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 Evolution Of Fable (For those over 12) 
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Chapter VI: A Forgetful Farewell, Shedding Of a Humanity
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Mon Oct 09, 2006 12:06 am
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<font color="999999"> The title, the rithm, the scenes, the sentenses, the emotion, the blend, the eggs sparted on the floor, the sharp writting of that letter, the title<---(think that already said), but anyway... AWESOME! :P </font>

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· Say, Orange looks better than gray, doesn't it?


Mon Oct 09, 2006 8:00 pm
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AABM wrote:
<font color="999999"> The title, the rithm, the scenes, the sentenses, the emotion, the blend, the eggs sparted on the floor, the sharp writting of that letter, the title<---(think that already said), but anyway... AWESOME! :P </font>

Thank you, I'm glad you like it. By the way, do you mean the title of the fic or the title of this chapter? Just wondering :)

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Tue Oct 10, 2006 9:13 am
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<font color="999999">lol, I pronounced "Title" twice, right? *watches the former AABM

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· Say, Orange looks better than gray, doesn't it?


Tue Oct 10, 2006 9:22 am
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The very dust you now stand on responds more willingly to their footsteps than to yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.
---- Chief Seattle


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Chapter V: An Initiation In White Linen, Inheritance Of a Family
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Instinct.

People talked about that word all the time to describe why Sceptile winter in the south of Shino , or how Goldeen knew where to return to the exact streams of their birth to lay their eggs. It's often suggested that human beings in their lofty evolutionary position at the top of the chain are somehow beyond the reach of inborn instinct.

To whatever amount of humanity I had misplaced in exchange for my becoming partly Zubat I now felt strangely grateful, as that invisible hand that drew me westward continued on in a low hum. The call was painfully weak, like the nagging memory of a door left ajar to a dearest treasure.

Nathan, oddly enough, for his love of explaining, had never bothered to tell me his address, yet here I was making an ambling beeline in a seemingly random direction that just seemed right.

It drew me ever on, promising a warm comfort that I remembered so vividly while cradled in his arms...

It sounded so foolish and overdramatic to my conscious mind, like a half-plotted romance novel complete with unrealistic overprotective parents and hundred-year-long feuds... but on some level closer to my heart, it seemed that I had been without his reassurance for weeks rather than days.

The dirt roads near my apartment complex soon gave way to the paved, rock-lined sidewalk of Pewter City as I stopped for a minute to catch my breath. I had been jogging more so than walking all this time without noticing it.

The smell of the city, heavy with the energy and breath of so many people, and its signature Pokémon types mix of sulfur and gravel ash, left a burning feeling of soreness upon the roof of my mouth, akin to the feline urine incident from yesterday. Closing my mouth and breathing deeply through my nose instead seemed to help, if only a little bit.

The nearly undetectable sound of soft paws that had been trailing me for the last two hours or so stopped short just outside of my line of sight. The sound seemed to carry with it a feeling of guilt, if that was even possible.

"Nickel, I thought I told you to not follow me. Go on now, off to Mom and Daddy's house, you still know the way."

The silence behind me, I could tell from experience, listened with pricked ears.

"They'll take good care of you, I promise... better than I could anyway..."

A pitiful mew–one that would have sent even the most hardened cat-hater out to the store to buy a lifetime supply of pokéchow–greeted my ears in reply.

"Nickel, this whole thing could be really dangerous. I don't want you to get hurt, or worse... they might like kitty stew..."

The second mew melted my heart into a warm gooey puddle of blind cat-owner obedience and I sighed in defeat.

"All right all right, you can come. But don't come running to me when they start shoving baby corn into your ears."

Nickel let out a cheerful meow and made an overzealous joyful leap to become a clawed fixture in the previously-empty outside pocket of my backpack. I grumbled, but only a little, at the added furry weight.

Over the years since the fall of the corporate empire that was Silph Corp. and Team Rocket's unlawful business conglomerate, various modern-day dead-end hick villages had sprung up between the major towns and cities. They were mostly shadowy places by nature, where you could buy anything at half price, and had to keep one eye behind you to make sure someone did not accidentally 'misplace' your Spoinks' head jewel.

I should have known he was living in a place like this.

The scenes I had recalled of his abode were hardly those of a residence that one would find positioned on the shining streets of Vermilion City.

My spirits were suddenly renewed when I smelled him on the wind.
The warm stupor that flooded over my caution and doubt at the smell of his scent on the breeze was enough to set the ends of my itching fingers tingling with the sensation of returning blood flow where it had never been lacking before.

My head reeled, my feet felt suddenly heavy, sweat upon my brow from a
hard day's walk feeling all the warmer and more uncomfortable.

Was this what Nathan had felt the first time he had met me? Some sort of glandular reaction? Are our kind really so blatantly codependent?

"God, I missed you." I was in his arms nearly before I had even recognized us as two separate entities. His warm chest was a retreat upon which I pressed, containing the telltale sharpness of his fangs with my own mouth, concealed away from the view of nosy everyday human onlookers.

In any other day of my life I would have thought that creating a spectacle by nearly making out in the middle of the street in public was a downright vulgar action reserved only for hormonal 16-year-olds. But along with my newfound amnesia, instinct, and oddly ill-equipped fangless blood-transporting mouth, I seemed to have thrown any traces of bashfulness and common decency out the window.

I was amazed that some of the resident gangsters and ruffians of the low-end town didn't start shouting and egging us on.

I made a shining attempt to still carry on an intelligent conversation in between kisses.

"Is this... what it's going... to be like... every time we... are apart?"

"Sometimes... even worse... I hear... never knew... it would be this bad."

"My... God!"

One of the greatest examples of mating codependency in the Pokémon world is that of the Psyduck. If the female is ever unlucky enough to be killed with or without her mate's immediate knowledge, he will sense it with his fine-tuned psychic headaches. It's said that the male, upon ever losing track of his female, will fall into a deep depression. The male will then set about constructing a small cave of river mud and debris scarcely big enough for its body to curl up in and go into willful, deadly hibernation. The results of this phenomenon were always less than pleasing to look at for a researcher unlucky enough to view the remains many months later.

Great, we're the humanoid equivalent of a duck type, my cynical side chimed in, but it's voice could barely be heard over my emotions' blissfully happy roar.

Like any bliss, however, it was short-lived, as a larger-than-life hand reached in a menacing fashion from among the shadows of the street's adjoining alley. It pulled me roughly, yet unceremoniously gently (like a bunch of bananas that one was not allowed to bruise but all the same would hate to eat given a choice), into its not-so-public depths.

"Father, you waste too much time with pointless, sappy reunions. You're lucky I'm around to remember your head for you. There will be plenty of time for that later when we are not as expected as I'm sure you know we are today. The sooner we stop pampering her, the better."


I slipped my backpack off, letting it fall gently onto the bed, where it sat oddly motionless. Nickel must have hidden deeper inside its fabric cocoon, afraid of the strangers' new mixed scents.

I could smell them now to with a stronger level of certainty, like a third eye. There was Nathan's reassuring warmth of dust and spice and Milo's new scent, one that brought a feeling of familiarity and understanding, a mix of wine and the memory of a cotton field after fire, alive with ash.

He is of yours, the scent quailed softly with old fashion charm. Try to be nice, won't you?

It was an odd thing, a smell sending a message. But it was so much deeper than any smell humans might be willing to admit they were animal-like enough to still understand. It melted into the very essence of the living body, rising and falling with their breath, edged with a hint of their mood and how they regarded you...

Nathan's scent was heated and male with a dash of unease; Milo's burned cold and male, with a sharpness of something like resentment saying rather explicit things about my presence at the edge of olfaction.

"Here, put this on," Milo snorted gruffly, flinging something light and fabric towards the vicinity of my head.

The assaulting weave made a semi-transparent tent of white over my eyes before I had a chance to pull up the inseam inquisitively.

“You want me to wear a pillowcase?”

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What turned out to not be a pillowcase at all was in fact a pure white sundress made out of the same simple linen.

But not just any dress; it was the sort of sleeveless white dress, pure as snow, that fell to just above the knees. It had with it shapeless and innocent elegance that would befit a storybook little farm girl in the woods of Johto romping through the flowers barefoot with the family Mareep at her heels...

The sort of dress that makes your butt look big. A fine thing to get fed to a dragon in, I thought with some uneasiness in an Old English accent.


The fact that I did happen to be barefoot now also did nothing to soothe my nerves, as my unwilling teenage companion and husband had both insisted I wear nothing but the dress.

The countryside was hardly the shade of summer I had remembered leaving it as.

In my many months of different states of captivity the days had grown short and the early advance of night could be felt, even now, as the breath of autumn rippled through the trees with a dried-out voice that fell short of any acknowledgeable melody.

The dirt path southwest of Pewter City, adjoining the cobblestone road of "Victory" some twenty miles off, had long since dried out and weathered, leaving only golden straw and the first of the season's fallen leaves... along with an occasional lonesome twig and acorn, the latter of which I was getting all too familiar with.

I winced as yet another piece of hard bark nearly impaled itself into the tender ball of my foot with an almost satisfied-sounding snap.

"Are you really sure I have to be barefoot for whenever this is? Would they really mind a pair of slippers? Flip-flops? Jelly... shoes?"

Milo's serious glare from behind me silenced my whining plea for footwear as I fell back into the somber mood that seemed to hang over the three silhouettes we cast in the evening light. Even Nathan, from whom I was a custom to hearing and encouraging word or two, was ghostly quiet.

The silence was a heavy, alive thing, weighted down with unspoken expectation, like a first day to church or temple with none of the smiling faces or free pamphlets.

Then, all too suddenly, it hit me, a hand of moisture, first the smell and then... a feeling, bouncing off rock and resounding like thunder in my ears over and over, painting something in sound that nearly had me gripping Nathan's form before me...

Water... moving water...
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For as far back as I can remember, the Pokémon world had been one of sharp income contrasts.

A handful of rich investor families got even richer with each generation while the rest of the people and surrounding nature went on living in the same manner of farm-based lifestyle as they had two hundred years ago, with the weedle population eating most of their winter fruits and grain.

I'd always learned that most people thought too much funding was put into scientific areas of government while the everyday citizens got even less help than my own government-funded Pokémon center enjoyed.

"With all the scientific wonders in our world, I only hope we can stay alive long enough to see them." My economics teacher had constantly mumbled between sips of something that smelled much too strong to be tea.


But whatever the reason for most people's old-fashioned living, the holier-than-thou conservation group of the Blissy Suns had a hand in the sheer amount of nature I was enjoying now, as they happened to have been the ones to insist upon the building of the man-made Chartreuse River that ran hundreds of miles from the bay of Viridian City to the underground springs of Mt. Moon, fabricated as an "endangered water-type habitat."

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Mud, thick and adobe red, sloshed with a not-so-pleasant sensation (and a sound not unlike the stepping on of a half-dead Politoed) between my toes, signaling that we had at last come to the source of what many Pokémon caretakers thought of as...

Well, let's just say we couldn't even think of it without wishing not-so-nice things would happen to its founders by way of an "escaped" pack of untamed police Growlithe.

I caught a glance of my own reflection as it eyed the crystal clear water of the river's surface with unmasked distaste.

I had been so successfully avoiding this, this... thing... since it was opened a year ago that this was my first time actually seeing it in person.

"Endangered water-type habitat" my hair loops! Everyone knows in lab studies the rarest thing living in here is a school of common blue poliwag. No Pokémon worth its salt would live in water this clean with all their necessary minerals taken out with filters. What's good for drinking water is not the same as what's good for Pokémon... Not that extremist groups have ever opened a biology book to save their...

Where did Nathan go?


The shock of reality hit my inner ranting monologue like a blast of wind, cold and unfeeling. He was gone; somehow in that moment I had stopped to ponder the water and issues that had once been the center of my world as a Joy I had misplaced was seemed to be the center of my new one.

I could still feel the breath of Milo behind me as we walked, or at the moment as he walked and I was prodded lightly forward with what felt like a dagger attached to his hand... Much slower this time...

"C'mon, c'mon. He can't come. This is just for you. Can't have you two being sappy again, ruins the whole thing. You've got an appointment."

Appointment. Something about that word sounded very formal and not so nice to the appointee.

An appointment was something you were dragged to as a teenager to have the dentist yank out your wisdom teeth and reduce your diet to applesauce. An appointment was something you kept with the moral fear of being fired by your boss if you weren't on time.

An appointment.

Your feet are covered in mud... there are burrs between your toes...

I should have been running.

You're out in the middle of the night with a giant boy who could very well eat you...

Running... I remembered running, I remembered when common sense would have taken hold about now...

And you're basically naked, which never is a good thing.

But common sense didn't come, and my legs–for all my begging–kept up their slow, steady march no matter how I pleaded with them.

Maybe it was the magical pull of the just-now-appearing stars though the deep gold of twilight, or the feeling that somehow this whole night was so much bigger than all my life of studying could have ever amounted to if I was just another official nurse at a Pokémon Center...

That "something more" people always talk about having... was this it that was calling to me?

My thoughts seemed to take on living form as I spotted movement among the trees ahead. The three white shapes that had appeared in the crisp air looked as if they were falling from the sky as comets, the largest of which resting its weight on its two followers like a graceful angel folding its wings upon landing. Even now, while they were still so far off, my eyes adjusted to the dimming light well, picking up the figures as they wove to and fro like they were playing tag with an invisible Venomoth.

White... not feathers, cloaks. Who wears cloaks anymore? my logical side murmured, feeling left out in the cold for lack of use.

Before I had a moment to even ponder fashion of the vam... lineage kind, the tallest of the group was there... right there, in front of me.

I stumbled over backwards with an unspoken gasp, narrowly avoiding getting my feet trotted on under hoof.

Hooves?

It was true the two legs peeking out from under the long white cloak did seem–after a dash of smart, expensive-looking men's slacks–to end with two solid black hooves that shined as if a vain stablehand made a habit of using them for a mirror. If I looked even closer, which somehow did not even require the leading of my head with my odd new eyesight, I could just make out short coarse hair a shade or two lighter than Nickel's above the solid masses of bone.

I gulped meekly, and felt my hands edging my body backward even further unconsciously.

His scent was male, and cold... not cool with some understanding like Milo's but the kind of cold that burns silently... and a sweetness, like artificial cherry candy mixed with the chemicals shopping malls put on new clothing before it has been washed... a heavy scent.

"Is it you of the lineage of Nathaniel's blood, Zubat hatchling, who unknowingly wishes to be bestowed the title of mother, and become leader of all who would be called his sons and daughters in the past or future?"

The hooded figure spoke in a monotone voice. His words were a deep tenor, slow, weighted, weaving to and fro at a whisper as if daring me to question something unspoken.

I could only bring myself to pretend to be magically attracted by the lining of Zangoose fur. It made a heavy snow-white and crimson-striped loop around the hood's depths and lay like a 1930's boa around the cloak's neck, fastening all the way to the breast, of a well-tailored tan waistcoat with shining golden buttons.

It was so odd a fashion statement, it could have been classy– had something not died to become it.

"So then. Your silence speaks your will. I, Father Bartholomew, Ponyta lineage, of the first ranking, shall be your sole Judge of Initiation, my will be Law. I swear to be just."

Uneasy silence again.

Oh please, just let him stop talking.

Somehow, the fact that I could not see his eyes gave him a certain power I couldn't place. A power that left me somehow invisibly indebted to him for even daring to breathe.

I missed Nathan's voice so much; it was a calming wave of something that seemed to be a million miles away from this silence which was slowly but surely making me feel very small.

No... I'm not anyone important, no one at all, please, please let me go home, please?
I could feel my eyes screaming with all the dignity I could master at the shadowed face.

The man's voice flitted lightly upward, ever so slightly, when he drew a breath again.

"Now then, the formality of the rite of beginning is over and business is at hand. What is your name?"

"Y... Yvonne," I whispered, my voice sounding much smaller than I had meant it to.

"Yvonne. What a respectable, obedient name... a little ewe." he spoke, his tone circling around me like a warm bath with none of the comfort.

Suddenly, with the smooth graceful movement of a showman, the figure swept off his hood and bowed at a level just above my head.

The air came alive with the trouch, like light of living flame as the man revealed his head. The fire, free of what must have been a flame-retardant fabric, danced and arranged itself loosely like the petals of a lotus flower before being whipped up for his bowing form.

"Bartholomew, Fledgling Glory, whom you are privileged to be meeting, I'm sure."

Despite the fact that I knew Ponyta had been said to have compete control of their flames, seeing this act presented on a human form left me as speechless as his fake, dipped-in-honey talk did uneasy.

Before I noticed it he had me on my feet, hand grasped between his own to kiss it, and I saw his face for the first time.

It had once been a handsome face, all the signs were there, his high cheekbones and the line of his jaw... he could not be more than ten years older than Nathan. But above the nose all normally stopped.

His eyes, with deep endless irises of brown and yellow, looked as if they had outgrown their sockets and, not content with merely moving outward, had also moved their inner workings to eliminate the bridge of his nose altogether.
More than making up for this loss, however, was a large mantle of bone (reminding me of the pictures of the early cavemen in ancient times) running under a united brow. Most impressive of all was the long spiral horn that crowned this brows center. Looking nearly eight inches long, the ivory horn picked up the light of the centuar like man's mane as it flowed to and though.

The shock of his true appearance and the hypnotic fire had me dipping lightly forward before I heard Bartholomew's next words.

"So very young to be put to the test, but I suppose Nathaniel and his weak line has no choice. A mother of Zubat even if you do succeed..."

I saw the thin line of drool beginning around Bartholomew's small mouth, moving as though the world had fallen into a pit only large enough to contain he and I.

Somewhere inside of me, a new part of my conscious stirred uneasily. I knew it was new because, in my twenty years of living, no remark had ever made my hands itch.

I felt as if I was watching myself inside my body, powerless as it wrote its own story... a story... a story where...

"It is truly a shame your DNA is predisposed to such weakness."

My hands burned.

"You would have made a fine mother of Ponyta ..."

The soft pink tissue of his tongue was against my face with a full forceful lick before I even had a moment to turn my head.

When I did, his lick merely changed course to glide over my cheek and ear, frenzying my mind with sudden disbelief before it was cut short with a howling curse, nearly causing my captive to drop my arm that he now had gripped near his chest.

"Ungrateful poison-type wench!"

The two neat gashes that now ran across the top of his nearly non-existent nose oozed red with blood before taking on a blackish tint.

What just happened?

My free hand throbbed as if in reply. I doubled over in convulsions as I lifted it to my face in the firelight.

Two claws, curling slightly where normal nails had once been on my middle and ring fingers, shone with a glossy newness. The claws were nearly twice the length of my hand.

I turned them around again in the light, entranced somehow by the semi-transparent gloss of the needle-like width. They contained a purple liquid that now appeared to drip from somewhere inside my own body toward their sharp tips.

Bartholomew's face was a barely-contained mask of pain as he shook me roughly out of my dreamlike trance.

"I am finished with you and mercy for this night. You will have your perilous trail..."

I barely had a breath to scream as his other arm whipped up to grip my throat, yanking me unceremoniously off the ground with amazing strength. I gasped and clawed in the hazy world that spun around me, the nails of his hand digging into my tender flesh. They felt more like segments of bone than dead skin.

"You will..."

The crashing thunder of moving liquid beneath my suspended feet filled me suddenly with the dread of being cast into Hell. The waters voice bounced off every single stone in a chorus of death.

No... please, God, no.

"Swim."

My whole universe was a noiseless, scentless terror that began from the breaking of the surface of the water's domain. All alone, like a newborn stripped of whatever luxuries it had just began to realize of sight and sound.

The long curved claws cut against weak, breaking away rock and dirt, stirring up a fresh cloud to darken the crystal waters strong current.
Their newly grown siblings from the toes of the creatures...my feet dug in to find only a moments traction, in that moment my mind screamed in fear. My mouth followed and was greeted by a line of precious lost air bubbles.

Choking... too fast...something was wrong...

I love water...

The water flowed into my mouth faster than ever, like a unforgiving fist of force stopping short of going down my throat yet still slowly blurring my thoughts as I tried to draw breath...

I know how to swim....don't I?


Those slits on the roof of your mouth... My voice of logic whimpered and then faded away dreamily, talking all the way They feed you but kill you, funny, not being able to close them...

Minutes, hours, weeks, years all flowed together in that crystal water abyss as I felt my body slowly give up hope and stop in its fight, grow heavy... then numb and senseless.

It seemed like a hundred years had passed before I felt a strong pressure grip me around the waist and lift me heavenward against the god-like current. I felt the cold frenzying hand of the night air hug my face in the moonlight as I was placed upon the warm earth. Somewhere, someone lifted the hair out of my eyes as my vision swam.

Violent coughing and vomiting filled my senses as I heard the faint sound of running feet upon grass and dead greenery, my nose too full of watery dullness to even register a scent.

"...he did it, he really did it! I can't believe that..." Milo's voice mumbled a line of obscenities I did not even know could be used together to define someone nearby from somewhere behind me "...actually did it! I knew he was looking to get you..."

"Enough." Nathan's voice ended Milo's commentary suddenly with a snap.

My vision slowly returning as my latest episode of vomiting subsided, I saw my hands before me in shock. What had once been my normal tight skin upon my forearms had bloated outward as if grossly swollen, as transparent as my new nails, showing clearly like a gruesome streetmap the pathways of my violet-tinted veins, the pores in my skin becoming each a small section of water-oozing sponge as I pressed it with my thumb in morbid wonder.

Halfway through a new fit of coughing I felt my body began to shake, a warmth of emotion festering. Shaking and vomiting, I could just barely make out the face of the hooded Bartholomew turn my way many miles upstream, and give a deep bow.

"I... hate... you..." I managed as my first spoken words in a croaking whisper at his silhouetted form as it melted into the darkness.

"Welcome to family tradition," replied Milo, the slight tone to his words betraying a smile.

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Wed Feb 28, 2007 4:24 pm
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I'm so sorry this chapter has been done for a year but I lost my password and could not update until now. I thank you so much for your understanding and readership {zubat}



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Chapter VI: An Unmet Expectation, Reunion of A Bloodline
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The battle of words Nathan and I were locked in showed little chance of ending anything soon.

"He goes."

"He stays."

"He goes."

"He stays."

"I could always just eat him and get it all over with," Milo chimed in flatly.

There are many downsides to having a pet. None of those owners guides ever talk about the many methods needed to coax a domesticated meowth off the ceiling upon his first encounter with newly acquired vampiric features and relations.

Hm, now that is a niche reading market if I ever heard of one, I thought wistfully.

"All right, he may accompany us if you wish it, but I would appreciate it if he did not provide his own atmospheric lighting," said Nathan, adding a mumbled "I am quite attached to it" afterward.

Where Nickel now resided was not exactly the ceiling, but it was as near as a feline who was skilled at leaping from bed to bookcase top could ever hope to get. Of course, the frenzy of pure terror may have helped.

Thanks to Milo's love for bearing his true jaws, the bowl-like shade under the light bulb was now edged on one side with a perfect scratch indentation of ten individual claws. The unreasonable puffball of cream fur ending in a cinnamon roll like engorgement of a brown tipped tail that had once been a meowth hissed fiercely.

My outstretched hand retreated a little, keen cat owner senses were always skilled at telling the moment before you risked a painful clawing.

Not that I would blame him...

My own claws were surprisingly retractable.

It had taken four hours, long into the night yesterday (and five attempts at holding a pen) to even partially began to understand how my emotions and claw withdrawal where somehow linked. While the imprints of my former nails remained, I had been told that skin would never again grow over their slits...

Being able to reduce the long, nosferatu-ish things to small purple nubs that lined up at finger level was a huge blessing.

Thank goodness there is a natural way of hiding them. At best humans might have indentured me to cut hay.

The thought of spending nearly eternity feeding and residing with zoo animals while being saved for posterity filled me with a unique form of dread. I clicked my tongue softly, shifting my weight on the chair Nathan was holding steady beneath me.

"Here kitty kitty, here, come down, we're going to keep you with us." I darted my hand forward slowly again.

"...unfortunately. Just what we need, another male pure," Milo added flatly. "He's going to make us miss the 4:45, you know."

"Oh, is that the ship you were talking about? It's hardly ever on time... pure?" I tilted my head at the unusual use of the word.

"A pure is what we call a normal pokémon. Although it is not the nicest of terms. It is rather like calling a dark skinned Johto islander a—"

I couldn't deny I was a little relieved and amused when the bowl shade under the light bulb gave way just then under Nickels weight, cutting Nathan's expatiation short. The resulting momentum nearly deposed an unhappy, maddened ball of fur squarely on Milo's head. He was surprisingly quick for an oversized boy.

"Meaw... th? " Nickel commented innocently in the rumble, shaking from head to paw.

"Oh, poor baby!" I squealed in standard babyish kitty owner-ese, hopping down to cuddle a bedraggled shadow of my former pokémon.

It was just as well; I had already had enough expatiation in the last two days alone to last a lifetime. Still, it seemed I couldn't help but question more and more.

Everything was so otherworldly, half of it was still swimming around my mind like the waters of that hellish river.

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"Why?"

The simple word in question I could feel as it rang again in my eyes. My shaking hands reached to to over-lace Nathan's own as he raised the china cup to my lips.

The blood was a warm syrup, mixed with an odd earthy tanginess.

I tried my best to not think how 'fresh' my elixir must have been to retain its former body's warmth. It was enough of a comfort to see that my arms had stopped retaining water, shrinking back to hug skin to muscle tightly.

"Why did he—"

"He has done you a great disservice."

Nathan began, twisting the frail fabric of the now dry ceremonial dress between his hands. I was silently grateful for again wearing my nurse uniform under the bed's light sheets.

"You see, Bartholomew put you though the water trial rather than that of the air."

I fixed Nathan with a blank look of puzzlement.

This was quite an accomplishment, since I had only regained control of my facial muscles hours ago, after heaving up more water than I cared to remember.

"The trials are meant to awaken the powers of a hatchling Mother. There is one for each..."

"Awaken powers?"

"Yes, we share many of the abilities of pokémon..."

Okay, I'll bite, I concluded in wordless irony to Nathan's understanding face. Deciding that it was better for my sanity to bypass the "with great power comes great responsibility" speech, I cut right to the question that seemed would bring the worst news first.

With my luck I might as well get it over with...

"Why is it... so important I have powers?"

I could see Nathan wince, but caught the sweat laced smell of his unease long before the facial movement. This was definitely something he had been stewing over.

Bingo.

"I meant to tell you... so many times... " He said, gripping the half-empty tea cup. "Perhaps it is I who have done you the greatest disservice of all..."

My husband's voice took on a heaviness of tone much too worn to suit his unlined face.

"I was... selfish, this year being the last I could take a wife..."

His green eyes glinted lilac as they darted up at me and then resumed contemplation of the cup just as quickly. "There is... a meeting of our kind.. a great celebration held once every seven years..."

My stomach, having regained sensation after being waterlogged, gave a feeble flip-flop of uneasiness.

"It is called The Gathering, its highlight being a series of organized and free-range... mandatory battles."

He blurted out the last words quickly as if expecting my head to burst into flame. It might as well have.

Words poured from me like an uncorked bottle, put under the pressure of years of hearing others talk. "You... bite me on the neck... marry me God only knows how... drag me out of my nice comfortable life..."

I shuddered a bit, my fury masking my white lie.

"Three months before graduation.. and now you want me to battle for you like some type of... trained pet... !"

I was stopped by his mouth. It was a very good conversationalist, and his kiss soon turned my argument to jelly. Still... it was an angry jelly.

"With me. Battle with me, with us, " he whispered, his aged tone gone and replaced with youthful enthusiasm.

"We are no better, there are no masters here." The shaggy brown bangs of his forehead pressed against my pink in gentle affection. "And if there should ever be, you already far outrank me."

"Geesh Father, but you sure know which side your bread is buttered on..." I heard Milo whisper airily somewhere far away, shoving odds and ends into a large knapsack.

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The seaside city of Celadon had long since given up trying to be a historic town. After all, who cared for old buildings with outdated pokeball exhibits of the first settlers when there was money to be made? The area surrounding the port was home to an eternal carnival of shops, balloon venders, and artists water-coloring Machop caricatures of young underweight business men.

With all this advancement and modern convenience, however, ships where still the preferred method of travel. It was true we did have airplanes and even the new shining symbol of progress that was the express monorail connecting Kanto and Johto over the Cancun Sea... but in much the same way as the rough, untamable ground kept cars from being commonplace, so did the wind currents over the Seafoam Islands keep anything but well-trained giant Spearow breeds from traveling the sky.

If we didn't have pokémon I wonder if humans could have even lived here in the first place.

Before I had any more time to reflect on what I knew about this port-side city (useless facts that somehow seemed to shine now like pearls of sanity in the sea of my confused mind) the ship had arrived. The howling of its steam-fed horn sent me diving to catch the nook of Nathan's arm, my other hand pressed in vain over my sensitive ear.

What would have once only been a deafening sound to my ears some months ago was now an unearthly tone that felt as if it was about to puncture both my eardrums simultaneously. I peered over toward the crowded deck with a shaken gaze, my head still ringing.

It's a shame I didn't look up sooner, I thought in bemused wonder. If all of our kinds' ears are alike... Driven by some dark, newfound sense of humor I was beginning to grow accustomed to, my mind could not help painting a picture of a good three-fourths of the ships passengers recoiling down toward the deck in pain, hissing with long blood-soaked fangs bared like unholy pokémon based demons, as the few humans gasped in overdramatic terror.

...probably not, I concluded, shifting my feet nervously.

I had never been good at meeting new people. Maybe it was because I judged them too fast. Maybe it was that most of my childhood friends had been imaginary and not all that good at debate. But whatever the reason for my high level of social anxiety normally, the fact that Nathan had kindly informed me that these strangers would know me as 'Mother' sent my emotions to a whole new level.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Three more people. That would make six of us all together. The basic math did not add up to anymore reassurance in my mind about the likelihood of our group having a chance in this "gathering"... whatever it was.

At least now you'll have a full-belt pokémon team, my inner voice chimed in a merry tone.

Shut up you. I answered back with a snap.

Of course talking to oneself was not at all healthy, but given the circumstances I would take any opportunity to vent my frustration I was able to.

"So they're coming by boat?" I asked, trying to make polite conversation after my raging outburst over being told I was indentured to fight. It had lasted a good hour or so since Nathan's kiss, after all, and had carried on at a merry pace until a worried forehead rub from Nickel had snapped me out of that trainwreck of a one-sided argument.

Nathan, true to his long-paused, carefully-worded virtual chatting style I had known him for in all our months of internet interaction, did not seem to be very affected. In fact, all this time he had been sitting with his head resting upon the palm of his hand, lounging back in the recesses of the white cushioned chair with the side of his boot crossed over his other leg like some sort of modern day Tauros rancher. The only thing that betrayed him were his eyes, which although dim and out of focus, would every now and then break from their trance and expose a deep, thoughtful stare.

Something about my tone changing from an angry "how dare you use me as a tool? I'll be happy to relieve you of a few male body parts" sound to a brisk "okay, if I am going to be a tool, I'm going to be my own, and know about all my attachments" one seemed to break him out of his trace.

"Yes, the others will be arriving on the liner from Johto this afternoon," Nathan confirmed, tracing his hand around the side of his face to rub his eyes.

"Why are they living in the islands? Wouldn't it be easier for them to live around here? With you two?"

Milo blinked, looking up from where he was shining his enormous shoes, and stared at me as if I had just suggested he wear neon pink boxer shorts outside his pants. "You ever see one of those old horror flicks? The ones with the vampires, and the nosy doctors who find their homes?"

I nodded.

"And what is always their first reaction to seeing the happy little family, all nice and cozy, in one spot?" Milo concluded, raising his eyebrows for dramatic effect.

"They... oh, I see what you mean."

"Let's just say our kind's faith in human coping skills has not exactly grown by leaps and bounds since the time of those pictures," Nathan concluded, reaching out to grab his coat.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

And now here we were, standing in front of the ship that, somewhere, contained Nathan's... my... our... children.

Me... a mother. At my age... a mother... my god... I'm not even really a mother... I'm a stepmom!

At that moment every negative connotation I had ever heard about the label from others over my few years of life hit me mentality like a sack of unpolished geodude.

They would hate me. I would say something wrong and they would hate me. Or I would say something right that was wrong to them and they would hate me more.

They would hate me, Nathan's once happy family would disband, and we would spend eternity drinking blood alone out of used tin cans under a bridge somewhere. A silent, lonely marriage of bitter indifference, all because I would say something, because I had to, of course, and they would hate me.

Something inside me wanted dearly to run, hide, and leave a forwarding address not even the most persistent of junk mail catalogues could find their way to.

I did not get that chance.

For undead... or bloodsuckers at least, we blended in with the surrounding mass of humanity surprisedly well. So well, in fact, that it felt even to me like a group of nearly two dozen people were matching Nathan's "I have nothing better to do than walk up and down the pier on a Sunday" pace.

The late afternoon sun reflected off the sleepy waves just starting to be awaken by the wind, painting the sea in earthy shades of orange. Out of the corner of my eye I saw this peaceful skyline marked ever so slowly by three shadows carefully and purposely breaking away from the crowd, their gate like that of everyday tourist on a quest for the nearest vending machine.

Too bad I'm one of those bags of honey roasted peanuts they they have in mind.

"This way," Nathan spoke in an even, matter-of-fact tone, grabbing my hand and pulling me down a side street to the chorus of old tin cans and soggy used gum under our shoes.

The dank refuse of the alley we ducked down seemed to swallow all the clean sea breeze into itself as I struggled to keep up with Nathan's sudden turn. We had jogged down four shady adjoining back streets in this way, like a pack of stray houndoom, by the time Nathan and Milo stopped suddenly, almost sending me flying head first into what looked like ten-year-old garbage.

Milo raised his head with a sharp jerk toward the gaps of sky between the laundry lines bridging shadowed slum apartments. The boys' mouths opened ever so causally, exposing the tips of his true jaws to the light with the same slow movement of reshaping his mylohyiod that still sent a shiver down my hands. To add the crowning touch to this unsettling action, as he inhaled, what looked like a cloudy nictitating membrane slipped over his stone grey iris.

Flame-retardant sunglasses. The fire type specialists' favorite nickname for this part of pokémon anatomy echoed in my mind.

At the same time, Nathan was making an odd dance of cocking his head in one direction and then the next, eyes closed, his mouth also agape, the twin length of his fangs half drawn to just barely touch his bottom lip.

Standing in the middle of this odd display, I knew from the heavy breathing sounds behind me the others that I dared not look at just yet were doing the same. Slowly, ever so slowly and awkwardly in comparison to Nathan's graceful motions, I tilted my head to the side as well, closing my eyes.

The world was again a landscape of scent, only this time the scents that I drew upon now where cozy and familiar, like a favorite song I had forgotten.

You belong, came that same feeling in unsaid words. ...and they belong of the same.

There was Nathan's scent above them all to my senses, with Milo's smokey one begrudgingly sandwiched behind his, but now there were three others as well. The first, and most pronounced, smelled of fresh green leaves mixed with a light warmth that brought to mind the memory of baking yeast bread. The second's aroma was a strange mix of dry earth and a burnt smell that mirrored Milo's own, but unlike his, this one was of woodland ashes from a fire that had long since spent all its fuel. The last scent was not as strong as the rest, made up of the algae laced smell of the sea, and fainter still, an odd artificial sweet odor.

Something about that mixture made a involuntary shiver run though my body as I opened my eyes to the sound of Milo's voice.

"Human free." He said with a growing smile, a true smile I had never seen before, that tugged at the edges of his demeanor...

"Papa!"

"Dad!"

"Brobro!"

Three voices thundered as I was blind-sided by the whip of a drive-by... scarf?

The sky-blue knitted length of the weapon was already draped over Nathan's shoulders and, before I even had time to draw another breath, its gifter was already kissing a very taken aback Nathan squarely on the lips.

My mouth felt a dry as a sea of mixed emotions swam behind my reddening cheeks. The back of the assaulter, around which an acoustic guitar covered with neon colored travel stickers was slung, was all I had at the moment to aim my shocked displeasure at.

The form was an inch or two shorter than Nathan's, but undoubtedly that of a man, lean muscular arms motioning energetically for the confides of a tight sleeveless white t-shirt as if just about to speak when Nathan pushed him away. The man's faded blue bomber-style hat tilted in consideration from my background vantage point.

"Christopher, how many times have I told you never to do—"

The light warm voice that replied was oddly weathered around the edges with a gravely tone. "Aw, but dad, I missed you so much! See? We all pitched in on this, it really does bring out the color of your eyes..."

"I really don't think I need—"

"Oh dad, dad, dad, always with your constant whining ..."

My mind felt fuzzy, still reeling to get a understanding of who exactly this 'Christopher' was. His voice marked him as someone many years my senior despite his youthful torn acid-washed jeans.

"Papa, papa papa!"

A pleading small voice rang out again as all three of us looked down in unison. The tiny Johto islander girl that began in a mess of short fuzzy black curls and a red plastic squirtle-shaped backpack and ended in a white party dress edged with cornflower blue lace tugged impatiently on Nathan's pantleg, hopping from one glossy black mary jane shoe to the next. The quick movement made the novelty marill tail she was wearing bob back and forth under her hoop shirt as she reached upward on tiptoe.

"Papa, I made this for you, papa...." the girl said, proudly presenting a piece of paper. In the dim light I could just make out a series of deeply-penned crayon marks on its other side.

"Did you now? Well, I'll just have to have a look at this masterpiece, won't I?" Nathan said, kneeling down to her level, where Christopher joined them.

"It's a far-out picture, she and Pecival really put their souls into it..."

I used to love those fake pokemon tails when I was little... I mused silently. When I was little...

The profile of the girl's giggling face, her bright black eyes squinted in a happiness that highlighted the glow of her deep brown skin as she spoke words I suddenly could not hear, dragged out a nagging, unsettled, memory. Something... yes, something Nathan had said...

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

"Ten years is the minimum amount of time before a missing person is declared presumed dead, by which time they will be looking for a much older version of yourself, not the young woman you will remain..."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

She can't be more than six years old. How could anyone...?

At this same moment, before I could dwell longer on this upsetting idea, the blur of motion I had seen for only a moment before that had made a beeline for Milo bumped into my ankle. I yelped, rubbing at the burnt spot that seconds ago had been the upper two layers of skin on my fibula.

The inseparable tangle of two growling fire-spitting forms was now making a full-scale uproar, littering the alley with spots of blood and hair. I sidestepped sheepishly away from the miniature world war, catching the edge of my husband's gaze with my look of what I hoped was a bit more than hopeless desperation.

It's okay, he mouthed over the little girl's cuddled body. Both she and the man named Christopher seemed to be preoccupied by what looked like a young marill that had appeared from somewhere in the confines of her backpack and was now snuggling its way under the folds of Nathan's coat.

"Candace, Christopher, Valerie..." Nathan spoke up, gently placing the girl back down to earth. What I could only assume was her pet Marill, now perched atop her head, began to make a spirited game of trying to tug off the still-kneeling Christopher's hat, oblivious to the serious talk around it.

"I have someone very special I'd like you to... Milo, Valerie!"

The dust cloud of limbs, hair and grime that had been building into a murderous volume of snarls and growls from one end of the alley to the next all this time froze in a far off corner. The shadow of what looked like a girl, dwarfed two times over by Milo's sheer bulk, let the side of boy's arm fall from her mouth with a whimper of regret.

"I have someone very special I'd like you to all meet." Nathan began again, motioning in my direction. "This is Yvonne, your new mother."

I felt three sets of eyes fall upon me as they all turned... and the world itself stopped turning, forcing all its heaviest into a knot in my chest.

Don't say anything stupid. Don't say anything stupid. I coached myself silently. And don't hyperventilate here ether. The last thing you need for a first impression is to faint and get pidgey droppings all over your face.

I felt my hands began to tremble as I rung them nervously together, falling back into the one mode that protected me, in some small way from awkward moments: Joydom.

"It's a pleasure to meet you!" I blurted out a cheerfully, bowing my head deeply in the traditional poké center manner.

More silence. More stares as I drew my head up again from view of my hands clasped tightly together over my pinafore.

"Is she really my mama?" The girl asked in a loud whisper to Nathan, behind a cupped hand that did nothing to block the sound but rather, felt as if it amplified it to me prying ears.

"Yes, she is, candy-doll. Would you like to go say hello?" He whispered back just as loudly in a hopeful tone.

Candace returned her gaze to me, a thoughtful hand pressed to her mouth as the marill that had sat atop her head all this time hopped gracefully under Christopher's hat with a chatter of teeth.

Hand still to mouth quietly, carefully, she crossed the short distance between us. Her eyes were focused on me, never weaving, with all the unspoken power of a judge, jury and executioner as she opened her mouth to speak.

"You look funny. You can't be my mama." A blue glint passed over the depths of her pitch black irises. "Real mamas aren't so skinny."

My head started to pound, the invisible punch to my ego sending me reeling, frozen, and at a loss for words.

It's going to be a very very long night...

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Fri Apr 10, 2009 7:44 am
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