancing shapes were human either. A lucario was putting on quite a show up on the tiny performance stage with a pole, working in tandem with her busty blonde partner, and several trainers in the crowd bumped hips with a mismatch of bipedal and four-legged species. Club Wizzmur aimed to please, and if state of the elbow room or the amount of drinks passed out by the bartender were any indicators, they knew what they were about.
There were a fair number of the white and black uniforms of team galactic in the crowd, leaving little doubt as to who this establishment was now owned by. Strange, how much a town could change with the arrival of large quantities of new money. Many of her usual haunts were becoming ‘under new management’. It wasn’t a problem, most of the time, but it could also be bad for business. Some of her regulars didn’t like the idea of being constantly sized up by a bunch of color-coded thugs.
Time to find her client and get this over with. What was his name? Something fancy. Sirius? No. Cyrus, that was it. The leader of that weirdo group. The caller had been pretty specific, according to Cally. She was to find the back stairwell, which was... ah! There, to the left of the dancefloor. Zara hastily made for the relative safety, skirting around the dancers as best she could, and only suffering one or two trod upon toes. Hiding her wince, she arrived at the narrow stairway and started to climb, heels clicking. Had that last one been a donphan? The hefty pokémon probably hadn’t even noticed her, what with her partner busily running his hands along her flanks, all but hanging over her as they moved in suggestive tandem. Some people had the strangest tastes.
With any luck, this guy would be a quickie, and not into anything too outrageous. One could never tell with these charismatic types. They could have anything hidden in their closets. Still, give her private calls over working her tail off like those two on the stage any day. Some nights were slow, yes, but on a good night, she could double or triple what she’d make by dancing, and most of it went straight into her pocket. In a few more months, she’d be able to leave, start up fresh.
Maybe I’ll move to Johto. It’s supposed to be peaceful.
The stairway terminated in a narrow, dimly lit hall, intermittently lined with doors. She ignored them all, heading straight for the one at the end. 201, just as she’d been instructed. It would be nice to get out of these heels after walking here from ten blocks away. Not bothering to knock --it was meant to be a surprise call, according to her instructions-- she turned the knob and entered the room.
A single lamp burned over a desk, illuminating a seated man busily copying something from an open book onto stack of papers. Several articles of what looked to be random junk littered the desk, but otherwise it was unornamented. The rest of the room was minimally furnished, bearing only a worn looking sofa and a double bed. The floor shook, vibrating with the muffled pulse of bass from below.
The man glanced up as she stepped inside, part of his face covered in shadow. His lips twisted into a frown as cool grey eyes studied her, making his angular features even more severe. “Yes? What do you want?”
“It’s not what I want that’s important, honey,” Zara replied, pouring on the sultry. Walking towards him, she pointed at the book on his desk. “I see you’re a busy man, but surely that can wait for a little while. Your friends think you could use a bit of relaxation. I’m here to help. My name’s Zara.” Not her real name of course, but clients didn’t need to know that. It made her sound ‘exotic’.
A soft grunt escaped him, coupled with a shake of his head as he turned back to the book, muttering something under his breath. Zara thought she heard, “those fools,” but she couldn’t be certain. Reaching his side, she laid her hand over his as he reached for his pen. She’d dealt with hard-cases before. You just needed to find their soft spot.
“Come on, honey. What do you say we have a seat on that couch and chat for a bit? You can tell me a bit about yourself, and what you’ve got going on. I’ve heard about you, and your organization.” Leaning closer, she whispered in his ear. “I like powerful men. They’re so... exciting.”
He looked down at where her hand covered his, the expression on his face that of a man who’d had a pidgey dropping land on his arm. “Take your hand off me, whore, or I will remove it.” His voice remained as flat as if he were ordering his steak rare. A chill ran down Zara’s spine, causing her to jerk away as if she’d been burned. Somehow, she didn’t think he’d meant that in any sort of playful sense.
“I...” stumbling to regain her composure, she found it in a flash of anger. “Hey, there’s no need to be rude. It’s called an escort.” He wasn’t even looking at her, already back to recording lines of text from the book. Now that she was closer, they appeared to be in a foreign language. An academic then? Or should she give the powerful leader route another spin? She didn’t like being ignored, especially by someone who was supposed to be a client.
“I gather you’re more of a straight to business sort of man,” she said, moving around the desk and sitting half on the corner, allowing her skirt to slide up a few extra inches. “I can work with that. How would you like to take a look at your... investment?” She tugged at her bodice, working it down to reveal the lacy black bra beneath.
She might as well have been wearing a parka, for all the notice he gave. He waved a dismissive hand, still writing in that strange, flowing script. “Move, whore. You’re blocking my light.”
Zara’s temper flared. The agency had already taken payment for her services. She didn’t need to sit around here and take this garbage from some creepy cult leader with a chip on his shoulder. “Alright, if that’s the way you want it, I’ll leave then.” She stood, stalking pointedly past him towards the door, fixing her dress back in place. If she could pick up one more tonight, including the security guard, this aggravating waste of time would be well worth it. His loss.
Slowly, she turned, forcing the seductive smile back onto her face. “Ready to play nice? Trust me, I’m worth it.”
He was facing her now, eying her with cold distaste, his voice emotionless. “You may not leave. Those idiots expect you to stay for a time. Unfortunately, I must abide by that expectation.”
Looked like she’d been right about that ‘fools’ comment. Did he really think that way about his own organization? “Lucky thing you got the deluxe package, honey. I’m yours for the night, if you want.” Arceus, she hoped not. She’d been with a few undesirable clients before, but none that had a patch on this guy. He seemed to have a couple screws loose. Who dyed their hair that shade of blue-grey, especially before they’d hit middle-age?
Cyrus pointed to the couch. “Sit.”
Chafing at the imperious nature of the command --what was she, a growlithe?-- Zara sat. The couch creaked beneath her, and she could feel several of the springs digging into her backside. It also smelled musty. Wonderful. “Are you going to come join me?”
“Stay there. I will tell you when you may go.” Dismissing her once again, he turned around, picking up one of the random bits on the desk and adjusting it with a screwdriver.
Zara glared daggers at his back. So, he was going to keep ignoring her? Make her wait here until he was satisfied he wouldn’t look bad by sending her away? Forget oddball, this guy was a class A asshole, and crazy to boot! Screw it. She didn’t care, even if there was a small chance this job would need a refund. Zara stood, jaw set. She wasn’t going to waste her time here just to keep this jerkoffs image intact.
“I told you to stay put, whore.” Cyrus hadn’t moved, hadn’t turned. In fact, he was so still, he almost looked like a statue. Abruptly, he flicked out an arm, stabbing the screwdriver at her accusingly, the lamplight glinting off its tip. A screwdriver. Nothing but a tool, yet wielded like a sword. Somehow, without looking, he was pointing it straight at her face. “Disobey again, and things will go... poorly, for you. Now, sit, and stay.”
This time, the chill she felt was like a winter wind off Mount Coronet. Mechanically, she collapsed back onto the uncomfortable couch, staring at the man’s back. For the first time in her life, she experienced what she knew to be genuine fear. Something about that rigid posture, and the utter lack of any emotion... It reminded her of a deadly hunter, poised to spring on its prey. On her. She had no doubt he would make good on his threat. Lindy was right, she should look at getting a pokémon for protection. Though, wasn’t this guy supposed to be a master trainer of some sort? That would be like trying to fight a forest fire with a candle.
For now, Cyrus seemed content, returning to his tinkering without another word. Trembling, Zara reached into her purse, drawing out her slim, stylish phone, gripping it tight. Should she call the agency? The police? Yell for help? No, any of those might set this guy off, and no one downstairs would hear her besides. At least she had the phone with her, just in case. A tiny bit of security was better than none. She glanced down at it.
Cyrus glanced over his shoulder, the movement making her start embarrassingly. She tried to hide the phone in her lap, but he didn’t seem to notice. Or, maybe he simply didn’t care about her ‘protection’. He gave a short nod. “Good girl. This way is less inconvenient for me. I advise you to keep it so.” He paused, his gaze searching hers. She wanted to look away --to run away-- but it felt as though she were transfixed, his probing stare extracting whatever secrets he wished from her. “Not much longer now, and this will all be over.”
Wait, what? The matter-of-fact statement broke the spell. She opened her mouth, then thought better of provoking him, and closed it again. He was already back to ignoring her. Why draw those unsettling eyes again? He was muttering under his breath, and unconsciously, she leaned forward a bit, attempting to hear. He seemed to be repeating himself. If she strained, she could just make out the words...
“Not much longer now. It will all be over. Not much longer...”
Chapter End Notes:
Thanks to Guri for proofing!