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Pokémon: New Horizon



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Mon Jul 01, 2019 9:58 pm
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AstralHunter says...



Image


Millions of children across the globe grew up with the dream of being the very best, like no-one ever was. However, very few of those hopeful souls would ever find themselves in the position to compete for the title of World Champion. And without an adventure to prove their prowess, millions of dreams would eventually flicker and die.

Billionnaire philantropist Ezra Archer would not stand for this. His dream was to facilitate the dreams of the youth, to empower young adults to shape their own fate. The New Horizon Tournament would provide the opportunity for individuals from all backgrounds and settings to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. All they needed to do was pass the qualifier battles, record a video to motivate why they should be chosen to participate, and land an interview with the visionary himself.

Sixty-four young people from the ages of eighteen to twenty-one finally earned their place in the tournament. Archer would lead them to fantastic sites on every continent, and at the end of it all, he would show them his home, where he too once dreamed of fulfilling the ultimate destiny. There, three of that exalted number would be crowned Champion of Courage, Champion of Charisma, and Champion of Compassion.

This is your story. And it starts now.


Spoiler! :
Code: Select all
[b]Name:[/b]
[b]Age:[/b] [18–21]
[b]Gender:[/b]
[b]Class:[/b] [Trainer/Coordinator/Breeder]
[b]Home:[/b] [City, Country]

[b]Appearance:[/b] [Only physical traits in one paragraph.]

[b]Outfit:[/b] [Only clothing and accessories, naturally, in one paragraph.]

[b]Personality:[/b] [Preferably one paragraph, but two are still acceptable.]


[b]Team:[/b] [Name — Species ♂/♀/⚧ — Ability
~ Personality in two sentences, but NO backstory, please.
• Move 1, Move 2, Move 3, etc.]
But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
- Paul the Apostle

Spring has returned! Winter is over, and BrumalHunter is no more!
  





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Sun Aug 25, 2019 12:37 pm
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AstralHunter says...



Act I: When Butterflies Flap Their Wings
Chapter 1: A Warm Welcome


Connor Redreed
Scene i: Butterflies Abound


Salt permeated the air and waves crashed onto the nearby shoreline. Gulls cried as they circled overhead, but their calls were partially drowned out by the din of many voices. Connor looked over his shoulder, surveying the gathering of young people with detached interest before turning back to face the ocean. Many of them had likely never seen the sea before, but to him, it was a familiar sight. A different ocean, though, as he knew the Atlantic, not the Pacific.

It felt a little odd, gazing out over the glistening blue and seeing the North Shore Mountains instead of the iconic Table Mountain. Cape Town was all the way on the other side of the world, and yet… home didn’t feel so far away. He looked down at the white vixen nestled in his arms while he leaned against the railing. She closed her eyes in contentment when he stroked her small chest with his thumb, prompting a slight smile to appear on his face.

Maybe that was just Vancouver. Connor had been in the city for little more than an hour, having changed into his suit after arriving at the airport and heading straight to his current location, yet he felt comfortable. A combination of the temperate climate, proximity to the ocean, and diverse, friendly populace likely caused him to feel that way, but whatever the case, he’d expected his first time outside South Africa — outside the Western Cape, even! — to feel a lot more overwhelming. Which isn't to say he didn’t feel any nervousness, because he did, and in no small quantity. Being in a city so similar to Cape Town didn’t negate that he was no longer in Cape Town. After reading up so much about the city, he was brimming with excitement to explore it, but equal parts hesitation and anxiety limited his enthusiasm.

The New Horizon Tournament was the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to see more than just his tiny, even if admittedly impressive, corner of the world. He’d put his life on hold for it, but at the same time, he’d stepped forward and embraced everything life had to offer. It was daunting, but the fear was what made him feel alive.

He took a deep breath of the salty air, inhaling through his nose and keeping it for a couple of seconds before exhaling through his nose as well. Butterflies still fluttered around inside his stomach, but perhaps marginally less frantically than before.

Movement in his arms drew Connor’s attention back to the vixen. She peeked around him with pricked ears, so he made a half-turn to see behind him. A young man his age approached, setting Connor’s heart racing and sending the butterflies into a renewed frenzy. This was it: his first encounter.

Upon meeting Connor’s gaze, the man stopped short and beamed. Nobody besides the two of them occupied the sun deck, being more entertained within the building’s warm and welcoming interior. The sea breeze ruffled his ashen blonde hair, causing him to raise a hand and brush the magenta fringe away. He resumed his approach and lifted his chin, jerking his head backwards into a reverse-nod.

“Hi!”

The man’s voice radiated the same energy and cheer as the grin that reached all the way to his bright eyes. To Connor’s left was a dog who had, up to that point, gazed serenely out onto the bay; at the sound of the young man’s greeting, the bundle of black and orange fur spun around and set off barking towards the newcomer.

“Hades, no!” Connor shouted, turning fully towards the other man. The vixen in his arm yipped once at the barking hound, echoing her trainer’s interjection in a more condescending manner.

The young man immediately crouched down and vigorously rubbed the dog’s sides and back, eliciting a continued round of excited barking. “Hello, Hades!” he exclaimed in a higher pitched voice, as one often does when addressing babies or pets. Nodding at the bowtie around the dog’s neck, he said, “Who’s the most adorable Houndour on the planet?” The dog’s barking intensified, as if it hadn’t been intense already. “That’s right! It’s you!”

Connor felt distinctly uneasy, nervously glancing at the people inside the building, many of whom regarded the commotion with curiosity or displeasure. The upper floor of the establishment was supposed to reflect an air of tranquility and refinement — of which a barking dog was surely the antithesis. He would hate to be chased away before even meeting a single person.

“Hades!” he called again, his tone switching from panicked to stern. When the dog stopped barking and gave his trainer an almost upside-down sideways look, Connor pointed to his right. The dog broke into a delighted canine grin and raced over, spinning around and neatly sitting down before panting happily.

To his great relief, the people on the inside turned away and resumed their conversations. The young man rose and closed the distance between them. His suit was a sleek grey, and up close, it was clear the colour matched his silvery eyes. He wore a cobalt a tie and had a similar handkerchief displayed in his chest pocket. The combination was somewhat conservative, but definitely more colourful than plain black. It tastefully enhanced his natural handsomeness.

He gestured at Hades and said, “This pup has got to be the most excitable Houndour I’ve ever seen.”

The dog gave a small bark and resumed panting, his tail wagging furiously. The vixen in Connor’s arms looked down at him before turning up her nose so far as to look at the roof. The action caused light to reflect off the teardrop-shaped hairpin in her wavy fringe, coincidentally adding dramatic emphasis.

Connor grimaced, shooting a glance at the young man before looking back to Hades. “Yes, he’s a handful. At least he listens. Well, most of the time.” The vixen, who was no longer looking at anything in particular, sniffed in disdain.

The young man noticed her reaction and snickered. Leaning forward, he said, “Then I guess this little princess is the model of obedience and sophistication?” He tapped her nose, causing her to frown in consternation. She seemed torn between indignance and contentment, but after a moment’s mental deliberation, settled on the latter. Straightening, he asked, “What’s her name?”

“Seraph.” Connor tried to hide his nerves by smiling, but the nervous energy turned it into a foolish grin instead.

“That, she is!” he agreed. Smiling down at her, he said, “‘Angel’ would be too mainstream for a Hawaiian Vulpix like you, wouldn’t it?”

Seraph sat a bit more proudly and slightly flattened her ears in satisfaction.

The man looked up at Connor, and seeing his grin, he grinned back before dialling down the enthusiasm and swapping to a regular smile. “Since you’ve introduced your Pokémon to me, I guess it’s my turn!”

As if on cue, a Kirlia pirouetted into view. Perhaps he’d been waiting behind his trainer all along, but Connor only noticed him at that point. He gracefully came to a stop and flashed a grin identical to those of the man standing in front of Connor. Like Hades, he also wore a cute little bowtie, but red instead of black.

“This is my wingman, Edward.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Edward!” Connor said, trying his best to maintain a cheerful appearance.

The white and green fairy bowed exaggeratedly low, giggling along with the other man when standing straight again. Movement behind the young man drew Connor’s gaze to a Riolu walking closer, a black tie around his neck and a mobile tablet slung under one arm. He wore a neutral expression as he approached, but when he looked up and into Connor’s eyes, his features subtly brightened.

“And this—”

The Riolu raised his hand, cutting his trainer off. He unlocked the tablet and typed for a few seconds before flipping the screen up. Though it was upside-down, Connor could read, I’ll introduce myself.

The young man raised his hands in surrender. “Right, sorry!” he replied, chuckling merrily.

The Riolu typed again before showing the screen so Connor could read properly. Leonidas.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you too, Leonidas!” Connor said, amused at the interaction.

Leonidas, however, didn’t seem as amused with Connor’s reaction and frowned slightly. He held passed his tablet up to his trainer and held his arms open expectantly.

“Oh…” Connor smiled when he realised what the little blue wolf wanted. He put Seraph down onto the floor, though she seemed almost offended by it, and scooped the Riolu up into his arms. Leonidas hugged him tightly, and when Connor placed him back down, he smirked in satisfaction, giving his trainer a subtle but very telling, sly look.

The young man gave a suppressed snicker. Looking up at Connor, he smirked as well. “Now that we’ve introduced each other to our Pokémon, how about we introduce ourselves?” He extended a hand. “I’m Jake.”

Connor had found a small sense of comfort in the interactions between man and Pokémon, but brought back to the reality of interaction between man and man, his fragile calmness evaporated. Every muscle in his body grew tense, and his heart threatened to burst out of his chest.

“Connor,” he replied, his throat suddenly dry. He took Jake’s hand and shook it, applying only enough pressure to match the firmness of the other man’s grip.

But Jake’s grip didn’t lessen. In fact, he moved sideways and forward, putting his free arm around Connor’s shoulders and pulling him closer. Before Connor could retreat, he found himself in Jake’s embrace. He remained tense for a moment longer, but then the anxiety slipped away and he melted into the other man’s arms. He felt not only his own heartbeat, but Jake’s too, and it hammered away at the same feverish pace, although both were rapidly slowing down. He also felt… warm. Warmer than he’d ever been before.

They stood locked in silence for about a minute before Jake finally lifted his head and gazed into Connor’s eyes. Connor gazed back, feeling like he could lose himself in those lustrous pools of silver and be content forever.

Jake’s somewhat lopsided smile broke into a wicked grin. “May I…” A wave crashed in the distance, and the surge of several months’ anticipation spilled over Connor. “…kiss you?”

A thousand delighted thoughts tumbled around in Connor’s mind, but only one needed to be expressed. “Yes,” came the soft reply.

Jake’s face moved a few centimetres closer, but then he looked to his right and gazed out at the ocean, laughing at himself. “I can’t kiss you when I’m grinning like an idiot.”

Connor joined in the nervous laughter, the two of them allowing themselves to acknowledge the reality of their situation. They could see each other. Actually see each other, not just look at a beautiful collection of pixels.

“Do you want to try again?” he asked following a final chuckle.

“Yeah. Give me a sec.” Jake adamantly refused to look at Connor, visibly forcing the smile from his face. His composure regained, he restored eye contact. “Ready?”

Connor nodded ever so slightly and tilted his head to the right. Jake copied the action, placed his left hand on Connor’s neck, and closed his eyes. Connor closed his eyes too and let himself be pulled forward. His lips met Jake’s and he paused, uncertain of what to do. Jake softly pressed his lips against Connor’s, knowingly providing the example. Connor gratefully followed it, soon finding his confidence in the tender kiss. A fizzing sensation like electricity and champagne bubbles spread through his body, unlike anything he’d ever experienced before. He tasted strawberry, and in the back of his mind, he realised he smelled it too.

Jake pressed slightly harder, drawing Connor even closer towards him. It felt like spring bloomed on their lips and twined around them, unifying them in a moment of compassion and hope. And when Jake’s lips finally pulled away, Connor might as well have been a scattering of petals dispersed by a gentle wind.

He opened his eyes again, blinking as he met Jake’s gaze. A soft glow seemed to emanate from its silvery grey.

“I never thought I’d get the chance to do that…” Jake mused quietly.

Connor felt heat rise to his cheeks. He smiled shyly. “Nor did I.”

He licked his lips. They burned a little.

“You’ll get used to that feeling,” Jake said, smiling in understanding. His smile then broke out into a characteristic grin. The man truly was incapable of keeping a straight face. “How was your first kiss?”

“Well, you know full well I have no frame of reference with which to compare it,” Connor replied teasingly, grinning as widely as Jake, “so I suppose… ‘world-altering’ should be accurate.”

“I’ll take that.”

Jake still held Connor in his embrace, and even if Connor had wanted to, he was certain he wouldn’t have been able to look away from those luminous eyes. He’d seen them many times from beyond a screen, but in person, they were simply captivating. The only stars in his night sky.

“If you keep looking at me like that, I won’t be able to resist kissing you again. And Ezra needs to go back to greeting the new arrivals.”

Connor blinked, snapping out of his reverie and looking to his right. Sure enough, there stood Ezra Archer — CEO of Apollo Resplendent, host of the New Horizon Tournament, and, apparently, amateur recorder of romantic interactions. The Plusle on his shoulder cheered animatedly. Behind them, Connor could see numerous faces looking their way. The heat of embarrassment rose to his cheeks.

“Did you get all that?” Jake asked enthusiastically.

Ezra, a tall, lean, moderately tanned brunette, was indeed as objectively attractive as the magazines claimed, and his black suit made him look even more dashing. However, Connor couldn’t help but get the impression that Ezra would much rather trade in his power tie for a surfboard. He’d mentally admonish himself for the thought if it wasn’t common knowledge that the man disliked formal attire.

He strode over, grinning like a madman, and handed the phone to Jake. “Everything from Leonidas’ adorable hug onwards!” he declared happily, oblivious of the cold stare the Riolu gave him.

“You asked him to record us?” Connor asked, taken aback. Kissing in public was already a social risk, though he regretted nothing, but what would people think of Ezra videographing them?

“Yeah!” Jake replied. “We’d get only one first meeting, so I asked Ezra if he was willing to capture the moment.” His grin faltered. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“A little, but…” Connor smiled sheepishly. “Actually, I think it’s really sweet of you. Although…” He eyed Ezra somewhat warily. “—isn’t that a bit too familiar?”

Ezra scoffed and waved dismissively. “You sound like Penelope. I’m well aware that showing favouritism to participants is unprofessional. But if I act this way invariably, it means everyone gets special treatment! And if you’re all my favourites, are any of you really?” He winked.

Jake winked right back, but Connor frowned. Being a successful businessman, Ezra would know perfectly well how to exploit loopholes, so his reasoning was technically correct. He supposed he could reconcile with convenient rule bending as long as it was in good spirit. Looking between the other two men, Connor noticed just how alike Ezra and Jake were.

“Besides, it was my honour to help you two out! You applied with the hopes that this tournament would allow you to finally meet each other… and it has! I live for moments like this. Seriously, bringing a wonderful couple like you together? That’s literally the kind of thing I had in mind with this whole deal. And by the way, your complementary outfits look amazing. I love how it brings out the colour of your eyes.”

“Thank you!” Connor said, beaming proudly. As Ezra pointed out, Connor’s suit was cobalt, matching his sapphire eyes and Jake’s tie and handkerchief, whereas his own tie and handkerchief were the same stylish grey as Jake’s suit. Their mothers had come up with the idea.

The Plusle on Ezra’s shoulder placed a little hand on his head and gently shook him. “Oh! Guys, this is Tit. He’s one of Penelope’s team.” He glanced down at his watch. “I adore you both, but he’s reminded me that I’ve got to get back to the entrance now.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tit!” Jake said, fist-bumping the little yellow and red mouse.

Connor opted to scratch the Plusle’s head instead. Tit closed his eyes and leaned in. All the trainers present so far had conceived the same idea of dressing their Pokémon up too, but out of all the ones with ties and bowties that Connor had seen so far, Tit was undoubtedly the cutest.

Penelope Peterson was known for her kindness as much as Ezra himself, and given her choice in Pokémon, that was abundantly clear; Tit simply comprised one of many charming companions. Being the COO of Ezra’s company, though, she was also cunning and resourceful. She acted as the voice of reason when Ezra’s carefree attitude led to lapses in judgement.

“Did she send him along to keep an eye on you?” Connor asked.

“Oh, definitely,” Ezra replied. “She knows not to leave me unsupervised.” Tit vigorously nodded in agreement. “Anyway, I really should go now. Talk to you later!”

“Later!” Jake said, waving with a peace sign. They watched Ezra leave until he disappeared among the other participants. Jake then raised his phone, its camera still open, and snapped a picture with Connor, the latter recognising his intention just in time to grin up at the screen. “Perfect! The ocean makes for an epic backdrop. This is going straight onto our families’ group chat.”

Connor noted with pleasure how Jake’s right arm had stayed wrapped around his waist since their embrace. He wasn’t photogenic as a rule, usually coming across as awkward and plain, but he and Jake both looked happy and fulfilled in the picture. He couldn’t have asked for a better one.

“You ready to actually go and meet new people, rather than just pretending to?” Jake brushed Connor’s hair along his forehead. “Not that I didn’t enjoy the roleplay.” Connor made to reply, but Jake withdrew his arm and grabbed him by the hand. “Come on! People a-meeting we go!”

Connor semi-reluctantly let himself be dragged away. He half-turned, extending his arm towards Seraph. The Vulpix deftly leaped onto it and maintained perfect balance while Connor pulled her close to his chest. (Hades, naturally, barked and bounded after them.) He had his Pokémon, and now, he had his boyfriend too. A bookworm like himself was as ready to mingle with strangers as he would ever be.
But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
- Paul the Apostle

Spring has returned! Winter is over, and BrumalHunter is no more!
  





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Sun Aug 25, 2019 7:48 pm
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Ventomology says...



Peony Lin
Scene ii: Raining Cats and Dogs


Peony sipped her mocktail in regret. She had come out to the sun deck for a moment of quiet, hoping her Shinx, Socket, would appreciate a breather from all the new people. Instead, she had chanced upon a pair of terribly bad actors pretending that nooo, this kissing thing was totally spur-of-the-moment, no planning or prior knowledge involved. The average-looking one had grinned way too much as his boyfriend showed up, and the one with the dyed hair had been way too smooth. Even smooth people were not that smooth.

And this was a competition, not an opportunity to flirt! What did those boys think this was? The Bachelor?

In Peony's lap, Socket purred loudly, enjoying the sun and the steady way Peony combed her fingers through Socket's fur. Whisk was off... somewhere. Hopefully not causing trouble, though Peony wouldn't entirely mind if he did. She had joined this adventure to compete and do exciting things, not socialize in fancy clothes.

She sipped her non-alcoholic mimosa and scritched behind Socket's ears, which got the little Shinx sparking in enjoyment. The blue-haired stranger at Peony's table glanced over and smiled. He looked pleased about Socket's happiness, but instead of looking up to greet her and comment on her Shinx, he turned back towards the rest of the sun deck. Whatever. Peony didn't need friends. She was here to win.

The terrible actor boys walked her way, probably on their way to be romantic somewhere else. Their pokemon skipped around them, obviously already friends, and Peony closed her eyes, relieved that all the commotion was moving elsewhere.

Until it wasn't.

Before she had time to react, a pair of claws dug into her intricate, braided updo. Her head swung back, pushed by tiny paws scrabbling for purchase, and then a bright pink tail smacked her face when Whisk--that bratty little cat--used her forehead as leverage to jump into the boys' way. The Skitty skidded to a stop right in front of the average-looking boy's Houndour and meowed in challenge.

Oh nonononono. Scooping Socket onto her shoulders, Peony stood. "Miāo-Dìdì!" Her skirt rippling behind her, she rushed to go prevent whatever cat-astrophe was about to happen. "Miāo-Dìdì! Nǐ-"

"Hades!" the average-looking boy shouted. He slipped from his boyfriend's grasp, still carrying his Vulpix gingerly in his arms, and rushed ahead to try and stop the fight.

It was a little silly-looking, if Peony was being entirely honest. Here were two tiny pokemon--a little black hellhound in a bowtie and a pink cat with a white ribbon around his tail--and they saw fit to duke it out in the middle of a classy establishment, surrounded by prettily-decorated tables and people dressed in fancy clothes.

Peony decided, if she was to effectively communicate with the houndour's trainer that no, she didn't want to start a fight right now, then she'd better switch to English. Reaching up to pet Socket in reassurance, she cleared her throat and gathered her English words. "Whisk!" she called. "We talked about this!"

The boy with dyed hair looked confused for a moment, probably because of how Peony switched names as she switched languages, but his boyfriend ignored it.

"Hades!" he shouted, stern but not angry. He pointed at the ground near his feet. "Come back here!"

The Houndour would have turned away. Peony saw it in the flex of his neck muscles and heard it in the almost-whine that must have been some variation on please please let me chase the cat I would love to chase a cat right now. But Whisk pounced first. He dropped to a crouch, swishing his tail on the ground and ruining the ribbon in the process. And then he sprang forward to bat at the Houndour's nose.

The Houndour squeaked. Whisk meowed in smug satisfaction. He dropped into a crouch again, and Peony stormed forward. Before Whisk could scratch again, she swung him off the floor, gripping him by his ribcage, and dumped him ungracefully into her arms. Cats were hardy little things. Whisk could handle it. He squirmed, trying to flip around in Peony's grasp and leap back towards the Houndour, but she pressed his nasty little claws into her shoulders and squeezed his hind legs to her chest, keeping him firmly in place.

"We had an agreement," she hissed in Mandarin. "If you want to play with other pokemon, you have to ask them first. And you have to be aware that their body-language is not the same as yours."

Whisk just meowed at the Houndour again. Its trainer had clearly been trying to calm it down, but every time Whisk meowed, or swished his tail, or even moved, he just taunted the dog. Bratty cat.

"Miāo-Dìdì!" Peony hissed. From her perch on Peony's shoulders, Socket tried to purr reassuringly.

Eventually, a Riolu joined in the effort to calm down the Houndour. With charming ease, it tossed the Houndour up, caught the hellhound in its arms, and headed back behind the trainer with the dyed hair. Despite the Riolu's serious, nothing-to-see-here face, Peony wanted to laugh; the two pokemon were practically the same size. Whisk tried to meow again, but it was over. The situation was abated. With an angry chirp, Whisk settled into Peony's arms, still lashing his tail back and forth. It whacked hard against Peony's legs, and she stubbornly ignored the thumps, pulling her face into a mask of inpenetrable cool.

She stepped towards the Houndour's trainer, ready to offer an apology, but he rounded on her.

"What on earth was your Skitty doing?" he asked, loud, angry, but not shouting. Not yet. Peony almost wanted to get him shouting. She was as bad as Whisk. "We didn't agree to battle, and this isn't the place-"

"Your Houndour is fine," Peony interrupted. "Whisk does not use his claws outside of-

"He attacked Hades!" He still wasn't loud. They were attracting attention anyways, though. A few bystanders glanced their way, and one young man had stopped trying to tie a bowtie around his Tentacool to watch the proceedings. Honestly. Some people had no idea how to do pokemon fashion. Why give a Tentacool a bowtie? It was far easier to convince them to wear a corsage.

"Maybe Hades should grow thicker skin," Peony retorted. She immediately regretted it. Antagonizing people was no way to scout the competition, no way to stay out of trouble, and no way to look like a courteous champion. "It was a tap on the nose." Ugh. Could she be any meaner? This was not how this conversation was supposed to go! If only they were speaking Mandarin, or Taiwanese, or even Japanese! Then she'd be eloquent and nice and this whole business would be over with. "And while he's at it," she continued, "it would do some good for your dog pokemon to learn to play nice with-

The boy turned red. "Oh, they need to learn to play nice? Your Skitty's the one who-

His boyfriend rushed in between them, grinning widely. He winked at Hades's trainer, reassuring him that everything would be fine. He'd sweet-talk Peony out of this bickering. "Hey, Miss...?"

"Peony," she filled in for him, glaring.

"Peony!" He offered his free hand to shake, and Peony took it, still clutching Whisk to her chest. He was still a little squirmy. "I'm Jake, and this is Connor. It's great to meet you! Is that a mimosa? Where'd you find it? I could use a drink too!"

After a quick glance around--she saw a girl with a Rufflet on her shoulder backing away, a relieved look on her face, and the stranger from her table had vanished off somewhere--Peony lifted her chin. "Fantastic," she said. She meant it to be nice, but the word came out clipped and odd in her accent. "They're inside, at the breakfast buffet, next to the bowl of strawberries."

"Perfect!" Jake said, still far too chipper. He wrapped an arm around Connor's waist and smiled even wider than before, despite the pained, steely glint in his eyes. "C'mon, Connor! Let's go eat! And I promised I'd get you to meet new people."

Peony thought it right as Connor said it. "We did just meet someone."

Laughing, Jake just pulled his boyfriend in closer and dragged him off, back in towards the rest of the party. He kept talking, but Peony stopped listening.

She was so stupid! Yes, she wasn't here to make friends, but she wasn't here to make enemies either! Rivals, perhaps. People who might help her be a better performer and win this absurd competition. But not enemies. Why couldn't Mandarin be the lingua franca? Why did it have to be English? She was so stupid in English!

With a sigh, she composed herself once more, smoothing away the furrow of her brow and the wrinkle of her nose. She squeezed Whisk a little tighter before adjusting her grip on him so he sat curled in her arms, still fidgeting but not devious. Had the boys not just waltzed inside (well, Jake waltzed, and Connor dragged his feet), she would have lifted her chin and strode back in to start over, but now she was left there, standing in the middle of the sun deck, her pokemon draped over her torso.

She fished a pair of aviators from a covert pocket in her skirt and slipped them on. If she couldn't be friendly, at least she could be cool.
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled
  





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Tue Aug 27, 2019 5:52 am
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EditorAndPerks says...




Vadim Pyotrovich Koslov
Scene iii: Shocks and Strangers


Since the tournament started in Vancouver, Vadim had arrived early at the city. His Pokémon itched to get out of their containers - none of them had ever come out of the Russian mainland, including himself, so they all had a strong urge to explore. Myata, especially, as she frequented crawling around Vadim at night, would murmur whenever he left his hotel room.

He welcomed the cold weather, hoping for snow and something else that reminded him of his home in the countryside, exposed to the harsh elements. It was a little weird to be walking around in a decently fancy suit - Vadim never thought he looked good in the color black, but his dad insisted - plus he was carrying a small case where his Pokémon hopefully dwelled in the meantime.

A gust of wind rushed by, rustling his brushed down curls. So much for a good first impression, but maybe that could come later in the day. Vadim brushed away the loose strands, peering up at the building he had to enter at some point, although it seemed quite intimidating.

Some other people he figured were fellow competitors stood to the side of the front door or were walking inside. Not to mention the ever-sparkling billionaire Ezra Archer who joyfully walked up to him even when he tried to pick up his pace towards the entrance. A cute Plusle balanced on his shoulder.

Vadim waved slightly at the Pokémon, happy to see it gesture back. The brown-haired man stuck out a hand, grinning widely at what was probably a horrifying expression across Vadim’s own face. He gave a decent shake to Mr. Archer and hoped that was all he needed to do to get out of this situation.

Unfortunately, he was not done with him, judging by the billionaire proclaiming aloud, “Vadim Koslov! Such a pleasure, young man. I’ve been excited to see what you will do here ever since I first met the shy, country boy.”

Oh, he could curse his luck all the way back to St. Petersburg. “Uh, yes, sir, I appreciate the uh, opportunity,” he mumbled through, his eyes catching on a napping Buneary. That Pokémon looked far calmer than he felt now. “I’m still not sure why you picked me of all people.”

Mr. Archer chuckled, waving his hands. “Nonsense, Vadim. The answer should be obvious, but either way, I picked you for a couple of reasons – the first is simple since you come from a different background than most people in here, and since I saw a drive within you during that first interview.”

A drive, huh? “I didn’t think that would be the reason,” Vadim answered more to himself than to the billionaire. He glanced up at the still-smiling man. “I think that I’m still looking for my true reason for wanting to be here, but I did like the travel aspect.”

“Of course! Who wouldn’t?” Mr. Archer answered, holding onto his sides while laughing. “Until next time, Mr. Kolov!”

Vadim blinked at his swift departure. That man could be fast when he wanted to be.

By the time he reached his table, he was quite surprised by the display of the apparent couple. All he wanted to do now was avoid the eyes of most people since Vadim knew he did not hold any kind of friendly award for the past few years. He did let himself smile for a minute at the sight of his fellow seat partner’s Shinx happy as can be right by their owner.

He did feel bad that he could not meet her gaze, but he would rather be aloof and speak to people’s actual Pokémon instead of normal people. As much as he can get away with it. Vadim found it a little hard to believe that so many trainers happily went around talking with strangers but to each their own he supposed.

Stepping onto the deck, he decided to call out Nessa since he had felt Myata crawling around his neck earlier. His Mareep shook her coat out before emitting a little spark all around her. Vadim breathed slowly in relief that there hadn’t been much water still clinging to the wooden floors. He did not need to accidentally shock someone within a few hours of arriving.

The Shinx trainer from before now stood alone, wearing sunglasses after having to stop the ensuing Pokémon battle from before. Vadim would not have wanted to approach previously, let alone now that he might have gotten her mad because he did not make eye contact with her. He should leave her be, but he could come by later to make sure she was back at their table.

His stomach growled strongly enough to want to find food, and so he went back inside, trying to not to stop for anything. Although he did pass by not one but two different evolutions of a few Pokémon – one certainly being a curious Ralts and an amped-up Kirlia, that drew his gaze for a moment. Thankfully he made it to his seat with further consequences, though Nessa kept trying to egg his Spinarak into traveling the hall - Myata was not feeling it apparently.

For everyone’s sake, Vadim hoped his Pokémon could behave long enough for any meals to commence before causing absolute chaos. Of course, then his Mareep decided to knock over his water cup and the rest of the, luckily, empty table, and electrify the water. He wanted to bang his head on the nearby wall.

After drying off his Pokémon and trying to help the staff clean up the mess, Vadim did his best to blend back in with the regular crowd within the large room, once again. Become with one with the background, he told himself. Just slide into anonymity, please. If he said it enough times maybe it would prove to be true.
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TinkerTwaggy says...



Heitor de Pontolus
Scene iv: Sensational Service



“Pleeeease?”

It was somehow difficult for Ezra Archer to survive the assault of Heitor’s genuine puppy stare. He had just ended his talk with the cleaning crew to make sure everything was fine that Heitor had simply just... appeared, startling the Plusle on Ezra Archer’s shoulder in the process.

“I’d... prefer if you didn’t,” was the swift reply.

“But I really want to,” Heitor insisted, “and your personnel needs help!”

“They’re not even my personnel, and they must be used to ‘mon-made chaos.”

Heitor chuckled. “Nice wordplay.”

Ezra Archer bowed — the Plusle, amazingly, managed its balance. “It is in my profession to master that. And besides, you’re essentially their client!”

“Precisely! I’ve helped plenty of service crews before!”

A frown. “As a client?”

“Yuh-huh!”

There was a moment of silence, then a tiny smirk appeared on Ezra Archer’s face. “Did... Did you, uh...”

“‘Servitude is in my genes’. So, emotionally blackmailing Black jokes happened, yes.”

“...I’m proud of you. I mean I’m proud of everyone in this tournament, but you get the point.”

It was Heitor’s turn to bow. “I do my best.”

“Also, wouldn’t your suit be ruined?”

“I have a spare!”

Ezra Archer’s face beamed. “You have a spare for this?” he asked, pointing a finger at said suit and taking a step back to really look at it. 

Heitor wore a mustard yellow tailcoat, darkened just enough to avoid the color being too bright for the eye, but just bright enough to create a functional contrast between it and his chocolate dark skin. The buttons on the front were of a marine blue color, and the shirt under the tailcoat was white. Heitor also wore matching pants, shiny marine blue boots and gloves of the same color to cover his hands. Then, behind his face and white-toothed smile could be seen a black braid that fell slightly below the middle of his back, decorated with a black pearl at the base of the haircut, and a blue ribbon at the end of it.

“Indeed,” Heitor confirmed with a discreet nod. “I’m no rich boy, but I have a spare for that. Let’s just say that I know where to look to get nice things.”

“Well, doesn’t that sound suspicious! Barely legally, or you know people?”

A sly smile. “Yes.”

“...You were waiting to say that.”

“M’dear, I was dying to say that!”

Ezra Archer shook his head. “Honestly, you’re way too entertaining and should’ve been a Coordinator for that reason. Are you sure you don’t want to reconsider?”

“Well, it would certainly make at least one of my partners pretty happy, but battle’s what I’m about, you know?”

“Oh, do I know!” Ezra Archer exclaimed, laughing heartily. “You’ve been in quite a few tournaments, and you’ve even helped organize them. I figured a veteran would bring some excitement, and a good amount of challenge, for those who don’t know what it’s like.”

“That, or disappointment.” Heitor grinned. “But that’s a fun coin to flip, I guess. Depends on the mindset of who I’m facing.”

“Indeed. As for the Coordinator part, I suppose that could be arranged after this tournament is over. Anyway! Before you rudely accuse me of changing the subject, I... accept your request, but on two conditions.”

“Name them!”

“Number one: convince the club’s kitchen crew. I’m basically sending you there, so that shouldn’t be hard. Also, please don’t ruin your outfit.”

“Consider it done! And the second one?”

Ezra Archer’s smile grew wider than socially acceptable, which prompted the Plusle to poke the man’s cheek in a vain attempt to stop it from looking sadistic. “Make... it... fun.”

Heitor’s smile mirrored his. “Ezra Archer.” he whispered in a dramatic tone. “I am beginning to respond to your charm.”

“Oh, go away. And call me by my first name — something I’ll really have to ask every guest here to do.”

“Count me out!” Heitor exclaimed as he walked towards the kitchen area. “You’ve got that type of name. The kind that’s just so much better when you’re referred to in full!” It didn’t take long for Heitor to find his slightly isolated table. One of the four chairs was occupied by a lone Raichu, smiling happily as it looked around as if to memorize every part of the club’s interior. It also petted a little Buneary that slept on its lap.

“Oi, Lippa!” Heitor called, as the Raichi jerked its head towards him. “Good news, girl! We’ve got a performance coming.” He pointed a finger at her, smirking with satisfaction. “And you, dear, are going to have quite a role in it.”


Image



All Heitor had to do to convince the yacht club’s team to let him help them serve the food to the invited humans and pokémon was to smile, point out their being slightly late in their schedule, then mention that Ezra Archer himself sent him for the task. 
It always made Heitor giggle: he could literally just start by mentioning the name and would get what he wanted, but persuasion practice was too much fun to pass. At any rate, he was allowed in, suggested a few things, and twenty minutes later, they were all ready.

It began with a Misty Terrain. The move was harmless to those locked within it, but it did provide two things: an impossibility for negative status effects to affect anyone, which reduced the possibility of ‘mon-made chaos... and a colorful, artificial decoration for Heitor to appear in. The kitchen’s metallic doors opened as if pushed by a mystical force, and Heitor emerged, smiling cheerfully as he bathed inside the magical mist, while Lippa stood proudly atop the serving trolley that Heitor pushed with his gloved hands. They moved until they reached the back of the large dining room, then turned back, both of them putting their arms behind their backs in perfect sync. As they scanned the room to meet the gaze of as many of the confused and curious people as possible, man and Pokemon shared a look.

It feels great, doesn’t it? said Heitor’s eyes.

Lippa let out a little chirp, smiling from ear to ear. I love this so so much. replied hers.

“Ladies,” Heitor said in a booming voice, lifting an arm in together with Lippa, “gentlemen,” he continued, as they lifted the other, “and those of that wonderful rainbow in between! I... am but a humble yet peculiar messenger sent to tell you that your long-awaited food... has arrived!” Heitor and Lippa broke into a graceful bow, letting their right hands touch their hearts. Then, as the sentence ended, the kitchen doors opened once more. Out came cooks and butlers, equipped with service trolleys identical to Heitor’s, on which were several covered food trays, and in front of them, triangular signs with the name of each dish.

“I shall assist these brave men in serving you to the best of my abilities while, like them, making sure that everything goes well.” He gazed at Lippa. “The Raichu on my right is called Lippa, and she will serve your Pokémon and offer her head for petting duties. As long as you don’t touch the cheeks, you should be fine. Now, then!” he said, clapping his hands once. “Let the service begin. Ready, Lippa?” 

Lippa lifted a fist in the air and let out a courageous chirp, punctuated by an electric jolt that slightly modified the sound.

The following minutes were spent greeting Trainers, Coordinators and Breeders alike, letting them speak about themselves while Lippa happily jumped on their lap and requested petting — and, of course, getting right back to asking what they wanted for their menus. Though, of course, not everyone could enjoy the service the same way.

“Hello, hello! The name’s Heitor — nice to meet y’all, m’dears.” Heitor scanned the table of four: one chair was empty, and the three others were occupied by a dark-skinned woman with hair short enough that some would call her bald, a green-eyed tomboy with black hair, and a tanned woman in a dress. Africa-shaped earrings, Heitor noticed as his gaze flew over each person. “Oooh, are those earrings shaped like the African continent?” he continued, pointing at the dark-skinned woman’s silver earrings. “Because that is rad.”

“I’m not your dear.”

Heitor laughed. “Yes, yes, just like you’re not an Australian person’s ‘mate’, or a British person’s ‘love’. They’ll call you that anyway, though, so if you’re to travel, m’dear, you’ll have to get used to the fact that some people don’t always talk literally.”

“I don’t really care. I’m not your dear.”

“Then, die!” Heitor joyfully replied. “I mean, not before telling me what you want to eat, but I mean to say that I have no reason to care for your preferences, either.” He gazed at the other two. “For those of you willing to listen, ‘m’dear’ is merely a translation of an expression used in my native tongue to signify casualness. Now! What can I get for y’all?” Tthe dark-skinned woman stared at Heitor with menacing eyes, but he merely stared back, pouring as much visible lack of care for her “righteous” anger into his eyes as possible. She eventually looked away and allowed him to continue his job, an opportunity he gladly took to marvel at the variety of people and Pokémon he could observe, analyze and briefly interact with.

But, as all good things come to an end, so did Heitor’s interest in said people: which is why he came back to his lone table after properly serving everyone, and sat alongside Lippa. Then, he allowed Lylat and Gracovice, his Buneary and Minior respectively, to come out and enjoy the atmosphere of the club while he pulled out his phone.

Dot: Heeeey, handsome devil! I’m done with my stuff for now; I’ll be eating soon, then I think we’ll all gather in front of Ezra Archer or something, for the tournament. Tás bom?

Iulair: Sim, tudo bem

Iulair: ...Why am I the handsome ‘devil’?!

Dot: Fair point! But then, ‘handsome angel’ seems a bit too... uh... well, angelic.

Iulair: As usual, you’re far too biased. Thanks for the news, either way! What was the ‘stuff’?

Dot: Serving people! I mean, like, serving them food. And talking, I guess.

Iulair: ...*sigh* You’re alone right now, aren’t you.

Dot: How did you...?

Iulair: The “I guess”. Always telling.

Dot: I’M SORRY! 

Iulair: It’s okay, I know you’re monstrous like that. Any stylish ones?

Dot: Oh yeah: some girl was wearing this awesome black suit with earrings shaped like the actual continent of Africa. Which is just perfection.

Iulair: Oh, WOW. Where’d she even find that?

Dot: I’ll ask her when she’s done hating me. *chuckles* didn’t like the ‘m’dear’.

Iulair: Ugh, one of those. Any other?

Dot: We have a gay couple! Matching suits, too. 

Iulair: A bit classic, but the classics are best. Colors?

Dot: I… forgot?

Iulair: ...

Dot: Apparently they caused some smooching-related ruckus, but I missed it.

Iulair: THAT’S TWO OFFENSES. HOW COULD YOU?!

Dot: ...But I don’t care :/ I... I just don’t.

Iulair: You’re horrible. Any other?

Dot: Heeey! I’m not horrible for that!

Iulair: -_-


Heitor let out a defeated sigh.

Dot: Right. Not the point.

Iulair: So, any other?

Dot: Are you... seriously going “I’m A Stylist” on me now? You do know I’m rushed, right?

Iulair: How can you not know I’m gonna do that? Why d’you even text me?

Dot: Because you’re that big of a fofoqueiro?

Iulair: That is hurtful.

Dot: But true!

Iulair: But true. Well, to you, specifically. Still, though; you know why I’m like this right now.

Dot: Sorry. I promised I’d level up, and I will. But I’m just in it for the fighting and the fun and the analyzing. The details are just details.

Iulair: You can’t call people details.

Dot: Why not? I’m also a detail! That makes it fair for everyone!

Iulair: Dude, we’ve been over this. If it’s fair for everyone, then nobody matters, and everyone’s replaceable. Do I need to remind you where that leads?

Dot: ...You’re always so much more harsh in writing.

Iulair: You did teach me to do that for a reason.

Dot: Stupid foreshadowing Past Me. You’re right, though. I’ll get better.

Iulair: I know. Shoo, then! Get on with it, before your food gets cold.

Heitor smiled.

Dot: If anything happens, you know what to do. I’m still here, even if I’m not.

Iulair: When you’re back, I expect you to be sweet like that all the damn time.

Dot: No promises. Ta-ta♪

Iulair: Also. Find the definition. We figured it out four weeks ago, but we didn’t label it. And I know you hate labels, but still.

Heitor nodded, a serious gaze plastered on the face.

Dot: Yeah. Still.

Iulair: Safe travels!

Dot: Enjoy your time, m’dear.

Iulair: About time you said it.


Heitor giggled.

Dot: I’ll get the hang of you.

Iulair: ...Ropes. Ropes and ties, that’s what I was missing. Holy cow I need to write that down.

Dot: YOU RUINED MY EMOTIONAL SHIT!

Iulair: HAH! ENJOY MY EVERYDAY SUFFERING!

Dot: T_T

Iulair ^_^

Dot: You BETTER ace those darn rope/tie designs.

Iulair: And YOU better beat everyone, this time.

Heitor’s smile turned fierce. Oh... But he was planning on it. But first...

“Come on, team.” Heitor said in a resigned tone, as he recalled all his pokémons inside their Pokéballs. “I have to go level up.” With that said, he plastered a fun-loving smile on his face, rose up, grabbed his still covered plate of food in one hand and directed himself towards the table were sat the two people accused of being too gay for the taste of those who didn’t have any.

Or, at least, that was how Heitor had interpreted the frowns — that, he hadn’t missed. 

“Hello, again, beautiful people! You may remember my name as Heitor, from just a moment ago.” He sat down; placed his food on the table and crossed his hands below his chin, gazing at the couple. “I could stay alone at my table having a jolly good time with my partners, but I realized there’s a story from you two I’ve only heard from, eh, not very accepting ears. Would you mind... telling me a bit more about yourselves, m’dears?” He winked at them. “In return, you get to ask me twice as many questions! About anything. Truly anything. Sounds fair?”
Last edited by TinkerTwaggy on Sat Jul 25, 2020 8:03 pm, edited 3 times in total.
"Is there a limit to how much living I can live with my life? How will I know if I've gone too far?
And why did I spend my life savings on sunglasses for a whale?
I shall find the answers... to these questions."
  





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JabberHut says...



Lilly Wilds
Scene v: Two Country Breeders


"Oh, good! A table! Do you mind if we sit here?"

The small boy of dark blue curls looked absolutely startled at being addressed at all. He quickly shook his head, his hand fiddling anxiously with his fork. "No one's sitting there."

"Yay! Thank you so much," Lilly said with a genuine gratitude. As soon as the presentation had started, everyone seemed to rush to the nearest open table and plop down quickly for their food. Lilly and her family of pokemon weren't very quick to reserve spots, namely because they were all too excitable and watching the show anyway.

Her yellow dress floated over the sides of her chair, the purple tips of her ponytail draped perfectly over her shoulder. She adjusted her frames onto the bridge of her nose before her emerald eyes drifted to the nearby commotion. On the chair next to her, her two free pokemon crawled into sitting positions prepared for the meal ahead. The larvitar had to help the young delibird up, though, as he was left with feet dangling over the side and flailing miserably.

"I'm Lilly, by the way!" she said, holding her hand out.

The boy hesitated before nodding and returning the gesture. "Vadim."

"Hi, Vadim! What a lovely mareep. What is her name?"

"Uh... Nessa." Vadim blinked, looking at her skeptically. "Are you a breeder?"

"I am! Well, I'm hoping to be. We have a few mareeps back home, so I'm pretty familiar with the pokemon. I raised Plum there since he was born," Lilly said, nodding to the delibird. The delibird was nipping at his yellow jacket irritably, despite the larvitar constantly waving at him to stop. "Apple has been with me for as long as I can remember, though."

Nessa the mareep leaned over and sniffed the delibird. Plum blinked and stared back at the mareep, a little confused as to what this pokemon is and what they're doing in his space. The staring contest seemed to last a whole minute before the mareep jumped up and knocked over the water pre-placed on the table, sparks of lightning dancing around her bodice. Plum clapped excitedly at the splash of water, bouncing in his spot and chirping a song of joy with Nessa's harmonious shrills.

"Oh, not again," Vadim said under his breath, already on his feet and picking up the water jug now half-filled. "I am so sorry for that--"

Lilly laughed, though, standing up as well and picking up a couple of napkins. "It's okay! The tablecloth soaked most of it up. Nice save, though! It could have gotten way worse." The two eventually settled back into their seats when Lilly's words proved true -- that the tablecloth had soaked most of it up already -- and Lilly pat Plum on the head. "They already get along!"

"Oh, there. She. Is!"

Both Lilly and Vadim froze at the sound of Ezra Archer's voice. Unlike Vadim, Lilly's face immediately flipped from shock to feigned joy as the master of events arrived at their table. "And hello again, Mr. Kolov! Funny to see my two favorite country breeders at the same table. How is the food so far?"

Vadim nodded, his hand still fiddling with this fork. Lilly noted she hadn't seen him take a bite since she sat down, but the water fiasco might have deterred him from eating a bit.

"And, goodness, why don't you have any food? We must get a waiter here immediately--"

"Oh, we just sat down," Lilly said, waving the question away. "We'll order something the next a waiter comes by, but we did eat quite a bit from the buffet earlier. Apple and Plum really liked the fruit selection!"

Ezra sat down in the only other empty chair at the table, laughing lightly at Lilly's words. "Wonderful! Wonderful, that is so good to hear. Truly, the moment I set eyes on that delibird of yours and heard his story, I knew you were something special, my little flower." Lilly's stomach churned a little at being called his flower, as it was reaping some old emotions she had hoped to bury long ago, but she smiled nonetheless. "Have you heard his story, Mr. Kolov? GOOD! Because it's a good one."

Lilly was starting to blush a little, not really understanding Ezra's excitement, but she did find it hilarious that Ezra didn't even wait for Vadim to reply. Thus, both of the youngsters and all the surrounding pokemon were left to hear part of Lilly's interview in one elegantly-exaggerated narrative. Granted, Apple the larvitar had to continue shushing the young topic of conversation from poking the neighboring Nessa, prompting the occasional spark from her fluff.

"This young delibird was born from a young pokemon who had once been left stranded and abused along a quiet country road, left forgotten amongst the dusty tumbleweeds and ekans-ridden fields. Lilly had noticed the young dear from the back of her father's truck, and at her childish insistence, he pulled over and rescued the poor pokemon from the ferocious wilds of the outback." Lilly's brow furrowed at her midwest home in the states being referred to as an Australian region.

"They nursed her back to health, and the young delibird lived a lovely and happy life with Lilly's family, mingling with the rest in the pokemon orphanage. Naturally, as pokemon eventually do, the rescued delibird met a lovely fellow and had our dearest Plum here shortly later." Lilly couldn't help but smile, patting her red birdling on the head as he poked Nessa again, chirping excitedly at another round of sparks. "The most fascinating part, however, is how naturally strong Plum has grown to be in such a short span of time! It may not be obvious to you now, but your delibird is incredibly strong for its kind! And that's because of training and the environment it was raised in. This is how I see you, Vadim," Ezra added, his hands waving excitedly as he continued the story. "Not only do you raise pokemon, but you raise them into their best selves. They grow into pokemon of an admirable skillset combined with such beautiful, bright personalities, it leaves the entire world of opportunities at their disposal. They are given the freedom, the privilege, and the ability to do whatever they want. You give them hope and support from day one and onward. That," he added, leaning toward them over the table, "is what makes a great breeder."

There was a moment of silence as Ezra slowly sat back in his chair, allowing his words to linger in their thoughts for a moment, before Lilly laughed uneasily with a shrug. "I really just liked the travel aspect."

Vadim sighed a thank you, nodding and gesturing to Lilly in a see, she gets it! way.

"Of course! Who wouldn't?!" Ezra exclaimed, standing up. "Nonetheless, I am very excited to see you here, my little flower, as well as you, Mr. Kolov. Please let me know if you have anything to you'd like to discuss. I want to make sure you have every opportunity to become your best selves. Buh-bye!"

Ezra Archer left them as quickly as he had come, leaving Lilly and Vadim in an awkward aftermath of an extravagant whirlwind. It wasn't until the arrival of the fabulous raichu from earlier that the silence was broken. Lilly laughed as it clamored onto her lap, insistent on the required pets before chirping a conversation with their pokemon nearby. "Not too much food, please," Lilly warned them, "we ate so much earlier from the snack buffet."

"Young delibirds gotta eat," Vadim added, finally taking a bite of his food, and Lilly laughed at his delightful humor.
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TinkerTwaggy says...



Emma "Transmission" Parrot
Scene vi: There is no escape




“I… I do not understand.”

“You can’t get inside this establishment.”

Transmission nodded calmly despite her rising distress. “Right. That isn’t what I meant. I presented to you my printed proof. That I’m a trainer invited to this club. So, I do not under—” A single glance at the guard with a black suit’s left shoulder gave her additional information. It moved discreetly up and down, signifying a masked exasperated sigh.

This, unfortunately, only served to further increase Transmission’s distress.

“I do not... I don’t...” Breathing. Breathing. “Did I do something wrong?”

The man gazed at his partner. She’s bothering us. How do we deal with that?

I don’t know, said the other’s tiny grimace. Should we be blunt?

“I’m sorry for being trouble,” Transmission apologized. 

“No, it’s okay,” the other man said with an honest smile. “It’s not really you, it’s just that Mister Archer and Miss Peterson are supposed to be greeting the guests. We’re just here to make sure everything’s in order.”

Transmission nodded. Okay, so this, technically, wasn’t part of their job. That made sense. It made sense. Focus on the sense. Stop panicking. Please, stop panicking.“What’s not in order, right now?”

“Well, you’re not dressed properly.”

Transmission froze in place. Then realized she had frozen in place, so she put a hand on her chin and frowned in a strange attempt to hide her inner turmoil. She knew how she appeared: serious girl, brown hair with a dash of purple, navy pants, sandals, black tank top and her official purple-colored Psychic trainer jacket. But the guards didn’t seem fazed by her outfit, which made their words confusing, and confusion brought her panic. 

Wh-what? Transmission thought. But this is my trainer’s— Are trainers not allowed in— But nononono, the paper said that— But— But they said— But waitwait, I— But this doesn’t make any— Okayokay, don’t cry oh god please don’t cry I don’t un—

“R-Right. Sorry for the— I— Could you tell me where I can find the proper attire?” Transmission managed to stammer out.

A few minutes later, Transmission had apologized for her rudeness, written down the explanations of the two guards and speed-walked far away to avoid screaming in agony on the spot. With a trembling hand, she took a Pokeball from her belt and out came Kiyenn, her Girafarig. Its tail-head gazed at her, and immediately, Kiyenn jerked back to rub her main head against her anxious trainer’s body.

“N-No I’m fine, Ki, I’m fi— It’s just— I—” Transmission’s eyes widened. She simply wanted to say that she didn’t want to be late. But then, she realized that she didn’t feel the familiar weight of her watch on her wrist. Which meant that she had come from the Netherlands all the way to Vancouver, and only now did she realize that she didn’t have her watch.

“It’s fine.” It’s not. “It is,” Transmission whispered to herself as she frantically looked in all her pockets to try and find the paper.

...The paper. Where was the paper?

“Oh god. Oh god no, no, no.” The paper she had just been given by two benevolent security guards just doing their jobs. The paper she needed to find a location she needed to get in the place she needed to be in to participate in the tournament. Where? Where? Where?

“Excuse me?”

Transmission turned back, startling the young man looking at her, her important paper in his hands.

She looks terrifying and terrified, his eyes said.

“Yes I— I’m sor— Can I help you?” Transmission gestured at Kiyenn, who stopped herself before she could step forward in a needless attempt to protect Transmission from the newcomer. A gentle smile appeared on his tanned face. 

“It’s the other way around,” he replied. “You were looking for this, and are currently crying. Are you... unharmed?”

“Ye— N— I’ll— I—” Transmission rapidly wiped the tears away from her eyes. “I-I’m sorry, but where and how did I drop it?” She pretended not to notice the group of people farther away that had stopped to look at them, clearly waiting for the man to join them again. Perhaps if she ignored that group long enough, she’d be unable to tell how exasperated they were starting to become.

“Just a moment ago,” the man said softly. “You took your pokeball out. Then your paper fell with it.” He showed his other hand: there was the pokeball. Transmission hadn’t even realized she hadn’t taken it back.

What? Transmission shouted internally. Why did I use the same hand for that?! “Right. Thank you.”

“But are you unharmed?” the man asked again, visibly concerned.

“I just need to get to this store. I just need to buy a suit. That’s all. Everything is fine.” She sniffed slightly too loudly, as if to contradict herself. But luckily, the man gracefully decided to not press the issue, instead deciding to offer to Transmission his wondrous smile again.

“I’m glad to hear that,” he said. “As for the suit you need to buy...” I could use this, said the transformed sly smile on his face, “...I think you should look for something uncommon, but fitting. Something that makes you stand out a bit, but feels comfortable for you.”

“It’s something you know personally.” Transmission affirmed. “Something you want me to get.”

The man froze, then let out a melodious laugh. “You should be confident like that far more often, you know. Because you’re correct.”

“People don’t like when I’m right.”

“Well!” the man exclaimed, putting a friendly hand on her shoulder. “Let them die.”

“I do not understand.”

His smile turned compassionate. “It means: fuck ‘em.”

Only as she detected the hidden passion behind the man’s tone did she notice that his eyes were of a noticeable grayish blue, his lips were made even more discreet with a light brown-colored lipstick that matched his skin tone, and the hair that fell down the left side of his chin were of a glittering silvery white.

Transmission only hesitated for a short time. “I think you’re dashing.”

He chuckled. “I’m starting to see the problem. You didn’t mean that physically, did you?”

“No. Yes. But mostly no.”

“Thank you for trying. We’ll practice more some other time.” The gentle smile appeared one last time. “You’re rather cute yourself.”

He simply left, and Transmission went on her way. Doubts had disappeared.


Image



And reappeared the very second she exited the store, after being forced to deal with a hyper-excited woman who seemed to know everything about her business.

“You are GOING to be FINE. FIIINE, I tell you!”

Transmission tried not to look directly into the shiny eyes of her... “clothing adviser”. She was the owner of the store and had been providing clothing and even rental services for trainers of all kinds for years, but she was completely... unmasked. It was when she slipped her card into Transmission’s pocket that the latter realized it.

“Okay, okay, okay, so, like, quick redo, ‘kay, so this is one of my latest babies— I mean products, but you know what I’m about, I’m really sorry, cloth is precious to me but details later or never!” A loud gasp occurred, visible proof of the huge effort the woman took to be as fast yet articulate as she was. “This piece, ‘kay, comes from the Vela del Nova Collection, which is one of our indie brands and one I think I’m seriously horny with, I’m sorry but it’s true, it’s good stuff, you okay?”

“I am. Can I... See myself? That’s all I need.”

“Oh. Back to business mode, then! Mm, note to self: tell the clients they can tap my shoulder to stop my nerding.” The lady appeared in Transmission’s view again, smiling in her plain white dress, short blue hair and equally blue contact lenses (information Transmission wouldn’t be aware of if she hadn’t been told) as she gazed at Transmission’s new attire with barely hidden delight. “Joviana, by the way. Joviana Mikel. I’m thinking of changing it to Michael so people leave me alone about the writing of it.”

“Transmission.”

Joviana’s smile somehow resisted the weight of confusion that the answer brought her. “That... is not your real name.” 

“I’m aware.”

Joviana giggled. “You know what you remind me of? I used to read DC comics some time ago, and there’s this one scene where three heroes hold together a lasso that forces them to tell the truth. So, they state their identities. One of them says her name: Diana, name given to her by her amazon tribe. The other, Superman, says Clark Kent, the name given to him by the Earthling parents that cherished him.” She giggled again. “The last one, Batman, just says Batman. Because he believes so much that he is who he is that he’s technically not lying or hiding his identity.”

Rare occurrence: a smile appeared on Transmission’s face. “I think I see your point. And why it’s funny.”

“Good, because that scene was hilarious but it’s hard to explain a joke without ruining it. Also!” She produced a tablet from behind her back. “This is you! Yes, I can fiddle with my screens without looking, because I’m awesome like that.”


But Transmission had stopped listening. Her smile had disappeared and her eyes had widened as she looked at the full-length picture taken by Jovianna. On the picture, Transmission could see a serious-faced girl with dark brown hair, save for a strand of it dyed in purple. She kept the hair short and wore a black fedora atop said hair. A brown belt circled around the belt and, instead of a feather to make the hat fancier, a piece of rope with an artificial fiery glow lighting up the tip.

The outfit itself was a pinstripe suit colored in very dark red (with a lighter shade for stripes), with a thick dark blue tie that looked like a knotted rope hanging from the girl’s neck. It disappeared inside the closed suit, with a ship wheel-shaped golden pin on the side of her chest. White socks and dark red shoes protected her feet.

“Is that... me...?” Transmission whispered, eyes glued to the image. “Is that me, right now?”

“And that is why I’ll never stop working with clothes,” Joviana said in the same tone. “So. The theme for this suit was ‘Blackbeard Mafia’. The indie who made it was to work with a specialized Pokemon team — and the supervision of professionals — to finalize the design, and it was supposed to mix ideas from high sea piracy, and fancy clothes gained by the mafia. Technically, he doesn’t own the result, but it was decent enough that they allowed-” Transmission tapped Joviana’s shoulder, making her smirk. “I like you. You can talk now.”

“So, the ropes represent the sails? The knots?”

“The tie-rope represents that, yes,” Jovianna quickly confirmed. “But see, Blackbeard wore fuse in his hat to light it up and make it look like his beard was constantly flaming. The fake glowing fuse in your fedora? That’s what that is.”

The two women fell silent for a few seconds, contemplating the result.

“I’ll take it,” Transmission said eventually.

“You don’t mind that it’s a man’s suit, right? Since it’s the right size.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Obviously not, but it’s part of my job to ask.” Joviana tapped Transmission’s shoulder and lightly pushed her out of the store. “Now go somewhere and be beautiful somehow! Also, call me if you need any other cloth-related greatness! Also, I want pictures, it’s great publicity! I ruined my closing line, so I’ll shut up now!” she happily closed the door the her store as Transmission turned back, accidentally making the latter feel unable to get back inside and say to the kind woman that she didn’t have a phone.


Image



“So many…!”

It was the only reaction Transmission could allow herself to whisper for nobody to hear aside herself. 

She had finally walked inside the yacht club, greeting the guards (they were new, so the old ones must have ended their shift) while successfully joking about having become a gangster to pay the entry fee and making them smile. She also had the chance to greet Penelope Peterson, who had seemed very worried that Transmission hadn’t been allowed to enter the club and left to her own devices in a city she barely knew. At any rate, she was welcomed with open arms, staring at a world of colorful people and Pokemon.

And she was very, very excited.

Transmission gazed at everyone, standing next to the door that led to a room full of people and pokemon. Chatting. Eating. Drinking. Showing themselves, expressing themselves. Living. Existing. For everyone else to see, everyone to enjoy.

Why do they always think it’s creepy...? Transmission thought to herself as she finally moved herself with resigned steps towards whatever table had an empty chair, accidentally ignoring the music, decoration and clothing of other people as she sat down, making sure to “turn off” her analytic habit. Despite this, she still had enough observation left to notice that the table she had joined was in fact right next to another table, where a boy and what looked to be a mareep sat next to a girl wearing a fancy yellow dress, who was busy pushing her chair towards the group of two androgynous figures Transmission had found. The three seemed to be locked in a fun conversation before they turned in unison to look at the newcomer.

“Hello,” Transmission said, giving a brief determined gaze to all the members of the table. “I’m sorry for being late. I had to buy...” She briefly looked down at her chest. “This.”

“Wow, it looks amazing!” the girl with the dress said. “You look like a mafia gangster! But in a good way!”

“Thank you.”

“You said you bought it?”

Transmission gazed at the other lady: a dark-skinned woman with a focused scowl on her face. Wait, something’s off, said her eyebrows.

“Yes. Was I not supposed to?”

“You can rent one!” said the girl with green eyes and a Rufflet preferring to rest on her shoulder rather than taking a chair. “That’s what I did with my shoes. They were a bit dirty.”

Wh-what? “Do you perhaps mean to say that this club has spare suits?” Transmission asked calmly. “In case people don’t have them?”

“I mean I didn’t mean, like, here, but yeah, that. It was more practical for me. And the store is, like... twenty-five minutes away.” 

“But I just— I just needed to walk there.” Adding to Transmission’s panic was the fact that she finally noticed that the other Pokémons were dressed in little outfits, meaning that she had forgotten something.
Again.

The frown on the dark-skinned lady’s face slightly deepened. “...She meant, twenty-five minutes by car.”

Transmission suddenly recalled Penelope’s over-the-top worried gestures. 
...It wasn’t over the top. Transmission was more than an hour late. She was probably the last one to arrive and everyone had already gotten themselves comfortable. That was why the guards weren’t the same.
Then, she realized everything else. She had walked. Back and forth. At any point in time they could have decided that she wasn’t worth waiting for, or many could even have already left towards the ship. And come to think of it, she had met a friendly man on the way, she remembered his face and voice, but she didn’t remember his clothes. It’s like they weren’t even there.

It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s fine. “I didn’t know.” she finally replied.

“Oh, That’s okay!” the green-eyed girl exclaimed, a reassuring smile on her face. “I mean, you can always call, right? In case of trouble?”

“I don’t have a phone.”

How is this possible? said the dark-skinned lady’s confused eyebrows.

Transmission wished she could teleport far away and cry somewhere underground.

“A-anyway, I’m Lilly!” The girl in the dress suddenly exclaimed, noting Transmission’s silent distress. “This is Amarela,” she continued, gesturing towards the dark-skinned woman, who nodded politely. Then, she pointed a finger behind her. “And that’s Vadim, over there! I’m sitting with him, but I just thought I’d move around to talk to people! And this is... Kaylay?”

The green-eyed girl smiled again. “Kele, but close enough! Don’t sweat it.” She turned towards Transmission. “And you are?”

Unfortunately, that simple switch to a very simple social interaction only fueled Transmission’s understanding that the situation had slipped away from her control a long, long time ago. “I don’t— My na— No, I— I just— please call me Transmission. Please. I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s okay!” Kele assured. “Is that like a gamer thing?”

“A ga... I do not understand.”

“Uh, I mean like... nicknames.”

“Oh. Yes. This is my nickname. I like the word.”

“And you’re a Coordinator, right?” Lily asked enthusiastically. I’m a Breeder, Amarela’s a Trainer and Kele is, too!”

“We were told that a Coordinator was late, so we guessed it was you,” Amarela specified. “Also, aren’t you going to eat?”

“I’m...” Breeders? Coordinators? The words rang a bell, but Transmission’s memory refused to work. And she couldn’t possibly ask them what any of this was this about; it was clearly common knowledge on the level of Fire being super effective against Grass. She didn’t want to bother them any more than she already had, but if she didn’t, she’d be left clueless, confused and panicked.
...Again.

It means: fuck ‘em, had said the dashing man.

“...I have no idea what any of you are talking about,” she finally replied. “I’m disorientated, confused, stressed, and I can’t talk to people for the life of me. I have a Natu. His name is Enrul and he knows more about anything remotely electric-powered than I ever will. All I know is that someone at my library told me about the tournament, I registered, I was taken to an interview at some point and now here I am.” She stood up. “No. Don’t,” she said, just as Lilly moved her hand and Kele took an inspiration to talk, thus surprising them both. “I know what at least two of you are thinking, and that is stopping me from leaving and figuring things out. I’ve been here before. Please just— Just leave me alone. I’m terribly sorry for having ruined your mood and bothered yo— Stop thinking that I didn’t, I did.” Transmission breathed heavily, unable to even look at them anymore. “I’m sorry. I really am. And no, no, I will not eat.”

“Wait,” Amarela intervened in a calm, yet imperious tone. “At least one more thing.” I need to confirm something, said her hands, having suddenly appeared palms placed against the table.

“Okay. Waiting is something I can do.” Though she still wanted to leave, she sat back down. She couldn’t possibly cause any more problems by sitting down and waiting when asked to, right?

“During your interview. Do you remember what you said, or did? Why you came here?”

Transmission took a few seconds to think about it. “I was asked what I think of Pokemon. So, I described what my three Pokemon were like. Then I was told to say, instead, what I thought of Pokemon in general. I profusely apologized then asked what the point of the question was, since I already had caught three partners that I lived with every day.”

“You mean like they’re outside of their pokeballs most of the time, right?” Kele intervened.

“Yes.” Transmission looked at Kele. “They are extensions of my mind. Nothing more, nothing less. I was never told what the point of the question was, but I was told to describe exactly what my life with my partners was. So, I did that. Then I was thanked for applying, and at some point Coordinator was mentioned, but I just— I— I thought it was like a trainer that organizes battles between people or connects people and pokemon.”

“...Oh, yeah...” Lilly whispered. “Because outside of trainer jargon that’s totally what it would mean.”

“Also it’s my work. I’m a student at a local school for Psychic-class trainers, or trainers that focus on building a bond similar to the wordless, hyper-efficient communication system human twins sometimes have. So, I just thought I was taken to make sure people in the tournament would need some sort of coaching. Because... usually, I am.”

“Do you realize how impressive what you do is?” Amarela inquired.

“No.” 

Amarela nodded. “That answers to a lot. And I pity your competition.”

“Why?”

For the first time since she had gotten in the club, a smile appeared on Amarela’s face. A fierce, cruel, scary smile that merely represented her genuine amusement. “Because if you survive the first round and understand what being a Coordinator is all about, I don’t think many people could do anything against you.” You’re interesting, said her smile.

I’m glad. said Transmission’s.

“...So...” Kele began, a tiny smile on her face. “What’s it like? To, like, be in that school of yours?”

“Good.” Slight hesitation. “Life-defining. I have stories, if you want.”

Kele’s eyes shone. Oh god, yes.

Vadim slightly turned back. Don’t mind me, I just think this is interesting.

Amarela leaned over, elbows on the table as she crossed her hands in front of her lips. Woman, you tell me everything you know this instance.

Lilly nodded furiously. YES YES YES YES YES!

Needless to say, Transmission was absolutely overwhelmed. But at least, in this umpteenth situation without escape, she wasn’t at all panicked.
Last edited by TinkerTwaggy on Sat Jul 25, 2020 8:02 pm, edited 3 times in total.
"Is there a limit to how much living I can live with my life? How will I know if I've gone too far?
And why did I spend my life savings on sunglasses for a whale?
I shall find the answers... to these questions."
  





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AstralHunter says...



Jake Fox
Scene vii: Questions and Answers


“You can never meet enough people,” Jake joked, giving Connor a little squeeze. “Peony was one of… how many?”

“Sixty-four,” Connor answered dryly.

“Yeah! She’s just one of sixty-four. We still have sixty-one other people to meet!”

“We are not meeting all of the other participants.” Connor squirmed, trying to break away.

Jake chuckled and stepped in front of Connor, putting both arms around his waist and pulling him against him. “You’re not getting away that easily.”

Connor was still holding Seraph, so he couldn’t resist much. Unfortunately, he was still holding Seraph, so the position was much less alluring than Jake would have liked. Connor looked as uncomfortable as his Vulpix.

“Jake, people probably already think of us as ‘the gay couple’,” he said, glancing around nervously before looking back, “so could we not, you know…?”

Jake released his boyfriend and immediately took a step back. They’d discussed that many times before. Connor loved the idea of having as many public displays of affection as they liked, but the reality was that too many would draw awkward or disapproving looks. Adding that to his insecurity would make him unnecessarily uncomfortable, which is why they had agreed to limit PDAs until he was better prepared. In his glee at finally being with Connor, Jake had already forgotten that.

He nodded seriously. “Sure. I’m sorry.” Connor looked guilty, but before he could say anything, Jake cut in with, “And don’t you dare apologise! We talked about this. I should have remembered.” A slight smirk crept onto his face. “But you do need to put your safety blanket down.”

Connor looked sadly down at Seraph, who huffed in dismayed resignation, and reluctantly set her down. She slightly shook herself, as if a shiver ran down her spine, fluffing up her tails and raising her head into the air. She then pranced off, probably to go conduct some elegant vulpine business. Jake snickered.

Smirking at Connor, he said, “You look like you need a drink more than I do.”

“I do, but alcohol tastes wretched. I’ll take some clean orange juice.”

“Then juice it is!” He grabbed Connor’s wrist and pulled him towards the buffet table. He could practically feel him roll his eyes. When they reached the buffet table, Jake released his grip and stepped forward, smelling the contents of the pitchers before pouring Connor a glass of juice and himself a glass of juice and champagne.

“Thanks,” Connor mumbled. He gave the girl next to him an awkward look, to which she responded by collecting her plate of quiches and striding away. He sighed. “I hate this.”

“C’mon, don’t be like that!” Jake scooped a good helping of the assorted fruit slices onto a plate. “Some people are just unfriendly, but that doesn’t mean you need to be.”

“I know, I know…” Connor picked out a few breakfast croissants and a tiny skewer of meat. “I just… Randomly talking to people always feels weird.”

“We’re all trainers and participants in the tournament, though! You already have something to talk about.” Jake added at least one each of the available meats and pastries to his plate before stooping down and lifting Edward and Leon so they could pick food for themselves.

Connor sighed. “I guess.” He placed an eclair and a few strawberries on a plate before holding it in front of Hades. “Will you go find Seraph and give this to her?”

The Houndour barked affirmatively and carefully took the plate in his mouth before swaggering away. Connor then loaded strips of bacon onto another plate and set it on the floor for when Hades returned. He summoned a Scyther to let him pick food for himself.

…Of course, there was no way Jake was just going to let him do that. “MERCURY, my man-tis!” He set his Kirlia and Riolu on the floor and opened his arms wide.

Mercury returned Jake’s beam and hugged him just as enthusiastically. Minding the scythes, of course. Jake wouldn’t have minded even if the Pokémon hadn’t been careful, but since Connor was fond of hugs, Mercury already had some practice. It was probably also best that Jake’s suit not be diced.

Jake took a step back to admire the Scyther’s aubergine suit. “Daaamn, you clean up good. You’re probably the most handsome insect I’ve ever seen.” Mercury smirked, but Connor’s slight frown caught Jake’s eye. “Pfft. Nicely. Whatever.” Connor looked abashed, making Jake snicker. “It’s good to finally see you, my dude.”

“Aren’t we missing one more?” Connor said amidst Mercury’s contented hissing.

“Oh, right!” Jake pulled a Pokéball from one of his pockets and casually tossed it upward. “Behold! The Prince of Persia and Any Sandpits He Encounters!”

A starry-eyed Trapinch appeared in a flash. He seemed a bit confused at first, but after catching sight of Connor, he opened his jaws wide and waddled closer. It might have looked like he fancied eating the man, but Connor crouched down and petted the little bug on its head.

“You’re even cuter in the flesh… err, carapace, Dastan!”

The antlion closed his eyes and hummed in pleasure. Until a Mareep came bouncing closer and baaah’ed cheerfully at them, that is. Dastan clumsily turned to face the newcomer and flashed another warm but terrifying smile with his gaping maw. Jake found the sheep adorable, but even more so was the Spinarak she seemed to have taken hostage.

“Ohmygosh, an actual kawaii spider!”

“Jake, don’t—!”

But Connor was too late. Jake had already lifted the reluctant spider off the sheep’s fleece. The Mareep then wagged her tail at Dastan before bounding away. The Trapinch marched after her in futility.

“What’s your name, little sweetheart?” Jake asked, holding the spider in front of his face and speaking to her in a baby voice.

“Could you not?” Connor asked, looking around for her trainer. Or maybe just looking around to see who was watching.

“Oi, I can’t speak spider! I need you to translate for me.”

Connor groaned and stared at the clicking spider. “She says ‘Mata” or something like that. I’m not— Oh, ‘Myata’, sorry.”

“Do you mind if I hold you for a bit, Myata?”

She seemed unconvinced, but Jake moved her onto his arm and scratched her abdomen. That won her over, since she adjusted herself to be more comfortable and hunkered down.

“I think I’m… just going to stand over to the side and chat with Cethrys for a bit,” Connor said wearily.

Jake knew he meant Mercury, but was simply using the Scyther’s original name. It had been intended as a placeholder until he could find something more appropriate, but even after he’d decided on “Mercury”, he’d stayed fond of the name. He normally used it when being serious, but in that case, he used Mercury’s old name because he was Connor’s current source of security in Seraph’s absence.

Still stroking the green spider, Jake said, “Aww, but people might think he’s your bodyguard and that he’ll Brutal Swing anyone who dares to bother you!”

That got Connor grinning a little. “Who knows? He might.” His smile faltered. “I’m wary of the participants’ opinions of us right now anyway, even though the kiss was my idea.”

Jake pulled the corner of his mouth into a knowing grimace. “Okay, well, what abooout…?” He scanned the room. “That guy!” He gestured at a man in a navy blue suit who had just wandered into the dining room.

He looked a little lost, just like many of the other participants when they arrived, but he wasn’t nervous. His dirty blonde hair was spiked up, and even halfway across the room, Jake could see something dangling from his left ear. He and the Luxio at his feet both scanned the room, but while his gaze was relaxed and curious, the lynx’s was more akin to a predator searching for prey.

“He just arrived, so he doesn’t know about us yet,” Jake said, giving Connor a reassuring smile. “If you want to, you could have an unbiased conversation with him! He seems chilled.”

“You also think he’s cute,” Connor remarked, taking his own turn at smirking.

“What?” Jake asked, concerned. “I mean, yeah, I think half the people in the room are cute, but is it that obvious?”

“Of course it is.” Connor’s smirk melted into a warm and sincere smile. “You’re an open book for the world to read, Jake. It’s one of the many things I love about you. And don’t worry, I’m not offended or anything.”

“But I’m with you now!” Jake countered. “I don’t need to flirt with people anymore, and I’m not sure it’d be right of me anyway.” Connor’s gaze was understanding, but also determined and unyielding. Jake deflated. “Are you sure? I don’t want—”

“I’m sure!” Connor said, his serious expression giving way to laughter. “Go ahead! I know you want to flirt with him. I don’t doubt for even a second that you want to be true to me, but I also don’t doubt that part of you will always want to flirt with hot strangers. We have the entire tournament to spend together. Go on. Cethrys and I will gossip about you from the sidelines. You can introduce us later.”

Just as Hades appeared and meant to pounce on his bacon, Connor bent down and picked the plate up. The dog gave his trainer an open-mouthed stare, but Connor just laughed, collected his drink and own plate, and motioned for him and Mercury to follow. Jake snickered as he watched them go, trying to push away the anxious thoughts. He looked down at Myata the Spinarak, who crawled along his arm, onto his chest, and into one of his inside pockets. It was funny, but also adorable. He’d help her find her trainer later.

He looked back to the other man’s side of the room and saw him heading his way, whereas the black feline blur headed in the opposite direction. The man glanced towards the Luxio and shook his head. Jake steeled himself and casually took a sip from his drink, so when the man glanced back towards the buffet table, Jake caught his eye, grinned, and raised a hand in greeting. The man blinked and remained expressionless for half a second before smirking and striding right up to Jake.

“Hey there, handsome.”

Flirtatious and shamelessly direct. A man after his own heart! “You’re not bad-looking yourself, gorgeous,” he said, matching the man’s smirk. He put the glass down, brushed his fringe away from his eyes, and extended a hand. “I’m Jake.”

“Bryne,” he said and took Jake’s hand. His gaze flicked down and then back up. “You here alone?”

“That depends on your reason for asking,” Jake said and winked. He was actually unsure how to continue, since Connor had given him free reign to flirt as he liked, but he didn’t want to lead Bryne on and later have to tell him he had a boyfriend. He guessed he’d just… be ambiguous as long as was decent.

“Because you’re the brightest star in this room.” He offered Jake a sly grin and gave him another once-over.

Jake heavily suppressed a snicker. “Now that,” he paused, again attempting to control himself, “is the cheesiest fucking pick-up line I’ve heard in about three years. It’s also not even true!” He looked towards the occupied dining tables, using it as an opportunity to calm down, and pointed to the far left corner. “I saw a magnificent Starmie over there somewhere earlier.” He turned back to Bryne, completely nonchalant, and said, “It’s too bad I’m not a Raticate, as I might’ve been all over that.” He flicked one of his eyebrows for emphasis, yet still keeping the same, straight face.

Bryne snickered himself. “That response is too good.”

“You should pay attention. You might learn something.” Jake poured some punch into a clean glass and intended to offer it to Bryne, but the other man took a step forward and reached past him for a different glass.

“Maybe we could go somewhere and you could…” Bryne trailed off and then lowered his voice. “Hmm, teach me a few things?”

Shit.

Jake kept his cool and ran a finger along Bryne’s collar. “Actually, I think men look pretty damn hot in a suit. I’ve seen them outside more often than in one, if you get what I mean.” He then pushed Bryne with that same finger, forcing the other man to take a step back. He took the empty glass in Bryne’s hand and set it down. “You should keep it on. Besides, this place is a club for the sophisticated, not a school for the eager. Trying to learn anything but sailing would probably get you kicked out.”

Bryne snorted. “I work in a club like this back home,” He glanced about and gently laid a hand over a slight lump on his hip. “Trust me, the sophisticated are much worse than we could ever be.” He focused on Jake again and grinned, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “You should hear the gossip I have about the Stepford Wives in Perth. It’s downright scandalous.” Bryne winked and then grimaced as the lump beneath his hand moved.

Pa?

Jake could recognise telepathic speech at any time of the day, and by the quality of the voice he’d just heard, he could also tell the owner was a female Ralts. A young one, since she wasn’t experienced enough to direct her telepathy at only one person. Edward teleported next to Jake, startling Bryne.

I don’t think our little sister would be able to cope with what you’re feeling right now, he said, addressing only the two men. Edward seemed cheerful, but Jake could sense his serious undertones. He’d obviously been keeping an eye on the conversation since it started and had felt everything Jake had. You should either stop flirting for now or give her to me.

“This is my main man, Edward,” Jake said, smiling at Bryne’s mild confusion. He telekinetically lifted a strawberry from the nearby bowl to his hand, said, “He’s been with me since I was a child,” and took a bite.

Bryne blinked slowly and then relaxed onto his heels. “Ra-Ra,” he said gesturing to the lump in jacket. “She’s shy and doesn’t really like crowds, and would usually be in her Pokéball, but decided that she wanted… more direct contact.” Bryne frowned and shifted the jacket until he could peak beneath it. “Mum said she probably wouldn’t be good for breeding or any trainer who couldn’t be patient with her, so I said I’d take her.”

Daddy…

All of Bryne’s flirtatious intent melted away and he sighed. “Hush, Ra-Ra.” He stared down into the shadowy space beneath his jacket for a moment and then glanced up at Jake. “I think there’s too many people around—”

A low growl cut him off and they both glanced down to see the Luxio sitting by Bryne’s feet, glaring at Edward and Jake. He carried a sealed box in his mouth.

Lucky,” Bryne hissed. The lynx stared up at him. He scowled back. “Cut that out right now.”

“Hades!”

Jake instinctively knew that the Houndour would be beside him in a couple of seconds. He counted them down and was proven right. But Hades wasn’t barking as he had been before. Instead, he just stood next to Edward and fixed Lucky with a stern glare. The Luxio wasn’t impressed, but his hackles were raised and his tail swept across the floor. Jake continued counting, and when he reached five, Connor stood next to him, also as expected.

“I’m sorry about my Houndour’s intrusion,” he said sincerely. “He’s already had a run-in with another participant’s belligerent cat, so he’s wary right now. He just means to be protective.” He looked down at the dog and said, “Hades, fall back.”

Hades’ curled lips pulled down into a straight line, but he obeyed and moved backwards to sit beside his trainer. Mercury appeared behind Connor, peering over his shoulder at the small gathering.

“Lucky,” Bryne said, eyeing Connor thoughtfully, “shut up.” The lynx abruptly stopped growling and dropped the box on the floor. He then leaped forward to bat the dog’s face, just as Peony’s Skitty had done, before darting off again. “Dammit!”

Jake watched Hades with interest. He almost ran after the Luxio, but he stayed put and yipped once, which meant something like, “Good riddance.” Jake couldn’t suppress a snicker and crouched down to pat the pup. As soon as he did, Hades broke into a wide doggy grin, his tongue lolling out.

“Good boy, Hades! Keep showing those mean cats who’s boss!”

Bryne chuckled. “I think Lucky likes him,” he said and bent down to pick up the dropped box. He frowned at it for a moment and sighed. “He just had to steal someone’s stuff, didn’t he?”

The spider in Jake’s pocket squirmed and crawled out, probably woken by all the excitement. He stroked her reassuringly, after which she moved to his shoulder. He grinned at Bryne and took the box, stowing it away in the pocket Myata had occupied. “I’ll hold on to this, then. The Spinarak isn’t mine either, so I’ll just return them to their trainers once we’ve found out who they are.”

“I feel we should get a table,” Connor suggested nervously. “We wouldn’t want to lose either of them and then be blamed for their loss.” He added under his breath, “This keeps happening to us…”

Bryne sighed again and shook his head, gesturing vaguely about the room. “I just got here, so I have no idea what’s going on.” He glanced down into his jacket again and frowned. “Can we find somewhere a little bit away from people? Ra-Ra’s not taking it well.”

“Sure!” Jake answered enthusiastically. “People are still avoiding the area near the sundeck for some reason, so there are still empty and emptyish tables available there. Get yourself and your Pokémon some food here and meet us there.” He refilled his and Connor’s glasses and led him away, his arm slung over Connor’s shoulder.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Connor gave him an amused yet uncertain look. “That was really smooth back there,” he said, trying to sound more sardonic than worried.

Jake removed his arm and ran his free hand through his hair. He exhaled shakily. “Dude, I’ve literally hooked up with people like that before, but it’s the first time I’ve ever felt nervous at the idea.” He glanced at Connor, surprised. “Wait, how did you know what we were saying?”

Connor laughed and pointed at the Riolu walking beside him. Without looking up, Leon raised a hand in acknowledgement and tilted his tablet with the other. He’d eavesdropped on them and transcribed the conversation electronically.

“Sneaky bastards!” Jake said, bumping Connor with his shoulder. “By the way, Edward, thanks for keeping an eye out.”

No problem! Edward said. When Jake held out a hand, he took it and did a quick pirouette before skipping ahead.

They arrived at an empty table in the far right corner, with the only nearby person sitting equally removed at an adjacent table. He spoke to his Absol in a hushed voice, potentially unaware of their presence. Jake sat down with his back to the sundeck and grinned at Connor. “So, were we entertaining?”

Mercury, sitting two positions away from Connor, made a buzzing noise that was probably the insect equivalent of a chuckle. “Very,” Connor answered with a smirk. “But I appreciate your efforts to stay fidelitous.”

“You could say that with a bit less irony!” Jake retorted, gaping in mock horror. His eyes flicked towards Bryne, who headed their way. “He’s coming this way. Act casually.”

Connor, who had his back to half of the rest of the room, nodded. “I also appreciate your appropriate use of adverbs, rather than adjectives.”

“Oh, shut up! That’s your fault anyway, Grammar Nazi.”

His boyfriend beamed innocently.

Bryne sat down opposite them and slumped in his seat, his Luxio hopping up onto an empty chair next to him. “Grammar Nazi? What’d I miss?” He raised an eyebrow and glanced between the two of them before setting his plate down in front of him. “Dare I ask if it was fun?”

“Only a lecture in conjugation,” Jake replied sweetly, ignoring the glare sent his way. “Unless you’re a nerd or a bookworm, consider yourself Lucky’s namesake.”

“Do I look like either of those to you?” he asked, spreading his arms wide. There was a tiny squeak from inside his jacket and Bryne grimaced, quickly pulling his hand back towards the small lump by his hip. “Sorry, Ra-Ra.” He glanced down at the hidden Ralts before looking up again. He seemed to take proper notice of Connor for the first time. “Why, hello. We haven’t been introduced yet.” He offered him a bright smile and a hand.

Connor grimaced guiltily. “Sorry!” He reached over to shake Bryne’s hand. “Connor Redreed.”

“Bryne Paige,” Bryne said and tilted Connor’s hand until the back of it faced up. He leaned forward, but another squeak from Ra-Ra made him sigh and pull back with a grimace. Then his expression suddenly brightened and he grinned widely. “Redreed, as in the famous breeders?”

The young man at the nearby table looked over his shoulder, apparently recognising Connor’s surname as well. He looked at them only for a few seconds before turning back to his own Pokémon, but it was long enough for Jake to register his shock. Probably a well-read Breeder, then!

“Yeah, that would be my parents,” Connor admitted. “I’m surprised you know of them, though. They stopped breeding professionally about a decade ago.” He stared down at his hand, which Bryne still held.

“Ah, that’s why my mum’s been so upset for the last decade. She was really hoping to, uh…” He trailed off and released Connor’s hand to scratch at a spot behind his ear. “She’s a pretty big deal in the breeder circles back home, and she wanted to meet your parents for some pointers, but then they retired and well, yeah…” He shrugged and lowered his hand with a frown. “She’d kill me if I didn’t get their contact details, though.”

“Then I guess you’re a dead man walking,” Connor joked. “Mom tries to keep her life private, so she wouldn’t be happy if I gave her number away.”

Bryne groaned and planted his crossed arms on the table in front of him, burying his face in them. “She’s definitely gonna kill me...”

Connor gave Jake a worried look, silently asking for help. Jake nodded and said, “Well, what about your father?”

“Oh! Yeah, dad would probably still be willing to chat.”

That made Bryne perk up and he lifted his head to squint at Connor. “Really?”

“He runs a shelter now, so somebody asking him about the glory days might actually lift his spirits a bit.”

Bryne blinked slowly and then launched upright, making grabby-hands at Connor. “Gimme! It’ll cheer mum up, too!”

Connor recoiled, not expecting the exaggerated reaction. He looked like a Rapidash ready to bolt. Jake discreetly took his hand under the table and squeezed it. Connor squeezed his back. “Maybe later,” he muttered, picking up his juice and hiding behind the glass by sipping very slowly.

The other man sighed and leaned back, shoving a hand back through his hair with a grimace. “Sorry,” he muttered, a somewhat sheepish look on his face. “I can get a little… overly enthusiastic…”

“It’s fine,” Connor said, putting the glass down and staring at a random spot on the table.

Bryne sighed. “Look, man… I’m really sorry, okay? I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

Pa? Sad?

“It’s… thanks.” He looked up again. Jake gave him an encouraging smile, which seemed to cheer Connor up a little. “Did you want to talk about something else?”

“Uh…” He hesitated and glanced down at the Ralts-lump again. “I think I might, umm, actually take Ra-Ra outside. She’s really not liking all the people now. I’ll be back in a while.”

“Lunch won’t be too long from now,” Connor piped up.

Bryne frowned and looked about the room. Looking back their way, he met Jake’s eyes. “Order for me if I’m not back by then? I’ll have whatever salad also has meat in it.”

“Sure, no problem. See you later.”

Image

“Sounds fair to me!” Jake agreed, grinning at Heitor. Connor gave him a sceptical look, but Jake just responded by slinging an arm around his shoulder. “And you can bet we’ll ask you truly anything. In fact, since we have double your number of questions, you can ask us anything too! But whatever you ask, you must answer yourself.”

Jake hadn’t been kidding when he’d said half the participants were attractive. Heitor’s mustard suit looked fabulous with his dark skin, and the contrast created by his tailcoat’s blue buttons and the blue ribbon tied to his braid made him look even more stylish. His sense of fashion was impeccable!

Heitor’s grin grew larger. “That is precisely what I wanted! Then let’s start with you. What exactly happened, m’dears? I completely missed the event, so, I wouldn’t mind being filled in!”

“That’s not a question you could answer yourself,” Connor pointed out dryly.

“How d’you know that, m’dear?”

“Your question is ‘What exactly happened?’, but we haven’t asked you about anything yet, so there’s technically no context for when you need to answer.”

“Ah. The Phoenix type, you seem to be.” Heitor chuckled. “One step towards levelling up, and my second nemesis already shows up. I swear, Arceus is cynical. That being said, well, I do know that some people became exaggeratedly outraged because of your existence as a couple. If that is the context, then, I can totally share a similar experience!”

“I think he means that if we ask you the question using the same words you did,” Jake said, throwing Connor an amused glance before smiling cheerfully at Heitor, “the answer would be nothing. You’re asking us about people discovering we’re a couple, but nothing has happened to you for us to ask, ‘What exactly happened?’.” He looked thoughtful. “Actually, we could ask how you got to be in charge of the waiting staff!”

Connor nodded. “That seems fair.”

“Okay! I am taking you up on that offer, though,” Jake said, winking at Heitor. “Connor and I entered the tournament so we could meet each other! We’ve been dating for a year now. We—” He looked at Connor, suddenly worried. “You don’t mind me telling him, do you?”

“I’ll chime in if I think you’re giving too much information,” Connor replied. His cheeks turned slightly red.

Jake gave Connor a quick, one-armed hug. “Then, as I was saying, we…” He trailed off, trying to find his train of thought again.

Hold it!” Heitor exclaimed. He tapped his index finger against his chin. “Hmm… Yes, I suppose I should specify this terrible fact. Right, so, let’s make the rules a bit more flexible, shall we? I first assumed that the idea was to ask me something personal if I asked you something personal. Due to my being a non-native English speaker, I propose that you do not focus on the exact and absolute meaning of my words, as it may, in fact, be approximative.” He looked at Connor. “So, basically, you’re allowed to be precise, m’dear, but if you do that too much, you’ll confuse me, and I’ll confuse you back. I’d prefer to avoid it.” Focusing on Jake again, he said, “You may continue!”

Connor sighed. “I’m sorry. I can be pedantic at times.”

“He means all the time,” Jake corrected, getting a scowl from Connor in response. “But okay! Now, umm… Right! So, we’ve been dating for a year, but he lives in Cape Town and I live in London. We thought New Horizon would be an awesome way to finally meet! Ezra loved that we each made half of the other’s video, so he interviewed and approved us! We then talked about how we wanted the meeting to go, and Connor said he wanted to…” Jake broke off, giving Connor another questioning glance and receiving a nod. “He wanted to pretend we were strangers when we first meet, and then I’d flirt with him and sweep him off his feet.”

“Metaphorically speaking!” Connor quickly added, looking embarrassed.

“Unfortunately, yeah!” Jake said and laughed. “I didn’t flirt much, but we did have our first kiss out on the sundeck! And that’s what people saw and made them so outraged.” He puffed up his cheeks and put on an exaggerated scowl. “How dare two men publicly display their love for each other?! How scandalous! How absolutely indecent!” He broke into a fit of laughter.

Heitor laughed along. “Precisely! Although, considering where we currently are, I suppose they would’ve reacted that way even if one of you were a girl.” He stared at the ceiling and raised an eyebrow. “…Huh. Then again, most gay couples do still hide. I guess they know their limits.” Looking back at them, he smiled again. “But still. Congratulations, m’dear! Though memories tend to be quite the double-edged swords, this one should be remain enjoyable for years to come.” His smile grew slightly larger when he looked at Connor. “Do I need to ask if you enjoyed it? Or would you prefer to move on to my answer to your previous question?”

“Two more questions,” Connor said, smirking teasingly, but also looking hesitant. “I’m just joking, by the way. But before I answer, neither of us are actually gay—”

“But he doesn’t mind being called that!” Jake added. He gave Connor a knowing smile and lowered his arm to hold his hand.

“Not really, no,” Connor agreed, thanking Jake with his eyes and squeezing his hand. “I’ve had more than enough time to come to terms with my sexuality, but coming to terms with how people would perceive it is a different story. I’m not gay, but I don’t want to feel like being called that is an insult or something that makes me uncomfortable. I do like men and I have no shame about it, but if I need to be labelled, I prefer being labelled what I am. And that’s demi. If a different one had to be used, I’d prefer to be called bi, like Jake, since I’d feel… more capable of dealing with the stigmas surrounding bisexuality than homosexuality.” He paused for a moment and looked down. When he looked up again, his gaze was more determined. “We’re in Vancouver, so I thought there wouldn’t be a reason to hide. I’d forgotten that the people who would see us are from all across the world, not from here.” He shrugged, trying to look indifferent. “It doesn’t matter. We’re together now, we have our families’ approval, and Ezra even recorded the kiss for us on Jake’s phone.”

“And if that bothers anyone,” Jake said smiling warmly at Connor and then at Heitor, “our gay rainbow powers will hit them supereffectively and give us the edge in the tournament!”

Heitor let out a dreamy sigh. “Ah… A Sun type and a Phoenix type, equally as cute in terms of sheer potential. What a wondrous sight.” He pointed at Connor. “Funny how you say you’re more prepared for bi-related stereotypes, though, as they’re way worse than homo ones! It really helps to have family support, though! Can’t say I’ve had that kind of luck, but that is a subject for later in this encounter.” He offered a wink. “Oh, Portuguese wink, by the way. Not for flirting, just for, like… satisfaction.”

Jake’s jaw dropped. “So you weren’t flirting with us when you sat down a few minutes ago?!”

“I don’t…” Heitor’s smile faded as he lifted his palms in a gesture of innocence. “I can’t flirt, man. Honest!”

Jake’s expression went from horrified to playful. “I’d be willing to teach you! But if you’re not interested, that’s also cool. I think the winking thing is pretty epic anyway.”

“Right? I think so too, so obviously I absorbed it. And uh, no, don’t teach me.” Heitor leaned forward slightly. “The truth is, I came here because my empathetic skills are abysmal, so if I ever started flirting for real, I’d overdo it in spectacularly terrible ways.” He giggled. “I know: I tried!”

“Right, flirting just isn’t for some. No problem!” He tilted his head sideways. “What do you mean with your reason for coming here, though? Didn’t you just want to know about our relationship?”

“Yes, I did! That’s exactly what I mean.” Heitor lifted a finger, grinning with satisfaction. “Y’see, by learning about your relationship, I get to know why you matter for each other, thereby defying my usual ability to not care about anything. If I do that, I’ll be more likely to understand who you are. And if I understand who you are, then I’m more likely to understand what you can do as people, trainers, or anything else, which then generates excitement, interest, or creative juice for myself. From there, all I need to do is give you the exact same deal, and then we both evolve as people. It’s my favourite scheme!”

“I’m not sure that’s how it works,” Connor said, “but I see your point and what you mean with your abysmal empathy; that’s a very logical procedure to generate a good alternative.”

“Connor, don’t be rude!” Jake admonished good-naturedly. He meant to say something else, but visibly froze with his mouth open. He recovered quickly, but looked confused. “Wait, we never introduced ourselves, did we?” Leon waved to get Jake’s attention, but he chuckled and didn’t notice. “And I’m talking about being rude. Sorry! Officially, I’m Jake—” He gestured at Connor. “—and this is Connor! It’s a pleasure meeting you for the second time, Heitor.”

Heitor’s gaze had locked itself on Connor. “A fair warning, m’dear. That’s how I work. So, don’t you worry about being sure of how it’s to be interpreted generally or not, okay? I am, unfortunately, part of a side of the world where that kind of sentence, is, umm, how d’you say… Ah, yes: utterly despised.” He was silent for what was probably two seconds, but which felt like an awkward eternity. Finally, he chuckled sincerely. “Don’t stress yourself over it, though, you’re superb, personality-wise, so I know you get it.” He offered a hand. “Nice to meet you! I mean it. And I do wish you’ll enjoy yourself more with this trip.”

Jake could see several thoughts and emotions visible on Connor’s face, but after a second of contemplation, Connor shook Heitor’s hand, following it with a simple, “Thank you.”

Heitor’s facial expression changed to something unreadable. His gaze briefly lingered on Connor’s hand before flicking up to his eyes. “I see.”

The Riolu next to Connor snapped his fingers, which was more successful than his previous attempt at getting everyone’s attention. Leon held his tablet screen for all of them to read. What you also haven’t done yet is eat.

Jake looked down at his chicken enchiladas with a grimace. He hadn’t touched it even before Heitor’s arrival, as he’d been chatting with Connor then. “Oh, right!”

Connor had cut one of his crab cakes, but his were similarly uneaten. Leon’s were halfway done. Edward had followed the conversation attentively, so he’d only eaten about three pieces of sushi of his sashimi platter, but Mercury’s beef burger was already finished. The spider on Jake's shoulder had been snoozing since he'd sat down at the table, so she wasn't eating anything. He craned his neck to see how their quadrupedal Pokémon were faring beneath the table, and all of them were also done (except for Seraph, who very daintily picked at her caesar salad). Bryne’s plate of Saltspring salad was completely untouched.

Connor also considered the missing trainer’s food and then turned to look at the man himself, who was still out on the sundeck, cradling his Ralts. “Bryne should come back to eat soon.”

“Or what?” Jake asked, flashing a grin. “His salad will go cold?”

“You know what I mean!” Connor retorted exasperatedly. “And for your information, the chicken can go cold.”

“I’m sure he’ll come back soon enough,” he said, shrugging. “Either that, or he won’t bother with his food at all.” Looking at Heitor again, he remembered one of his earlier questions. “By the way, did you want to see the video Ezra took?” He grinned at Connor again. “I quite enjoyed our moment, and I’ve had decent experience with kissing dudes and chicks.”

Connor blushed deeply. “Yes, well…” He looked down and continued softly, “…I enjoyed it quite a lot too.”

“Just because of that cutie’s reaction,” Heitor said, pointing at Connor, “I’mma say yes to the video. But I’ll need earphones, so how about you send it to me after I give you my email info, which I can do right this moment?”

“Or you can just give me your number once we’re on the ship,” Jake said, winking deliberately and grinning mischievously.

“No. Mostly because I would probably not reply much, but also because you can blame my parents for long distance habits.” He shrugged nonchalantly. “That’s what too much traveling does to you.” Frowning, he continued, “Oh, he was flirting. Yeah, see, it just—”

“Actually, I wasn’t!” Jake interjected, torn between appalled and disappointed. “I was trying to use the wink like how you suggested, yet still make it look like I was flirting, but I guess that was lost in… translation? You don’t need to give me your number. It’s fine!” He flashed a smile for emphasis and finally started cutting one of his two rolls.

Heitor grimaced. “Mmm, my rusty yet still functional powers of observation lead me to believe that this just turned negative and I have to do something about it. Uh, je fais quoi déjà…?”

Jake meant to interject yet again, since he had only intended to start eating, but he was caught off-guard by Heitor wondering out loud in French what he should do. He was usually better at navigating people’s personalities, but aside from Connor, he seemed way more awkward than usual. Maybe it was the new relationship energy that made him more nervous?

Heitor put a hand in his pocket and pulled out a small paper. “‘In case of social emergency, state something about your weird life, as that doubles as entertainment.’ …Oh! Right! I never stated how I managed to show myself alongside the other waiters! Boy, do trees die for a good cause.” His grin reappeared as he shoved the paper back in his pocket.

“Trees die for a good cause?” Bryne said, Ra-Ra now in his arms and no longer hidden beneath his jacket. She peered over his arm at them with sleepy, curious eyes.

“Bryne!” Jake exclaimed happily. “Connor was getting worried.

“I was most definitely not!” Connor protested indignantly.

Bryne laughed and gave Connor a curious look, but didn’t press the matter. He took his seat next to Heitor and said, “Whenever I arrive, it’s just as someone said something that sounds fascinating out of context.” Bryne glanced over at Lucky, who was halfway through his ribeye steak, and sighed. “I seem to keep missing out on the best parts, don’t I?”
But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
- Paul the Apostle

Spring has returned! Winter is over, and BrumalHunter is no more!
  





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ScarlettFire says...



Bryne Paige
Scene viii: What a Cutie


Bryne hustled over to the railing and pulled Ra-Ra out from beneath his jacket, frowning at the sleepy look she gave him. A litany of daddy and pa and sad echoed in his head in her sweet, childish voice as they stared at one another. There was also the vague sense of too much and the way Ra-Ra would shiver occasionally. He sighed and set her down on the railing gently, holding her so she wouldn’t fall.

“I’m sorry, Ra-Ra,” he muttered, rubbing a thumb over her arm. “I didn’t mean to wake you up like that. It was rude of me, wasn’t it?”

Pa? Pa sad? No sad!

Bryne lowered his head with a soft, fond smile. “It’s okay, Ra-Ra. You’re safe now.”

“That’s exactly what I wanted to hear,” someone said from behind him--a voice he only vaguely recognised--with a dreamy sigh. “Most people would be frustrated with a needy, timid Ralts, but not you. That’s why I picked you.”

Bryne whirled around to find Ezra Archer standing a few feet behind him, smiling brightly. He blinked and then ducked his head, turning back to Ra-Ra to hide his embarrassed little smile while still keeping the billionaire within sight. “Yeah? That’s why?”

“Call me biased, but I’ve noticed over the years that the children of Breeders, even if they aren’t Breeders themselves, display remarkable care for Pokémon. So, yes, that’s why. Also the adorable little smile on your face right now.” He winked conspiratorially.

He snorted and gave Ra-Ra a little tickle. Her high-pitched giggles ping-ponged around inside his head. It really was absolutely adorable. After a moment, Bryne picked her up and tucked her into the crook of his arm, turning to fully face Ezra with a sheepish grin.

“What smile?” he asked, tilting his head to take in the older man. Ezra Archer was frowning at him, but then his gaze dropped to Ra-Ra and he smiled brightly.

“Hello, little angel!”

Ezra!

Bryne grimaced. He was pretty sure everyone nearby had heard that one. Honestly, he was going to have to teach her some more control... And himself. He knew better than to flirt when the child was around. Because that’s what Ra-Ra was; a child. He sighed and tilted his head back to stare up at the sky.

“Is the little dear feeling overwhelmed by all the strangers around?” Ezra asked sympathetically.

“Yeah,” Bryne admitted, dropping his gaze back to Ezra. “A little.”

“Ah. I don’t suppose she would be satisfied with sleeping in her Pokéball for a while, even with some calming music playing?”

He shook his head and shifted to lean back against the railing. “Nope,” he said, popping the ‘p’ for emphasis. He glanced down when Ra-Ra wriggled in his hold. “She seems pretty, uh...attached to me at the moment.”

“Then she’ll just have to be a brave little girl for her trainer!” Ezra declared cheerfully. “Can you try to do that for us, Ra-Ra? Are you up to the challenge?” He grinned mischievously, an excited glint in his eyes.

Ra-Ra squirmed upright and reached for the older man. Bryne raised an eyebrow. “Now is not the time for hugs, Ra-Ra--”

Okay! Can do! The Ralts waved her arms about. Ezra hug?

Ezra strode forward, waiting half a second to see if Bryne would stop him before scooping the little Ralts into his arms. “Ezra can be hugged any time!”

Yay! Ra-Ra squealed, snuggling into Ezra’s embrace. Bryne winced at the volume.

“Easy with the volume, Ra-Ra,” he grumbled without heat. He really needed to teach her more control over that. He was pretty sure at least half of the people nearby had also winced, and they all had to have splitting headaches by now. Sometimes he wished his mother was around, just so he could ask her for advice. But she was on the other side of the planet, so he’d have to settle for himself or whoever he could find.

Sorry, Papa.

Ezra carefully handed Ra-Ra back to Bryne. “What about you? Are you dealing well with the crowd?”

Bryne settled Ra-Ra into his arms and glanced away, lifting one shoulder in a half-shrug. “I’ve dealt with worse,” he said and exhaled carefully before meeting the older man’s gaze steadily. “You do remember who my parents are, don’t you?”

“We live in the same city,” Ezra said, amused, “so yes, Sasha and Ryan Paige are names with which I’m very familiar. I don’t know them personally, however, so if you mean to say you’re happy to be out of your parents’ house, I’m sure more than half the people here would share the sentiment!”

Chuckling, Bryne ducked his head in agreement. “They’re a hot mess together, but somehow they make it work.” He shook his head in amusement. “So yes, I am very glad not to be at home right now.”

Ezra moved beside Bryne to lean on the railing too. “You’re not avoiding your table too, are you?” he asked more solemnly. He pointed to the table where three other participants and their Pokémon sat. “I don’t think Lucky would sit with strangers of his own accord.”

He snorted, following the older man’s gaze. “Of course not,” Bryne told him, eyes darting between Lucky, who was being served a very nice piece of steak to the other trainers. “I would never--”

“I don’t even need to call you a liar if your intonation does that for me,” Ezra said politely, following his observation with a soft chuckle. “I saw you chatting with Jake earlier. Does something about the couple put you off?”

Bryne rolled his eyes. “As if,” he muttered and turned to pin Ezra with a narrow-eyed look. “You know very well that I don’t care about that.”

“You’re right, I do,” Ezra agreed without flinching in his polite but reassuring tone. “Just as you know very well that’s not what I meant.”

He smirked and looked back towards the others. “Glad to know we’re on the same page, then.”

Ezra breathed in deeply and exhaled slowly. “If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. But you can’t avoid them forever, and changing tables now would be… well, a bit on-the-nose. Lunch will last for thirty minutes, and then Penelope and I will lead you to the pier, after which you can do what you like. Think you can survive until then?”

Bryne watched the others for a few minutes then glanced towards Ezra and nodded. “I think I’ll be fine,” he said, hugging his Ralts a little tighter.” He nodded at Ra-Ra with a tiny smile twisting his lips up. “We just needed a breather.”

“Glad to hear it,” Ezra said, rising and giving Bryne a friendly pat on the shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll be just fine.”

“Me, too,” he muttered, then took a deep breath and pushed off the railing. It was time to rejoin the group and, well, survive.

Image

Bryne leaned back in his seat, Ra-Ra perched in his arms as she leaned forwards to watch the other trainers and their Pokémon intently. He shifted her to one arm and picked up the fork beside his plate, twisting it in his hand thoughtfully.

“So,” Bryne said casually as he stabbed at a piece of chicken. “What did I miss this time?”

“Hi!” the guy in yellow greeted. “I’m Heitor, I sat at this table, asked personal questions to these fine folks with the idea that they could ask personal questions to me, and then I pulled out a paper to remember what to do after I lost myself in socializing before properly thanking said paper in the form of a cynical joke. Then, your existence also showed itself in this bubble as I was about to restart. That’s… Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”

He blinked at the other man for a moment before taking another bite of the saltspring salad that someone had delivered while he was off talking to Ezra. “Huh, that’s fascinating,” he muttered and absently set Ra-Ra down on the table beside his plate. She began to pick bits of tomato and cheese off the plate, swaying side to side as she ate. “Bryne.” He offered Heitor his hand. “Bryne Paige. Pleasure to meet you!”

A white-toothed smile plastered on the face, Heitor took a second to look down at the hand, then at Bryne, then he shook said hand as he said, “Oh-ho my god. This is going to be amazing. I say that mostly because you clearly don’t find what I just said fascinating at all, barely hid it, and now I find myself massively upset because you’re the one who asked for the summary I just provided. Which leads me to believe that our social cues will clash with each other, and my natural cynicism will very much enjoy that. So…” His smile turned wolfish. “The pleasure is very much all mine.”

Bryne chuckled. “Then we shall clash and it shall be fabulous, won’t it?”

Heitor chuckled along. “Yes. For all the wrong reasons. But, I’ll let you discover them as this conversation continues. Ah, you can take my plate, by the way, or offer it to your Pokémon. I took it because the waiters wanted me to.”

“I don’t mind if it’s for all the wrong reasons, you know. Either way, it’s gonna be fun.” Bryne glanced at the plate of chicken wings with tortillas, then at the one Lucky was eating from and shook his head. “To be honest, I don’t think it matters. Keep it.”

“Yeeeah, I don’t think we have the same definition of ‘wrong’, m’dear, mine is very literal. Also, no, I’ve already eaten, so I guess I’ll have to offer my plate to someone else. I’ve eaten before coming, you see, so I tried to insist I didn’t need food, but, uh, they insisted.”

Heitor looked at Jake, who lifted his hands in mock surrender. “Hey, don’t look at me! I probably could finish that, but I have a figure to maintain. Give it to Mercury over there.” He gestured at the Scyther.

“Are you trying to sabotage my dedicated sweeper’s carefully planned diet?” Connor asked suspiciously. Mercury himself just buzzed in amusement again.

“Ugh, FINE! Then there’s only one person for the job!” Jake reached underneath the table and planted a Trapinch on it with a heavy thud. “Dastan! Devour all remaining food on the table!” He cackled maniacally, but added as an afterthought, “Just, please, not the people or Pokémon.”

“Hey!” Bryne exclaimed, tugging his Saltspring salad towards himself. “Some of us are still eating!”

Heitor watched as the satisfied Trapinch did as commanded, waddling over and swallowing a tortilla in one gulp. “Six out of ten for the evil cackling, m’dear, though you get a bonus point for the useful afterthought. I do like my arms where they are, thank you very much.”

Bryne glanced between them all as he ate, carefully protecting both Ra-Ra and his plate from the hungry Trapinch crawling across the table. Ra-Ra was oblivious, happily munching away on bits of Bryne’s salad as she swayed in time to what was, apparently, his heartbeat.

“How can he even eat so much?” Connor asked, aghast. “The antlion’s head is almost larger than the rest of his body! It’s like anything entering his mouth just vanishes into oblivion.”

“Inhales his food,” Bryne muttered with a little snicker, dropping his gaze to Ra-Ra as she leaned over to snatch the last piece of tomato off his plate.

“If you must put it so crudely, yes.” Connor rolled his eyes, causing Jake and the Kirlia next to him to snicker as well.

“In this ‘conflict’ of theories,” Heitor said, using his hands as air quotes as he uttered the word “conflict”, “I stand in Switzerland; a neutral field. Hmm, though I do hope that some awesome scientist is studying that, somewhere. There’s not enough documentaries on Trapinches, to be honest.”

Bryne tilted his head towards Heitor. “I agree with him, oddly enough.”

“…Though I’ll regret asking that in the following seconds: why ‘oddly’, m’dear?”

“Because we clash, remember?”

Heitor blinked. “Not as regretful as it could’ve been. I’ll take that!”

“Hey, Heitor, did you still want to tell us how you got to be in charge of the waiting staff?” Jake asked, quickly offering an alternate subject.

Bryne perked up. “Oh, now this I’ve got to hear!”

Heitor’s smile reappeared as he took a dramatic tone. “Ohohohoh, prepare yourselves for a tale so grand, it will leave you all breathless!” He continued in a casual tone. “Ezra asked me to do it. The end! For the rest, I just had to white-guilt them into it.”

Ezra asked you to?” Bryne raised his eyebrows in surprise. He hadn’t been expecting that. “Why?”

“Well, first because he wants things to be entertaining, and second, because one look at me should give you an idea as to why I’m a decent man to take for the job. That, and he must know I’ve done it before, since I told him. Also, he looked into my profile, so, y’know.”

“Ah...” He dropped his gaze back to his food and stared moodily down at the nearly empty plate. “Right.”

Heitor blinked again, surprised by the shift in tone. “Wow. Do I look that depressingly yellow?”

Jake burst into a fit of snickering, drawing all eyes at the table to him. He tried to wave them off, unable to speak. “Don’t mind me, sorry,” he spluttered once he could breathe again.

Bryne shot him a tiny glare, but was abruptly distracted by the tiny hands on his cheek.

Daddy sad? No sad!

And, of course, everyone heard Ra-Ra's concerned mind-voice.

“I mean the sadness was rather evident, Dear Voice In My Head. Can you confirm that I have nothing to do with it? If I do, can you tell me how can I make other people spontaneously sad just by existing?”

Bryne just pointed at Ra-Ra. “She’s young. Use small words.”

Heitor nodded, serious. “Right. Small words. Hmm… Hello! Was… it… my… fault?”

Ra-Ra turned to pin Heitor with a wide-eyed look. Not pretty man fault! Ezra fault. Bad Ezra.

“Ezra is generally straightforward,” Connor observed dubiously, “but he hasn’t struck me as tactless any of the times I’ve spoken to him or heard him speak to someone else.”

Bryne scowled at the Ralts. “It was most definitely not… entirely his fault, Ra-Ra.”

Heitor tapped his chin with his index finger. “Hmm… What… did… Bad… Ezra… Do?”

Ezra talk Daddy. Make Papa Sad… Sad Papa mean Sad Ra-Ra, too.

Bryne sighed. “Psychic type Pokémon,” he muttered with an eyeroll. “Young Psychic types…”

Despite being Psychic and young, I don’t take offence to that, the Kirlia next to Jake replied cheerfully.

“Well, I do agree with Connor here, that’s why I assumed it was me, since it usually is. So… Yay, not me!” he gazed at Ra-Ra. “Glad… to know… I’m… Pretty… Ra-Ra.”

So pretty, the Ralts said dreamily. Then she blinked and leaned into Bryne’s face. Sleepy now…

Bryne sighed and picked up her up only to tuck her back into his jacket. “Sleep well,” he said and then straightened up, pushing his plate away. “Sorry about bringing the mood down. It was entirely unintentional.”

“Yes, like, how dare you have feelings that define you as a human being.” Heitor smiled gently. “Seriously, m’dear, don’t apologise for, like, being sad. Especially with that kind of cutie looking out for you, y’know?”

“Ra-Ra is the best,” he said, patting the Ralts-sized lump beneath his jacket. “She’s just young and, well, you saw how she is.” He waved his other hand vaguely and then glanced down at Lucky’s growl. “Hopefully she’s not so overwhelmed by everything and everyone now.”

“…Mm. I was saving that for an appropriate moment.” Heitor began in a grave, calm tone. “I think this is an appropriate moment. I have a Raichu. Her name is Lippa. She’s no Psychic, but I found her as a Raichu.” He closed his eyes. “She was, and still is, kind of a mess. But because of her species, whenever she’s charged up with electricity, which is most of the time, she… kinda puts the entire household in danger. She’d keep doing that if I didn’t earn her trust and begin to help her grow. Do you perhaps know how I did this, m’dear?” He fell silent, waiting for Bryne.

Bryne shook his head, gaze darting between the Luxio sitting beside him and the other trainers and their Pokémon. “No...?”

“Well.” Heitor slowly placed his hands on the table, “I stripped naked. And took a bath with her. Scrubbed her back, slowly discharged her electricity through her tail outside of the bathtub, and put my hands on her cheeks.” He smiled. “You know. Where most of said electricity is.”

Everybody on the other side of the table, human and Pokémon alike, stared at Heitor with open mouths. Except for the Riolu, who looked around him in annoyance and shook his head.

“I’m not saying that to brag, m’dear,” Heitor continued after a short silence. “Nor am I insane: I’ll spare you the details, but this was a calculated risk. I didn’t do this the very second I took her in. It was a long process; but also the one thing that allowed her to believe that I accepted her for who she was. That I accepted her insecurities. We bath once a year now; it’s a bit of a ritual. The point is… Pokémon matter in every way, should we choose to see it that way. I don’t know what you’re sad about, but don’t worry. It seems as though your little Ra-Ra is quite something already. Let her grow. You must know this by now, but… you’ll enjoy what happens when she does.”

Bryne nodded thoughtfully and brushed a hand over the lump again. “She was the smallest of them all,” he said slowly, “and Mum didn’t want to put her through anything stressful since she was so little... So, she gave her to me.” He glanced up to meet Heitor’s gaze. “She is so strong, though, and I’m pretty sure Mum knew that, knew about her potential as a companion, not a breeder.” He frowned and blew out a sharp breath. “Now I just gotta get her there.”

“Good! You do that, start eating, and be less sad because obviously humans can do that on command. Meanwhile, I’ll chat with the duo over there and watch you eat because I’m creepy like that.” Heitor chuckled. “‘Will the poor Bryne finally reclaim his lost love? Will the power of his legendary Winged Dragon of Ra finally awaken despite being imprisoned within a small Ralts? Find out next week in the next episode of Yu-gi-Ball Z! Every Saturday at four PM on Cartoon Network!’”

He snorted and shook his head, a tiny huff of laughter slipping free. “Anyone ever tell you that you’re too much before, Heitor?”

“At least once a week, m’dear!” He sighed discreetly. “…Okay, maybe every three days.”

Bryne snickered and shoved a hand over his mouth, turning away slightly. He watched the water for a moment, smiling beneath the hand before he lowered it and let everyone see that he wasn’t quite so sad anymore. Maybe this tournament wouldn’t be so bad after all.
"I bow to ChildOfNowhere, my one and only master."


"No one screws Yamcha but life!" - Bulma, DBZ Abridged.
  





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TheSilverFox says...



Nathan Davis
Scene ix: Nathan Doesn’t Get a Clue



Nathan sat in the corner of the library, arms wrapped around his legs and head resting on his knees.

He stared at his lap, trying to catch up to the train of thought that sped through his mind. He couldn’t breathe. Why couldn’t he breathe? Sure, he’d just gone halfway across the world. But he’d felt just fine getting into his uncle’s limousine, stepping onto the private plane, messing around with his tablet for the whole flight, landing in an unfamiliar place with colder weather and with a sun that wasn’t remotely in the right place. He hadn’t gotten any sleep in the last 24 hours, but he didn’t notice that – Nathan felt wide awake. A little too awake, really.

Maybe it was about him getting invited to this tournament. But, if that really bothered him so much, he would have never made that video, never would’ve prepared for and won those battles, never would’ve talked to a very polite and friendly billionaire, never would’ve waxed poetic about wanting to be the best trainer, like no one ever was (his uncle’s advice had come in handy, for once). Why would he be scared now? He was in a fancy club that looked a lot like one of his uncle’s, about to go on an amazing cruise ship that dwarfed the ones that he’d seen docked in Singapore, and he had the next few months just to himself.

Or, not just himself; Nathan smiled faintly as he reached a hand up to pat the Tentacool currently draped over his head. Ice hummed in response, tentacles gently tapping against Nathan’s hair. Those taps felt a little more urgent than usual, and Nathan could guess why. It was the same reason that Crusher was rolling into his back, trying to push him onto his feet. They were worried about him. They had good reason to be.

Hmm. In another sense, he really was all alone. As far as he could tell, his last contact with his uncle had been the valet who had handed him a pokeball as a gift from the old man dropped him off at the front of the yacht club and had peeled out onto the street the moment Nathan had stepped out of the limo. There weren’t any cameras (probably). There weren’t any threatening phone calls (not yet). Nobody was about to walk around the corner and yell at him.

And, somehow, his uncle not being around terrified Nathan. Here Nathan was, in the middle of Vancouver with his three two Pokemon, and he almost missed the bitter, angry man who had to be sitting down at his desk on the other side of the world.

Nathan flinched when he felt someone tap his knee, but didn’t respond until he heard a voice. Exactly the amount of energy that put a vice grip on Nathan’s vocal chords, if a little held back this time – Nathan recognized it immediately.

“Hello!” said Ezra Archer, sitting down next to Nathan. “Are you doing alright?” A worried chirp came from what Nathan guessed was a Plusle close to Ezra.

Even if it was an obvious lie, Nathan nodded his head. He didn’t want to have to answer any questions. Ice, meanwhile, grumbled, while Nathan could feel Crusher moving over to Nathan’s side to get a good look at Ezra.

Ezra just laughed. “Your Pokémon are very protective of you, Nathan – I can see why you felt so confident about winning those qualifiers. Would you like to come with me to the dining room? I have a romantic moment to photograph, there should be plenty of interesting people to talk to you, and you always did want to make new friends.”

Nodding, Nathan raised his index finger.

“You need a minute?” Ezra said. “Well, I can respect that. If you need someone to talk to, don’t feel afraid to come to me or Penelope at any time. I don’t want any of my participants to be miserable.”

Another nod from Nathan later, Ezra had risen and vanished back around the corner. That man was almost too fast and quiet.

Nathan let out a long, shaky breath. He could already start to feel the weight of the last day pressing down on him, making his arms and legs numb and making it an effort to lift his head up. But he did lift his head up, Ice shifting to stay on as Nathan stared down the hallway. Wiping a few tears from his eyes, his eyesight focused to capture the rows of books on either side, stuffed between dark shelves. Light filtered in through the window behind him, faintly illuminating his way out of the hallway, into the main part of the library, and (he guessed) towards the kitchen.

He was free, he was right where he wanted to be, and he was spending all his time hiding. He couldn’t keep doing that.

Spoiler! :


Slowly pulling himself onto his feet, Nathan scooped up Crusher. With a sniff and a deep breath, he started to make his way through the hallway, then into the library proper. Nobody gave him any attention as he walked by. The Tentacool on his head was a little more interesting than how wrinkled his suit was, how red his eyes looked, or how unsteady his steps were. A few glares from Ice and Crusher also warded off unwanted attention.

It was only a minute or two before Nathan made it to the dining room, where he immediately recoiled. There were too many people, sitting or standing or moving around, crowding around whatever food there was (strawberries and mimosas?), and just generally being active. It was a little too overwhelming for someone who had been hoping to find one or two people standing over to the side, so Nathan lowered his head and made his way through the rows of tables.

Fortunately enough, the sun deck was a little more open. There were still plenty of people, but Nathan felt like he had some breathing room. Besides, whatever was going on towards the center of the deck seemed to be driving some people away. From the looks of it, someone’s Skitty had just decided to pick a fight with a couple and their Houndour.

Aw, and the Pokemon looked adorable – Houndour (who had just been called Hades?) wore a bowtie, while the Skitty (who seemed to have different names in English and Mandarin) had a ribbon on its tail. Was it popular to dress Pokemon up like that? Well, Nathan had brought a bowtie with him, even though he hadn’t been sure if it would fit either of his Pokémon. As long as it made him and his Pokemon look more approachable, though, it was worth a shot.

Crouching down, Nathan pulled a white bowtie out of his pocket. He gently grabbed Ice and set her on the ground, then got to work trying to fit the bowtie over her (after Crusher rolled off his arms and onto the ground, of course). Which didn’t quite work out, since Ice was a tad too wide for a bowtie. That didn’t stop Nathan, who glanced up at the couple and the woman (who were now introducing themselves) as he set the bowtie at an angle and tried to tie it. He was having some slight regrets about this plan. The couple seemed pretty chill, though Jake sounded a little too slick for Nathan’s liking. Peony, on the other hand, reminded Nathan a lot of the businessmen his uncle invited over. She had impeccable fashion sense, looked confident and poised, spoke politely and ruthlessly, and made him feel just a tad small. She looked at him once, eyes darting over to the bowtie. He pretended not to notice.

A minute later, Crusher had gone from pouting to slamming her fists on the floor. Thankfully, Crusher didn’t leave any dents, and she did manage to get some of Nathan’s attention. “I’ll get you a bowtie, don’t worry,” Nathan mumbled, adjusting the one on Ice. Tightening the knot, Nathan pulled his head back to admire his work. Ice buzzed in approval, raising a couple tentacles. Not perfect, but as long as she was happy with it.

Scooping Ice up with one hand, Nathan reached out his other hand to Crusher. Nathan’s promise having finally calmed her down, Crusher rolled into his palm. Nathan pulled himself up, setting Ice on his head and cradling Crusher in his arms. By now, the couple had disappeared, leaving behind Peony. And she had put on sunglasses. Which didn’t unsettle him at all.

Nathan took a deep breath. It couldn’t hurt to at least say hello, right? She didn’t look like she was actively trying to avoid people; she was just standing around looking cool and aloof. Maybe a little too cool and aloof for him, but, worst case scenario, she would just brush him off.

He walked over, unsure about whether to address her in Mandarin or English. She sounded more comfortable in Mandarin, and he figured he could get through the conversation without saying something stupid.

“Hi!” Nathan said. “Um, it’s pretty nice weather, isn’t it?”

Peony glanced in his direction. A few seconds later, she seemed to realize that he was there and was talking to her – she swiveled to face him.

“What do you – who are -,” she began, before sighing and shaking her head.

Nathan took a step back. “Oh, uh, sorry if I’m bothering you,” he started. Ugh, that sounded way too fast and way too awkward, but it didn’t look like he could get out of this conversation any other way.

“No, no, I remember you,” said Peony quickly. “You’re the one with the terrible sense of fashion.” She paused a second later, a grimace flickering across her face.

Wait, was that about the bowtie? Nathan thought it was a nice bowtie, and Ice had appreciated the gesture. Blushing, Nathan managed to splutter out, “Erm, excuse me?”

Before either of them could respond, Whisk decided it’d be the perfect moment to start acting up. The Skitty hissed and growled, waving his adorable little paws menacingly in Nathan’s direction. Ice’s tentacles started tapping against Nathan’s head, while Crusher curled up closer to Nathan’s chest.

Glaring down at the Skitty, Peony hissed, “Miāo-Dìdì! Couldn’t you have waited until we got onto the ship before you started misbehaving again?” The Shinx on Peony’s head tried its best to copy her, shaking its head in disapproval.

Yep, they weren’t getting anywhere. Nathan let out a breath. “Let’s start over,” he said. “I’m Nathan.”

Peony, still in the middle of chewing Whisk out (while Whisk did his best to ignore everything she said), glanced over at Nathan. “Sháoyào.”

Whoop – had Nathan misheard her the first time? Hng, not like he could say anything without sounding rude. “And your Pokemon?” Nathan said. He lifted his head ever so slightly. “That’s Ice, and the Geodude I’m holding is Crusher.”

Gesturing up to the Shinx on her head, Peony said, “This is Socket, and the little brat I’m holding is Whisk.”

Whisk purred and tried to look as innocent as he could.

“Has he always been this annoying?” Nathan said, smiling faintly.

“Yes, always,” Peony said, rolling her eyes.

Nathan snorted. Walking farther out onto the deck, he stared out over the blue water of the bay. It was a little odd seeing waves of tall trees in the place of skyscrapers, to say nothing about how much emptier the water looked than it had at Singapore. It reminded him less of his home, but less of his uncle - it felt new, different, peaceful. “Maybe this cruise will get him to calm down a little?” he said.

“Oh, he’ll be a brat until we start competing,” Peony said, joining Nathan at the edge of the deck. “But at least we only have to get through this lunch. I think.”
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.
  





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TinkerTwaggy says...



Kele Shahiin
Scene x: Wings For My Way



“Who’s Sabrina?”
Kele’s innocent question had brought everyone on the table — save for the girl who called herself Transmission — to look at her like she was some sort of alien coming out of a particularly strange-looking spaceship. Kele giggled to herself, silently hoping the spaceship in their heads was bird-shaped.
“She’s someone popular I’m supposed to know, right?” Kele said in a casual tone.
“We’ll try not to shout at you, but she’s popular across continents, yes.” Amarela said. “She’s a singer, actress, dancer, coordinator, Psychic-type trainer specialist and breeder.”
“Oh, cool!” Kele exclaimed, impressed. “Wow, she sounds like a super busy woman. Her breeding’s for Psychic types too, right?”
“Yeah!” Lily confirmed excitedly. “Her Psychic powers are pretty much the best around! And she has a serious affinity with Psychic types, that’s for sure!”
“There were a series of videos of some of her matches.” Amarela added, enthusiasm pouring from her serious tone and expression. “She’d call a Pokémon. Then, she would stay completely silent during the whole match. But the Pokémon fought and obeyed as if she was actually doing something.”
Kele’s eyes widened. “Okay, that... is... freaky in all the good ways.”
“I can do that.” Transmission simply informed. “Not just me. Sabrina said in an interview that the entire point of her fame was to use it for the psychic trainer school project. Apparently it was her life’s goal, so, we’re taught how she does things. I’m an advanced student, and most of us can partially do what Sabrina does with at least one partner.”
Really?!” Kele exclaimed. “Who’s yours? Wait, is it that Natu you mentioned?”
“Enrul. Oh, yes, you can meet him now.”
Spending no time on asking herself how Transmission knew that Kele was going to utter the exact sentence “can I meet him now?”, she witnessed Transmission perform an action that Kele enjoyed to categorize as a part of her personal “Coolest Actions” list. The girl threw a Pokéball from below the table and placed her hand right below it so that the Pokeball landed in perfect balance atop the back of Transmission’s hand. Then, it opened and fell down on her lap as her Natu, Enrul, appeared on said hand, as if coming out of a surprise box.
“Don’t mind if he stares,” Transmission said as Enrul moved its tiny body — it was barely bigger than an apple! — to face Kele and stare at her, “That’s how he analyses people.” a pause. “I’m the same.” she added matter-of-factly.
But Kele had stopped listening. Her facial expression had changed from joyful to deadly serious, as a fire she knew all too well began to burn within her, her eyes staring back at the curious Natu. Its red feet were big for its size, making it ideal for hopping and climbing. Then, she noticed the razor sharp edge of the red part of its yellow, black and red-colored wings: a sign that its wingspan would be several inches above average, if she remembered her studies correctly. But most importantly, its green, spherical body was perfectly[i] clean. No scars, and not a single spot of fur ruined the shape.
To Kele, this was like looking at a two-years old book held by someone, and noticing that its paper and smell made it seem as if it were brand new. “Any professionals you send him to for cleaning, after he eats?” she asked.
Transmission shook her head — meaning that she took care of Enrul entirely by herself. Kele’s excited smile appeared again. “He really is your partner.” she concluded.
Amarela was right. Transmission was [i]impressive
.
“You can tell.” Transmission observed. “Are flying types your specialty?”
“Haha, you could tell?” Kele giggled. “You weren’t there during that part of the conversation, but let’s just say I’m a bird nerd. I think I’ll quickly become a member of Sabrina’s fan club—”
“As should the rest of the world, who’re only there for her to conquer...” Amarela muttered grumpily.
“—because I really get where she’s coming from,” Kele continued, almost bursting out laughing at what she now understood to be Amarela’s brand of humor. “I’ve loved flying-types ever since I was a kid! Ever since I got to take care of my little Karri, actually.”
“Oh, is that your partner Rufflet?” Lily inquired.
“That’s her! Sorry if you can’t see her much, though, she gets a bit twitchy when there’s too many people and colors to focus on.”
“Are you going for a full monotype flying team?” Amarela asked.
Kele nodded several times. “Oh, yes! Yes, definitely. I mean, they won’t necessarily all be birds for strategy’s sake, but I’ll really try to go for just flying types, at least. That’s just what I decided to do after getting my first ‘mon.”
“And that was Karri.” Transmission said.
“Yup! It was.” Kele smiled tenderly. “My mother runs a small daycare. There was this trainer that introduced me to flying types, and I just… wanted one? So, he told me he’d give me his baby Rufflet if I could make it win its first battle against one of his Pokémon.”
“Ooh, that’s so cool!” Lily exclaimed. “He must’ve been a real big shot if he even allowed you to have this challenge!”
“Did your parents agree to the challenge?” Amarela asked eagerly.
To that, Kele chuckled merrily. “They did!” she confirmed, “but only because they didn’t actually think I’d succeed. In fact, he and I were pretty much the only ones who thought he’d be leaving Karri in my care, by the end of it.”
“Do you know his name?” Lily inquired excitedly.
“Is he participating in the tournament?” Amarela asked with more reserve.
“I…” a sigh. “I’m no good with name, so I forgot it for a while until I heard it again today.” Kele smiled brightly. “It’s the dude who came in earlier! With the Raichu. I didn’t talk to him directly yet because I didn’t expect him to be here.”
“Oh, that makes sense.” Lily nodded. “I was about to ask why you didn’t tell him. But it’s fine, right? You can talk on the ship!”
“Yeah!” Kele exclaimed. “That’s the plan. Birds are still my main focus, though, so, it can wait.” she glanced at Enrul with suppressed interest. “Um, speaking of which…”
Transmission gazed at Kele, then blinked. “Oh. Yes, you can pet him.”
Kele shook her head with incredibility as she extended her arm for Enrul to hop on. “How are you so good at this?” she couldn’t help but ask Transmission.
“It’s not actually that hard.” Transmission replied with a certain modesty. “You’re not really hiding, so I just have to read. Most people don’t hide, meaning people like me can read most people.”
A thoughtful silence followed, as the group focused on either finishing their food, looked away or played with their Pokémon — or, in Kele’s case, happily petted a docile bird. At some point, Kele’s gaze moved towards Transmission again, and she noticed her eyes were glued on Amarela, though the woman didn’t seem to notice, as her eyes were focused somewhere else. Enrul’s eyes, as Kele realized, were also turned on the dark-skinned woman.
“What do you see?” Amarela asked, seemingly to no one in particular.
“A slight change of heart.” Transmission replied immediately.
Amarela turned her head to look at Transmission directly. Then, she put a fork full of food in her mouth, and only then did Kele realize that she was probably eating her fourth full plate.
“Are you… fine with all that food, by the way?” Lily asked, taking the words out of Kele’s mouth.
“Yes. A good chunk of it will go to my partner.” She glanced at a watch on her wrist. “It’s about time.” She took a Pokeball and let it fall behind her, only for a giant jellyfish-like Pokémon to come floating by. It had a shiny round head with a crown-like tuft, as well as five tentacle-like appendages: two of which it immediately used to bow in front of everyone.
“It’s a… Frillish, right?” Kele asked.
“Ooh…!” Lily exclaimed in awe. “It’s a shiny Frillish!”
“Elisangelo, Absorb.” Amarela ordered as she gently took one of the two tentacles that posed as arms in her hand and kissed it, making the male Frillish smile. “For story’s sake: he saved me from drowning just to piss off the Frillishes who wanted me as food, since his Shiny status apparently made him an outcast. So, I beat him up—”
“Oh no…” Lily put her hands on her head in anticipation.
“—not knowing that he was the only one saving me instead of trying to eat me, carried him away in a net and caught it in a Pokéball.” as she spoke, Elisangelo slowly wrapped a tentacle around her exposed neck as a green halo began to shine around them. “I learned a few days later that he was the one who saved me, and that his color was unusual. The point is, he feeds by absorbing my life force directly. I don’t know all the intricacies of that, except that when I eat a lot, he can take the extra food indirectly and it doesn’t make me collapse. I’m used to it now.”
“You share your life force with your pokémon.” Kele whispered, her eyes widening with excitement. “That is the coolest thing I’ve heard today.”
Second coolest thing.” Amarela grumpily replied. “First is Sabrina.”
Kele giggled. “You’re a serious fan.”
“I am the seriousest of fans.”
“Everyone’s attention, please,” a stylishly dressed lady with a Plusle on her shoulder called. Kele looked at her like the rest of the crowd: she recalled her having introduced herself as Penelope, but that was about it. She felt bad upon realizing that Ezra had made a much more... memorable impression — which was why she kept her eyes glued to Penelope this time. She stood alongside Ezra at the end of the bar closest to the model room, still looking reserved despite her confident smile.

“Can everyone see us?” Ezra called, looking around. “Can everyone hear us? You peeps over in the marine lounge too?” Sounds of confirmation echoed across both rooms. “Excellent!” He nodded at some cameramen who had discreetly taken their positions across both rooms. “Look at all sixty-four of you lovely people! I feel like a proud father who’s about to see his little chicks take flight for the first time.” He indicated Penelope beside him. “Some of you missed her when you arrived, but this is Penelope Peterson, my indispensable second-in-command.”

“Penelope Peterson, Penelope Peterson, Penelope Peterson...” Kele muttered silently, focused. She would never remember the full name, but hopefully, she wouldn’t catch herself calling her Peter in front of a large crowd.

“Isn’t Penelope lovely too?” one of the male participants suddenly called.

“You mean terrific!” a female voice added.

Preach!

“Kids, kids, please,” Ezra interjected. “Penelope is outstanding.” He struck a pose. “As am I.”

“Actually, I’d say he’s adequate,” Penelope quipped. Laughs arose from all sides.

Ezra pouted. “Children these days. I take it back. This father can’t wait to kick you all out of the nest.”

Kele couldn’t help but blink. “I think he’s pretty...”

“You mean he’s gorgeous,” Amarela commented next to Kele. “He’s got less of a fanbase because cool business women are all the rage.”

Penelope smiled good-naturedly. “We’ll soon begin the exodus to the piers, where you’ll finally discover which vessel will serve as our seaborne headquarters. First, however, Ezra has prepared a thoughtful, heartwarming speech for all of you.” She paused, giving Ezra just enough time to open his mouth before adding, “Cheer if you want him to improvise a shorter speech instead.”

Cheers erupted from all across the floor as Kele’s face was torn between shock from the sheer power of Penelope’s burn, and joyful marvel, for the same reason. She could definitely see the appeal of cool business women.

“You’re terrible, the lot of you,” Ezra said in mock indignance. “But fine.” He took a deep breath... and let it out with a sigh. “I can’t do it. I was feeling so inspired!”

Chuckles resounded from the crowd, while Kele’s eyes moved back and forth from Ezra to Penelope, as she tried to enjoy the entertaining exchange.

“Why don’t you expand on that bird metaphor of yours?” Penelope suggested.

“Wasn’t it a simile?”

“At the start, but not by the end.”

“Ah, because of the nest bit.” He furrowed his brow in exaggerated concentration before adopting a visible ‘Eureka!’ expression. “Gathered before me is the most daring flock of young Talonflames this planet has ever seen!” Ezra began in a controlled, calm yet booming tone as his arm moved as if to swipe the assembly of trainers within its motion. “It will be my immense honour and privilege to show you the world, to lead you to far horizons!”

Penelope raised the sassiest of judgemental eyebrows. “Classy.”

Ezra scowled at Penelope. “Hey, I was referencing a Jeremy Soule classic, not making a cheesy title drop.”

A stern, unimpressed tone joined the eyebrow. “I’m sure.”

Ezra combatted Penelope’s power with an indignant huff, deciding to face the participants again. “Ahead of you lies the adventure of a lifetime,” he continued with his engaging tone. “In the words of... of...” He glanced at Penelope. “Penny, help me out. Who am I quoting?”

Though Penelope didn’t cross her arms, Kele could swear she badly wanted to do it in classic second-in-command fashion. “I don’t know. I delegated proofreading of your speech to my assistant.”

Ezra rolled his eyes before throwing on a winning smile once more. “In the words of someone important associated with this prestigious yacht club—”

“Taken out of context, of course,” Penelope added.

“‘It’s the opportunity to meet new people, to get out and really enjoy something we all have in common!’”

A short silence followed alongside giggles — naturally aimed at a frozen Ezra waiting for applause. “Let’s clap and cheer to make him feel better,” Penelope suggested with a wry smile and a lone, slow clap. It was soon followed by an ovation and laughter from the assembly of people — and some of their pokémon.

“Are you ready to embark on the ultimate journey and unironically seize your destiny?!” Ezra called, riding the hype.

A general cheer of genuine excitement erupted from the crowd.

Ezra threw a Pokéball into the air and caught it with a flourish, releasing a Decidueye onto his extended arm. Kele’s eyes immediately widened as two expressions successfully appeared on her face: first, horror, for she could only assume that Ezra’s arm was about to break. That Decidueye seemed of normal size, so 1,6m — And with its prolonged beak, Kele could easily tell that it was a male. But it likely weighed at least forty kilograms, which would definitely destroy the wonderful showman’s arm. Then, Kele’s horror turned into awe as she noticed that only one of the Decidueye’s legs stood on the arm, while the other used Ezra’s shoulder for stable footing. Just how muscular was he?

“Come, Loxley!” Trainer and Pokémon vanished and reappeared in the balcony doorway, where both struck a bold pose Ezra presented his other arm outstretched towards the crowd, while Loxley spread his wings behind him, looking down at the assembly with a serious glare. “Come, everyone! Away we go!”

“Right colour, wrong film,” Penelope pointed out.

Loxley’s serious face broke instantly, replaced by a wide-eyed, panicked stare.

“Oh.” Ezra quickly recovered. “Umm, on to Sherwood Forest!”

“Right film, wrong character.”

Loxley remained frozen in their pose, giving horrified stares to his trainer. Kele giggled, happy that the bird felt that strongly about the quality of presentation.

“Catch the dope with your horoscope!” Ezra cried energetically, almost desperately. He didn’t wait for her response before striding across the balcony towards the stairs, somehow speed-walking away with perfect balance as Loxley jumped down from his shoulder and trotted behind him.

Penelope made to dismiss Ezra again, but frowned in confusion. “That… actually works.” She nodded to the participants in both rooms. “Everyone, proceed to the staircases in an orderly fashion and thence to Dock SEBF. Just follow Ezra and he’ll lead you there. I’ll trail behind to ensure nobody gets lost.” She shook her head and said to herself, amused, “Oh, he’s probably forgotten all about me.”

“Pff. No he hasn’t.”

Maybe Amarela had spoken slightly more loudly than she’d hoped, because several heads — including Penelope’s — turned towards her, which had the unfortunate effect of making her freeze. She was about to add something, when a voice next to her continued:

“He’s just running away.”

That caused several more chuckles within the crowd as they began to move, while Kele gazed at Transmission with a joyful grin. “I didn’t know you did humor! That was good.”

Transmission gazed at Amarela, then Kele. “I don’t. Not really. I just read stuff aloud and people react.”

Amarela stared at her for a good second. The two shared a tiny smile, and Kele couldn’t help but wonder if that was what telepathy looked like. “Let’s go, gang,” Amarela declared as she marched on with the rest of the crowd, Transmission by her side.

“I like the sound of that:” Lily commented, giggling to herself.

Kele giggled along. Gang... She liked the sound of it too.
Last edited by TinkerTwaggy on Sat Aug 01, 2020 4:52 pm, edited 2 times in total.
"Is there a limit to how much living I can live with my life? How will I know if I've gone too far?
And why did I spend my life savings on sunglasses for a whale?
I shall find the answers... to these questions."
  





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Thu Mar 19, 2020 5:31 pm
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Ventomology says...



Peony Lin
Scene xi: Okay That is in Fact a Large Boat


Peony wasn't sure how she ended up with the most awkward person in existence as her only new friend at literal pokemon-trainer-friend-making-camp.

Okay, Nathan probably wasn't that awkward, but he was absolutely out of his element, and no one had ever taught him how to be a normal person instead of the rich person she suspected he was. Actually, that was probably why they got along at all; they had their secret rich people club right there.

Well, Peony wasn't rich, but close enough. She knew rich people when she saw them.

"We probably should act like we like this," she said in English, watching unfased as two other Rich and Influential people stood up on a stage and talked at them while pretending to be funny. Was this the academy awards? "Maybe you know fancy dinners, but the rest of the world does not."

Nathan spluttered, and a bit of mocktail mimosa dribbled out of his nose. "I don't know fancy dinners. What are you talking about?" His tentacool--Ice, was it?--handed him a napkin and was smart enough to look away in embarrassment. His geodude pounded on the table once, softly, affronted about the orange juice spilling onto her.

"Your pokemon have manners at the table," Peony pointed out. "Even my pokemon don't do that."

"So Crusher tucked a napkin into her bowtie," Nathan hissed. "That's not table manners."

Whisk and Socket were currently tearing up fish and smacking their teeth very loudly, like the incredibly graceful cats they were. They hissed at each other when their whiskers touched and flicked their tails in annoyance every so often. Nathan's pokemon, on the other hand, floated at the table and looked on with pristine concern for their trainer. They held forks and knives for god's sake.

Well, that was a matter of anatomy, but still. Peony had seen elegant cats, and hers were not that.

"My point is still true," she said. "Act like you enjoy this."

Nathan's face went a little green at that, and instead of putting on a brave face, he leveled Peony with a suspicious glare.

"Okay, nevermind. You must hear that all the time."

"Yeeep."

Feeling slightly cowed, Peony tucked back into her own food. Her attitude was so bad! How was she like this? Was it the English? Was she just kind of a terrible person? Tuning out the drone of bad jokes, she pushed stew around on her plate and stewed in the negativity. Some contestant she was turning out to be.

She and Nathan sat in awkward silence, and Peony wondered if she should start stringing together words for an apology, or condolences or something, but a commotion interrupted her thoughts.

The door behind her flew open, and silverware clattered against plates. Chairs dragged along the floor, and someone started cheering, and someone on the microphone shouted very, very loudly. Or maybe they were singing badly; Peony couldn't tell. And underneath it all, a rumbling grew. Feet shuffled on the dining room floor. Then they pattered.

And then, in a rumble of excitement and movement, Peony found herself at the front of a stampede. She stumbled to catch herself and round up her pokemon, and she looked around for Nathan, but he'd been lost somewhere in the crowd. People kept pushing her forward, through the doors, onto the pier, and down the sparkling white concrete.

When she finally had her feet under her and her wits collected, Peony looked up to see where the stampede was taking her. A forest of sailboat masts poked up around her, and further out, the gleaming white hulls of a hundred yachts shone in the sunlight. It was so ostentatious that Peony nearly stopped, all the excitement draining out of her.

But there was still the matter of the terrifying mob of people behind her, and stopping maybe was a bad idea.

The hoard ate its way across the pier, gobbling up the distance like a ravenous amoeba, and then turned down the farthest dock. There were no other boats on this dock, which was a waste of valuable real estate, and Peony groaned at the prospect of more waiting. Stupid dramatic people.

When the crowd finally stopped moving, Peony found herself at the very edge of the dock, inches away from falling off. Socket quivered in her arms, and Whisk perched on top of her head, waving his tail so that he batted Peony's cheek with every downward swing. He leaned out, over the water, his head nearly throwing Peony off balance. If she wasn't a dancer with good abs strong abdominals, she might have fallen off.

The person next to her shifted, and Peony toppled.

This was great.

She heard, distantly, someone talking loudly again, and she saw the dark grey and red blot of a zoroark doing something. Probably bowing or some other equally silly act. And then her back hit the water, and she groaned. Her jacket was ruined. So was her dress. Hopefully the competition organizers would pay her cleaning bill.

A series of flashing lights burst over the surface of the water, and Peony blew a series of bubbles. Socket dog-paddled in front of her, but Whisk was nowhere to be found. He was probably high and dry on the dock, actually. Awful cat.

Slowly, Peony poked her head out over the surface. She found herself facing back towards the yacht club building, where another crowd had gathered to watch from afar. Evidently non-contestants were only allowed so close.

She struggled out of the jacket and floundered until she got herself facing the right way. Whisk meowed loudly from the dock, his squinty eyes glittering with smug superiority. Ingrate.

A show of electricity had Peony squinting as well. She actually had a nice view from down below. On the dock, she would have been too short to see much, but here, ten feet away from the crowd, she could see an eelektross dancing in the air, hyping up the contestants. The zoroark leapt up to join it, apparently finding leverage on nothing, and as it backflipped onto an invisible ledge, the light show began to die down.

"And now!" boomed one of the same voices from earlier. "The Queen Anne!"

The zoroark bowed again, and the entire sky shimmered. Bits of blue fizzled into mist and then blew away in the sea breeze.

And suddenly, there was the ship.

The Queen Anne loomed like a glacial cliff. A field of windows broke through its massive bulk, and its decks were so high up Peony could barely pick out the rails against the sky. A mural curled around its name plate and pulled across the top edge of the hull, illustrating a collection of beautiful, powerful pokemon performing beautiful, powerful moves.

Peony gaped and nearly forgot to keep treading.

Yeah, she'd seen cruise ships before. Before she and her group made it big, they'd even performed on one or two of them. But the Queen Anne was something else.

The crowd shifted again, and Peony watched, mouth hanging open, as a series of pokemon leapt down from the ship's main deck. She spotted the Reuniclus first, since it was closest, and also green, and it floated down with a few graceful spins. Next was an Arcanine, and then a Magnezone, and Peony thought she saw an Altaria, but it could have just been a cloud.

"We have invited these wonderful partners to help us board today," the voice boomed again. "Say hello to Machamp!"

The crowd cheered, and Peony groaned. More showboating. Hopefully someone could pull her onto the dock soon.

"Let's give a warm welcome to Altaria!"

Oh, cool, there was one of those. The bird pokemon popped back into the air and turned a slow loop-de-loop, and the crowd somehow found the energy to cheer again.

Okay, so this was going to take a while.

Grimacing, Peony waited through three more introductions, and then through the PSA that anyone with large or powerful enough pokemon could use their own means to board, and then through the slow process of boarding.

It was cool at first, to watch Reuniclus use its telekineses to float people up to the boat, and to see people sitting atop a Magnezone, but the whole shebang lost its wow factor about two minutes in, and Peony set her mind to other things. She reached out for Socket, still paddling about in the ocean, and set the little shinx on her head before floundering a little closer to the dock. The crowd had thinned enough that she could hear a separate crowd onboard the ship, also cheering, every time someone arrived.

This was absurd. Everything about this was absurd. Peony couldn't believe she'd signed up for this. She just wanted a way to get her friends at home out of their business.

"Go on," she said to Socket in Mandarin as they neared the dock. "You've got it. Take a jump."

The little shinx shivered, her claws accidentally poking against Peony's forehead, but she bunched up her muscles and wound up for the jump anyways. Then she leapt up, and Peony found herself bobbing from the reactive force. She clapped softly for her brave little Socket and watched the crowd slowly move onto the ship.

By the time help came, there were only a few people left. Peony could see the boy she'd picked a fight with, and his boyfriend and their new friends, and oh. Nathan had somehow met up with them. Good for him.

A man with a clipboard spoke to them and checked a few things off a list, and then frowned and looked around.

He asked the annoying dog boy--his name was Connor, right?--something, but the guy only shrugged.

"Ugh," Peony grumbled. Time to take matters into her own hands. She gathered her wet jacket up into a ball and hurled it onto the dock, where it landed with a sad, wet thwunk. Every head in the remaining group turned towards the noise.

"I think that's her jacket," Nathan piped up. And then he let out a snort, which he at least had the sense to look embarrassed about. "Did she fall in?"

"Oh my god she totally did," said dog boy's boyfriend. He did not look embarrassed about laughing at all. Jerk.

The man with the clipboard called over the boarding pokemon, and Peony wondered if someone could just stab her right now and let her fall to the bottom of the ocean. This was terrible. This was so terrible. She was going to look like a total fool.

"Is she going to be okay?" Nathan asked. Her only friend. The only person showing actual concern. Hashtag Rich Kids Club.

The machamp lumbered over to the edge of the dock and knelt down, offering his hands for Peony to take. With a sigh, she took them, and then had to flex to keep her arms from being ripped out as she was lifted out of the water.

Machamp put her down the way a lead puts down his follow after a lift, with both care and an implicit trust that Peony would catch herself. Which she did. Because she's awesome. Then the machamp called over the arcanine, and Peony froze.

Nope. Nope nope nope nope. She was not about to add dried off by dog fire to her list of the day's embarrassments. She raised up her hands in a 'no thank you, not today,' gesture and opened her mouth to say something, but her English left her in that moment, and she just let out a nervous whine.

The arcanine woofed reassuringly, which was not reassuring at all. He sat down in front of her with a big grin and took in a quick breath, and then suddenly a pink blur slammed into his face.

Peony maybe sort of wanted to scream.

"Miao-Didi!" she shouted. "Stop! Stop! Wo hao! Wo heng hao! You do not need to"-

Whisk started waving his tail in the familiar way that indicated he was about to call up one of Socket's moves, and Peony surged forward to stop him.

The arcanine beat her to it. He brought up one massive paw and patted Whisk into the ground, then barked out a laugh. Puny cat, he seemed to say, you think you can take me?

Whisk howled, and Peony looked up to find the group half split between giggling and staring at her in concern. Some people actually managed to do both at once.

With a quick bow to Arcanine, Peony marched over to the group, a plan already forming in her head. She nodded at Nathan, went straight up to Connor, and placed one hand over her heart in an act of gratefulness.

"Oh, thank you so much for worrying about me!" she proclaimed.

Jake snorted. A boy Peony didn't know raised one eyebrow in glee.

"I know it has not been long," Peony continued, playing up the pitifulness of her state, "but I am so glad to see you all again." And then she reached forward and pulled Connor into a sopping wet hug.

He squawked. It was glorious. "Oh my god! Stop! I don't know what I have to be sorry about but I'm sorry?!"

Peony pulled back and shared a mischievous look with the boyfriend. "I should probably say sorry too."

"Yeah, a little bit," Connor muttered.

"Sorry for picking a fight with you earlier. I mess up my words sometimes and did not mean to."

Connor let out a mix between a sigh and a laugh. "Yeah, me too. ESL, right?"

"I do not know what that means," Peony told him earnestly, before turning to the rest of the group and opening up her arms. Socket curled around one of her legs and purred. This was terrible and embarrassing, but she might as well lean into it and have a bit of fun.

"Does anyone else want some au de seawater?"
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled
  





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Thu Jul 30, 2020 6:37 am
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ScarlettFire says...



Bryne Paige
Scene xii: Double the Trouble


"Oh, I am so down for that," Bryne said and moved towards the soaked girl standing before them with a Shinx curled about her leg. He leaned in for a hug and there was a tiny squeak from the crook of his arm. Bryne glanced down and grimaced, shifting at the last second to turn it into an awkard one-armed hug. "Name's Bryne, by the way, and you are?"

"Oh, I did not think anyone would take me up on that. And you can call me Peony."

"Mister Arcanine," Connor said, wrinkling his nose at Peony, "could you dry her off before anyone else's formal wear is ruined?"

"Aww, c'mon! I live to ruin formal wear!" Bryne joked.

Connor shot him a narrow-eyed look blending suspicion and a small degree of contempt. "Not all of us have the luxury of wealth or nonchalance."

"How the hell do you even know that?" Bryne asked and then groaned. "Oh, right. Famous Breeder parents. Ugh. How do I keep forgetting that?"

Connor frowned at him in confusion, but Bryne ignored the look. He turned in time to see Peony protest when the Arcanine suddenly loomed over her, having returned from helping someone board the cruiseliner.

"Oh, this, I cannot miss!"

The Arcanine almost seemed to preen a little as it peered down at Peony. She stared back up at it, still soaking wet and shaking her head.

"Oh, no. No, no, no!"

Bryne grinned wildly as the giant dog-Pokémon inhaled deeply. He bounced on his feet, waiting for it to do the blow-dryer thing he'd once seen one do on TV, and he wasn't disappointed. It exhaled and blasted Peony with a long, super-heated breath. Her hair went flying backwards and the wet clothes plastered against her for a moment before they quickly dried out. It was quite the sight, and amused him to no end.

By the time she was fully dried off, Peony's hair was fizzed out around her head a little and her clothing looked almost stiff as it hung off her. Bryne chuckled and then froze when the Arcanine turned on him and Connor, looking very self-satisfied with its work.

"Uh-oh..."

The Arcanine procceed to give them the blow-dryer treatment as well, which left Bryne resigned and sighing. The Ralts in his arms wriggled and huffed out a little, annoyed noise, which had him glancing down. He just knew his carefully gelled hair was a mess now, and was resigned to looking like that for the rest of the day. Stupid fire-types and their super-heated breath...

"Stupid fire-types," Peony mumbled, perfectly echoing Bryne's thoughts. She tugged at a stiff panel of her dress and sniffled. "Stupid fire breath. Stupid dogs." She said something in Mandarin after that, but it was probably more of the same.

Connor just sighed heavily.

"I saw you talking to Nathan earlier," Jake piped up, addressing Peony, "but I don't think you've met Heitor."

Heitor turned as Jake mentioned his name before waving back at him. "Pleased to meet your acquaintance, m'dear!" he exclaimed, meeting Peony's eye as he smiled at her gently. "I am, indeed, that one guy who serves people with a Raichu." He raised an eyebrow. "To be sure I get your boundaries right: are you a handshake person, a bowing person, a nodding person or none of these above?"

"Ah," Peony said, her shoulders rigid with the apparent panic of needing to greet someone new. Again. "What is the expression? When in Rome?" She grimaced for a moment before her Shinx butted against one leg, startling her back into the conversation. Almost immediately, she had a smile on her face and her hand extended. "A handshake is fine. It is nice to meet you as well."

She shook Heitor's hand once, firmly, before turning to the rest of the group and offering a wave to everyone's Pokémon.

"And this cutie here is Ra-Ra," Bryne said, gesturing to the little Ralts curled up in the crook of his arm. Ra-Ra reached up to bat at a strand of Peony's hair that fell into her face. "Oi, stop that!" A far too loud mental giggle made everyone nearby wince, and Bryne gave the little Ralts a stern look. "Now, we talked about this, Ra-Ra..."

Too loud?

"Yes, yes, it was..." Bryne sighed and looked down at Ra-Ra with a tiny frown, then at everyone nearby. "Sorry 'bout that."

Daddy sad?

"No, Ra-Ra, he's very happy right now," he told her, peering down at the little Ralts with clear adoration in his gaze.

Daddy happy!

"You kids are up next!" the man overseeing the boarding called, beckoning them closer while the Reuniclus levitated a stylishly dressed lady upwards.

"Not it!" Jake said cheerfully. "It'd have been awesome to go first, but I guess we'll go last instead."

"Whoever does go next, please withdraw your Pokémon," the man said, looking up at the ship and seeming a little anxious. Ezra's introduction had already begun. "We've had no delays so far, and though I mean no disrespect, I'll not have the people up there suffer any now just because none of you could make a choice."

Connor and Nathan immediately obliged and withdrew their Pokémon, but Bryne decided he'd wait specifically until it was his turn. He grinned when Peony gave her Skitty a very distinct you-deserve-this look before recalling him, too.

"I think I can go next?" Nathan said hesitantly, putting away his Pokéballs. "That would be... cool." He sounded almost like he was talking to himself; it took him a couple seconds to realize that everyone was looking at him.

With a gulp, he straightened himself up and made his way over to the Arcanine. Nathan glanced back at Peony a couple times, like he was going to ask her if she wanted to come along, but seemed to get the impression that she probably wasn't fond of Arcanines right now. Not that he was either, given how tightly he clung onto Arcanine's fur when he got onto it. At least the Arcanine moved a little too fast for most people to hear him screaming.

And somehow, while everyone was watching Nathan, Peony had gotten aboard the back of the Magnezone, coolly and without fanfare. Ezra's brief introduction for Nathan ended, prompting the boarding supervisor to ask who would go next--Peony was nearly halfway up the side of the ship by the time the man and the other participants noticed she'd gone.

After Peony's introduction began, Heitor approached the Reuniculus, excitement leaking out from his calm. "Can I shake your hand after the ride?" he politely asked the Pokémon. It turned towards him, waving its arms frantically in what Heitor assumed was a gesture of agreement. "I'll take that as a yes," he said with a chuckle. "Okay, then! Let's do this."

"Ah, sir? Your Pokémon, please."

Heitor gazed at the boarding supervisor, initially confused. "Oh! Right, of course. Lippa! Lylatt! Gracovice!" Heitor took three Pokéballs from his pocket as his Pokémon approached him, swiftly disappearing inside after being called. "All done! I'm ready." With a bright smile, Heitor stood in front of of the Reuniculus, and soon after, on the supervisor's signal, his body was elevated alongside the Psychic type, slowly but surely reaching for the ship.

Bryne glanced towards Jake and Connor, then towards the ship in time to see the Arcanine turn to look at him with a lop-sided grin. "Uh," Bryne said dumbly, glancing about again. Jake just gave him a nudge towards the big dog trotting towards him. "Waaaait! WAIT!"

The Arcanine paused, tilting its head as if in question, and Bryne fumbled around for his Pokéballs, looking for his wayward Luxio, Lucky. The electric-type cat was crouched behind them, hissing at the Arcanine.

"Lucky," Bryne hissed, sending the lynx a glare. "Behave, and please return?"

Lucky sniffed delicately and then returned in a beam of red to the Pokéball that Bryne was holding out. He tossed it up into the air and caught it, turning to give Jake and Connor a cocky grin before tucking it back into his pocket with the other two Pokéballs.

"So, guess it's my turn, huh?"

"I don't want to be that person," Connor said, looking somewhat awkward, "but you... still have one left."

"Shhhhhh, no, I don't," Bryne said, holding a finger up to his lips and tucking Ra-Ra into his jacket. "Whatever are you talking about?"

"Mister Paige, I can still see your Ralts," the boarding supervisor said. He eyed the returning Reuniclus and looked back to Bryne with a sense of urgency. "Please return it to its ball. The crowd above is waiting."

"Her," Bryne corrected with a sniff, and pulled a Pokéball back out of his pocket. "And she can decide for herself if she wants back in the 'ball, right, Ra-Ra?"

In! In!

The only other Pokémon still outside was Edward. Jake smiled apologetically and withdrew the Kirlia to show solidarity. Bryne let his Ralts return and made a point about putting the Pokéball back into his pocket with great reluctance.

"Happy now?"

"Not just yet." He impatiently gestured at the patiently waiting Arcanine. "Up you go!"

Bryne pouted and crossed his arms, looking between the Arcanine and the cruiseliner. "Do I have to?" he whined, giving the supervisor his best puppy-dog-eyes expression. "Do I really have to?"

The man's expression mixed confusion with exasperation. "Either you make a choice about which mount you want, or the Machamp will take you up in—"

"Psyche!" Bryne exclaimed and suddenly launched himself at the Arcanine, bouncing up onto its back. "Yeehaw, Arcanine! Let's go!"

The Arcanine reared up onto its hind legs and swung towards the cruise ship, Bryne whooping the entire time. With a tiny crouch and a wiggled butt, it lined up the shot and jumped the distance to the cruiserline. Bryne enjoyed the air rushing past his ears, but the moment was slightly dimmed by the fact that he couldn't share the experience with his Pokémon. Then again, Ra-Ra was a psychic-type, so it shouldn't be too hard to share it with her. He hoped she'd appreciate it.

The cruiseship was huge, and Bryne adored it. He'd been sailing on much smaller vessels with his parents--yachts and the like--but never something like this. He grinned, pushing up a little to get a better look. A huge crowd was gathered on the deck and he could see Ezra and the woman from before--Penelope, wasn't it?--standing near the railing. Bryne scanned the crowd, trying to look for any familiar faces--Peony, Nathan, Heitor--but failed to find one. There was so many people, all cheering and yelling and waving hands in the air. Bryne shrugged and raised one hand to wave back, whooping again when the camera seemed to focus on him. It was probably live-streaming the whole thing. He grinned wildly at it, waving madly in the camera's direction.

"How's that for suspense, gentlepeople?" Ezra called, loud and clear despite not using a microphone. He and Penelope stood close to the railing nearby. "Our antepenultimate trainer had us wonder if the adventure on the pier below saw another development, but that's just his natural flair for the dramatic!"

With an amused smile, Penelope, surprisingly managing to sound soft even though everyone could still hear her, added, "Remind you of anyone?"

"Let us give a long-anticipated welcome to the Star of Perth, the infallibly entertaining Bryne Paige!"

Bryne slipped off the Arcanine as it landed nearby to thunderous applause and cheering. He spun to stike a pose and grinned, not noticed the wriggling in his pocket. The crowd began to chuckle as a Pokéball fell out of his pocket and hit the deck. It popped open and a Feebas began flopping around awkwardly. Bryne glanced down and blanched.

"Feebi!" he hissed, scrambling to catch the Feebas as it flopped towards the railing. "Feebi, you brat! Get back here!" She flopped a little closer to the railing, and Bryne growled; "Don't you dare!"

The Feebas stopped short, and there was round of chuckles as Bryne caught up to the Pokémon. He quickly scooped her up into his arms with a hissed command for her to stop trying to run away from him, then he straightened up and gave the crowd a sheepish grin, ducking his head. He darted off the the side, Feebas still firmly in his arms, before the Arcanine landed with the next person on deck.

Bryne turned just in time to see Connor and Jake on the Arcanine, and cheered with the crowd as Ezra introduced them. He was distracted when Feebi tried to wriggle out of his arms and hissed at her to stay put. The Feebas just blinked up at him slowly and Bryne sighed.

"You are not gonna fool me, Feebi," he grumbled, and patted at his pockets for her Pokéball only to realise it was over by the Arcanine's paws. He groaned. "You just like to make everything difficult, don't you, Feebi?"

"Let's make our final welcome fittingly memorable, shall we?" Ezra called, urging the crowd to the height of their excitement. "Presenting the Princes of Charm and Wit, Jake Fox and Connor Redreed!"

The crowd's enthusiasm erupted into a thunderous roar. Bryne cheered along again, but then he noticed his Pokéball rolling towards him. It bounced into the air and floated in front of him. He looked past it and saw Jake shoot him a perfectly timed wink before beaming at the crowd and camera again, Connor's hand held in his.

Bryne sighed dreamily. "Aren't they adorable together, Feebi?" he said, plucking the Pokéball out of the air. The Feebas made some tiny non-commital noise and Bryne glowered down at her. "And now it's time for you to go back in your Pokéball, you brat."

She disappeared in a flash of red light. Jake and Connor joined him, making way for the other Pokémon mounts returning to the deck. Jake clearly enjoyed the attention as much as Bryne, but Connor was still mostly bright red.

"Hey guys," he said, somewhat sheepishly. "Sup?"

"Hey," Connor replied quickly, his face slowly returning to its usual colour.

Jake snickered. "I guess your Feebas doesn't like crowds. It'll be over soon, though." He nodded at Ezra.

"No, she's just a brat," Bryne muttered, but he turned his attention to the man of the hour regardless.

With the Arcanine and Machamp flanking them and the Magnezone, Altaria, and Reuniclus above them, Ezra and Penelope had an impressive backdrop with which to address the crowd.

"I bet you're all itching to learn more about our spectacular trainers," Ezra said, but he grinned mischievously and continued, "But I think we should maybe give them a little rest."

Penelope nodded. "Participants of the New Horizon Tournament are encouraged to familiarise themselves with their cabins, where their belongings are already waiting. Guides will be available to lead them there. There are no further events scheduled for today except for a dinner this evening."

"Thank you all for your eagerness to share the start of our young people's journeys with them!" Ezra called, stretching his arms out to the sides, where the trainers had rushed to escape the spotlight following their introductions. "We are your hosts, Ezra Archer and Penelope Peterson! Until tomorrow, good day!"

The crowd surged in one final round of applause and cheering before the camera's red light flickered out and people slowly started dispersing. Bryne pouted at the sudden lack of attention and turned towards Jake to speak, only to be interupted by Penelope.

"Trainers, follow me!" she commanded, striding forwards.

The sea of spectators parted to make way for her and the stream of trainers following at her instruction. Bryne, Jake and Connor got swept up in the chaos, even though they had been at the back of the crowd at first. A glance at Connor showed that he looked distinctly uncomfortable so Bryne grinned widely at him and threw his arms into the air with a chuckle. He got spun around and would have been lost in the moving group if Jake hadn't grabbed his wrist and tugged him back towards them. He pouted at the other boy for ruining his fun, then smiled wickedly and nudged him towards Connor. Jake shrugged and released Bryne's wrist with a smile, instead putting his arm around his boyfriend and allowing Bryne to find his own way. Together, they all headed for the guides.

Image


Bryne wriggled back and forth on the floor in front of his suitcase, shuffling through the clothes inside as he tried to decide which ones he wanted to put away first. Ra-Ra was sleeping on the bed, soft little huffs signalling that she was far more comfortable in their rooms than she'd been out on the deck. Bryne grinned and glanced up, checking first on his Ralts, then on the Feebas swimming back and forth in the tank they'd been provided. She was blinking slowly at him. Bryne scowled, especially when those eyes darted towards the balcony doors. He knew she could see the water through them, and he was not impressed with her boldness about wanting to go swimming. In the freaking ocean.

"Oh, hell no," he said and sat back on his heels. "No way, no how. You tried that stunt up on the deck." He pointed sternly at the tank and the idly bobbing Feebas. "In front of everyone, mind you. So no. You don't get any tankless priviledges."

She blew bubbles at him, almost seeming to pout, then promptly turned her back on the room. Bryne snorted and turned back to the suitcase, catching Lucky sniffing at said balcony doors from the corner of his eyes. He turned on the lynx with a dark look.

"Don't you dare," he snapped and the Luxio turned to blink at him. Bryne crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm onto you." He pointed at the tank. "Both of you! Pair of freaking monsters, I swear." He turned to look at the Ralts. "Except you, Ra-Ra. You're such a little sweetheart, how can I ever be mad at you?"

Of course, she didn't answer, but that didn't bother Bryne. He just got back to unpacking, brushing hair out of his face with one hand. Distracted as he was by unpacking, he didn't notice Lucky circling back towards the door out into the hall, nor did he notice the Luxio jump up to open said door. And he definitely didn't notice when the lynx slipped out into the hall.

He did notice the sudden quiet, several minutes later when he was half-under the bed, trying to retrieve a wayward Pokéball that didn't currently belong to the three brats he already had. It was the squeal of surprised that jolted him, causing him to jerk his head up into the hard, wooden bottom of the bed. Ra-Ra let out a mental squeak of distress, and Bryne quickly dragged himself out from under the bed to peer over the edge of it at her. She was standing up and pointing at the door.

Open! Open! she squeaked, and Bryne glanced towards it. He realised very quickly that Lucky was not in the room, and cursed. Open! Lucky gone? Where? Daddy?

Bryne snatched Ra-Ra off the bed without a word and bolted for the door, sticking his aching head out into the hall. He squinted at the open door spilling light into the hall some ways down and shook his head.

"What the hell! Where did the Luxio come from?"

"Get it off! It's hissing at Herry!"

Bryne sighed. Just his luck that Lucky decided to go cause mischief outside of their cabin. He looked down at Ra-Ra, then back into the room at Feebi, giving her the 'I'm watching you' gesture before he stepped out into the hall. He hugged Ra-Ra to his chest and jogged down the hall to the open door and the now bark-hiss-yelling of said cabin.

"Lucky!" he hissed, poking his head in the door. His Luxio was having a staredown with a Herdier. They were of pretty equal height, and the Herdier looked like it wasn't going to back down. "Lucky! Stop that!"

"This is your Luxio?" someone said, and Bryne quickly realised there were two people in the cabin--a guy and a girl. Both platnium blonde with blue eyes. He blinked, sure he was seeing double. He was not. They were... kinda pretty. Focus, Bryne!

He grimaced. "Yeah, he is," he said and stormed into the cabin to grab his Pokémon by the scruff of the neck. "And he likes to cause trouble." Lucky resisted him, hissing louder when the Herdier crept a stepped forward with a growl. Bryne glanced towards the guy pleadingly. "Uh, call off your Herdier, please?"

The guy scoffed. "Why? So your lynx can maul him?" He snorted. "No thanks."

Lucky's hissing turned into a yowl of displeasure and he swung out at the dog Pokémon that was now a few feet away. "Lucky, cut it out!" Bryne snapped, giving the lynx a little shake. "I swear, I can't leave you alone for even a second before you go find the nearest dog-Pokémon and try to fight it. Honestly!"

"Seriously?" the girl said and Bryne glanced towards her. "You should learn to control your Pokémon better."

"E-Excuse me?" Bryne exclaimed, now thoroughly distracted by near-white hair and pretty blue eyes. His grip relaxed on Lucky as he stared at her, mouth agape. "What?"

Wrong. Move.

Lucky took the opportunity to dart forward and try to bite the other Pokémon. The Herdier darted out of the way, barking at him. The hissing-barking-yowling-growling started up again and Bryne snapped out of it long enough to pull out Lucky's Pokéball and force him to return.

He glared at the 'ball for a moment and then shoved it into his pocket. "Freaking brat," he muttered, turning to look down at Ra-Ra. She was staring up at him, little hands clutching tightly to his shirt. He'd discarded the suit jacket back in his room. "Honestly, you're the most well-behaved, and you're not even half his age!"

"You are so weird."

"So damn weird."

Bryne tensed and glanced up to find the twins staring at him. He cleared his throat and offered them a sheepish grin. "Um...sorry?"

The girl snorted, and the boy rolled his eyes, turning to give the Herdier a pat on the head. Bryne watched on in stunned silence. How could they not like him almost immediately? Sure, his Pokémon had barged into their room and harrassed theirs, but seriously! He was the handsome crowd favourite! He blinked slowly at them as a Gothorita appeared at the girl's shoulder. It was holding an Espurr. A male, he thought.

Bryne coughed and backed up a step. "Really, really sorry about this--"

"No, you're not."

That brought him up short. He glanced between the two as they seemed to share a private conversation with just their eyes. "Um, what?"

"You're very much not sorry," the boy said, suddenly smirking. He moved towards Bryne, the Herdier right on his heels, and backed him into the wall by the still-open door. "Oh, you're sorry about the Luxio...but you're very much not sorry about meeting us." He planted a hand by Bryne's shoulder, and he quickly realised the blonde boy was taller than him. The guy glanced over his shoulder towards the girl. "Isn't that right, sis?"

She snorted. "Don't even have to be psychic to see that one coming."

Bryne squirmed against the wall, eyes fixed on the boy's face. "...wh--what?"

"Nice to meet you, Bryne Paige," the boy said and then shoved him back out the door and closed it in his face.

Bryne stood there for a moment in stunned silence, just staring at the now-closed door. After a moment, he hung his head and turned to head back to his cabin, absently aware of Ra-Ra wriggling in his arms. Honestly, Lucky was a freaking menace.
"I bow to ChildOfNowhere, my one and only master."


"No one screws Yamcha but life!" - Bulma, DBZ Abridged.
  





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AstralHunter says...



Connor Redreed
Scene xiii: Songs for Psychic Stars


Connor stared at the four bags on the floor of his walk-in closet. The most surprising thing wasn’t that he had four bags, which he’d previously have considered overkill. No.

He had a walk-in closet. A walk-in closet!

It was owing to his inexperience with anything luxurious, of course, but Connor had never expected to enter a closet for any reason except to hide. The thought of having so many clothes that simply opening a door and reaching wouldn’t suffice to access them all… it was almost unfathomable.

He actually felt guilty for having so few things to put in so large a space. It starkly drove across the point that the suite wasn’t meant for people like him. An inside cabin with a single bed, a small wardrobe, and a tiny bathroom — that was the kind of room he deserved. And even then, only after saving all his money for five years or more.

Alone, and with all the excitement having died down, he felt completely out of his depth.

Hey, Wolfie, Jake’s asking you to unlock the balcony door from your side.

The unexpected voice startled him at first, and hearing it inside his head made the start greater still, but hearing Edward’s nickname for him reminded Connor that he was not alone. He would face the unknown ahead with one of the people he loved most. …Especially if that said person couldn’t go more than a minute without Connor’s company.

Grinning to himself, Connor exited the closet, strode across the room, slid open the glass door, and removed the latch on the door outside. He stepped back to let it swing open, revealing a flash of white and a glint of silver.

“You should leave that unlocked from now on,” Jake said, smirking.

Connor’s grin turned into a smirk of his own. “I don’t know; strange men might visit me at night.”

“I prefer ‘exotic’. And it won’t only be at night.” He winked.

Connor chuckled and made his way back to the closet. Crouching down and opening the one containing his formal wear (and the plain clothes for which he’d exchanged his suit at the airport), he asked, “Shouldn’t you be unpacking too?”

“Nah, Edward’s doing that for me.”

He half-jokingly scowled at Jake over his shoulder. “Lazy much?”

“You act like I’m taking advantage of him!” Jake said, laughing. Connor took his black suit and carefully hung it on one of the provided hangers. “We’re two sides of the same coin, so it’s basically like I’m doing it myself.”

“But you’re not.”

“Fine, go ask him if he minds. I bet he’ll actually offer to unpack your stuff for you too.” He paused. “In fact…”

Connor just finished hanging up his last suit, a gorgeous navy, when two arms reached underneath his and crossed over his chest, pulling him into an embrace. He struggled for a fraction of a second before willing the sudden tension to ebb away, crossing his arms over the others in return.

“…Edward can take care of this. Let’s get out of the closet.”

They both laughed as the unintended pun registered. “I don’t think you’ve ever been closeted.”

“Nope! So let’s bring our love into the light of day again.”

Jake’s phrasing was terribly cheesy, but his suggestion was irresistable. Connor allowed himself to be steered with silly, stumbling steps, prompting Jake to giggle. Jake guided them to the couch in front of the bed and fell backwards, pulling Connor down onto his lap. While Connor intended to shift to sit next to Jake, the appearance of a Spinarak on the pillow beside him made him yelp and leap out of the embrace. She scurried onto the bed before turning to click at them.

“Has she been with you this whole time?!”

“I guess so!” Jake said, laughing and looking impressed. “Boarding supervisor: ‘All Pokémon must be withdrawn.’ Myata: stows away in a random trainer’s pocket. Everyone else: notices nothing. Sneak one-hundred.

“We have to find her trainer.”

“Eh, I’m sure she can find them on her own. She found me, after all.”

Connor gaped in a mix of amused exasperation and indignant concern. “Did you forget that you picked her up off of a Mareep, likely belonging to the same trainer?”

He grimaced sheepishly. “Actually, I did, yeah.”

“Jake, that’s tantamount to stealing.”

“Oh, relax, Connor!” Jake snickered and patted the spot next to him. “C’mon, this is the first true privacy we’ve ever had in person. Let’s just enjoy the moment and worry about stuff later.”

Though Jake’s incessant nonchalance was mildly infuriating, it was also quite disarming. Sighing at both it and his own neuroticism, Connor turned and sank down on the couch beside his boyfriend. He rested his head on Jake’s shoulder and smiled when Jake put an arm around him.

They sat in silence for a few seconds, so Connor closed his eyes and just enjoyed the warmth of the man he loved. He’d never had a problem being self-partnered — he preferred Emma Watson’s term over “single” — but he finally understood why those who’d previously been in a relationship missed the steady presence of another soul after a break-up. He’d probably know that longing himself once the tournament ended and Jake had to return to London.

“Sing me a song.”

Connor opened his eyes and twisted to look at Jake, using his surprise to suppress the intrusive thought. “What?”

Jake flashed him a pure, innocent smile. The smile of a child asking the sun to kiss the flowers in his garden.

“Sing me a song.”

“Hmm…”

Connor turned back and rested his head again. His eyes slipped shut in contentment and he searched his memory for something to capture that feeling. A soft, steady humming filled his mind, and a djembe and snare drum tapped out light beats.

“High on the wings of an angel I fly — light, without care, without questioning why. Slowly the night seems to fade into grey. Day came in time to break my fall.” He sang at a leisurely, soothing pace. The melody consisted of extended notes gliding onto shorter notes and back onto extended ones again. “Now I’m awake, I can finally see: life’s gift to me is just… to be.

“High on the wings of an angel I fly. Small is the world from up here in the sky. Small are my fears, and how precious the years. I can hardly see the tears from here. Now that I know I am finally free, life’s gift to me is just… to be.

“I’ve been trying to please, always longing to ease, wondering just what it is… Guess I already know nothing I do will make it so. I’m letting go, letting go faithfully. Life’s gift to me is just… to be.”

Connor hummed the opening refrain again before concluding, “High on the wings of an angel I fly. Life’s gift to me is just… to be. Life’s gift to me is just… to be.” He held the last note for a good number of seconds before letting it fade away with the rhythm in his mind.

Wrapped in the comfort of the moment and lulled by the faint scent of strawberry, he almost didn’t hear when Jake said, “That was beautiful.”

“Thank you.”

Jake ran his thumb along Connor’s jawline. “Like everything about you, your singing voice is even better in person. You’re some kind of awesome.”

Connor opened his eyes, surprised at and moved by Jake’s choice of praise. “Isn’t that exaggerating a bit?”

“Jamais, mon cher,” Jake replied in an almost-whisper. “Mon coeur ne connaît que toi.”

Connor thought of something to say in return, but he realised he didn’t need to say anything. Sometimes, silence was the best response.

They sat in contented silence for about a minute before movement at the balcony caught his attention.

“I spy… a spy,” Jake said.

The Riolu lowered his tablet, typed away, and then entered the room, flipping the screen so they could read, Edward and I thought you two would appreciate a picture of you together.

“And we do!” Connor replied, moving into a regular sitting position.

Edward danced in behind Leonidas. You two look adorable together.

Connor felt the heat rise to his ears.

“You don’t mind unpacking Connor’s stuff for him, do you?” Jake asked.

For Wolfie? Anything!

Jake gestured at the closet, and before Connor could protest, Edward had disappeared inside it. Jake smirked at him and said, “See? I told you.”

“I swear, you two are conspiring.”

Always.

Leon sat down at the coffee table in the corner next to the sliding door. Why is there a spider on your bed?

Jake chuckled. “Apparently, I stole her.”

The Riolu raised an eyebrow. She looks like she wants to steal Connor’s chocolate in retaliation.

Connor turned around and saw the Spinarak indeed inspecting one of the chocolates on each of his pillows. He hadn’t even realised they were there!

“Myata, please don’t eat those. I don’t think chocolate is meant for Bugs.”

She didn’t look like she’d heard him at first, but she then turned away, sat down (as much as a spider did), and roosted next to the pillow. She looked cute, though the markings on her abdomen made her seem like a creepy predator at the same time.

“Hey, while I remember, what’s your trainer’s name?”

She clicked and hissed in response.

Jake rocked Connor slightly. “What’d she say?”

“Vadim Koslov.”

Snickering, Jake asked, “That’s impressive. How do you even understand what she says, never mind being able to recognise a Russian name?”

“Most Bug type Pokémon use an interlanguage to communicate with trainers, but also with some other species. She and Cethrys speak the same one.”

“Even if she’s from Russia and he’s from SA?”

“It’s a Pokémon thing. Their solidarity is mind-blowing.”

Jake nodded. “Well, now we know who to look for!” He grinned at the spider before asking, “Hey, why haven’t you eaten your chocolates yet?”

“Firstly, I didn’t realise they were there, and secondly, even if I had, I wouldn’t have eaten them both in one go. Unlike you, I don’t devour candy the moment I see it.”

“Hey, I shared!”

Leon nodded and held up his tablet. He ate one and split the other one between me and Edward.

“Hmm, I guess that’s fair.”

“Hey, why aren’t your Pokémon out?” Jake asked.

“I was focused on unpacking. Besides, they’d all want my attention. Besides being occupied just now,” he grinned at Jake, “I was also tired from all the excitement and interaction from earlier.”

“Speaking of that,” Jake said, “what do you think of everyone so far?”

Connor pondered the question. “Peony seems nice enough, but she’s a little rude at times.”

“I think that’s because of the language barrier.”

“Probably,” he admitted. “She was sincere in her apology for her little brat’s behaviour.” He scowled. “Seriously. Cats.

Jake laughed and rubbed Connor’s arm. “And the others?”

“Heitor is exuberant and very interesting, but he’s also perceptive and intelligent.”

“And he has the Portuguese wink,” Jake added with a smirk.

“I’m pretty sure you have what qualifies as that one down already, but yeah, he does. And then there was… What was his name again? The boy who looked lost and boarded just after Peony?”

“Nathan! The one with the jellyfish on his head.” Jake giggled. “Yeah, he didn’t speak much.”

“I can relate,” Connor said, and he meant it. Meeting so many new people and expecting to remember all of them had already started chewing away at his nerves. “And then there’s Bryne.”

“Bryne!”

Bryne. He’s such a goofball.”

“I love him already.”

Connor shot Jake a sly look. “Dude, you liked him the moment you laid eyes on him.”

Jake shrugged amicably. “What can I say? I don’t need to be a psychic to tell when someone will vibe well with me.”

You seemed uncomfortable around him, Leon noted. Connor had momentarily forgotten he was there.

“He still needs to learn our Dragon is also part Fairy,” Jake replied cheerily. “You need a certain touch to put him at ease before you get to know him.”

Connor turned to Jake. “Braggart.” He said it with fondness.

Jake bumped his nose against Connor’s in response.

Turning back to address Leon, Connor continued, “He’s just a bit too… I don’t want to say ‘intense’, because that’s not it. Forthright, I guess. He has ‘big’ emotions, if that makes sense, and he expresses them in a boisterous way.”

“He’s not subtle enough.”

Connor traced the veins on Jake’s hand. “Yeah, I guess not.”

Do you want to see him again? Leon asked. Although text had no intonation, his body language conveyed the missing context: the slight tilt of his head and the tiny wrinkle on his brow indicated curiosity and concern.

“Oh, we definitely will! I’m sure he’ll tone the energy down a bit over time. And if he doesn’t, I’m certain Jake here will ensure he gets the hint.”

Jake grinned conspiratorially.

“Anyway, we agreed to fetch him from his room once we’re done settling in. He has more than enough things to do in the meantime. I mean—” Connor rose and walked over to the mini-bar to the left of the couch, between the sliding door and the bedside windows. A booklet rested atop it, which he collected before returning to Jake’s waiting arms. Opening it, he scanned some of the contents and continued, “—we have an interactive flat screen with satellite television, a direct dial phone in case he wants to contact his family…” Connor scanned past the more general services at their disposal, looking specifically for room-specific activities. “Oh, he can sunbathe outside on the balcony, of course. Ah! And he can also ask for a DVD player, board games, and even a ‘PC gaming console’, though the phrasing of that confuses me. The point is, he has tons of stuff he can do besides organising his room. Hell, he can even order food if he’s hungry again!”

Reading over his shoulder, Jake said, “They say we can have fruit, flowers, and Champagne as welcome gifts. I don’t remember getting any of those.”

“What, were the pillow chocolates not enough for you?” Connor joked. He scanned the concerned section and then the adjacent sections. “Ah, it says in an earlier part that these are on request.”

Jake looked thoughtful. “I wonder if they’d have durian.”

Connor didn’t even bother turning to stare at Jake. But he was glad, since it allowed him to see Leon’s stare instead. He couldn’t fully suppress the snicker that came forth. The Riolu’s gaze shifted to him and brightened. A hint of a smile appeared on Leon’s lips.

“In all seriousness, I’d love some chocolate-covered strawberries.”

Checking the booklet again, Connor said, “Well, I don’t think that exactly counts as what they had in mind with fruit, but given that we have twenty-four-hour room service, nightly turn-down service — whatever that means — en-suite dining, and even a twenty-four-hour butler service, I’m sure you could get it anyway.” His eyes widened and he shook his head. “And to think that Ezra said we’d have to pay for none of this.”

“We were invited to participate.”

“Yeah, but we also applied! We don’t need access to every possible luxury to participate.”

“You forget what Ezra said earlier when you asked him about recording us: it’s not favouritism if everyone is his favourite.”

Well, as before, Connor couldn’t argue with that.

“Which fruit would you get? As much pineapple as you could eat?”

“As much pineapple as I could eat until it feels like bacteria are devouring my tongue and my lips start bleeding.”

Jake chuckled. “Don’t worry! I’ll protect you — even if it’s from yourself.”

Connor playfully elbowed him in the ribs, eliciting an oof and a snicker.

“Personally, I think some watermelon would be nice.”

What?

“Hey, just because you dislike it doesn’t mean I have to too!”

“But it’s just water and seeds! Rather get a mango, or a papaya, or a blood orange! They’re uncommon, juicy, and actually have flavour!”

“Pfft, you’re just a fruitist.”

“Yes, I absolutely am a fruitist. And a vegetablist. And a meatist.”

“Maybe I should just call you a foodist, then.”

“Probably.”

Just then, Edward spun into view. All done!

Connor rose and went over to the closet to inspect it. He made a noise of approval when he saw how neatly arranged everything was. It was like Edward had been trained in housekeeping.

“You look so surprised,” Jaked noted with a smile.

“I am! You’re neither the neat nor the organised type!”

“Yeah, but he is. Why do you think my room was always — err, mostly — neat?”

“Fair enough. Well, since he’s done, it’s time for us to swap into normal clothes.”

Jake pouted. “But you look so handsome in a suit.”

“Aww…” Connor stepped forward and timidly placed a soft kiss on Jake’s lips. “It’s really comfortable, and I could actually wear this all day, but I don’t think most of the other participants would want to. I mostly don’t care what people think about me, but I don’t want to attract too much attention or make it look like I’m pretentious or anything.”

“Hmm…” Jake tried to look thoughtful, but Connor could see the mischief in his eyes. “Then let me help you change.”

He loosened Connor’s tie and pulled it over his head, but Connor smirked, pulled the tie from Jake’s grasp, and pushed him away with his index and middle fingers pressed to his sternum. “That’s as far as I’ll let you go, I’m afraid.”

Jake pouted again — or, at least, he tried to. But he couldn’t keep a grin from appearing on his face. “Only for now.”

Pointedly ignoring Jake to prevent himself from blushing, Connor turned to Edward. “Where did you put the plain clothes I’d left in the formal bag?”

The Kirlia bounced over to one of the bags, which he’d moved into the corner, and scooped the clothing up from inside, carrying it back to Connor. I figured you would want to wear this again.

“Good guess!” Connor noticed that Edward had already removed his tie. He made a shooing gesture at Jake. “Go to your room.”

Jake looked aghast. “I can’t even watch?!

Connor gaped and punched him on the shoulder. “Go.

He shook his head as he collected his clothing from Edward and heard Jake’s laughter recede. Just to be safe, though, he stepped into the bathroom.

It was… actually as large as his bathroom at home. The toilet was mostly obscured from the sink’s and bath’s side by a wall. The sink was at the centre of a cabinet with four doors, a very large mirror, and several shelves already holding things like soaps, shampoos, and other luxury bath products. The bath itself was the most impressive of all; it not only doubled as a shower, but it was also huge. A whirlpool bath, the booklet had called it.

He tossed his clothing on one side of the sink and more carefully placed his formal wear on the other side as he undressed. He wondered where the booklet’s so-called dressing room was, and then it dawned on him: the walk-in closet. The clothing was right there, and he’d even seen a bathrobe and slippers to the side. He felt particularly stupid, but at least he’d realised it soon enough.

Changed into his blue jeans, grey undershirt, white and blue polo shirt, and navy hoodie and sneakers, Connor felt more himself, yet also more out of place than before. He mentally shrugged off the unease and stowed away his formal attire in the closet.

Leon apparently hadn’t left, as he sat in the same position as before, reading something on his tablet. He looked up and smiled when Connor re-entered the room.

Jake, already back, also smiled at Connor. He rose and wrapped his arms around him. “Here’s the bookworm we all know and love.”

In vivid contrast with Connor’s plain appearance, Jake had swapped his elegant silver suit for a black leather jacket, combat boots, and a magenta t-shirt to match his fringe. And, of course, he’d donned his spiked collar and bracelets. Dressed in their usual outfits, they made for a very unlikely couple.

“The bookworm and the rebel,” Connor mused with a grin.

Jake, almost incapable of maintaining a straight face, broke into a grin as well, and when he leaned closer for a kiss, he suddenly pulled away, snorting in laughter. “I still can’t kiss you when I’m grinning like an idiot!”

Fortunately, he pulled himself together and managed to diminish the grin down to a simple smile. Connor felt the same electric tingle run through his body when their lips touched, but that time, with no strangers around to make him more self-conscious than he already was, he figured he could let it go on a bit longer than before. He pulled Jake a little closer, feeling the cool leather beneath his hands. He felt a twitch in Jake’s lips as his boyfriend tried not to smile at the message. Still pressing gently, Jake moved his lower lip in an upward motion, sending a shiver running through Connor. He’d never actually realised how soft lips would be.

As Jake lowered his one hand to just above Connor’s waist and used the other to caress his neck, Connor imagined atmospheric, orchestral music playing in the background — flutes and a clarinet accompanied by grandiose violins and cellos. He imagined a dramatic surge by the strings, along with the rolling of a timpani, when Jake repeated the upward motion with his lower lip. He did this one more time before motionlessly holding his lips against Connor’s and finally pulling away.

“That was wonderful,” Connor said, wiping away Jake’s fringe so he could gaze into his gleaming eyes.

Jake’s grin reappeared. “I do have experience.”

Connor’s lips twisted in concern. Jake’s expression turned knowing.

“You’re wondering how you compare, don’t you?”

He nodded.

“Kissing is a skill. You know that, right?”

He nodded again.

“Exactly. You can’t be great at it already. But you’re definitely not bad! I wouldn’t enjoy kissing you so much if you were.” He brushed Connor’s cheek with his thumb. “You’re observant and determined, so you don’t need to worry. I’ll give you plenty of practice, and if you follow my lead, you’ll be excellent in no time.” He closed his eyes and rested his forehead against Connor’s for a few seconds before stepping away and taking Connor’s hand. “Hey, Leon! You coming with us?”

The Riolu didn’t need to type out “Obviously” to communicate the thought.

“Then let’s go get Bryne!”

“Did you lock your door?” Connor asked.

“Hmm? Oh! Yeah, I did.”

“All right. Fetch Myata over there—” He gestured at the bed. “—and then we can go.”

Connor summoned his Pokémon, showing Mercury how to operate the television’s remote control and instructing Seraph not to wander around, except to exit onto the balcony if she wished. She seemed offended that Connor chose only Hades to accompany him, but when he explained he wouldn’t be able to carry her around the whole time and that they’d be going to see Bryne, she made a display of dismissing the notion.

“I guess she doesn’t care much for Bryne’s charm,” Jake said as they left his room.

The look Connor caught from Leon indicated the little wolf didn’t either. Noticing this, Leon, his face as neutral as ever, raised a finger to his lips. Connor had to stifle his laughter. Leon allowed a half-smile to lighten his features for just a second before starting a staring contest with Hades. (The Houndour lost almost immediately.)

After locking the door, Connor led the ensemble past Jake’s room, the first set of stairs and lifts, and even the private concierge lounge for the participants.

“Why’d Bryne have to choose a cabin so far back?” Jake complained. “We’re only halfway to it!”

Connor and Jake had chosen suites 9.015 and 9.017, which put them a comfortable distance away from both the bow and the lifts that would take them to most of the ship’s places of note. In contrast, Bryne had chosen suite 9.068, which was essentially on the other side of the deck.

“Apparently, the main reason people prefer aft cabins are because they’re less noisy; they’re farther away from the main attractions, which are often fore. Our suites are just above the gym, the Grand Arena, and the theatres, for example. But since we’re far enough away from all of those, I admittedly don’t know how it’d be less noisy on this deck.”

Jake visibly had a eureka moment. “It’s because of the long walk! Fewer people will pass by it.”

I bet the quieter room is for Ra-Ra’s sake, Edward ventured.

“Yeah, that makes sense!”

After they reached the second set of lifts and stairs, next to the first pair of penthouse suites, Connor cut across portside. He started checking the suite numbers, reaching 9.068 a few doors later.

Jake knocked thrice. “Bryne! Are you in there?”

“Ah, yep! Hold on a second!” They heard frantic scrambling and shuffling inside, as well as the occasionally muttered curse, before the door opened and Bryne peered through the crack. “Ohhh, heya Jake, Connor. What’s up?”

Bryne had Ra-Ra cradled in one arm. Edward waved at her, and she cheerily waved back.

“You’d told us to come find you to hang out after we’d settled in,” Connor said. Uncertain whether to be amused or annoyed, he added, “Did you forget already?”

He glanced from Connor to Jake and back and grimaced sheepishly. “Uh… maybe? Lucky kinda… caused some havoc with some of my neighbours. So, uh, yeah… I’ve been trying to entertain him, but it’s not been exactly working out, uh, very well.” He swung open the door to reveal the mess that his room now was, his clothes and possessions strewn everywhere.

Connor scowled. “Cats.

“Hey!”

“Did you try entertaining Lucky by modelling for him?” Jake asked with a grin, pointing at Bryne’s t-shirt. The inside was turned out, indicating he’d simply pulled it off earlier and had hastily thrown it on again when they’d come knocking.

Bryne threw Jake a dry look. “No.”

“Well, you could always entertain us by—”

“Making at least yourself presentable,” Connor interjected, frowning at Jake and getting a chuckle in response.

“Mmm, I could—” He frowned and tilted his head. “Waaait, are you trying to tell me I’m not dressed correctly or something?”

Connor pinched one of the seams of the t-shirt and pulled it, simply stating, “Seams,” before letting go again.

Bryne blinked at him, glanced down, and blushed. "O-Oh… it’s inside out… whoops!”

“We’ll give you a second,” Connor said and closed the door. He then punched Jake’s arm.

“Ow!”

“You know exactly why you deserve that.”

Jake grinned wickedly. “Yeah, I do.” He tried kissing Connor, but Connor resisted and pulled his head backwards and sideways. Jake caught Connor by the arms and, leaving Connor no further room for escape, finally succeeded in landing an apologetic peck. He smiled victoriously.

Naturally, the door opened just as Jake pulled away. Bryne raised an eyebrow at them and smirked. He’d put his t-shirt on the right way that time and wore a fur-collared jacket over it.

“Oooh, what’s this? You guys making out outside my room?” He winked. “You know, you could always just ask to borrow it, Jake.”

“Are you saying that because you want to watch, or…?” Jake trailed off with a wink.

Bryne just grinned at him. “I’ll leave that up to your imagination.”

“Hades, Tackle.”

Before anyone else had a chance to react, the Houndour obeyed his trainer’s command, taking Bryne down with an “Oof!”

“Connor!” Jake exclaimed, though he immediately burst into a fit of laughter.

Connor simply smirked wryly.

“Ouch! Okay, OKAY! I’M SORRY! CALL HIM OFF!”

Bryne was pinned under the hellhound, his arms up over his head. Ra-Ra had sprung from his grasp a split-second before Hades had launched himself at Bryne. She floated above them, peering down in clear worry.

Daddy good?

“He’s good, Ra-Ra,” Connor replied. “In fact, Hades, show Bryne how much we forgive him.”

Hades uttered a happy bark and started licking Bryne’s face.

“Ewww! Doggy breath!” Bryne couldn’t help laughing as he tried to pull his arms free to shove the dog out of his face. “Okay, okay, seriously, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it!”

Connor snapped his fingers and pointed to his side. Hades immediately leaped off and sat next to him.

“Of course you did. And for the record, I brush Hades’ teeth every day, just after mine, so his breath is perfectly fresh.”

Bryne pushed himself up onto his elbows and eyed the happily panting pup. “Dogs.” He sniffed and rolled to his feet, catching Ra-Ra as she dipped in midair. “Honestly, cats are much cleaner… Anywaaay. What do you guys want to do?”

Jake shrugged. “Dunno!”

“There’s a club at the fore of the deck exclusive to the tournament’s participants,” Connor noted. “Although a good number of the others will probably be there, we could check it out all the same; it’s bound to be quieter than the promenade or lido decks.”

Bryne glanced at Ra-Ra and frowned. “If Ra-Ra is okay with it, then sure, let’s do that.”

Dance, Daddy?

“Of course, Ra-Ra! We can go dancing!” He looked to Jake and Connor. “We can go dancing, right?”

Connor twisted his lips in uncertainty. “Well, I know I said it’s a club, but it’s really more like an observation lounge. There is a live piano, but it’s meant to soothe, not excite. I don’t think there’ll be much room for dancing anyway.”

Jake glanced his way. “You got all that from scanning the booklet for a few seconds?”

“My speed-reading comprehension is decent. And the booklet wasn’t a general one — it was intended for us specifically.”

Bryne looked back and forth between them, spectating their conversation. “Riiight… Or we could make some entertainment?” He held up Lucky’s Pokeball in suggestion. “So, you in?”

Connor nimbly plucked the Pokéball out of Bryne’s hand and stashed it in a pocket. “Sure, we’re in, but I think I’ll hold onto the brat for safekeeping.”

He pouted but shifted Ra-Ra up onto his shoulder with a shrug. “Fiiine, but don’t blame me if he escapes and runs amok. The ball ain’t in my hands, Connor!”

“Good point.” Connor retrieved the ball and placed it in Bryne’s hand again. “So lock him away in your safe. We all have one.”

Bryne stared at Connor for a moment before glancing back into the room. “We have a safe? Why did no-one tell me this?!”

Connor marched into the room, slowing down and grimacing a bit when he realised just how much of a mess the place was, and retrieved the booklet lying untouched on Bryne’s mini-bar. “They technically did, Bryne, but you weren’t listening when Penelope told us about this little thing.” Muttering under his breath, Connor added, “I swear, nobody reads the manual anymore.”

“Hey! I heard that!”

“I sincerely doubt it, but feel offended all you like. The safe’s in the closet.” He replaced the booklet, pushed a pile of clothing aside on the closest seat of the couch, and sat down, though he knew this would obscure him from the hallway’s view. “I’ll wait!”

Daddy put Lu-lu in safe now?

“Uh, yeah… hang on.” Bryne entered the room and frowned. “So, it’s in the closet, huh? Talk about hiding in plain sight…”

Bryne put Ra-Ra down on the clothing pile on the couch and slipped into the closet. Connor could hear Jake petting Hades outside and murmuring high-pitched praises to him.

Bryne banged about in the closet for a moment, muttering about passcodes, and then there was a series of beeps, another beep, and a “Huzzah!” from Bryne. A moment later, there was yet another beep and Bryne strolled out of the closet looking satisfied with himself.

“Aaand done!”

Connor rose and exited. “Then let’s go!”

Bryne locked the door behind them, asking, “Which way now?” When Connor pointed straight down the hallway, he chuckled nervously and said, “Oh, right.”

Jake led the way. He turned to look at Bryne over his shoulder and asked, “So, who did Lucky harrass?”

“Just these really cute twins in— Oh!” Bryne gestured to suite 9.062 as they passed it. “THAT room.”

Jake stopped and looked thoughtful. “Huh. That was almost Connor’s room.”

“Well, no, we considered this pair before deciding it was too far aft.”

Bryne didn’t seem like he’d heard anything either of them had said. “—They were… w o w… just…” He fanned himself and made a swooning gesture. “So hot. Like daaayum, guys.”

Before anyone could stop him, Jake rapped his knuckles against the door.

“Uh,” Bryne said, watching him uncertainly, "they weren’t keen on visitors last I checked.”

“It doesn’t sound like anyone’s inside, though,” Connor pointed out.

“Maybe they’re at the club!” Jake ventured!

Bryne was oddly silent during the long walk down the hall. They checked the concierge lounge to ensure the twins weren’t there instead, but even Connor could see none of the occupants looked the same. Once they reached the end of the hallway, they turned into a corner that led to some kind of boardroom. A brightly lit passage next to it clearly indicated the way to the observation lounge.

The Commodore Club, as the lounge was called, had panoramic windows displaying the ship’s bow in all its glory. The place was divided in half, with thick walls, two sets of stairs, and three lifts standing in the middle. They’d entered the portside section, which evidently contained the piano. The atmosphere really was quite relaxing!

“Do you see them here?” Jake asked, whispering so as not to attract more looks than they already got.

Bryne craned his head around and then nodded, whispering back conspiratorially, “I think that’s them over by the bar?” He tilted his head towards two white-blondes at the far end of the bar. “The platinum blondes. Do you see them?”

The bar was at the very front of the lounge, on the other side of the thick walls. Though Connor could see only a young woman clearly chatting away to the bartender, he couldn’t see if anyone sat next to her.

“I see them!” Jake said in a normal tone. “Let’s go say hi.”

Connor wondered how happy they would be to see Bryne if his brat of a Luxio had bothered them in their own room — or one of their rooms, he supposed — but there was no stopping the two extraverted men, who’d already set off towards them. Connor looked at Leon, both of them shaking their heads before following.

“Hey there!” Jake said, stopping beside the girl and interrupting her conversation. “Are you two the trainers staying in rooms sixty-two and sixty-four?”

The woman’s smile faded into a frown at the interruption. Her brother, who indeed looked like a gender-bent version of her, seemed just as displeased. When they spied Bryne standing just behind Jake, their frowns intensified into scowls.

“What do you want?”

Jake laughed at their reactions. “And that is exactly why we’re here. We heard you had a run-in with his—” He jerked his head towards Bryne. “—Luxio, so we decided we’d introduce him properly to you.” He smiled brightly for a second before a thought struck him and he hastily added, “Bryne, not the Luxio.”

“I had him lock the little brat away in his safe before we came here,” Connor offered with a roll of his eyes.

At Connor’s words, a look of recognition passed over the twins’s faces. “Wait, aren’t you—”

“—that couple who kissed on the yacht club’s balcony—”

“—and who rode in on that Arcanine together—”

“—for Ezra’s final introduction?”

Connor, Jake, and Bryne all blinked in surprise. If Connor hadn’t been looking at them, he’d have thought the Irish twins had spoken in unison, but no, they’d spoken in turns. He knew the stereotype of twins finishing each other’s sentences, which he’d always thought too stupid to be true, but there they were, two people who had seamlessly uttered different parts of the same sentence.

Jake recovered first, as usual. “Yeah, that’s us! Jake Fox and Connor Redreed.”

Connor suddenly felt very self-conscious. “Umm, heh, hi?”

The woman slipped off her barstool and energetically high-fived Jake in one fluid motion. Jake, his reflexes quick as they were, met her grin and high-five with equal enthusiasm.

The other twin slipped off his stool as well and made a beeline towards Connor. Unfortunately, Connor wasn’t blessed with a reaction time as fast as his boyfriend’s, so the much taller man had him wrapped in a hug almost before his eyes had time to widen. He panicked initially, but when Connor looked to Jake for help, he found encouragement instead. The twin hadn’t ceased the embrace yet, so Connor laughed nervously and tried to return it as sincerely as possible. He must have succeeded, for the man then stepped back and beamed.

…And then it was his sister’s turn at ambushing Connor. That time, at least, he’d already recovered from the shock and hugged her back straight away. (It helped that he was generally less attracted to women than men and had far more experience hugging them.) She stepped back much sooner than her brother, who’d fist-bumped Jake in the meantime.

“It’s so wonderful to meet you two at last!” the sister said, grinning at Connor and Jake interchangeably. “Back at the yacht club, everyone could tell from your matching suits that you two already knew each other, but your scripted meeting was so charming and sincere and heart-warming, Orion and I couldn’t help but cheer when you kissed!”

Connor blushed profusely. People had… cheered? He felt like running right back to his room and only leaving again at dinner.

“You two are absolutely the most adorable.”

So damn adorable,” the brother agreed.

“You must sit with us!”

The two nearest tables were already occupied, so the woman headed for the closest table after them, which happened to be next to the piano and stood almost at the centre of their side of the lounge. Her brother and Jake were right on her heels, leaving Connor to exchange a bewildered glance with Bryne before following. Connor joined Jake sitting opposite the twins, with Bryne and Edward pulling up chairs to sit between Jake and the sister. Leon instead chose to sat between Connor and the brother, while Hades laid down beside Connor’s chair.

“So…” Connor tentatively started, looking at the brother, “you’re Orion?”

“Orion Starr,” he confirmed.

“Oh, and I’m Celeste,” his sister added.

Jake smiled expectantly at Bryne, who started as if suddenly jerking awake. “Ah, Bryne Paige! I’m, umm… wait, didn’t you already know my name?”

“Yes, we did,” Celeste said coolly, though Connor had seen mischievous glints enough times to detect the one present in her eyes. “But you’re better described as the boy with the undisciplined Feebas and rude Luxio.”

Bryne bowed his head. “Yeah, they’re…” He sighed. “…both brats. Only Ra-Ra here is an angel.”

The Ralts looked at the twins and then at Bryne. Daddy sad? Celeste smiled, causing Ra-Ra to jerk her head in her direction and clap happily. Oh! Tease Daddy!

Bryne looked up, surprised. Celeste hid it very well, but Connor noticed the faintest trace of embarrasment.

“What else can you do?” Jake asked cheerily.

The twins blinked and stared at him. “What?” Celeste asked.

“You guys are telepaths, right? But are you telekinetics too? Ooh, maybe even teleporters?! That’d be really impressive.”

Celeste raised her hand. “Slow down. Yes, we are; yes, we are; no, we aren’t.”

“Could you… repeat that more clearly for the rest of us?” Bryne asked, not even trying to hide his confusion.

The twins sighed heavily. “Our psychic specialities,” Celeste said matter-of-factly, “are telepathy and telepathic attacks.”

“Telekinesis and telekinetic attacks are side skills,” Orion added, “but neither of us can teleport.”

“So do you do the psychic twin thing all the time,” Jake continued, grinning wildly, “or is that only when you meet celebrities?”

Their composure slipped slightly, with Celeste having less success at hiding her smile than her brother. “It happens subconsciously when we’re excited. We sometimes don’t even realise it happened.”

“Shouldn’t you speak simultaneously, then?” Connor asked, voicing his earlier thought.

“Yes,” Orion answered. “We were aware of it this time.”

“Can you read people’s thoughts?” Bryne suddenly asked, looking eager. “Can you tell what I’m thinking right now?”

“You think we’re hot,” Celeste said simply.

“Smoking, actually,” Orion added. Unlike his sister, he had a smirk plastered onto his face.

Bryne’s jaw dropped. “WOW!” He grinned at Jake and Connor. “They can actually read minds!”

Jake burst into a fit of laughter, and even Connor couldn’t help but smile (though he had to resist the strong urge to face-palm). Shaking his head, he said, “No, Bryne. I’m the only non-psychic here besides you, and even I could have said that. It’s written in your smile, your eyes, the way you face them more than Jake and me…”

Bryne lifted his arms and spread his palms upwards in a “What can I say?”-shrug.

“You’re a psychic too?” Celeste asked Jake. Connor realised she had very expressive eyes, since they consistently belied her often stony expression.

Jake smirked slyly. The napkin in front of him subtly lifted into the air, hovering just above the table’s surface. “I’ve had some training. I’m decent at telekinesis—”

Connor held back a scoff at Jake’s false modesty. As if the current demonstration wasn’t sufficient evidence already, Connor had seen more than enough of Jake’s skill during the past year to prove he was more than just decent. His boyfriend was just trying to seem mysterious.

“—but I really suck at telepathy. I bet if he practised with you guys, Connor — or even Bryne! — would be better at it than me.”

“That’s a great idea, Jake!” Bryne exclaimed, drawing all eyes to him again. Looking at the twins, he said, “You should totally play a game with us. See if you can actually read our thoughts. You might even attract a crowd! It would be an opportunity to show off your…”

“Skills?” Jake offered.

“No, there’s a different word. Connor, help me out here.”

“Prowess?” Connor was perplexed. What was Bryne up to?

“Yeah, prowess!” Bryne smirked and waggled his eyebrows at the twins. “That, or your good looks.”

Connor tried to catch Jake’s gaze, but Jake, being a good boyfriend, was already keeping an eye on Connor. He raised an eyebrow and pulled his lips flat, asking Connor how he felt. Connor pulled his shoulders back slightly and pointedly stared at Bryne, trying to convey that they had to intervene on the fool’s behalf, somehow.

Jake nodded. “Yeah, I definitely meant we should do that now,” he said with a snicker. “But hey, I don’t mind being impressed by two very attractive twins. I’ll… referee. Connor, any ideas?” He winked.

Connor would have winked back, but he wouldn’t — couldn’t — with the others watching him. He patted down his jacket and pulled out a small notepad, also retrieving a clutch pencil from his jeans.

“I suppose we could write something down on paper, but have it face-down, and then you two need to determine what it says without looking at it?” He racked his mind for more ideas. “Actually, one of us, Bryne and me, could write down a monster, and then the other would think of a Pokémon associated with it. One of you would then try to determine what the paper says, while the other would try to read the thoughts of the person thinking of the Pokémon. We could take turns with who does what, since I know repeating an exercise over and over will quickly become tedious.”

In the silence following Connor’s rambled explanation, the Starrs simply stared at him. He began feeling uncomfortable, but he noticed their eyes were a little out of focus, so they were probably speaking to each other. When their eyes came back into focus, they broke into smiles.

“We accept your offer! Let’s play.”

“Oh!” Connor couldn’t stop himself in time. He blushed. “Umm, just to be sure, you can do all of that, right?”

Celeste’s smile turned cocky. “I’ll take Bryne.”

“And I’ll take you.”

Connor could have sworn Orion was deliberately trying to make him blush, but unfortunately, he’d never had much success at suppressing that particular reflex. Ignoring the heat in his ears, he said, “Yeah, well, we’re sitting opposite each other, so that’s simply logical.”

“Oh, Bryne,” Jake said, standing, “that means you should take my seat.” He stepped back and waited until Bryne had sat down before he called to the other occupants of the lounge, in a voice not too loud, “Hey, sorry to bother you all, but would any of you be interested in watching a fun demonstration of telepathy?”

He received a few angry stares and hostile glares, but some of the others nodded and ambled over, while others discussed it amongst themselves before approaching more reluctantly. A small circle of eight people ended up standing around the table. Connor recognised none of them.

“All right! Here’s what will happen: Bryne here will write down the name of a monster starting with the letter A on a piece of paper, which he’ll show to Connor and me. Connor’s job will then be to think of a Pokémon that comes to mind and whisper it to me. Celeste here will then try to use her telepathy to determine what Bryne’s piece of paper says, and Orion will use his to determine the Pokémon Connor’s thinking of.

“And just to be clear, Connor has to project his thoughts at Orion, who could receive them in any form.” He eyed the crowd. “Telepathy isn’t magic. It has rules, people. But none of that matters as long as they look cool, am I right?” Some of the onlookers chuckled, and one audibly agreed. “After they’ve done this, the gorgeous twins will state their guesses and the pairs will swap methods. That means Connor will then write down the name of a monster starting with B and Bryne will think of a fitting Pokémon. You get the idea.

“I’ll keep track of the score, and at the end of it all, we’ll see which twin is the better psychic! Or maybe which twin has the better partner,” he added with a smirk, shooting Connor an encouraging glance. “Are we ready?!”

Three people in the small crowd actually cheered “Yeah!”

“Awesome! Then let’s begin! Err, Connor, maybe tear your page into little pieces so our Starrs here won’t experience any interference.”

Connor nodded, catching Jake’s meaning, and did as suggested. He handed the clutch pencil to Bryne, who stared into the distance.

“Oi, you two,” Jake said admonishingly, looking at the twins. He grinned. “No cheating. Look away.”

Bryne finally wrote down “Amarok” and held up the paper for Connor and Jake to see.

“What’s that?” somebody behind them murmured.

“Oh, new rule!” Jake announced! “The person choosing a monster needs to try and pick one that the other person could reasonably know, but they’re not allowed to explain it if the other person doesn’t know.”

Fortunately for Connor, he knew the Amarok was a giant wolf in Inuit folklore that hunted people foolish enough to wander around on their own at night. Mightyena would work, but it wasn’t exactly huge, so he whispered “Arcanine” into Jake’s ear instead.

“All right, twins, you may do your thing!”

They exchanged a look, during which their eyes became unfocused again.

“Actually,” Jake said, drawing them back to the present, “I was initially going to let you discuss the answers between yourselves, but I decided a competition would be more fun. So, do you want to end up scoring evenly?” He winked at them.

The twins exchanged another look and then grinned at him.

“A competition—”

“—sounds like fun!”

“We accept!”

Celeste proceeded to gaze at Bryne’s paper intently, whereas Orion proceeded to… Oh. Right. Seeing the male twin’s gaze fixed intently on him, Connor realised he had his own part to play. He envisioned an Arcanine and willed the image at Orion, also thinking the word “Arcanine” — both in sound and in text.

“Do we have an answer yet?” Jake asked excitedly.

“Bryne wrote down ‘Amarok’,” Celeste announced.

“And Connor is thinking of an Arcanine.” Orion made a half-annoyed, half-amused face, glanced at Jake, and then turned back to Connor. “Well, he would be if he could focus on more than one thing at a time. Nice singing voice, by the way.” Then, he winked mischievously. “Ohhh, and kissing… Naughty, naughty! Ezra may need to repeat the ‘no fraternising’ lecture he gave us when we spoke to him last!”

The others laughed, but Connor actually maintained his composure and huffed. “Firstly, you lie — I’m not that scatterbrained. And secondly, you lie — Ezra never gave such a lecture, since it would be simply ridiculous and contradict a certain favour he did us earlier.” To his surprise, his response earned some laughs too.

“But he answered correctly,” Jake declared, “and that’s all that matters! We have a good start so far, with both twins being evenly matched. Swap!”

Connor wrote down “Behemoth”, and Bryne immediately whispered “Groudon” into Jake’s ear. Orion barely had to look at the paper before looking satisfied with himself. Celeste frowned for a moment, Bryne staring at her intently, and then grinned widely.

“Connor picked ‘Behemoth’,” Orion announced with a grin.

“And Bryne is thinking of ‘Groudon’, the legendary Pokémon!”

“Both correct! Two each.”

The next few pairs were Cat Sidhe and Liepard, Doppelganger and Zoroark, and Ent and Trevenant, all of which were guessed correctly. When Connor had to pick a monster for F, nothing but “Fairy” came to mind. He wrote it down and showed it to Jake. “Does that work?”

A couple people behind him booed, but Jake grinned. “I think Bryne can come up with something specific enough to fit with the common perception, so yeah, it works!”

Orion frowned in disapproval when he sensed what Connor had written. Connor grinned apologetically and said, “Well, I doubt you could do better!”

“Hmm, I could, but I won’t.” He winked. “Jake wouldn’t let me.”

Bryne whispered his Pokémon into Jake’s ear, and as soon as Celeste deciphered Bryne’s thought, she said, with a frown, “It’s Whimsicott. And Connor wrote ‘Fairy’, didn’t he?”

Orion folded his arms across his chest. “He did.”

Connor received more boos, but he didn’t feel bad. He simply raised his hans in surrender and said, “I dare all of you to come up with something non-obscure for F! In fact, Orion, you bragged about it, so let’s hear your answer.”

“Fenrir? Firebird? Finfolk? Firedrake? Take your pick.”

“Fenrir is more of a figure than a monster,” Connor objected, “and I’m not sure ‘Firebird’ is even a valid alternative name for ‘Phoenix’. ‘Finfolk’ is a stretch, and ‘Firedrake’… well…” He entreated to the crowd. “What do you think? Is that better than ‘Fairy’?”

“It’s not D for Dragon,” a dude said, “so yeah!”

Connor deflated. “Fine, I accept my shame.”

“Controversial choice or not,” Jake said with a chuckle, “both answers are right! We’re at six-six.”

Bryne was up next, but he looked even more sheepish than Connor when he wrote down “Ghost”. Connor and Celeste, who couldn’t even see the paper, exclaimed, “Seriously?!” at the same time, afterwards gawking at each other in surprise.

“She’s my sister,” Orion said good-naturedly.

“If I allowed Connor’s pick, I’ll allow this one too,” Jake said with a chuckle.

After Connor whispered his Pokémon into Jake’s ear and sent the same array of detailed thoughts at Orion, the man declared, “Chandelure.”

“Ghost,” was Celeste’s unimpressed response, earning Bryne even more boos than Connor. “Could you really not have thought of anything less obvious?”

“Err… yes,” Bryne said, “but it was obscure as shit and I doubt anyone here would’ve known what it was!”

She blinked and pursed her lips. “Gargoyle? Gremlin? Goblin? Ghoul? Griffin?

He flushed and waved a hand. “Okay, okay, point made!”

“Seven-seven!”

Connor again drew a blank with H, though he knew he would have been able to come up with plenty of monster names starting with it if there hadn’t been an expectant crowd staring at him. In the end, he settled for “Hex” and hoped for the best.

“The hell?” Bryne said. “Is that even a thing?”

It reminded Connor of the Afrikaans “Heks”, meaning “Witch”, so he shrugged and figured Bryne would be able to make the connection. Bryne evidently did, for he shrugged and whispered “Mismagius”. Both twins guessed correctly, to nobody’s surprise.

The next one was “Inugami”, which Connor only knew because of his love for canines, and to which he responded with “Houndoom”, of course. He scratched Hades behind the ear afte Orion guessed correctly, earning him a happy bark.

Jinn and Hoopa, Kelpie and Mudsdale (there were very few horses, after all), Leviathan and Kyogre, Mummy and Cofagrigus, Nereid and Milotic (Connor was incensed that Bryne had picked a mermaid instead of an actual tailless nymph), Ouroboros and Rayquaza (the crowd loved that pair), and Poultergeist and Gengar all came to Connor and Bryne easily enough. When they realised Q was next, however, they both shared a nervous glance.

“I know Connor and I can both think of one for Q,” Jake said, “but I’ll be a gracious host and exclude Q and X from the game. Bryne, that means you can skip to R.”

Bryne sighed in relief and immediately wrote down… “Rakshasa”.

“What the hell, Bryne?!”

“What? It’s a legit thing!”

“I know!” Connor exclaimed. “And your knowledge of folkloric monsters is actually impressive, but what do you think the odds are that someone randomly knows what it is?”

Do you know what it is?”

“Fortunately! But—”

“Then I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Connor huffed. There was still the matter of choosing a Pokémon, and the only shapeshifting demon that came to mind was Zoroark — and even then, it only worked contextually. The only Pokémon that could actually (well, supposedly) transform into something else was Mew, and it still had yet to be discovered. He hoped Orion was knowledgeable about cryptids.

Orion and Celeste exchanged a glance — without the psychic twin stuff, for once — and sighed.

“Now, this is a… slightly tougher one,” Celeste said, leaning back in her seat. “I have no idea what it is, but Bryne wrote down… ‘Rakasha’, is that how you pronounce it?”

“Rakshasa,” Jake corrected her, “but close enough!” After the crowd finished cheering, he asked, “Orion?”

“Connor is thinking of an infamous myth, the mysterious Mew!”

Some people in the crowd had clearly never heard of it, but those who had heard of it then ooh’ed.

“Also correct! Damn, you four are still tied, now standing at seventeen each!”

Bryne struggled coming up with “Marowak” for “Skeleton” — which, admittedly, hadn’t been a very good pick — but all the others after that were laughably easy: Zapdos for Thunderbird, Rapidash for Unicorn, Crobat for Vampire, Lycanroc for Werewolf, and Abomasnow for Yeti. When it finally came down to Z, Connor knew it was his last chance to break the tie. He could pick “Ziz”, but he’d already mentioned Rayquaza earlier, so he thought it would be unfair to deprive Bryne of the actual inspiration (even though the traditional ziz was basically a giant griffin). He wrote down “Zombie” instead, mentally lamenting that he was out of better options.

For a moment, it looked like Bryne was going to respond, but then he opened his mouth, closed it, and shrugged. “Okay, I’ll admit it… I’m stumped!” He held his hands up in defeat. “Sorry, guys!”

Connor gawked a little before catching himself. “Wait, really? I can think of a Pokémon.”

Bryne smiled sheepishly. “Really. Not a single one!”

“I can think of one, too,” Orion interjected with a chuckle.

“Oh?” Bryne turned towards him. “Do tell!”

The man smirked and called out, “Parasect!” The smirk widened. “It’s the same Pokemon that Connor is thinking of, by the way.”

Connor gaped at Orion, partially because he was impressed and partially because he hadn’t been projecting any thoughts at the man. Well, at least not intentionally. He hoped it was an accident on his part or a tease on Orion’s, and not that the psychic could actually read his thoughts casually. He’d have to determine which at some point and use mental static to catch Orion out.

“That leaves us with our clear winners!” Jake called, “Victorious by a single point, twenty-four to twenty-three, let’s all congratulate Orion and Connor! And a round of applause to Celeste and Bryne too!”

The crowd, which Connor noticed for the first time had actually almost doubled in size, all clapped enthusiastically. (Probably making, he realised, more noise than was intended for the observation lounge at any given time.) Connor felt his cheeks and ears grow hot, and Bryne grinned widely at the attention. The twins, surprisingly, seemed a little shy at first, but then they waved and smiled at the crowd, earning a few more cheers before the crowd began dissipating.

“That was fun!” Jake said.

“Although…” Connor hesitated. “I know I should get used to people watching me do anything competitively, but that was also stressful and exhausting.” As an afterthought, he added, “And this comes from someone who’s been on-stage in front of two schools for a general knowledge quiz. Twice.

…He realised, too late, that he’d potentially just bragged. Hopefully, nobody would address it.

“Sooo,” Bryne began as the crowd thinned out yet more. “On stage. For school quizzes… Twice, huh?” He chuckled. “ And you’re still stressed out by it? Impressive.

Connor sighed. “I suppose it’s because I have a hand in my general knowledge. I can’t determine how somebody else will read my projected thoughts.”

“You actually projected them quite well, Connor,” Orion said, surprising him. “I was able to pick up on them very clearly. You know, if you practiced with us, you’d probably be pretty good at telepathy.”

“Wait, really?”

“I’d take his word for it,” Jake said encouragingly.

“Oh, definitely!” Celeste said, nodding to Jake and her brother. “I’m sure we can schedule in some lessons in between everything else going on. And you can practice with Bryne and Jake. I know he doesn’t look it, but Bryne is actually pretty good at it too.”

“It’s Ra-Ra’s influence,” he said proudly.

Connor realised the Ralts had sat quietly throughout the entire game. She really was Bryne’s most obedient Pokémon, and not just by process of elimination. He realised he still had an offer to accept, so he pushed the distracting thoughts aside.

“Well, if you’re offering, I’d love to!”

“Awesome!” Celeste beamed at him and then turned to her brother. “First lesson on… shall we say…?”

“Friday.”

She turned back to Connor. ”Friday? That work for you?”

“I don’t know what’ll happen between now and then, which is why I guess you picked that day, but if I’m free, I’ll let you know!”

“Perfect!”

“See you on Friday, then,” Orion said and promptly rested his head on his arms, appearing to… fall asleep at the table? Celeste just rolled her eyes and shoved her brother’s shoulder.

“Did we…?” Jake started laughing and barely managed to prevent himself from laughing uncontrollably. “Did we break your brother?”

"I think we wore him out. He hasn’t been sleeping properly.” She shrugged unapologetically. "So yeah, we kinda broke him."

“Oh!” Jake settled down again. “That’s a shame.”

“It was a pleasure meeting you two,” Connor said politely, “but we don’t want to bother your brother if he needs a nap.”

“Yeah!” Jake agreed. “Besides, we have a quest to complete.”

She cocked her head. “Oh?”

Jake patted his right jacket pocket, from which crawled a very sleepy spider. “I kind of accidentally stole this Spinarak, so we need to find her owner.”

Connor simply sighed. He enjoyed the social interactions, but… it was going to be a long day.
But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
- Paul the Apostle

Spring has returned! Winter is over, and BrumalHunter is no more!
  








I say, in matters of the heart, treat yo' self.
— Donna, Parks & Rec