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69 Samaritan

About Azzie

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  • Birthday 05/16/1993

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    Calcenon City (also, Canadaland)

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  1. Day 14 Taka woke up early the next morning, He wasn’t sure exactly what woke him, although his racing heart made him suspect he’d been dreaming about Meteor again. He dug his hands into the sand below him and felt its reassuring solidity, the coolness of the grains against his skin. It was calming. The sky above was still a watery deep blue, and Taka tried to settle back into sleep. But he found he could not. If he had been dreaming about Meteor, he didn’t want to fall back into that dream. So he listened to the sounds of morning, distant squabbles of Pokemon and Romi’s rather loud snoring, and laughed quietly at the latter. After a half hour or so he gently shifted out from beneath Komala and Klefki and stood up. “Gli!” Taka looked around for the source of the sound, but saw neither Gliscor nor Minior until he felt a gentle tap on his shoulder. Turning, he found Gliscor happily resting on his tail, a sandy hole behind him. “Morning,” he said. “Tired? You can rest, I’m up. Where’d Minior go?” Gliscor pointed up toward the top of the sand dune nearest Taka. Minior, in his stone shell, was sliding down quickly, spinning as he did and making a crooked furrow through the sand. When he reached the bottom, he flew quickly over to join them. “Haha. You two been having fun?” he asked. Minior beeped in agreement, and Gliscor nodded happily. Taka grinned. “Okay, but get some rest for a bit. We’ll probably head out soon.” Gliscor drooped, but when he opened his mouth to protest a yawn slipped out, and Minior flashed his tips in silent laughter. “Morning! Morning!” Chatot landed on Taka’s shoulder, leaning his head against his Trainer’s. “Sco sco,” Gliscor waved, yawning again and flapping over with Minior to rest against their dune. “Night,” Taka called quietly to them. He leaned his head against Chatot’s, and smiled. “Morning. Sleep okay?” Chatot chirped. “Good,” Taka said. He turned back to where Romi and their Pokemon were settled, just a few feet away. He was surprised Gliscor and Minior hadn’t woken any of them with their antics- but then, they hadn’t woken him, either. Romi was sound asleep, Faith sprawled across their ankles and Betty clinging to their arm. Shimmer was curled around the top of their head, Madison had flopped out with her head across Faith’s tail, and Taka could see the little Timer Ball containing Gible in the sand next to them. “Tot,” Chatot said softly. “Yeah,” Taka agreed, ruffling the feathers on the little bird’s head. He went over to his bag and pulled out some Leppa Berries, removing the stems and tossing them into the blackened patch of ash and twigs that had been a fire the previous night. “Hey, Chatot, can you get the fire started again?” Chatot flew over and breathed a wave of heat onto the pile. Unfortunately, there was not enough in the stems to burn for more than an instant before they died down to shriveling blackness, and then ash. Taka shrugged. “Thanks anyway.” He handed the Pokemon one of the berries, and Chatot munched happily on it as Taka continued removing stems and setting the berries aside. A short time later, Shimmer drifted over, Komala once again riding on her back. She hummed appealingly, and Komala reached for his Trainer- or the food, Taka wasn’t sure which. Given that Shimmer was also turning her wide pink eyes toward Taka, he was fairly sure it was treats they wanted. He smiled faintly and held out a handful, which Shimmer lifted and brought to Komala to munch on. The last one she took for herself, with a high bell sound that may have been laughter. Klefki came next, and then Madison, with an excited squawk that woke Romi, Faith and Betty immediately. Realizing it was food that had woken them, Faith and Betty scampered quickly over to Taka, Faith licking Romi’s cheek quickly before she did. Romi looked blearily over at the crowd of Pokemon centered on Taka, and laughed quietly. They picked up the Pokeball in the sand beside them, and Taka was sure they said something to it before they stood up and came over to join the others. “Morning,” they said. “Hey, Ro, sleep okay?” Taka asked, handing them some Leppas. “Here.” “Yeah, thanks. You?” “Pretty well,” Taka said. For a moment he remembered waking up with his heart racing, but shook his head to clear it. “Think I had a weird dream.” “What was it?” Romi asked as they took a bite. “These are good.” Taka shrugged. “Not sure. Something about Meteor, probably. I’ve had a few of those. But I don’t remember this one, so that’s a relief, at least.” “I don’t think I’ve dreamed much lately,” Romi said. “Not since we’ve been out here.” They frowned. It was strange, they hadn’t noticed until now. Taka looked from Romi to Shimmer and raised an eyebrow. “Uh, Ro, don’t Musharna eat dreams?” “Mrr,” Shimmer trilled, nodding. Romi’s face shifted into a smile. “Oh, right. Thanks, Shimmer,” they said. She whistled happily and stole another berry for Komala to eat. “Well, if you want more dreams about running scared, you’re welcome to them,” Taka said. “Speaking of scared, are you gonna try to feed that Pokemon?” Romi shook their head. “He ate a lot last night, I think he’ll be okay in there until we stop. Unless you want to come eat?” they asked the Timer Ball. It shook in their hand, and Romi could feel it tingle before eventually settling down again. “Guess not. That’s okay.” They finished eating and cleaned up their campsite, Romi covering the fire patch with sand and Taka gently waking up Minior and Gliscor before returning them to their Pokeballs with everyone else. When only the two Trainers were left, they gathered their bags and headed off again along the mountain line. Taka and Romi had only been underground for slightly less than two days, but it was long enough that they had begun to forget just how hot it was, walking in the desert. The sun beating down on their heads felt especially harsh, and their periodic stops to battle wild Pokemon usually ended in them resting for a few minutes afterward, to have some water and give some to their Pokemon. “Hey, Romi?” Taka asked, after one such pause. “Mm?” “If you’re ever out here again, word of advice. Don’t wear a scarf.” Romi half-grinned. “Put it in your bag.” “I should,” Taka said. “But it’s been good for keeping the sand out of my face. Even though... I actually haven’t felt so much as a breeze today, have you?” Romi shook their head. “Hope we find another oasis soon.” “Oh, yeah,” Taka said. “Let’s hope there weren’t only those two out there. We’re going to need to get more food and water at some point.” “Unless the Gym’s close,” Romi agreed. “…Or anywhere cooler.” Eventually the sun began to sink once more, and the relief from the heat made them both considerably more cheerful. As a bonus, the frequent resting throughout the day meant they both had energy to keep walking even as the moon rose. Eventually, however, Romi’s stomach complained loudly, and through his laughter Taka suggested they stop for the night. Romi, grinning sheepishly, agreed. The two Trainers didn’t bother to try and cook anything this time, simply setting a small fire and lounging around while munching on Berries wth their Pokemon. Once they had finished, Romi squatted next to Betty and said something quietly to her. She nodded and hugged Romi’s arm, and Romi kissed her head before clicking a button on their waist, and Betty was recalled to her Pokeball. Romi looked up, and saw Taka watching them curiously. He quickly looked away and pretended not to be watching, but Romi caught the motion, and smiled. A moment later they caught themself, and their face became smoothly neutral again. They kept it that way, even as they called Taka and waved him over. “What’s up?” he asked. “You going to talk with the Gible again?” “Yes,” Romi said. “Would you come along?” Taka shrugged. “Sure thing, but why? Pretty sure I freaked him out before.” “Yeah. But- he needs to get used to everyone. And- at least he’s met you. He might be more comfortable.” “I guess. Bringing Betty too?” Taka asked, forgetting to pretend he hadn’t been watching. “They seemed to be getting along,” Romi said. “I’ll bring her out if it goes okay. Or if she just gets excited and comes out,” they added, smiling faintly. Taka grinned. “Sounds good. Hey, guys, we’ll be right back, okay? Don’t go far.” There were sounds of assent from both teams of Pokemon, so the two Trainers began walking along the mountain’s edge. When they had rounded a corner, Romi glanced around them and then sat on a small stone. “This the spot?” Taka asked. Romi shrugged. “Here we go.” They clicked the Timer Ball, and in a greenish beam of light, the little Gible appeared before them. He looked up at Romi, then turned to Taka, and looked back and forth between them quickly. He growled in confusion. “It’s okay,” Romi said. “Taka’s a friend. I wanted you two to meet.” Taka felt a soft rush of happiness at the designation, and smiled. “Hey, little guy.” Gible backed up until their tail was poking into Romi’s ankle, and Romi gently set their hand on his head. He looked up at them, then over at Taka again, and Romi felt the Pokemon’s trembling subside somewhat. “This is Taka,” Romi explained. “We’re travelling together.” Taka crouched down and held out a hand. Gible hesitantly stepped forward, growling softly, and Taka grew tense. But when the little Gible reached his hand, he simply gave a mighty sniff, and sat down. “Uh… Oh, you hungry?” Taka asked. “Gib!” Gible hopped. Romi laughed softly and withdrew a PokeSnax treat from their pocket, passing it to Taka. He offered it to Gible, and the Pokemon dove forward for the treat. Taka let go and snatched his hand back. “Careful,” he said automatically. And to his surprise, Gible tilted his head and nosed Taka’s hand gently, almost in apology. Romi tossed Taka another treat, and this time Gible took it more slowly, grasping the edge in his large jaws so Taka had room to let go before he yanked it backwards and gulped it down. “Smart little guy,” Taka said, looking pleased. “You have a name yet?” “Have an idea,” Romi said. “But I wanted him to get used to me first. And everyone.” “What’s the idea?” “Nino,” Romi said. “Huh. I can see it,” Taka nodded. “What do you think, Nino?” “Gib?” the Pokemon asked. “Mrr.” He turned and scampered over to Romi, and held his mouth open. Laughing, they dropped another treat into it. “...Do you like it, though?” Romi asked. “Is it okay? If we call you Nino?” He nosed Romi’s leg and sat, looking up at them. “Gib!” “Nino?” “Giii.” He opened his eyes and tilted his head happily. “Gib!” “Nino it is,” Romi said. They smiled at Taka, excitement written across their features, and he felt himself mirror it. “Hey, Nino.” Romi released Betty then, and the Roserade began chirping excitedly as she patted Nino on the head and sat next to him. Nino watched her, cautiously at first but then with open interest. The two carried on an unintelligible conversation, which ended when an excited Nino gave Betty a friendly lick and discovered that poison-types taste disgusting. Taka laughed and handed both Pokemon Berries, and Nino ate his while shooting wounded looks at Betty, who had seen the look on Nino’s face and burst into giggles. Romi smiled. It looked like Nino would fit in okay. When they readied themselves to return to the campsite, Nino gently nosed at his Pokeball, and looked at Romi with a plea in his eyes. Romi petted his head gently. “It’s okay. Little at a time, right? Oh, here.” Nino and Betty watched as Romi reached into their bag and brought out an Exp. Share. They both investigated it, Nino quickly stepping back before hesitantly sniffing at the strange metal contraption. Betty poked it. “Here.” Romi held it out to Nino. “Hold onto it.” He shrank back again, looking over at Taka with apprehension. Taka smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring way. “It won’t hurt you,” Romi murmured. “If you take it, it’ll help you get stronger without battling. Until you want to.” Betty quickly hopped back, shaking her head, and raised her flower buds like fists. Taka laughed, and though they were trying to be quiet Romi could not help but chuckle too. Nino pondered, tilting his head, and then set a paw on the metal. When nothing happened, he set the other paw on it, and carefully lifted the machine from Romi’s hand. He sniffed at it again, latched on more tightly, and made a friendly sound to Romi. Then, in a burst of greenish light, he was gone, back into the Timer Ball at Romi’s belt. “That went better,” Taka said, looking surprised. “He’s warming up.” “Rose!” Betty squealed, running over and hugging Taka’s pant leg. Romi laughed. “Thank you both,” they said. “I didn’t do anything, but sure,” Taka shrugged, petting Betty’s head. “You did,” Romi said. “I think he’s getting used to you already. He’s warming up.” They held out their arms as Betty hopped over to them, and scooped her up onto their lap when she reached them. “You helped too.” The Roserade chirped happily, and Taka grinned. “You guys, seriously.” Romi smiled, that same bright expression they had worn after coming out of the sandy cave, and it made Taka feel even more at ease. “I’m glad you caught him,” he said. “Yeah,” Romi said. “So am I.” Betty insisted on being carried back to camp, so Romi set her on their shoulders and let her ride spoinkback. She had to lean to see past Romi’s head, but she seemed so happy and smug as she rode that Taka kept breaking into laughter when he looked over. When they arrived back at camp that way, Betty hopped off their Trainer’s shoulders, and Romi was immediately surrounded by a half-dozen more who wanted rides. So they and Taka spent the next half hour entertaining the Pokemon, until Komala tried to beg Romi for a third turn and Taka nearly tripped over Faith and they decided enough was enough, and it was time to sleep. As they made a dint in the sand with their feet, Romi looked over to Taka and paused. “Were you serious about the dream thing this morning? Wanting them gone?” “Huh? I mean, yeah, it’d be nice,” Taka shrugged. “But it’s fine. It’s not constant or anything.” Shimmer floated forward. “Shar?” “I don’t think she’d mind more snacks,” Romi said, looking away. “If you want.” Shimmer nodded her head, which was most of her body, and nosed Taka’s arm reassuringly. He patted her. “Seriously? Yeah. Yeah, sure, thanks!” He sighed. “...Honestly, I was kinda worried about having it again, haha. That’s pretty great, thanks, guys.” The Musharna gave Taka a tiny lick on the hand. “Nightmares suck,” Romi shrugged. “Yeah,” Taka agreed. He felt a pang of worry- hadn’t they said something that morning, about being grateful they weren’t dreaming? He hadn’t thought about it at the time, but… Romi must have been having nightmares too. He frowned. But if they hadn’t been bothering them since they started out into the desert… Taka didn’t want to be the one to bring it up. “So… I guess you’ll just… eat my dreams as I sleep?” he asked Shimmer. “...Ro, it doesn’t hurt, does it?” Romi grinned. “I didn’t even know she was doing it. It’s fine.” Shimmer let out a hum of indignation, and Taka grinned too. “Sorry, sorry. I trust you.” “Mrr,” Shimmer said. Romi continued trying to make the sand more comfortable, so Taka began marking out his own place. He was a bit nearer than usual, hoping to make it easier for Shimmer to eat his dreams as well as Romi’s. Gliscor noticed Taka working on his camping spot and came over to help, and before long both he and Romi were settling in for the night. Shimmer cuddled up between the two, and between Komala cuddling against her on Taka’s side and Faith on Romi’s side, there was something of a bridge connecting the two Trainers. Minior laughed at the sight, and Taka joined in briefly before nodding off. He hadn’t realized just how tired he was. Romi lay awake for some time, holding Nino’s ball in one hand and stroking Madison’s head with the other, but they too eventually nodded off.
  2. (Same disclaimer as last time! Many little bits of Taka's dialogue is taken straight from the game, and all credit for those goes to Ame and not me!) Day 13 The worst part about sleeping underground was, there was no way to tell if it was morning or not. Romi woke up a few times, but the light never changed- it was the same faint warm glow that permeated most of this cave. Each time, they felt wide awake, but they were fairly sure that was the adrenaline, and they could see everyone else save for Gliscor and Minior were still sound asleep. So each time they forced themself to close their eyes again and focus on their Pokemon's breath until the motion lulled them back to sleep. The fourth time they woke, Madison had left her tree and was preening herself, so Romi slipped carefully away from the others and stood up. Madison saw them do so, and tilted her head to one side. Romi held a finger to their lips, and stepped over to pet her. The Pokemon must have understood, forgoing her usual loud greeting to instead stretch her neck out longer so Romi could more easily rub it. It made Romi smile, and they spent some time simply enjoying each other's company. Minior watched them, and he and Gliscor chattered quietly to themselves, but elected to let Romi and Madison have their quiet cuddle. After a while, Madison went back to preening. The timing was well enough; Romi felt their restlessness building, and a headache along with it. So they withdrew a bottle of water from their bag, and sipped on it while they prepared breakfast. All that was left of Romi's initial packed food were a few dried fruit sticks and a disgusting smushed-up sandwich at the bottom of their bag. There were still plenty of fresh berries, and Romi again wondered what kept them from going rotten when they were stored in Trainers' bags. The bag certainly hadn't done anything for the sandwich. But the Berries were nutritious, and Romi had developed a taste for them. They munched on an Aspear Berry while slicing more of the fruits up for everyone else. The smell attracted Gliscor's attention, and he swooped over with a hungry cry. After that, it was more or less open season, with all the other Pokemon waking up and Taka being roused when Komala climbed across his stomach to join his fellows in crowding around Romi for food. "Morning," Romi said. "I'd hurry if I were you." "Fea!" Madison crowed in agreement, a Pecha Berry speared on her upper beak. Taka got up and made his way over. Chatot landed again on his shoulder, still munching, and when Romi handed Taka some chopped berry mix Chatot stuck his head into the plastic dish and stole a piece. "Morning to you, too," Taka said, ruffling Chatot's feathers. "Thanks, Romi." They ate quickly, most of the Pokemon having finished by the time Taka even properly got started. Taka hadn't realized how hungry he was before he had fallen asleep, and fairly devoured his breakfast, sighing with relief when he'd finished. "You go check on the basin yet?" he asked. Romi shook their head. "Well, I have no clue how long it's been, but it's probably long enough by now. Let's check it out." They returned their Pokemon, and were on their way quickly. Taka stopped after a few minutes, and held out an arm. "Look," he whispered. Romi looked. A small bluish tail was sticking out of the basin Romi had filled before, the Gible's face hidden as it ate. Romi's face broke into a smile. It was adorable. It was still a fair distance away, and neither of them wanted to alarm the Pokemon while it was eating. So they crept forward. When they were about twenty feet away, the Gible finished its snack and sat up to smell the air. Taka and Romi froze. The Pokemon did not notice them at first, leaning over the front edge of the basin to look at something on the ground. But it must have known something was there. When Romi took a single step forward a few seconds later, Gible jumped in alarm and skittered out of the basin, quickly disappearing beneath the sand. "It ran off already?" Taka asked, staring after it. "That one must be pretty skittish, huh... well, you have any more snacks? It knows there was food here, it might come back." Romi nodded, and withdrew another bag of PokeSnax from their bag. They didn't bother to be silent anymore as they sprinted to the basin and poured the treats inside. Taka scanned the surrounding area, and when Romi had poured the bag into the basin, he gestured for them to follow him. He led them past the basin, past the nearby sandpit, into the shadow of a large boulder, and crouched down behind it. "It'll be more likely to come out if we're not wandering around, I think." Romi joined him behind the boulder. The ground was hard, but it did offer plenty of cover, and they could clearly see the basin they had just refilled with food. There was little room, and though they both fit in the shadow, it was a snug fit. Romi kept their gaze trained on the basin. They sat there in silence. Neither was sure how long it was, but Romi noticed their backside beginning to get sore before a burst of movement broke the stillness, and the Gible ran for the basin. From their closer vantage point, Romi could see the notched fin that indicated a male- and a very happy one, judging by his little hop before diving again into the bowl full of snacks. They waited until he was busy eating, and then turned to Taka, who nodded. Romi bolted forward. This time, the Gible didn't even finish eating before he took off. He glanced backwards for a moment and then dove into the sand, grumbling as he did. "I'd say something like, let's split up and corner it between us, but as long as it can go underground I don't think it'd make a difference," Taka said. "Maybe there's another way." "I don't think he wants to be caught," Romi shook their head. "It's okay." "No, wait," Taka said. "I don't think you should give up yet. It's probably part of the test." Romi frowned. "Hm. What do you think?" Taka peeked into the basin. "I think... he'll come back to finish this. And we should have a plan." Still looking unsure, Romi reached into their bag and pulled out a package of Pop Rocks. They opened it, and the candy came out as a single clump, hopelessly melted together. They did their best to break it apart before giving up and setting it in the basin with the rest of the PokeSnax. "Bribery?" Taka asked. "We're chasing him around, he at least deserves a treat." Taka shrugged and smiled. "Spoiling him before you even catch him, huh? Sounds like you. Uh, let's give him some space and make a plan." They walked for a bit, eventually stopping a fair distance along the cave wall. They could still see the basin, but they were far enough out that the Gible probably wouldn't worry about them. "I wish I could remember how my father did it," Taka said. "I was pretty young. I think I just wanted to look around. Whatever he did, I wasn't paying much attention." "How long ago?" Romi asked. Taka shrugged. "Ten, twelve years, maybe? I can't believe I blocked all this out before. I think I was about nine or ten." He looked over at the basin. "I still don't regret not catching one, but now I wish I'd paid a little more attention." "Sneaking didn't work, and running didn't work," Romi noted. "I wonder... should we just wait for him with the food?" "Maybe, but... I don't think that's it. I feel like my father would've scolded me more if we needed to stay in one place. He mostly let me do what I wanted, until..." He frowned. "I forget. We went somewhere, and... surprised it somehow." Romi frowned. "How do you... wait," they said. "If you have to surprise them, what about... from above?" They looked up at the various places where sand trickled from the ceiling. "...Maybe," Taka considered. "That might be it. But how do we get back up there, is there a ladder or something? Let's look." The two walked carefully around the cavern, taking their time to look into any small spaces or hidden alcoves where a ladder might be. But when they eventually found themselves back where they had camped the previous night, they were forced to conclude that there were no ladders or stairs of any kind. Romi looked thoughtfully at the nearest sand pit. "...Well, we've got no other leads," Taka shrugged. "Might as well." The two stepped forward and into the sinking sand, and shut their eyes tight as they began to sink again. When they opened their eyes again, they were once again just inside the entrance to the cave system. Sunlight streamed in and made them both blink again. "Okay, I know that's not right, location-wise," Taka said. "...But then again, knowing that this place was for my family, that makes a bit more sense. Let's go." Romi nodded. It did not entirely surprise them, either. The pair went back to the same sand pit they had fallen down twice before, and Romi laughed quietly at how much easier it had become. Taka grinned. “You know I thought we were going to die yesterday?” “Yeah,” Romi agreed. “...So did I.” “And here we are, diving through them like pros now. Still won’t be upset when we don’t have to anymore, though.” Romi laughed again. “No.” They headed up the stairs again, and then the second set, looking up at the white glow from the statues above before once again coming to the Garchomp hall’s entrance. They both hesitated. “Maybe they won’t activate a second time?” Taka suggested. But when they went inside, the torches flickered on again, and they could both tell he was wrong. “...Do we really have to do this again?” he asked. Romi glanced at the statues, then at Taka and the unease on his face, and made a decision. “Come on,” they said. And before Taka knew what was happening, Romi had grabbed his wrist and started running. It made them easier to follow, at least. The statues began moving again, all except the two that Romi had defeated before, but the two Trainers had a head start. They reached the end of the hall before any of the statues got near them. “You okay?” Romi asked, puffing for breath as they stepped into the cavern beyond. “...Yeah,” Taka said. “Thanks, Romi.” “Sure,” Romi smiled. They walked in the vague direction of the statue they had found the previous day. It did not take long to find, even at their slowed pace. Taka paused when he saw it. “Okay, so, it’s… this one? I think?” He gestured to the shallow sand pit nearest the statue. Romi nodded. The image had been frozen into their brain, the view of the statue and the Light Shard as they’d fallen down the sand pit. They were going to have to talk to Taka about that. They were not looking forward to it. “I’ll wait here for a minute so I don’t scare him,” Taka said. “Good luck, Ro.” Romi smiled. “Thanks.” They stepped into the sinking sand and closed their eyes. A moment later, they felt themself land, and a loud yelp of alarm came from in front of them. They opened their eyes. The Gible was sitting in the basin, holding the sticky, Pokesnax-covered ball of Pop Rocks in one claw, and looking up at Romi. “It’s okay,” Romi began, but the Gible had had enough. “Gib gib gib!” He leapt forward, still looking more startled than angry, and Romi sent out Betty to meet him. “Careful, Betty, we want to make friends,” Romi said. “Hey, little guy.” Betty chirped and waved to the little Gible. He lunged forward to bite her, and caught her leg before she could properly evade. She yelped as he latched on- and then looked up at Romi in confusion. He was holding on valiantly, but his jaws were not strong enough to do Betty much damage at all. She kicked her leg and the surprised Gible let go. Romi tossed an Ultra Ball. It shook once, and then the Gible broke free. It looked at the broken halves of the Ball in confusion, and tried to bite one. When his mouth met the cold metal he spat it out, and turned back to Betty with a growl. “Rose,” she said, holding out her medallion to show the little Gible. He peered at it, tilted his head, and then opened his mouth to bite. Betty jumped back, snatching her treasure out of harm’s way, and held out her other hand. A seed erupted from it and smacked the Gible in the face, and while he was roaring in indignation a second seed flew into his mouth, throwing him backwards. Betty looked at the Gible, then at her medallion, and let out a worried hum. She chattered up to Romi, who was watching the Gible but looked down at her when they heard her. “It’s okay, you were scared,” they reassured her. “And he’s okay.” It was true. The Gible rolled up off his back and growled again at Betty. This time, Romi squatted down. “Hey. We’re not here to hurt you.” Betty nodded, and made a chirp that sounded apologetic even to Romi. The Gible glared at them and, keeping an eye trained on them, again grabbed his ball of candy and chomped on it. Betty looked at it curiously. “Sorry it’s stuck,” Romi explained. “It was in the sun.” The Gible finished his snack, licking his lips, and glanced back to the basin. His expression looked uncertain. “Do you want to come with us?” Romi asked. “Travel with us, battle if you want. There’s food, and… I think you’d like everyone.” “Raa,” Betty whistled, nodding. “And you’d get to see more,” Romi added. “Reborn is… beautiful.” The Gible watched them carefully. He looked back again to the basin, where he had found his food, and then back to Romi and Betty. Romi held out a hand toward the Gabite, the other petting Betty’s head, and smiled at him. The little Gible gave a nervous grumble, but took a step toward the outstretched hand. Then another. And another, until his nose was nearly touching Romi’s hand. “Gib?” “Oh,” Romi said. “Here.” They reached into their bag and brought out a fat green Lum Berry, and held it out to the Gible. He sniffed briefly, then chomped down on the Berry. Romi let go hastily, and the Pokemon gulped the rest of his snack down. He glanced up at Romi again, still hesitant, and then stepped forward once more. He touched his nose to their hand and looked up at them properly. His eyes were still nervous, but this time, they were curious, too. “Gi,” he said, and gave a tiny nod. Romi’s face broke into a bigger smile, and they reached once more into their bag. This time, a Timer Ball was withdrawn, and Romi let the Gible sniff it before booping it against his nose. It shook twice, then a third time, and finally settled to stillness. “Rose!” Betty squealed. Romi scooped her up and gave her a little hug. “Thank you,” Romi said. “You did great.” A flash of light emerged from the Timer Ball and the little Gible materialized, chattering frantically and poking at the ball with one claw. “Oh, it’s okay,” Romi began. “It’s just-” They were cut off as the Pokemon hit the button on the outside of the ball and was quickly recalled into it. A moment passed before he materialized again, and this time his chattering sounded more surprised. He pawed at the ball again. It rolled a short distance away, and he chased it, pouncing on it. Again, he was enveloped in light, and disappeared into the ball. This time, he waited a few seconds before emerging again and continuing to play with the ball. Betty giggled, and another voice joined her laughter as Taka walked up from behind where Romi sat. The Gible looked up with alarm, and dove for the ball. Once he had retreated inside, he stayed put. Taka looked guiltily at the still Timer Ball. “Sorry.” “Raa!” Betty trilled, running over to greet him. Romi grinned up at him, too. “Hey, did you help?” he asked the little Roserade. “Ra,” Betty chirped, nodding. “That’s great.” He ruffled her head, and looked up at Romi. “You caught him, huh?” Romi picked up the resting Timer Ball, and nodded. “You know, I’m kind of glad.” He offered Romi a hand, and when they took it, helped them to stand. “Yeah?” Romi looked down at Betty. “Ready?” She chirped her assent, so Romi clicked her Pokeball and she withdrew inside it. “Yeah. I don’t care about tradition or family or anything like that, but it would be sad if this place and that Pokemon were forgotten all together.” He looked around at the empty basins and the half-fallen pillars, and at last to Romi, who had just finished affixing Betty’s Pokeball to their bag and was now inspecting the Timer Ball carefully. At his words, they looked up, and smiled. “Yeah.” Taka felt himself smile too. “So consider this a gift from me. I give you my history, so I don’t have to walk in its shadow anymore.” He found it strangely freeing, to say it out loud. Romi looked again at the ball in their hands, and around at the cavern, and then nodded. “…Thank you. For this.” “Thank you,” he said. “So, you have a name picked out?” “No idea.” Taka laughed. “I’m sure you’ll think of something. In the meantime… we should probably keep going. My father would probably look here, so… mind some company for a while longer?” Romi smiled and nodded. “Yeah.” They sank through one final sand pit, and were deposited once again in front of the entrance to the cave. Already the light coming in from outside was dimming, and they could see the sky growing darker with dusk. Romi’s brows knit together and Taka whistled. “Guess the little guy took longer to catch than we thought,” he said. “Maybe we started late?” Romi suggested. Taka shrugged. “That’s true, time sort of… slipped away in there. It was so weird, not seeing the sun.” He stepped through the entrance and smiled into the last of the day’s sunshine. Romi followed him out. “Yeah. It’s nice.” They looked back at the gaping opening of the cave, and felt an unexpected pang. “…Thanks again.” “You too,” Taka said. “I don’t think I ever would’ve come back here if it weren’t for you. I’m glad we did.” “Me too,” Romi said. They smiled, a warm expression lighting up their face for a moment before they turned away. “Romi?” Taka asked. “Everything okay?” When Romi turned back, their expression was carefully neutral. “Fine,” they said. “We should get going, though. Before dark.” “O-oh, okay,” Taka said. “Yeah, we probably should.” Without another word Romi turned and began walking toward the mountain, north of the cave entrance. Taka followed in silence. He had no idea what had happened to quash Romi’s good mood, but something had. And he found it hurt, somehow. To see them so happy like that, it had been nice. He hoped he hadn’t somehow been the cause of it ending. There were sand dunes up against the mountain, looking in the sunset like golden waves that lapped and froze against the beige stone. As the dusk gathered around them, Romi pointed out a place where two such dunes stood side by side, leaving a small hollow against the mountain. Taka nodded, and the pair made their way over. Taka lounged against the stone and munched on a Pecha Berry while Romi set their bag down and withdrew some water from it. “You okay?” Romi asked, when Taka did not release any of his Pokemon. “I’m fine, I just thought… the little guy might do better with a slower introduction. I think I spooked him earlier.” The corners of Romi’s mouth twitched into a smile, and they nodded. “Good idea.” They unclipped the Timer Ball from their bag and sat carefully in the sand. “Hey, guys?” Shimmer floated over with a curious hum, and Faith and Betty looked over from whatever conversation they’d been having. Madison walked over and sat in front of Romi with a squawk of inquiry. “We have a new member of the team. But I think he’s shy. So don’t scare him, okay?” This drew all of their interest. Faith, Shimmer and Madison sat on the ground, and Betty shifted over to be closer to Romi. “Raa, Roserade!” she chirped, gesturing to the others. Romi clicked the button on the Timer Ball, and Gible appeared in a flash. For a moment, he looked curious. Then he saw the four Pokemon and two humans watching him, and with a tiny roar of alarm he looked for somewhere to hide. An instant later, he was peeking out from behind Romi and Taka’s bags. “Maybe it was too much,” Romi said. “I’m sorry… here.” They recalled Gible, who seemed relieved enough to retreat into the ball, and began bringing out food. “When we’ve eaten, I’ll try again,” they explained. So Taka too let out his team, and the two Trainers and their Pokemon had their first proper dinner since entering the cave. As soon as he was released, Gliscor again scampered over to check on Romi. They laughed, assuring the Pokemon they were fine, and both Gliscor and Taka were relieved. The coolness that had come over Romi seemed to have dissipated, for the most part, and they happily munched on Berries with their Pokemon and laughed again when Taka pretended to steal Chatot’s berry in retaliation for the bird’s theft that morning. With that no longer an issue, Taka found he was quite as happy as he had been back in the cave, and without so many of the complicated memories to distract him. They were there, beneath the surface, but he found he could cope with them and enjoy the atmosphere. When Romi finished eating, they sat and spoke quietly to their four Pokemon for a couple minutes. When they stood again, they approached Taka. “I’m going to take a walk and let him out,” they told him. “Maybe he needs to get used to me. Can you… keep an eye on them?” They gestured to their team. “Oh, sure,” he said. “Uh, I hope it goes okay.” “Thanks,” Romi smiled. “I won’t go far.” They took their bag and the little Gible’s Pokeball and walked around the leftmost sand dune. The moon was nearly half full, and the light it cast was plenty to make up for the sunlight that had almost completely fled from the desert. When they’d gone far enough that they could no longer hear the sound of the campsite, they squatted, and released Gible. Nervously he looked around, but when all he saw was Romi and the open sand, he relaxed slightly. “I brought dinner,” Romi told him. “Here.” They withdrew the same berries the rest of them had eaten, setting them on the ground. Gible brightened, sniffing the Berries before diving for the Pecha Berry and nibbling at it. “My name’s Romi,” they said while he ate. “I guess I should’ve said that before. Is that good?” They gestured to the berries. Gible tilted his head slightly as he ate, still keeping his eyes on them. “Gib.” He finished the Pecha Berry and grabbed another. “Good. I’m sorry about scaring you back there. I guess it was kind of overwhelming, with everyone right there?” “…Gii,” Gible looked down, grumbling softly. “Yeah, I’m sorry,” Romi said again. “I should’ve realized you’re kind of shy. I’ll try and do better.” This time, the Gible sat, munching the rest of his berry, and looked up at Romi. They grinned. The Berry was nearly as big as he was, gripped between his paws. “I just thought… we could get to know each other. One on one. Until you feel better. Is that okay?” “Gib!” He finished the last of his Berry in a single gulp, and did not move to take another. Instead, he sat quietly, still looking up at Romi. There was still caution in his eyes, but there was an openness there too. Romi took that as a good sign, and sat quietly for a few moments. Gible moved an inch or two closer, and tilted his head. Romi smiled again. “I was hoping you’d come with us, but you didn’t seem to want to, and Taka said it was a test… Was it a test, little guy?” The Gible tilted his head again and nosed at another Berry, but did not eat it. “Gible.” “Or maybe you were just trying to get more food before you let us get close,” Romi suggested, the idea dawning on them. Gible looked confused for a single second before looking up innocently. Romi felt a laugh bubble up from their stomach. The little Pokemon jumped slightly at the sound, but stayed where he was. “Sorry,” Romi said quietly. “Well, either way, thanks for coming. There’s not… much new to see, yet. But we’ll leave the desert eventually, and I can show you around, if you want.” “Gib!” Gible said eagerly. Romi smiled. “Maybe we can go to Aventurine. If you like hiding, there’s lots of grass and trees there. Or Tanzan Mountain, maybe. Big caves. If they’re safe.” Gible forgot to be afraid, and scampered close to Romi. “Gii! Gible!” There was so much excitement in his expression that Romi broke into a grin. “It might be a while, but we’ll go there.” They yawned. Gible opened his mouth, exposing all his jagged teeth, and looked up expectantly. Romi realized he was trying to copy them, and smiled again. “Should head back. No idea what time it is. Do you want to walk? I promise, no one will hurt you.” They held out a hand, once again, and this time Gible gently butted his head against it. It was a brief moment of contact, but when it had passed Romi saw a shine of friendliness in the Pokemon’s eyes. They walked a while together, Gible skittering along. But when they came within view of the flickering fire, Gible let out a nervous sound, looked up at Romi, and retreated into his Pokeball. Romi gave it a pat, and walked the rest of the way. "How'd it go?" Taka asked. "Well," Romi said. "He's shy. But I think we made progress." Taka smiled. "Good. I'm sure you'll get along fine." "Were they okay?" Romi asked, gesturing to their Pokemon, still playing happily with Taka's. "After you left, Chatot went over and got them all playing," Taka said. "Think he was bored, but it kept them all busy." Romi smiled. "They're so good." "Yeah," Taka agreed. He yawned, and Romi caught it. They both laughed. "Guess we should rest," Taka said. "Probably," Romi agreed. "...Night, Taka." "Night," he waved. "C'mon, guys, bedtime." Klefki took off toward his Trainer, and the others soon followed, Gliscor scooping Komala off the ground and carrying him over to Taka. Chatot and Madison chattered to each other as they parted ways, and Romi smiled to see it. "Night," Romi told them, lowering themself to the ground and getting comfortable in the sand. Shimmer curled up at the top of their head, Faith again sprawled across their legs, Betty snuggled against their side and Madison tucked her head under her wing next to them. Romi placed Gible’s Pokeball next to their head, closed their eyes and waited, sleepiness washing over them in waves. As the snores of their Pokemon grew steady and silence fell around them, however, Romi felt their tiredness slip into the background. Thoughts floated to the surface, one after another. When they had arrived, and agreed to let Taka come with them, Romi had told themself that whatever flicker of feeling they might have had before was gone now. So much had happened- they had pushed him away, and that was that. And quickly they understood that it hadn't gone, but it would. If Romi didn't let themself think about it, if they didn't look at him more than was necessary, it would be fine. The trouble was, it did not seem to matter what they did. Taka was there, all the time, being sad and kind and funny and thoughtful and sometimes even happy, and Romi was happy. The colours of his humour leaked into Romi's mood and lifted them up. But they had still told themself they had it under control. They could not tell themself that anymore. The way they had been inside that cave- how Taka had been faced with the ghosts of his past, and how he had been strong and confident and determined- they were so proud of him . And even through those complicated feelings, he had been kind- had tried to save their life again, talked to them, included them. He had trusted Romi and trusted himself, and Romi could not remember feeling quite so happy since the day they had stepped onto the train to Reborn City. And like that train, they now felt their feelings racing out of control. It was terrifying. And by now, Romi knew they couldn’t stop it, or pretend to themself that it wasn’t happening. They could only hold onto a thin, desperate hope that it wouldn't blow up in their face.
  3. (Please note that a whole bunch of Taka's dialogue here is taken straight from the game. I can't pinpoint the exact places, because there are a lot of little ones, but all credit for that goes to the lovely Ame!) Day 12 The sun rose, and the party woke to find that the storm had died down in the night, and that Gliscor had nodded off at some point. Minior flashed in amusement when he saw the two trainers grinning at his dozing teammate. They climbed to the top of the dune to reorient themselves, each wishing- though Taka was the only one to voice it- that they had followed closer to the mountains so that the eastern ridge would again protect them from the hot sun. But it was driven from their minds when Romi pointed across the desert field to the opposite side of the mountain curve, where the ridge continued going in roughly the same direction they had been following since yesterday. The air was hazy, but it was clear to see- a great cave mouth. Romi grinned as they pointed it out, and Taka felt himself mirror the expression. "You think that's your Gym?" he asked. "Don't know," Romi said. "But let's check it out." They began making their way down the dune, and Taka followed behind, wondering what exactly waited for them across the sandy plain. The sun was harsh, pouring down on the desert and baking the sand and anyone unfortunate enough to be walking across it. But the two travellers did not feel it as harshly as usual, drawn onward by their own curiosity and wonder. They got into only three skirmishes with wild Pokemon as they traveled, and though they had never really had trouble with them before, today it seemed even easier. Or perhaps the Pokemon in this area were simply not quite as feisty as in the more open, exposed areas of the desert. Either way, the journey was almost pleasant, and each caught the other looking forward more than once with a smile on their face. At last they stood before the entrance, a gaping hole in the sand that led into the largest dune they had yet seen, near but not against the foot of the mountain. It was quiet for a moment, as the two stared into the dim-looking cave. Then Romi stepped inside. Taka eyed the unstable-looking arch of sand above the opening, but Romi's entry hadn't caused any sort of reaction, so quickly- carefully- he followed after them. Romi had to stop again, once they were inside. It was the strangest thing they had ever seen. The cavern was massive, far larger than it had looked from outside. A wide shaft of sunlight lit the sand in front of the opening, and beyond that, Romi could see a number of grassy patches, and even some short, leafy trees scattered throughout the cavern. The walls and ceiling were dotted with large flowers that glowed in hues of pink, gold and red, the ceiling grainy and domed and arching up from the entrance. When they looked back, Taka was staring upwards in similar bewilderment. "A cavern in the sand, huh?" he said. "I'm not sure how this place doesn't cave in on itself, but then again, I could say the same about- wait, Romi, do you see one of those Light Shard things around?" He looked around furtively. Romi scanned the cavern, but there was no telltale glow to signal a Light Shard, and they shook their head. "Okay, if you see one, don't touch it." He looked up at the ceiling again. "I won't," they told him. "I'll tell you if I see one." "Okay, well," he said, "seems good. I guess we'll be less likely to be found in here. Doesn't look much like a Gym, though." Romi shook their head. "It's pretty." "It kind of is," Taka agreed. "I've never seen a tree underground before. Or flowers that glow." He went toward the nearest of the trees, but was stopped when the sand ahead of him shuddered, and a Gigalith tunneled out in front of him. Romi hurried to catch up, and they battled the great Compressed Pokemon, watching afterwards as it fled through a shallow pit in the sand neither had seen before. It had been strong, much stronger than any of the other Pokemon they had faced that day, and Shimmer actually fainted before Faith and Minior took it down and the Gigalith took off into the sand. Romi and Taka explored the cave, both filled with curiosity. The flowers, they discovered, were not flowers at all, but bioluminescent mushrooms with strange spiky growths emanating from their bases. Between them, they bathed the cavern in a faintly orange light, enough for Romi and Taka to see the many shallow pits in the sand, where the sand flowed like air at the slightest disturbance. They did not need to search for very long before they realized that there was very little else to find. None of the trees or bushes bore fruit, and the only thing either of them found was, inexplicably, a package of Red-Hots. "I'm starting to think these things grow out of the sand," Taka deadpanned. Romi grinned. "This one's out of the way enough." "It's weird," Taka agreed. "Never seen grass like this. So what do you think this place is, anyway?" Romi considered. "Duranthill?" Taka looked up at the sandy ceiling. "Good an explanation as any. Let's just hope there's no weird Bug Pokemon queen in here waiting to make us her servants." Romi looked at him in confusion, and he shrugged. "Read it in a book once." "I've never heard of a Durant queen, or-" Romi stopped speaking, and when Taka looked back, Romi looked about half as tall as normal. Then he realized. They were buried up to their waist in a sand pit, and were silently, intently trying to dig their way out. "Uh. Romi? Here, I'll help," he said, crouching down to help dig. Panic was setting in, in contrast with Romi's suddenly calm face, and he scraped away at the sand as Romi slowly sank deeper and deeper into the pit. "I'm trying," they said quietly, shoveling sand as quickly as possible, and Taka realized they were just as afraid as he was. "Okay, it'll be fine- wait, Gliscor," he remembered. "Gliscor, go!" He released the Pokemon, and before he had finished materializing Taka told him, "Buddy, help me get Romi outta here!" He grabbed Romi by the arm, no longer trying to scrape sand away, and pulled upwards. Gliscor screeched in alarm, and grabbed the back of Romi's shirt with both claws. Before he could take to the air, however, Taka felt the sand around him grow looser, and he held tighter to Romi and pulled upward once more. And in a single quick motion, they were pulled completely beneath the sand, and Taka was pulled with them. Terror gripped Taka as his face was buried in sand- and then, an instant later, he and Romi fell through air and landed roughly on a hard surface. "You okay?" Romi asked. When Taka was reasonably sure the wind had come back into his lungs, he opened his eyes. Romi's face, dimly lit but very near his own, was looking at him with concern, and he realized he was still holding onto their shoulder. He let go quickly. "I think so," he said. "What th-" "Glii!" Taka's Pokemon swooped down from above, looking frantic. Taka could see a fragment of Romi's shirt still in one claw as the Gliscor landed in front of him, clicking and buzzing anxiously. Taka reached up to pat him, realizing with relief that he could still move his arms. "I'm okay, buddy. Romi?" He turned and found Romi clambering into a sitting position. Their white hair was completely full of sand, but they seemed otherwise unhurt, and Taka let out a sigh of relief as Gliscor turned to fuss over them, too. "I'm okay," Romi said. The room they had fallen into was another cavern, much like the one above but somehow even larger. There were several more of the strange, glowing mushrooms scattered about, casting the same soft light around them. When Taka looked up, he could see loose pockmarks in the ceiling, a few of which were showering sand gently down in a fine dust. Romi, beside him, looked completely bewildered. "Well, we're never getting out of here now," Taka said. "Dibs on the left side of the cave." Gliscor began chattering anxiously again, and Romi shook their head. "There are stairs." They pointed, and sure enough, a wide stone staircase stretched upward from the farthest end of the cavern. "I was kidding," Taka said. Both Gliscor and Romi looked at him skeptically, and he sighed. "Okay, so I didn't see it, but that's a relief. Want to check it out?" Now that the fear was fading, he found his curiosity flowing back. There was something strange about this place. He thought he could understand, now, why Romi had looked so excited to come here before. Romi thought for a moment, then smiled. "Yeah." They pulled themself to their feet, and went to offer Taka a hand, but Gliscor had already picked up his Trainer and set him on his feet. "Thanks, both of you," they said. "Eh," Taka shrugged. Gliscor pushed his head against Romi's hand, and offered them the piece of shirt he'd accidentally ripped. Romi laughed. "Thanks, Gliscor. Let's check out the staircase." "I doubt there'd be stairs in a Duranthill," Romi commented as they walked. "Yeah," Taka agreed. He hadn't said much since they landed, and he was looking at the stairs curiously. "You okay?" Romi asked again. "Yeah, I think this place is just- something seems weird." Taka shook his head. "I'm probably just scrambled up from the landing. Don't worry about it." Romi frowned, but said nothing as they continued across the sand toward the stairs, Gliscor ahead of them flying happily around the open cave. His presence, at least, seemed to deter the resident Pokemon from coming to investigate them. When he reached the stairs, he flew back, chattering at the two Trainers to hurry up. Taka chuckled and swatted at his Pokemon, and Romi felt themself smile. He was all right enough to play with Gliscor, at least. The stairs were dark and wide, with more than enough room for the three of them to go up side by side. They were carved from the same grainy stone as the cavern walls, and sloped upward through a shallow tunnel of rock. Gliscor's ears swept the top of it, and he complained before landing and scampering up on his claws. At the top, they all had to stop and stare. The cavern ended a short distance in, and instead, a massive brick wall reached from the ground almost to the ceiling. There was a gap between two stretches of wall, a crumbling statue of some kind on either side, and what looked like another set of stairs. As he stood there, the hazy confusion that had been fluttering at the edges of Taka's thoughts since he had fallen through the sandpit surged. And he realized why this place seemed so strange. "I think I know this place." He stepped forward, staring at everything. He walked up to the closest statue, and ran his hand over it. "Romi, come look!" They hurried over, and Taka gestured to the statue. "I was here before. It wasn't broken then... how long ago was it?" "Glii?" Gliscor asked, nudging Taka's hand with his head. Taka scratched the Pokemon's ears. "I think it was before we met, bud," he said. Romi had gone over to the other statue, which had also crumbled, and stooped to blow the dust off. Taka came over and looked. "There's an engraving... I don't think I can read it, but I definitely recognize it. Why?" He walked over to the gap between the walls, and placed his hand on what he could see now was not a staircase at all, but a steep stone ramp. It wasn't right. "There should be stairs here," he told Romi and Gliscor. "I guess they've flattened out to keep others out again.... Again?" He frowned. "Romi, can we look around some more? There should definitely be a way to get through here." "Yeah," Romi nodded. They looked around the inside of the room again, but could find nothing, and were forced to conclude that the answer must lie somewhere else in the cavern. As they walked back down the stairs, Romi spoke quietly. "What is this place?" Taka shook his head. "I... don't know. I don't even know when I was here. I've got all these weird memories in my head that I can't figure out." When Romi didn't say anything, Taka continued. "Like these stairs, I definitely remember them, and up there... there's something there, Ro, but I can't remember." He looked around the room as the staircase gave way to the room they had landed in. At first, apart from the staircase, there did not seem to be any way in or out of the cavern. There were several more sandpits, but neither Taka nor Romi wanted to subject themselves to that particular experience again- or fall deeper underground- unless it was necessary. It almost seemed as though it would be, until Romi happened to look over and see Gliscor, perched on a rock wall that neither of them had noticed did not reach all the way to the ceiling. "Should we check up there?" Romi asked, pointing. Taka looked over. "Oh, hey. Worth a shot," he nodded. "Gliscor, anything up there?" "Sco! Sco!" Gliscor hopped, gesturing. "Let's check it out," Taka said. They looked for a while for a way up, eventually finding a rock that they could climb up on. From there, they carefully made their way up, Gliscor helping by looping his tail around their waists and helping to pull them up to the top of the ledge. It was immediately clear what Gliscor meant. At the far corner of the higher area they were now on, a pale wooden ladder stretched up into a small round hole in the stone ceiling. "Sorry, bud, I don't think you'll fit through there," Taka said. "Scor, Gliscor," the Pokemon pouted. "Thank you," Romi said again. They held out a hand and Gliscor happily rubbed against it, Taka grinning at the sight. He joined in the petting, and Gliscor chirped. "Ready?" "Scor," Gliscor nodded. Taka pressed the button on the Pokeball, and Gliscor disappeared in a beam of pale blue light. Taka climbed up first, Romi following behind a moment later. At the top of the ladder, Taka froze again. "I think this is the right way. I've been here." He scanned the room, and turned to Romi with a wry grin. "...I have no idea where to go from here, though, haha." There were no more ladders, simply a number of sandy pits and some rocks scattered throughout the room. They carefully made their way around, examining the boulders and the flowers sprouting up through the stone. The petals did not glow, but had a sweet smell to them, and the pair lingered for a few minutes just enjoying the small beauties. Eventually, however, they were forced to conclude that there were no ladders or stairs to be found here, nor any walls they could climb. Which left only one option. They stood, awkwardly, looking around the room. "Falling through was one thing," Taka said, "but diving down one of those things on purpose? I don't know about you, but that wasn't high on my list of things I wanted to repeat." Romi shook their head. "Are you sure this is the right way?" Taka laughed. "I have no idea why, but... yeah. I don't know why I'm not doubting myself more. I always have before. But I know this cave, somehow." He turned to Romi, looking a bit hesitant. "You up for it?" "Which one?" "I have no idea," Taka said. "Maybe... let's just pick one?" Twenty seconds later, Taka and Romi found themselves back at the exit. "How does that even... work?" Taka asked. The landing had been easier, although he wasn't sure if that was because of the distance or because they had been prepared. Romi was frowning, trying to work it out. "It shouldn't," they murmured. "Well, let's try again." They headed for the hole they had initially fallen down and turned back to Taka. Taka grinned. "Okay, let's go." The drop was indeed higher, but Taka discovered it was still far easier to make the landing when you were prepared. By the time he got down, Romi was standing and looked none the worse for wear. This time, when they offered him a hand, he took it. It was a bit trickier getting up the ledge without Gliscor's help, and they had to work together to climb and scramble up. But they managed, and after climbing the ladder again, they took another chance with a different sand pit. This time, when they landed, there was a ladder. The ladder was made of dull metal and nestled into a grassy dip in the stone, and when they looked up, they could see that the hole it led into was different from the previous one. It was about the same size, but it was squared off tidily. And it looked longer, darker, than the first passage had been. "This it?" Romi asked. In response, Taka simply started climbing. He began to feel a bit claustrophobic the longer he climbed. There was a light at the top, he could see, but it was a very long, narrow passage, and the air tasted stale and dusty. All he could do was keep his eyes on the light at the top and remind himself that it was growing closer. When at last he was high enough that he could poke his head out of the hole, he was hit with another wave of recognition. He clambered out and looked down, waiting for Romi to finish the climb. They were only a few steps behind him, and he could see the relief on their face when they saw how close they were. “Check it out,” he said. They stood on a plateau of sandstone bricks framed by low parapets. A few of the bricks were cracked, and in one place it looked like a few of the rocks from the cave wall had fallen down and made a pile, but apart from that the plateau was remarkably clean. And in one corner, looking out into the cavern, stood a finely-crafted statue of Arceus. “There should be a button here, or a switch, or something,” Taka said, gesturing to the statue. “Help me look?” Romi did, the two of them feeling around the base of the statue until Taka found, and pressed, the button. The statue’s eyes lit immediately, gleaming brightly white and startling both of them. When Romi looked below, however, the ramp between the walls did not seem to have changed. “That’s all? I guess we have to hit the other one, too.” Taka said. “There’s no way Madison could get us over there, huh?” Romi peered up at the ceiling. “I think it’s too low.” “That’s what I thought,” Taka nodded. “I guess it’s back to the ladders, then.” Romi grinned. “Sorry about that.” It took, if possible, even more trial and error to find the pathway to the other statue. The landings grew easier with each successive sand pit, but they never stopped being jarring. A few times, the cave's wild Pokemon came out to challenge them, and each time, they were surprisingly strong. Eventually, after what felt like hours of exploring, they finally found the ladders leading up to the second statue. “Go ahead, Ro, you take this one,” Taka suggested once they had climbed. “It was under his left foreleg on the other one.” Romi crouched down and pressed the button, this time on the right side of the statue. Once more, Arceus’ eyes began to glow, but this time a mighty grinding sound erupted from below them. “That’s it!” Taka said. “I vaguely remember doing this before… with my father. Mostly I remember that sound.” So they climbed down the ladder once more, and through another two impossible sand pits made their way back to the entrance of the cave. "We should be able to get up there now," Taka said. "...But we should probably eat first." They had only a short snack break, both eager to carry on. Romi seemed to have been seized again with curiosity, and while it wasn't quite the same as Taka's own restless desire to know, it lightened it a bit. He found he was really enjoying himself, even despite the frequent trips through the sand. "You think our bags would break the fall, if we threw them down the pits?" Taka asked. "Maybe, but it would also break our bags," Romi said, raising an eyebrow. "And they're full of Potions." "And our food," Taka conceded. "Okay, fine, let's do this again." He slid down first, Romi following a moment later. Despite it being less than a day, they really had gotten good at making those landings. Romi managed to land on their feet, although they fell a second later and set both of them laughing. They ran up the stairs, side by side, and only stopped again when they reached the massive gate. Even from a distance, they could see the slope had turned to stairs. "Ready?" Romi asked quietly. Taka nodded. They walked up slowly. Taka found the sight of the new staircase gave him a strange, solemn feeling, which mixed strangely with the urgency of remembering and the good mood he had otherwise been feeling for most of the day. Romi was silent as they climbed, and Taka had no idea what they were thinking. But he found he was glad they were there nonetheless. At the top of the stairs, a short stretch of ground curved behind the eastern wall. Grass sprung up in patches from the dusty earth, and a fat little cactus grew in one corner. But a few telltale signs of humanity lay scattered about: worn, broken tiles embedded in the dirt, a tall, wide pot half buried by the sand, and another statue- this one mostly intact, resembling a Rhydon. Taka approached the statue, brushing sand away from the engravings on the lower part of it, but a moment later sagged back. "I can't make out any of it. What's the point?" Romi spared a quick peek at it, but it wasn't in any language they knew, and Taka was already peering in through the entryway that was carved into the back wall. The room beyond was dark, and Taka hesitated. Romi came forward, and when Taka didn't say anything against it, they stepped forward again into the opening. For an instant it was dark. Then, the room flickered into view as torches- Romi could see at least a dozen- flashed to life. It seemed to be a hall of some kind. Pillars lined the walls, and between the pillars, several life-sized sculptures of Garchomp stood. The sound of Romi's footsteps echoed loudly off the stone, and when they stopped, another set came up from behind them. "I remember now," Taka said. "When I was young, my father brought me here once. It was before he really got started forming Team Meteor. We explored these ruins looking for... something. To be honest, it's one of the very few positive memories I actually have of him." He half-smiled. "But I feel kind of uneasy about this room. I can't remember why, but I feel like we should be careful." Romi nodded. They walked forward quietly together, taking in the strangely pristine room and the way the torchlight cast the Garchomp statues in shadowed relief. The flames made the shadows almost seem to move, and the eeriness of it made Taka walk a little more quickly. Romi kept pace with him, and he wondered if this place could possibly make them as nervous as it was making him. He wished he could remember why. And then the air filled with a chilling roar. "Hey, Romi?" Taka said, the sound and the sudden memory clashing in his head and sending him into a panic. "I just remembered why. Run!" The statues were moving. Stone ground against stone as the Garchomp statues stepped forward, turning their heads to look directly at Taka and Romi. Taka, despite his advice, found his legs frozen in place. He wasn’t sure why. His father's Garchomp wasn't a bad Pokemon, and if it leaned a bit on the vicious side that was only because his father had trained it to be so strong. But the sight of so many statues bearing its likeness, stalking slowly toward them, lit up a powerful fear within him. He felt like a child. And then the ice in his legs broke, and he found he could move them again. The fear was blinding still, but he found he could at least move to follow behind Romi. It helped, to focus on them. Romi had defeated his father’s Garchomp, had defeated countless dangers with the odds stacked against them. They had been safe out here so far, travelling together. Romi was strong. And he was stronger now, too. He caught up to Romi just as one of the statues did. It roared, sending another rush of fear through Taka, but Romi simply stepped back and released Faith. She looked back to Romi for a split second, alarm in her eyes, and in that instant the statue struck, a wave of stone erupting from the ground and hitting her in her side. She let out a cry, and launched a bright ball of pink mist at her assailant. It hit the statue straight in the stomach. With a final roar, the statue sank backwards and then froze, back in its original pose. "Thank you," Romi told Faith, returning her to her Pokeball.”I’m sorry.” Giving Taka a small nod, they continued running. Taka ran, too, the spell of terror having been broken somewhat. He kept close behind Romi, dodging past the statues following from behind. Another caught up to Romi, this time not even getting to attack before Faith's Moonblast immobilized it. This time Taka, too, called out encouragement before Romi returned the Pokemon to her ball. Around two more corners, Taka saw the door, and thankfully the two of them easily made it before the rest of the statues caught up. The door opened into a new cavern, and Taka and Romi stood a fair distance from the door they'd come through, catching their breath. Romi kept shooting glances back toward it. "I don't think they'll follow us out here," Taka puffed. "Okay, heart attack over? Yeah? Years shaved off of life? Yeah. I can't believe I forgot about that." "It's okay," Romi said. "He told me at the time it was some kind of trial left for us by our family. I can't help but think that was absolutely not necessary." The nervousness bubbled over, and Taka laughed. It must have been catching, because a moment later Romi joined in. "Faith took care of them." "Oh, right," Taka said. "How did you know those statues would battle like Pokemon?” “I didn’t,” Romi shook their head. “I thought maybe she could freeze it long enough for us to get away. But it looked like it used Stone Edge, and then I guess her instincts kicked in.” "Here, give her this." Taka handed Romi a spray bottle full of healing salve. "Thanks," Romi said. "I don't think she was hurt badly, but this will help." "No, she looked okay." Taka agreed. "But I'm still not exactly sure what's out here, and it can't hurt to be prepared." Romi nodded, and released Faith once again. "Here," they told her, spraying her over with the potion. "Thanks again." "Mar!" Faith said happily, basking in the spray and then nosing their Trainer's cheek. "Pri pri." She saw Taka and waved her tail. "Yeah, thanks," he said. "Sorry I... didn't warn you." "Rima," Faith whistled. and squirted him with a tiny spray of water. "I-" Taka began before laughing again. "What was that?" "Priii," Faith trilled. She clapped and barked with laughter, and Romi grinned. "Faith, no squirting people." With an expression of pure impish delight, Faith aimed a second spray of water at Romi, licked their cheek, and disappeared in a flash of light back to her Pokeball. The cave they stood in was massive, the largest they'd yet seen, and it was clear there had once been people here. More tiles were scattered about, half-buried in the sand, and thin stone pillars and bits of broken arches stretched up from the sandy ground. There were even staircases, the railings carved expertly and still mostly intact, but the stairs leading nowhere. Romi could see why Taka's memory was coming back now. It was all crumbling and scattered, but the architecture in the cavern was unmistakably the same as it had been in the Citae, back when Romi had been there. "I wonder what happened to this place," Taka said, nudging a clay pot with his foot. "I mean... I don't remember anyone else here when my father and I came, but there must be some reason why all this is here, right? Oh hey," he paused, "look." Romi did. Another Arceus statue stood between two pillars, elevated slightly on a pedestal of tightly packed earth. A short distance away, off to the side, a Light Shard sparkled. "Another one," Taka mused, looking only at the statue. "And yeah, seems like there's a button here, too. Go ahead." Romi shook their head and held up a hand. "There's a Light Shard here." "All the way- what even are those things?" Taka asked. "Is it on the statue?" Romi was silent for a moment, unsure of what to say. They had thought about it before, but it had seemed largely unimportant. But now, seeing it mere feet away from this statue, the similarities were undeniable. But they didn't know what it meant, or what it meant that Taka could not see it- and that made them wonder, if Solaris had been here, had he noticed it? Unbidden, they remembered when they had rescued Victoria from beneath the Grand Staircase. Solaris had passed through the same corridor they had, and so had Victoria, but neither remarked on the change once Romi had touched the Shard. At the time, Romi had assumed it was such a common sight nobody bothered to acknowledge it, but seeing it here... They felt their stomach turn, and a chill came over them. "Ro? You okay?" Taka asked. "It's over there," Romi pointed, and shook their head. "Where's the button?" "Right there," Taka showed them, frowning. Romi closed their eyes and pressed it. "Whew. Y'know, I was high-key worried I was condemning us to death by having you press this place's self-destruct button. But... yeah, it looks like there are some sand pits where there weren't before. You can probably take that shard, I think I would've heard about it if my ancestors had powered anything with magic glowing stars. Oh, I remember!" Romi looked quickly at him, but Taka didn't notice. "This is where my father met his Garchomp!" Romi felt the chill settle off to the side a little, and they pushed it out of their mind while Taka continued. "Well, it was just a Gible at the time. And- oh..." Taka trailed off. "I had forgotten, but... he tried to get one for me, too. But I didn't want it. I don't remember why. When we left, he said I ruined the whole trip by not catching one." He sighed. "So much for a positive memory. I forgot about that completely. Maybe I should've just gone with it, even though I didn't want to. I was a kid, I probably didn't have much of a reason." He turned to Romi, standing there and watching him silently. There was that look again, the look he'd seen a few times but which always surprised him. Concern. It broke through the bitter sadness that had begun, once again, to settle around him from this memory. "...Then again, maybe refusing to take the Pokemon left for me by my bloodline was just proof that one day I'd leave them and come here with you." He smiled, though it was a sad sort of smile. "So I still don't want it. But... if you wanted to look for a Pokemon like that, I'd support you." Romi's eyes widened, and they shook their head. But Taka grinned. "C'mon, you have to admit they're pretty cute. It might not come out through normal means, though... I think I remember something about leaving an offering and coming back later. I'm not sure where, though..." Romi turned and looked at the sand pits. Taka followed their gaze, and shrugged. "I was afraid of that. Well, it's probably our only way out anyway." Romi carefully scanned the cavern again. "Which one?" "I've got no clue," Taka said. "I guess we just... pick one. What do you think?" Romi shrugged. "Here?" They pointed at the nearest pit, and when Taka shrugged they both headed toward it. "Wait, aren't you gonna get that Light Shard?" he asked, remembering. "I'm pretty sure it should be okay." "My team is fine," Romi said, looking back at it one more time. "Let's go." And they stepped into the sand. The landing was soft this time, the fall one of the shortest they'd yet experienced. Romi managed to stay on their feet, and quickly stepped out of the way before Taka came down a moment later. He too made the landing, though he wobbled for a moment. Romi grinned, and Taka looked pleased. Then his eyes moved to something beyond Romi. "Oh, hey, check behind you," he said. "I think that's it." Romi turned quickly, but there was no Pokemon in sight, simply an old-looking basin of brown stone. "If we're talking about an offering, these basins are probably where it was left." He looked around the cavern, filled with similar effects to the area above. "There seem to be a lot of them... I wonder if many more people came here in the past. My father said our family used to be much larger and more influential. Falling into decline is just the way of the world." He shook his head. "Anyway, if you have anything Pokemon might like, try putting it in there." Romi thought for a moment, then opened their bag. They pulled out a Pecha Berry, then replaced it and pulled out a small bag. "PokeSnax!" Taka said. "Man, Chatot loves those things. Good idea." Romi poured the entire bag into the basin, and took one piece out. They offered it to Taka, and he laughed as he accepted it. "He's so spoiled. Okay, that should be enough. Hopefully something will come around for it." They walked through the cavern quietly, looking at the various objects that had been scattered around. At one point, Taka strayed over to examine another broken statue, and read it aloud. "This says something about a 'tradition of honor'... no wonder my father always said so many boring things." Romi let out a laugh, and when Taka grinned they admitted, "That does sound like him." "Pretty sure these are much older than my father, but... it's true." After wandering for a while longer, Taka yawned, and realized something. "Hey, Romi? Do you know what time it is?" They shook their head. "I remember something about 'coming back later'... but I've got no idea how much later. Maybe we should get some rest." "...Yeah," Romi agreed. They hadn't realized how tired they were. They walked a little farther, before Romi saw a dip in the rocky walls where grass and a single tree were growing. "Dibs on the left side," Taka yawned, sitting down quickly on the grass and releasing his Pokemon. "Hey, guys, long time no see." "Gli! Gliscor!" The Fang Scorpion Pokemon nosed at Taka, and looked around. He took in the sheer size of the cavern with a happy cry, and went to take off before Taka put a hand on him. "No, buddy, you need to stay close. Romi's looking for something out there and you might scare it away." Gliscor's wings sagged, but he did as he was told, walking over to Romi to check on them too. Romi was setting up camp on the right side of the patch of grass, only a few metres away. Shimmer was investigating the bush, and floated calmly over to her Trainer once she realized it did not contain any berries. Madison happily flew up into the tree, and Betty and Faith cuddled quickly against their Trainer's sides and fell asleep. "Thanks for earlier," Romi told Gliscor. "Here." They tossed him a Berry, which he took happily and ran back over to show Taka his prize. "You're spoiling them," Taka grinned. Chatot was hopping all around him looking for the PokeSnax he could smell, and Romi smiled. They meant to stay awake, to talk more, but the warmth of Faith and Betty- and, shortly, Shimmer too- calmed them, and before they knew it they had slipped down onto the ground and fallen fast asleep. When Taka noticed, he smiled. "Night, Ro." Then he frowned. When had he started calling them that?
  4. I dunno guys, Jarred's pretty dreamy...
  5. Day 11 The next morning, without really discussing it, Taka and Romi decided to follow the line of the mountains to the north. It seemed a likely way to find the Gym, and for most of the morning the mountains shielded them from the harshest of the sun's rays. The wind was calmer, too, and without sandstorms or baking heat their walk was quite comfortable. They even stopped, around noontime, to watch a trio of young Sandile playing, staying quiet until they had left to avoid drawing their attention. They moved on, stopping again only to fend off more territorial wild Pokemon and when Romi, after walking for an hour with a rock in their shoe, finally stopped to remove it. A sandstorm kicked up from the west shortly after dusk fell, around the same time as the mountains veered eastward in a sharp curve. They settled just inside the dip, beside a small dune that protected them from the worst of the sandstorm. It did not take long, even with the sand, to fall asleep, and the last thing either of them saw before slumber fell on them was Gliscor playing happily in the dune as if it were water.
  6. (Please note that Taka's dialogue about Bennett, and asking about Luna, are taken straight from the game! Credit as always to the lovely Ame!) Days 8, 9, 10 because they're all small They awoke to a bright sunrise and the discovery that Betty was missing. Romi felt worry well up in them; Betty had been on their chest when they went to sleep, and aside from her, none of their other Pokemon had shifted at all in the night. Minior and Gliscor had been on guard as usual, but neither had seen Betty leave or anything else come near. They helped look, however, and Romi's worry was just beginning to spiral into true fear when Madison screeched and pointed with her beak. Romi looked where she was pointing- and there was Betty, waddling peacefully across the sand holding something shiny. Romi ran to her. Betty looked up happily and stretched out her floral hands, offering Romi what she had found. "Rose!" The object dropped into Romi's palm, a surprisingly heavy round medallion with a star pattern on it. It was dirty and looked quite old, but bits of it shone like new copper. "What happened?" Taka asked. "She okay?" "I think so," Romi said. "Betty, what happened?" Betty gestured wildly, squealing as she did some sort of dance Romi couldn't understand. Then she reached for the medallion again and skipped in place before once more offering it to her trainer. "...You know what she's saying?" Taka asked, skepticism written across his features. "General idea," Romi said. "I think she just found it. Betty, if you want to take a walk, wake me up, I was worried. You need to stay close at night, okay?" They held out the medallion, and Betty took it quietly. "Ro," Betty whistled, looking down. "It's okay," Romi told her, and picked the little Roserade up. Betty leaned her head against Romi's cheek. Taka stared. "You know how much sugar there is in those Cotton Candies? I think watching that was the equivalent of about three of those." "Not my fault," Romi smiled. They ate quickly and then prepared to take off walking, Betty still clutching her medallion even when it was time to go into her Pokeball. It didn’t seem to be doing any harm, and Romi figured Shimmer would’ve noticed if there was something off about it, so they let her hold onto it. As the day went on, the distant mountains grew clearer and clearer, towering yellowish stone against the sky. Romi found two more packages of candy in the sand, and Taka found a third; they held onto them and wondered again just where it all came from. They camped that night in the shadow of a strange square boulder, atop which Faith perched and entertained everyone by pretending to be a statue. Gliscor joined in, and before long the statue act was cast aside as the two Pokemon began playing and chasing each other. They all fell asleep easily and woke up, once again, to a sandstorm. “Not gonna lie, I won’t miss all this sand when we get out of here,” Taka said, after a battle against a wild Hippowdon intensified the storm even more. “No,” Romi agreed. Gliscor, dealing the finishing blow against the Pokemon, looked indignant, and Taka laughed. “I’m glad you like it, at least.” By that night, they were fully in the shadow of the mountains. “Hey, uh, Romi? You don’t… want to climb that mountain, do you?” Taka looked warily at them as he waited for their answer. Romi shook their head. “Adrienn said it’s in the desert. Not up a mountain. Might be at the base, though.” They grinned at Taka's sigh of relief. “I’ve never actually met this Adrienn, but I gotta say, I’m grateful for that bit of info.” “I am, too,” Romi said. “Didn’t you meet xem?” “Nah,” Taka said. “I didn’t even hear about all that ‘til later. I think Elias just kind of found xem there. Although that reminds me, I think someone in Meteor really has it out for you. More than usual, I mean. Mostly kept to himself, but as soon as El brought him on he was just always talking about how he was going to teach you a lesson. It was kind of weird, honestly.” Romi thought for a moment. “Bennett?” “Think so. What did you do to him, anyway? I mean, it’s none of my business, haha, but I just always wondered.” Romi shook their head. “I was at Luna’s Gym, and he wanted to talk to her. I... honestly just wanted my badge. He made me battle him first, and he lost, and when Luna didn’t want to talk to him he blamed me.” “Luna?” Taka asked. “...Man, it’s been a while. Is she… doing okay?” “I think so," Romi said. “I haven’t seen her since we battled.” “That’s good, if she is,” Taka said. “Hey, if you ever see her, tell her… never mind.” “What?” Romi asked. “She was one of my only friends growing up. And then she ran away...I kind of think it’s my fault she’s become as delusional as she is. If I hadn’t been born, she wouldn’t have had to be in that position.” Romi gave him a skeptical look. “It’s your fault you were born?” “Still.” “No,” Romi said. Their serious expression made Taka half-laugh. “Okay, sure,” he said. “But I hope she’s doing okay. She was kind of like the little sister I never had, y’know?” “So do I,” Romi agreed. Taka gave them a wondering look. It was not the first time Romi had tried to defend him from himself. But it was the first time Taka had wondered, even for a minute, if they might be right. He still felt responsible, in a way, for Luna. But it was weird how... possible it seemed, that he might be wrong about himself. Had coming out here really changed his perspective so much? When they were ready to sleep, Taka once again noticed Chatot hop over to say good night to Romi. This time, he followed the little Pokemon. "Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for earlier," he told them. "It... felt good to talk about it." Romi nodded, petting Chatot's head absently. "You can talk, out here." "Heh, I guess I can. This is the first time in... I don't even remember. Years, maybe? Anyway, thanks. Again. Oh, hey," he added, scratching Faith's nose when she reached her paw up for attention. "Marii," Faith trilled. Chatot gave Romi an affectionate chirp and flew to his Trainer, clearly wanting his attention. Taka grinned and patted both of the Pokemon. "So yeah. Night, Romi. Come on, bud, let's go rest," he told Chatot. "Night, Taka," Romi said quietly, their voice still enough to be heard across the short distance between them. Faith whistled a goodbye and flopped over to drape herself across Romi's lap. Romi hugged her, laughing into her fur at her antics, and that was enough to bring their other three Pokemon around, hoping for their own good night hugs.
  7. Gonna get in here nominating our princely @Candy for King, the sweet @Starry Knight for Queen, and the lovely @A¹¹ for Sovereign!
  8. @Ruby Red You have got to be one of the sweetest people I've ever met. We met over our shared love and sympathy for fictional characters (and also the discovery that I'd seen, and cried at, your art before), but as I got to know you more I just love you so much. You're so incredibly talented at art and writing- your art glows, it's so beautiful. And you're also hilarious, and adorable, and so, so kind. You were one of the first people who really made me feel welcome in this community, and I'll always be so grateful to you for that. ♡ @Posty: Right from day one of us knowing each other, you've been a kind soul who always works to make people feel welcome. I know I go on about how much you make me laugh, because it's so true- I laugh so much on calls with you and Ruby that my mom knows you both by name now from asking what's so funny. But you're also a really genuine, sweet person. Heck, the first time we really met you were basically defending me from a rude person. I always know if something's getting to me I can talk to you about it, and I know you know you can talk to me too. I'm so incredibly glad to call you my friend. ♡ @Azeria: Name buddy! First off, I also want to thank you for making me feel welcome around here. It's been a bit of a pattern with these so far, I know. But you've been a friendly, helpful presence. Before we really knew each other you helped me when I got stuck in Reborn and Rejuv, and I'm still picking up tips from you. When you DMed me having found my fanfic I thought I was going to die of embarrassment, but you were sweet about it. And I know it's a bit silly, but that little bit of encouragement from someone I respected has really meant a lot to me, and it helped me want to keep writing. But what means even more to me is our friendship. You're hilarious and warm and kind (and a fantastic writer), and I'm so glad to know you. ♡ @crimsoncrim: I honestly don't fully remember how we became friends, it honestly just feels like we have been since we first spoke. You have the most vivid, magnetic, sweet personality that just paints everywhere you go with brightness, and I got caught up in that and swept away in your river of sweet comments and adorable, beautiful art. Honestly you've brightened my day so many times, and encouraged me to do things I never thought possible. And through it all you're a complete sweetheart, and hilarious, and I feel like we can really talk to each other. Please know you're always welcome to talk to me about anything. I love and appreciate the heck out of you. ♡ This one's kind of a twofer: @ZELand @Ice, you both know how much I adore when you tell me stories. Ice, you have the most amazing characters, and I'm always so happy when either of you tell me about them. It makes my eyes go all starry and my heart shine. But even more than that, you've both been such fantastic friends. Ama, you're warm and funny and I think you may love books as much as I do, and I really deeply admire your way with people, how you're so good at seeing the humanity and decency of everyone in any situation. You make me want to be a better person. And Ice, you're hilarious and warm and you make everything you talk about interesting. You've introduced me to some wonderful music, some beautiful FFXIV lore (It's usually sad! But it's always fascinating.) and we've had some really real conversations. I appreciate all of it. You're both my cherished friends and I hope you know how grateful I always am to talk to you both and that you can always talk to me. You deserve nothing but good things. ♡ Shout outs, as well, to @Ame, @Cass, @Winter, @Zumi, @Jan, and all the wonderful staff teams on both Reborn and Rejuvenation. (I won't ping you all, you probably get enough of those.) Not just for making beautiful games- though, that too- but for being sweet and considerate and funny people who always seem to care about the people in the community. All of you (especially you five) have made me laugh more times than I can count, and all of you have in different ways made me feel welcome. And certainly, all of you have helped to make this community a better place. ♡ Finally, some general comments. To the sweet people who hang out in Reborn Discord, I appreciate you all and I'm grateful to you. To everyone who posts anything creative, I hope you know that my day is always better for having seen the things you made. For some folks who may not even see this, but who welcomed me with nothing but kindness, you are truly wonderful people whom I'm glad to know. And to everyone who's posted on this thread so far, and everyone who posts after, I'm so grateful to you for making this community a happier, brighter place.
  9. (Please note that Taka's warning about "another base" is taken right from the game, All credit for that goes to Ame and not me!) Day 7 By the time morning came, the sky was still cloudy, and both Taka and Romi were sore, tired and slightly grouchy. Taka was concerned, as well, about the stick that had woken Romi, which now that daylight had come he could see had left a long gouge across their cheek and the side of their nose. "It's fine," Romi mumbled. "It just startled me." "Well, wash it, at least," Taka told them. So Romi did, refilling their water bottles while they were at it. Taka did the same, and they prepared to head out. But after they had both returned their remaining Pokemon and Taka started walking, Romi spoke up. “I’ve got an idea,” they said. “Yeah?” Taka asked. “Come with me.” Romi led Taka around the perimeter of the pond, eyes scanning the underbrush. It didn’t take long; the pond was small, after all, and the Shard was not especially well hidden. Romi saw it, at last, surrounded by tiny blue flowers and sparkling under the rising sunlight. It looked beautiful, and Romi hesitated. It was a shame to disturb it. But- it had been a long night. They were tired, and Taka looked exhausted too. Romi stepped toward it and gestured for Taka to follow. “It’s amazing,” Taka said. “The sunrise…” “There’s a Light Shard,” Romi told him. “There, in the flowers.” His eyes darted instantly toward them. “Romi, what’s a Light Shard?” “I don’t know,” Romi said quietly. “It’s a gold… spike of some kind. When you touch it, it heals you, and your team. Then vanishes. They’re all over Reborn. You’ve really never seen one?” “Yeah, no,” Taka shook his head. “I think I’d remember that.” Romi closed their eyes. “Okay.” They pointed again. “Can you put your hand there?” Taka obliged, and waved his hand around. "Like this?" In spite of themself, Romi grinned. “Your arm is right through it,” they told him. Taka withdrew his arm and looked at it. “Weird. Sorry, but... I just feel the air here, nothing weird. You said it’s supposed to heal you?” “Yeah.” “Well, you should go for it,” Taka suggested. “Better one of us tired than both, right?” Remembering, he looked back at the trees. “That’s what made it disappear before, right? All right, it’s been fun.” “Yeah,” Romi murmured. “Thanks.” They looked back, too, and found themself sad, once again, to be leaving it. The wind had not been entirely pleasant, but the rest of it... had been. “Ready?” Taka asked, “Okay,” Romi said. They stepped forward and lay their hand on the Shard. There was a bright golden flash, and when it faded, there was nothing but sand as far as the eye could see, and Taka and Romi standing there trying to blink the spots out of their eyes. “Man, I am not going to get used to that,” Taka shook his head. “It’s- hey, Romi, your face!” Romi frowned and rubbed their hand over their face. “What?” “The scratch is gone.” He laughed. “It actually worked. There's actually some weird thing in these places that I can't see but... seems to help you out just fine.” Romi, despite their swirling thoughts, could not help but smile too. “You think I was lying?” “No,” Taka said honestly. “But I mean... come on, you have to admit it's weird.” Romi shrugged. "Maybe." "Fair enough," Taka laughed. "I guess 'weird' is a bit subjective anyway, when it comes to Reborn. Come on, let's get moving before it's too hot." "Okay," Romi agreed. They glanced back and smiled. Taka had been right. The sunrise was no longer reflected in water or shining in shafts through the trees, but it still looked beautiful. At some point that morning, the hazy air in the distance began to look somewhat different. The one blessing of the windstorm was that it had taken some of the heat off the air, and as a result the distance looked a bit clearer- and darker- than either of them had seen before. Cautiously they kept on, and by afternoon they could see the distant, towering peaks of mountains. "So you said you were looking for a Gym?" Taka asked. "Is it in the mountains?" Romi shook their head. "I don't know. Northeast was all I was told." "It's Stabby's Gym, right? Mountain might make sense." Romi frowned, remembering for the first time in a while why Taka had been sent here in the first place, and shrugged. "Right. Figure Team Meteor has better things to do than keep tabs on me, though." Taka laughed. "Romi, you have to admit you've wrecked most of their bases by now. Not that you were wrong. But there are posters warning about you. They kind of want to keep track." "I guess," Romi said absently. Then they looked at Taka and grinned. "Posters? Really?" "I have no idea who makes them," he laughed. "But they're like wanted posters. The grunts are supposed to just stall for time if you show up. But I think some of them would just take off." Romi shook their head, and looked at their feet. "That would explain a few things." For a moment Taka had the urge to reach out to them, to put his hand on their arm. It was such a strange thought that he made a face. Where had that come from? He shook his head. Probably just that Romi didn't usually look so... lost in thought, he supposed, but there was sadness there, too. He thought maybe he understood why. "You, uh, okay?" he asked. "Fine," Romi said. "Just thinking." "Oh. Um, for what it's worth, I'm sorry about Devon. I only heard about it secondhand but... it sounded pretty awful." "Yeah." Romi looked consideringly at him. "...Thanks." For the rest of the day the mountains did not seem to get any nearer, and near dusk a sandstorm picked up that almost blocked them entirely from sight. But not completely, and by the time the pair decided to settle for the night the sand had mostly died down again. After Chatot lit the fire, Taka looked at Romi, playing with Betty in the sand, and felt conflicted. He didn't want to bring it up, especially while things were so calm. But for a reason he didn't really understand, it felt important. "Hey, Romi?" "Hm?" "There's... another base besides Labradorra, that you haven't been to yet. They'll probably try to lure you there, and... I think this is probably a stupid thing to say, but... don't go. It won't end well if you do. And I don't mean for Team Meteor." There was no trace of laughter in his voice now, just sadness and resignation. Romi was quiet for a few moments, and Taka wondered if they had even heard him. But eventually they spoke. "Why?" "I don't really want to get into it," Taka said. "Just. If they try and lure you, don't go." "How would I know if they are?" Romi asked. "If I don't know where it is?" Taka half-smiled. "Romi, please. You'd be on your way there in a second if I told you, and... like I said, it wouldn't end well." Romi sighed. "Okay." They settled in to sleep, Taka quickly, Romi a bit more slowly. But even they did not take long, and soon the only sounds at the campsite were snores and the occasional chatter of Gliscor and Minior as they kept watch.
  10. (Please note that a lot of dialogue from this part is taken straight from the game! Essentially all credit for Taka's dialogue up to 'Around sunset' goes to Ame and not me, minus his reaction to Romi's shrinekeeper comment. I hope you enjoy!) Day 6 "Do you hate my father?" Taka asked as they walked the next day. Romi stayed silent, considering the question. They knew, this time, what the right thing to say was. But it was not the truth, and they found were not interested in lying. "He's hurt a lot of people," they said finally. "I don't know how to forgive that." Taka nodded, looking more tired than disappointed. "I know he's not a shining beacon of morals. But at least he's always followed his own ideals. That's something I could never do. Well, not until now, at least." Romi was unable to silence the little voice in their mind that reminded them that Solaris' ideals had led to more than one innocent person and Pokemon being killed. They chose not to voice this thought, however, and stayed quiet, sensing that Taka had more to say. "Now... what even are my ideals? I've never really had a chance to figure it out. I thought I was just supposed to do what I was told and deal with it. And then I just couldn't," he shrugged. "I kept thinking about getting out of there. And then I hated myself for wanting to. It's such a mess." "What about now?" Romi asked quietly. "Now? I want to make it out of this desert alive. And... I keep thinking about getting that woman out of there. She's... corrupted Team Meteor. Both our means and our ends. Did you know Team Meteor wasn't always like this? Before she showed up, we just looked after the Citadel." Romi nodded. They could see it. "Dad said his parents were more like shrinekeepers than anything." Unbidden, the thought of Taka and his father- and then Sirius, Lin and Terra- in Kantonian shrinekeeper garb popped into Romi's head. They had to bite their tongue to hold back a laugh, but something must have shown on their face, because Taka frowned. "What is it?" Romi could do nothing but tell the truth. "Just... picturing all of you dressed as shrinekeepers," they admitted, laughter pushing through their voice. "With the little brooms and everything." Taka laughed, and Romi stopped trying to hold back their chuckle. "I mean, we've got a lot of weird clothes in storage, who knows? But if there were brooms, those are long gone. And I can't see Terra ever wearing anything like that." "No," Romi agreed. "Man, she's crazy. Everyone talks about her like she's this technical genius, but whenever she comes around we end up having to repair a ton of stuff. But Lin always insists she stays anyway." "I don't know much about her," Romi said. "I think she's trapped in her computer now. Somehow." Taka nodded. "Heard something about that. You went in after her, though, didn't you? What was that even like?" "...Strange. Unnerving. There were some books..." They still weren't sure what to make of those. "Does Terra really have a Mewtwo?" "Excuse me, a what?" "No, then," Romi sighed in relief. "There were Porygon living in there, though." "Now that I can believe," Taka nodded. "You catch any?" Romi shook their head. They'd been too much on guard, and too confused about the copy of the Citae within Terra's simulation, to even think about it. "Just as well. Who knows what she's done to them in there?" After the incident with the Krookodile, Romi decided not to mention that all of them had been shiny, and simply shrugged. Around sunset, Romi caught a glimpse of trees on the horizon, and it stopped both of them in their tracks. They looked at each other, looked back at the distant forest, and broke into a grin. Of course, it was far enough away that they could not run the entire distance. By the time they could clearly see that it was, in fact, an oasis, both had been forced to slow down. "We didn't turn around, right? That's not the same place... reappeared or something?" Taka puffed. "I don't think so," Romi shook their head. "But we can check." They walked the rest of the way, stopping only twice to battle some nocturnal Pokemon that were waking up and felt like a spar. The second time, Shimmer and Komala noticed the oasis, and once recalled to his Pokeball after the battle Komala immediately manifest once more. Shimmer refused to go back in in the first place, pointing with her snout and humming with excitement. She hovered slowly ahead of them, and Komala surprised everyone present by calling out to her and, when she approached him, hopping onto her back. For the rest of the walk to the oasis, Shimmer and Komala led, Komala looking happily around and Shimmer seemingly content to have a passenger. They reached their destination quickly after that. With a trill Komala hopped off the Musharna's back and climbed deftly up a tree, still somehow managing to carry his favourite log with him. Shimmer whistled goodbye and then wandered off on her own to explore. The oasis felt blessedly familiar, but there were differences. The pond was curved differently, and there was a tiny island- more of a sandbar really- in almost the exact centre. And while the first oasis had been dotted with lush Pecha and Rindo Berries, the bushes here were smaller and packed densely with the smaller red Leppas. Still, Romi thought it best to double check. "I'll check my Pokegear." It was then that they learned that the battery of their Pokegear had finally gone out. They prodded at it as they released the rest of their Pokemon, and it was a sign of how happy the Pokemon all were to be back among plants and shade that not one stopped to investigate what their Trainer was doing. "Did you have a map on there or something?" Taka asked after his own Pokemon were let out and Chatot nestled comfortably on his shoulder. Romi shook their head. "Pictures." "Of the other one? Hey, good idea." "Not exactly," Romi shook their head, looking around for something. When they found a twig, they began drawing in the dirt, and Taka was reminded of when he had first seen them do so. "We came this way," Romi said, drawing a square and a line leading away from it. "And the oasis was here, and..." They continued drawing. "I had more, But we've been going east, I think. I don't think this could be the same one." "Oh hey. Glad one of us is keeping track of where we're going, at least." Taka hovered over the sketch. "Where was that tree, then, on this?" "I think about here? Somewhere on this line, anyway," Romi poked a dot in the dirt. "It was- wait. Have we really been out here a week?" Taka thought back. "Maybe. Sounds about right." Romi frowned. "...Hm." They opened their bag and rustled around in it for a few moments. "Good thing for these berries, or we'd be out of food by now." "...I mean, we could always see if someone would throw us some more candy off Beryl Bridge," Taka suggested, and his deadpan expression made Romi laugh. "Eating candy gets old quickly," Romi shook their head. Taka stared. "Are you talking from experience there?" "Not mine," Romi said quietly, and grinned. "Cain tried it for a few days." This time it was Taka's turn to laugh. "What happened?" "Ciel made him stop. There was plenty of food, he just thought it would be fun." "Strange kid." Taka smiled. "...Brave, though. Starting over on his own like that. I guess we've all done that now, though, huh?" Romi thought, then nodded. They sat in silence for a few minutes before they heard a loud whistle. Frowning, Romi looked over the pond- and grinned. Faith was perched on the sandbar, nose in the air, and when she saw them looking she sent large spheres of water up into the air. Each time she blew a larger one, she whistled. And when the first one popped, sending water splashing down on top of her, she cheered and clapped. After the second bubble popped she turned to make sure they were still watching. When they clapped, Faith squealed happily and sent another bubble drifting into the air. "She do this often?" Taka asked, not taking his eyes off the performance. "She loves to show off," Romi smiled. "Especially in the water." Faith sent another bubble into the sky, then formed a bright rose-coloured ball that glowed faintly in the sunset. When the ball connected with the bubble it burst in a shower of water and light. Romi clapped loudly and Taka cheered for her, and they could hear the sound of other Pokemon- distinctively Madison, Klefki, and Betty- reacting as well. Even Chatot seemed impressed. "Good one," he squawked. Faith was delighted. She clapped and dove off the sandbar, swimming quickly toward her Trainer on the shore. Chatot realized in time what was going to happen; Taka did not, and Romi simply embraced it. Chatot flew off Taka's shoulder with alarm less than a second before Faith surfed to the shore and tackled Romi in a very wet hug. They laughed and returned their Pokemon's embrace. Taka, caught in the wave of water that brought the Primarina to shore, stood with his arms out in shock for a moment, sopping wet- and then laughed, as Faith chattered in excitement and Romi answered, happily reiterating what a good show it had been. Chatot, taking refuge on a tree branch nearby, laughed too- though Taka noticed the little Pokemon was looking directly at him. "Laugh it up, buddy, it's hot out here and that was nice," he said. "Sorry," Romi said, still smiling. "Faith, careful, okay?" Faith turned to Taka, suddenly looking worried. "Rii?" "It's okay," Taka said, grinning at her. "You did good." She perked up at that, butting her head against his hand happily. Then she gave another whistle and dove back into the water, splashing them much less than her wave had done. Taka removed his scarf and wrung the water out of it, but he still seemed more amused than upset, so Romi let him be and went to check on their other Pokemon. They found Betty playing with a fallen palm leaf, and Madison nearby hopping after a smaller leaf that was being blown along by the wind. Romi gave them each a pet, and continued along looking for Shimmer. It was not particularly hard to find her; pink and purple were not colours known for their camouflaging ability, and Romi found her drinking from the pond a little way from the rest. When she saw Romi's reflection, she took one last drink and looked up at them. "It's okay, just checking," Romi told her with a pat. She hummed, licked Romi's hand with her tiny tongue, and went back to drinking. As Romi walked back they picked up what berries they could find, holding them in their sweater and depositing them in a pile when they reached where Taka- and the rest of Romi's Pokemon- were sitting. Taka looked much dryer, and was fixing up a firepit when Romi arrived. "Got some more food," Romi said, by way of greeting. "Awesome," Taka turned to see, and his eyes lit up at the idea of food. "I'll finish here, then come help." "It's okay," Romi waved. They opened their bag and retrieved their sweater, tying knots in the drawstring and sleeves until it looked more like a sack than a sweater. Betty tugged on one of the knotted sleeves curiously. "Gonna get some berries," Romi told her. "Want to come?" Betty thought about it for a few moments before plopping down next to the pile of Leppa Berries and grabbing one to munch on. Romi smiled. "Okay. Save some for us." They carried the makeshift bag off. The first time they crouched to pluck more berries, they found they had some unexpected help. Gliscor and Madison, following unheard behind Romi, helped pick some of the bigger ones off the bush, and shortly afterwards, Minior floated past and cried out when he found some more Aspear Berries hidden on another. The four of them worked that way until Shimmer found them on her way back, and joined Minior in scouting ahead. When the bag was filled, Romi announced to their companions that they had probably taken every berry in the area, and it was time to return. Shimmer trilled, and Romi felt a tug as she pulled on the sweater full of berries with her psychic power. Cautiously, they released their grip, and Shimmer yawned as she lifted the bag slightly higher into the air and turned back toward the camp. "Thank you," Romi said, receiving a hum in response. Madison sidled up closer so Romi could pet her, and Gliscor rather surprised them by doing the same on Romi's other side, tucking his head under their hand. Minior floated ahead of Shimmer, starry tips luminous in the gathering dusk. When they arrived back at camp like that, Taka laughed. "Guess you didn't need me after all." "Pretty sure we got every berry in this oasis," Romi grinned. "Thanks, you guys." Minior's yellow tips flashed, and he flew over to investigate the fire that Taka and Chatot had set. The two Trainers cut Berries for everyone, and ate them with the last bit of semi-stale bread Romi had in their bag. It was not the nicest meal ever conceived, but it was filling enough, and there were plenty of berries left over- even some Pechas from the first oasis they'd found. When the sun had fully set, Faith at last emerged from the water and ate, sprawling comfortably on the grass. It was a quiet evening, everyone tired from the journey, and after food Taka and Romi mostly focused on finding leaves to lay on. Betty helpfully brought over the one she had been playing with, and before too long everyone was prepared to sleep. Romi found Chatot sitting next to their camping pile, looking up at them. "Hi," Romi said. "Need something?" Chatot hopped closer, and stuck his head out toward them. Surprised, Romi held out a hand. And the little bird pushed up against it. Romi was more than a little surprised. It had been days since they had last caught Faith and Chatot making faces at each other, but even since then the Pokemon had mostly kept to himself, never paying Romi much attention at all. And they'd certainly thought he would avoid them after Faith had nearly drenched him, and had drenched his Trainer. Then again, they did remember Chatot laughing at that. Romi petted the little Pokemon's head a couple times before he hopped out of the way, but before he left he looked at them, and there was something very like kindness in his eyes. Romi felt their heart grow warm. "Night," Romi called out, loudly enough for Taka and his Pokemon to hear them. "Night, Romi," Taka called back. "...Night, everyone." Shimmer whistled back, and it wasn't long before everyone fell into a gentle sleep. Their rest did not remain gentle, however. In the middle of the night, Taka woke up with a jolt from a dream he could not quite remember, and immediately felt a heavy gust of wind. As he woke up further, he realized that a wind storm had picked up and was tossing dirt and sticks everywhere. The first thing he did was return Klefki and Chatot, who were struggling not to be blown away themselves by the wind. Romi woke soon after, and while their Pokemon were okay, they had been woken by a stick hitting their face, and thus were not in the best of moods. The two did the best they could to protect their little campsite against the wind, but the storm was unpredictable, the wind coming from no one single direction. Neither was sure what time they got back to sleep, but it was interrupted afterwards every so often by particularly great gusts. (Bonus:)
  11. Day 5 They travelled on, crossing a stretch of dunes that tried Taka’s climbing skills. He complained about sand getting in his shoes, and Romi got their leg stuck in a soft spot that took them ten minutes to dig it out of, refusing help all the while. At the top of the largest dune in the area, Taka put out his arm to stop Romi from going any further. "Look!" Romi followed his point. Down in a low part beneath the dune, an Excadrill and a Marowak were fighting a Hippowdon and what looked like a bright, emerald-hued Krookodile. The sun glinted on Excadrill's hands and head, but the shiny Krookodile seemed to capture the light in its own way as well. The two Trainers stared at the battle. "Haven't seen a wild shiny in- well, ever," Taka said quietly. "Want to catch it?" Romi asked. "...Yeah," he grinned. "Come on!" They made their way down the dune, each slipping occasionally from their haste. The skirmish moved in and out of view as the Pokemon dove in and out of the sand, but the glinting of the sun on Excadrill's blades and Krookodile's bright hide made it easier to follow. By the time they reached the area, however, the Pokemon had gone. The pair searched for a while, and managed to find the Hippowdon sleeping its injuries off, but after nearly an hour were forced to conclude that the Krookodile had gone. "It's fine," Taka shrugged. "Guess that's what I get, thinking something was going my way." "Taka," Romi frowned. There was gentleness in their voice, a gentleness Taka hadn't heard directed toward any human- or, he should say, almost never. He remembered, twice before, hearing it. It made him stop. "No, really, it's okay. And it's not like I'm not grateful to you for dragging me along. That's not what I'm saying. Just my usual lousy luck, y'know?" He laughed halfheartedly. "You don't have to be grateful." They shook their head. Again, Taka was surprised. "Don't see why not, but whatever. Let's keep going, maybe we can get away from these dunes by tonight." "We're helping each other," Romi shrugged. They did indeed manage to get free of the dunes by the time night fell, and by the time it grew too dark to see they had made it to another rocky pile. Romi began to drowse quickly, and Taka suggested they get an early rest. "I'll handle the fire," he assured them. "Don't worry about it." Reluctantly Romi allowed themself to drift off, and Taka sat with Chatot on the lowest of the rocks to wait until the fire died down. Missing the shiny Krookodile had been disappointing, definitely. But it hadn't really bothered him for very long. He was used to disappointment, yes, but more than that he loved his team, and honestly, Gliscor was probably stronger than that Krookodile anyway. The disappointment had faded a bit behind the wonder of seeing a Shiny Pokemon in the first place. But Romi- they'd seemed sad. Or worried, maybe. They'd even gotten closer to that Hippowdon than Taka had thought exactly wise, hoping to find the Krookodile nearby. That itself wasn't too surprising. Romi did reckless things all the time, things like breaking into Meteor bases and diving down waterfalls after relative strangers. Or standing up to his father. But it was different, being on the receiving end. And hearing that disappointment in their voice over something bad that had happened to him. It was sort of like they cared. Like they were friends. He found himself smiling at the thought.
  12. (Please note that Taka's dialogue around the tree was taken directly from the game, although in a slightly different context. So all credit for that goes to Ame and not me!) Day 4 They were woken by pelting sand before the sun had even fully risen over the mountains. The first thing Romi was aware of was something cold pushing against their arm, and when they opened their eyes they felt sand sting them. They sat up and rubbed the sand out of their eyes, and kept them closed as they reached for whatever the cold something was. “Kii!” came the alarmed response, and as Romi felt the small shape of Klefki they hastily opened their hand and their eyes. “Sorry,” Romi told the little Pokemon. Klefki smiled and held out one of his little keys, and guessing what he was after, Romi shook it with their fingers. “Kii,” Klefki chirped. He made some cheerful-sounding jingling noises as he shook hands as best he could. It was only then that Romi realized their own Pokemon were gone from their side. They shielded their eyes with their hand and looked around, sighing in relief when they saw all four of them over where the fire had been, through the blur of the sand. They stood up, and then remembered Klefki. “You want a lift?” “Klef,” he replied, and hopped onto the hand they held out. Romi carried him over to where their other Pokemon were gathered near Taka and his team. Faith whistled happily when she saw them, and Taka turned and grinned. “He woke you up, huh? Thought we should probably take off before this gets worse.” Taka gestured to the whirling sand. “Faith’s already chased off a Krookodile that wandered too close.” Romi laughed, and carefully handed Klefki back to Taka. “Good girl, Faith.” Klefki hopped into Taka’s hands happily, and Faith rushed to tuck her nose under Romi’s arm. “Priii,” she complained. “Yeah, let’s get going,” Romi agreed. They walked along in silence again, the sandstorm discouraging conversation. But Romi found it easier to breathe, and to see, by holding their head a certain way. It was a relief, and Taka too seemed to be having an easier time of it, with his scarf over his nose and mouth. The wind died down eventually, and with it, the sand. Around two o’clock by Romi’s Pokegear, they found a single tree growing out of the desert. It was not a tall tree, not like the palms that surrounded the oases, but short and sturdy, with lush, leafy branches sticking out in all directions. The deep green leaves were thick and shiny, and contrasted starkly with the large clusters of soft pink blossoms that were scattered throughout the foliage. “It’s weird,” Taka said, staring at the tree, “but everywhere I go looks amazing to me. Even the sandstorms. But I mean, check this out. I’ve never even seen trees like this.” “Me either." Romi ran their hand over a leaf, and then squatted down by its base. There were fallen petals in the sand, half-buried, and Romi scooped up a handful and sifted the sand out. The petals felt dry and papery in their hand. "Hey, good idea," Taka said, squatting next to them. He plucked a few of the fallen blooms from the sand and shook them out. "Souvenirs." Romi smiled. "It's nice." They carefully placed their petals in their Pokegear case, pressing them behind the device. “It is,” Taka agreed as he watched. “...Maybe this is what living for yourself is about.” He put his own petals gently in an empty Potion bottle, and packed it back in his bag before they moved on. They made camp that night between a pair of boulders, which they welcomed, if only for the possibility that it might shield them from sandstorms if any picked up in the night or in the morning. It even hid the fire from view, from some angles, which seemed to relieve Taka's anxiety a bit. They slept soundly, and when they woke it was to clear skies once more.
  13. What's your favourite fangame you've ever played?
  14. (Warning for mention of suicide. Also, essentially all of Taka's dialogue from that part (regarding everything in Beryl Ward) is lifted straight from the game, so credit for that belongs to Ame and not me!) Day 3 Romi awoke with a surprising amount of weight on their legs. When they opened their eyes, Faith was sprawled out across their feet. Betty was nestled into the crook of their arm, and Madison had spread her wings out across all of them. Shimmer, seeming to enjoy the warmth, had curled up above Romi’s head. The sun was well on its way up, although without moving and disturbing their sleeping Pokemon they couldn’t tell exactly what time it was. It was only a few moments before they decided they would have to anyway; the circulation in their legs had been cut off, and both of their feet were asleep. They wiggled, but nobody woke. It wasn’t until they reached out and gently patted Madison's wing that the Fearow moved, and she woke up slowly, stretching her feathers out and nearly poking Romi in the eye with one. “Morning, Madison,” Romi said groggily. The gentle commotion was enough to wake everyone else- except Betty, which didn’t surprise Romi. She had run around quite a bit the previous day, after all. But it was easy enough to gently slide their arm out from under her and greet the other three members of their team. Romi stood up carefully and looked over to Taka’s campsite. They could see Klefki clearly, glinting in the morning sun, and what looked like Chatot hopping about. They approached, and held back a chuckle. Taka’s Pokemon were all awake, even Komala crawling up a nearby tree. Taka himself, however, was not. Gliscor waved drowsily to Romi when he saw them. “It’s okay, you can sleep,” Romi told him. “Thank you.” “Scor,” Gliscor murmured, already settling down on the leaf pile- next to Minior, who seemed to be asleep already. Romi grinned and gathered up the last of their belongings. Chatot, they noticed, was watching them warily, but he didn’t seem as confrontational as the night before. Romi figured they’d take that as a good sign... unless it was just because Faith wasn’t staring back. When they had finally gathered everything, and Betty had woken up and wandered over to see what her sisters were doing, Romi went back over to where Taka lay, still sound asleep. They took a step toward him- then stopped, and looked down at Chatot. “Hi. Can you wake him up?” Chatot considered this, and tilted his head toward Romi. “Tot?” “Um. Please?” Chatot bobbed his head. With a couple of hops, he was in front of Taka. “Chat. Wake up! Wake up!” “Nnnghwizit” Taka muttered. “Wake up!” Chatot repeated with a squawk. Taka groaned and opened his eyes. As soon as he took in his surroundings and remembered where he was, he bolted into a sitting position. “What time is it?” Romi pulled out their Pokegear. “About eight.” “Yeah, we should move on,” Taka said. “Thanks, Chatot.” He gently patted Gliscor and Minior awake. “Time to eat, guys.” The promise of food woke them quickly, and before long they were all chowing down on the Tamato Rolls Romi brought out and drinking from the cool pond. When they had finished, Romi petted each of their Pokemon. “Gotta go now, so back in your balls for now, okay?” They all made sounds of assent, so Romi clicked each of their Pokeballs and returned them to their belt. They knew almost at once that Taka must have done the same, because it was quiet again, in a way it hadn’t been since they had arrived at the oasis. “Man, I’m gonna miss this place,” Taka said. “But it’s too open. Not really a good place to stay hidden.” Romi nodded. “Well, here we go.” They began walking, and when they were passing the Light Shard Betty had found, Romi pointed it out. “There,” Romi said. “...There what?” Taka asked. “Grass?” “No, the Light Shard,” Romi grinned. “Like I said yesterday.” Taka looked from them to the ground with a frown. “That wasn’t some weird joke?” The grin slowly slid from Romi's features. “This isn’t?” The two looked at each other, confusion in each face, as it slowly dawned on them that neither was trying to make a joke. “You seriously don’t see it?” Romi asked. “Gold, glowing, about waist high?” “Romi, all I see is that tree,” he said. “You’re kind of freaking me out. What’s a Light Shard?” They were silent for a few moments. “...Never mind,” Romi shook their head. “Let’s go.” They put their hands to the dusty golden star. A pleasant warmth ran through their body, and Romi felt the faint ache in their muscles ease. They also felt an immediate sense of confusion. The sun seemed to be shining more harshly on their skin the moment they touched the Shard, and when they looked up, the tree they had been standing beneath was gone. The entire oasis was gone. “...What just happened?” Taka asked. “You saw that too, right? The entire place just… gone?” Romi nodded. It did not particularly surprise them. “When you touched that… thing I can’t see. It was real though, right? It wasn’t just a mirage? If it was just a mirage, we couldn’t have…” He dropped his bag and brought out a bottle of water. "The water’s still here.” Romi continued to stare, not entirely hearing him. Since coming to Reborn they had seen a lot of strange things, but an entire pond and several trees disappearing at once was perhaps the strangest yet. And it felt… bad. In a way they couldn’t explain, it hurt them to see the oasis gone. And what about the Finneon? They found themself worrying about them, too. “Sad,” Taka said finally. “But probably good, really. No chance of her finding the campsite now, anyway. At least we got some food.” But Taka was staring where it had been, too, and Romi wondered if it bothered him, too. The thought that it might made Romi feel worse, until they caught themself thinking it and briskly shut it out of their head. “Yeah,” Romi muttered. “We should go.” The day was fortunately free of sandstorms, but that did mean that the sun beat down intensely on both of their heads as they walked. Taka once again questioned his sanity in wearing a thick scarf into the desert, but he left it where it was. After the spook he’d gotten that morning, he was happy for whatever comfort he could find, and the scarf was a comfort, even if it was also making him about ten degrees hotter. The scarf was not the only thing that made him wonder about his sanity. Something had happened that morning, back at the oasis, and he had no idea what. He’d tried a few times to bring it up with Romi, but every time he had, they had shrugged and changed the subject. He could tell it had spooked them, too, though. They’d thought he was joking, about not seeing the thing. And he couldn’t console himself by saying Romi was the one seeing things, because that oasis had certainly disappeared as soon as they’d touched… whatever it was. He wasn’t sure how long they’d been walking for when Romi stopped and frowned at something on the ground. They bent over and picked it up- and Taka laughed. A package of Cotton Candy. “More?” Romi asked. “I think there’s someone throwing them off Beryl Bridge. That’s gotta be it, right?” “But look. It doesn’t even look melted. How?” Romi raised an eyebrow at the clear plastic of the wrapping. “What do they put in this stuff?” “Well, it revives fainted Pokemon,” Taka grinned. “So probably not just sugar?” “I guess,” Romi took a last look at it, then slipped it into their bag. Taka was quiet after that, uncharacteristically so. Romi wondered about it. At first they were content to simply let him be with his thoughts, but when an entire half hour had passed without him saying a word, they decided to ask. “I was just thinking about that guy. You remember that guy that was with me and ZEL when we fought in Beryl? Back then, people were saying you killed him.” Romi froze, but Taka didn’t seem to notice. “He wasn’t the friendliest guy. He never seemed to stick around that much, and he argued with Sirius all the time. But still… you wouldn’t do something like that, right?” He looked, and Romi closed their eyes. “I… didn’t. But in a way it was my fault,” they said. They opened their mouth to say more, but in the next moment the ground rumbled, and a pair of Dugtrio sprang up, one on either side of the pair. They were easily dealt with- Betty and Klefki quickly sent them tunneling away. Taka found he wanted- needed- to hear more, to understand what had happened. But Romi’s concentration, or maybe their courage, seemed to have been used up. Taka watched them as they walked, and they seemed to be deep in thought- but they didn’t look happy. It was the first time the idea had occurred to him, that their quiet could be from nervousness, or something other than simple choice. “So what’s your secret,” he asked finally. “Is it why you don’t say much?” Romi looked surprised for a moment, then shook their head. “Just don’t always have much to say.” There was a pause, then they continued. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know him. Corey, I mean. But… he was a Meteor. Hurting people. So I didn’t think. It didn’t matter. Not until after.” “What happened?” “He was found out,” Romi told him. “Heather was there. He blamed me. Then we fought, in the Gym. He flooded the gym with poison gas, and I told the police where he was. And then he… jumped.” Taka frowned, but he found himself relieved by the answer. “But you didn’t kill him.” “Maybe not. But I didn’t think, either.” Taka shrugged. “It sucks. But sometimes thinking’s hard, y'know?” Romi nodded. It was. The rest of the day passed uneventfully, for the most part. The heat had tired them both out, so the setting of the sun was a great relief. They could find no shelter- not even a boulder this time- so when it grew too dark to see they stopped and made camp where they were. Taka pulled some twigs out of his bag, and grinned. “Glad these stayed too, at least.” He let Chatot out, and the little bird Pokemon chirped in disappointment when he saw there was no battle awaiting him. “Sorry, bud,” Taka said. “But can you help with the fire again? There’s a seed in it for you.” Looking considerably happier, Chatot opened his beak and the pile of twigs erupted into flames. “Good boy,” Taka grinned. “Here you go.” Chatot took the Miracle Seed and nibbled at it intently, not reacting when the rest of Taka’s Pokemon joined him outside of their balls. Romi followed suit. Faith, when she saw that there was no battle to be had and no water to rest in, gave Romi a wounded look and climbed onto their lap. Romi laughed, and Shimmer nudged Faith with her snout. The sand was just as hard as it had been before, but Romi had brought some of the palm leaves, which had miraculously not been crushed by their bag. Faith jumped to one immediately and began cleaning the sand out of her fur. Romi fell asleep almost instantly, Taka noticed, and this time they hadn’t even bothered trying to make their Pokemon a place separate from them. Shimmer made a soft humming sound in her sleep, not unlike a purr, and Taka wondered if the Musharna's presence was why Romi was sleeping so well. Refreshed from their stint in their Pokeballs, Minior and Gliscor played while the others settled in for sleep. The rapidly moving light from Minior was a bit disorienting, but Taka figured it might help keep the other wild Pokemon away. And he'd certainly slept through worse. “Night, guys,” Taka murmured, taking one more look at the stars before closing his eyes.
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