Chapter 1: The Sun Set Today
Tohjo was old. There was no bones about it. Or there were, actually, many bones. Buried in the foundation of the earth, ashes of the land they tilled.
As one of the few Speakers for the Dead left in Johto, Morty could hear them all, speak to some by name, the ones remaining. He felt the age in every step he took. There were none more heavy than the ones he took in his gym town where he called home.
"Hail, hunter," called from a stall. Morty sniffed and smelled crystallized sugar from that side, behind a wisp of a man in a suit texting on a long dead cell phone. His blood dripped from his arm onto the planter and down to the soil. "Any glimmers of sun for us today?"
Morty laughed before he could really stop himself, letting a child dart past his knees smelling of sitrus berry sherbet. "Afraid not," he said with a head shake. There was no childish pouting in his duties, no dismay or discomfort. He was a pillar, sturdy to hold up the temple. Even if he was disappointed, they did not need to know such a thing. "Perhaps the next conference in September?"
He was twenty-nine, he was too young for this.
"There's going to be another League tournament?" muses the woman beside the ice cream seller. "Perhaps I could stand coming out of retirement. Without that Oak fellow and his kids and grandkids, what is the point?"
Pride, mostly. "We have hope for good soldiers yet, Milady Mari," he said with a smile. "All we in Tohjo can hope for is that the treaty remains and the blood is paid."
"In blood we hope the sun will rise," the woman agreed as she dabbed at her mouth. The seller beside her winked.
The sun doesn't rise, our world turns around it.
Morty thought the words but trapped them tight, and continued on home with a quick and unforced bow. He believed of course, he believed long and hard because he had seen, he knew the magical wonders the world had to offer him. But by Arceus it got so tiring to be older than the stars, to bear the burdens of those before him, to think of that swinging rope-
The voice practically sang his name and engulfed him in a purple fabric hug in the middle of his gym, smelling of splinters, of dirt and evergreen pines, cotton candy cologne and sweat.
"Finished your run for today Eusine?" he asked, clapping the man, his husband, his husband in this backwards world, on the back.
"How did you know?" the man teased, stepping back into view, honey brown hair a mess and wet from the shower. He smiled back at him.
"Your everything gives it away," Morty told him. Eusine laughed loudly and swept his arm over his thinner shoulders. "What did I miss?"
"No lost badges, your second took them all down like dominoes." Morty let the man lead him down the invisible paths of the gym back further and further into the gloom where eyes peeked out and tongues waggled at them. "A few clients of course. Most left. Your apprentice is doing well. Not as good as little Delila, of course."
"She's hardly little anymore," Morty protested with a wry laugh. "She's a trainer like my apprentices are. She's been all over the world."
Eusine made a face. "I wouldn't call her little if she stopped wearing those horrid black dresses."
Morty let out a snort. He wasn't going to tell his niece how to dress. That was his brother's job and he was already doing poorly at it.
"There is one client still here in the city," Eusine said suddenly. His open face had shuttered. It made Morty think of early university in Olivine, meeting shy Jasmine and clinging to her like a lifeline after another sailor made a comment much too on the nose. "Strange woman, she insisted on talking to us."
"Us?" Morty repeated. "Not me or you?"
Morty got too many requests for help, it seemed like most days. As a gym leader, as a speaker for the dead, as a sage of Ho-oh's flame, all sorts of questions and concerns and requests came up. He had to delegate most of it. That was the reason people had gym trainers field battles, and that was why experienced leaders had apprentices.
He was the unfortunate one who had to pay both.
In comparison, Eusine was a Hunter, and he was a good one. Even his obsession with Suicune had not dampened his resolve nor his talents. The task wasn't just removing pokemon from safe ecosystems or poaching or stealing. It was reregulating ecosystems, repopulating the eggs of one species with enough to fix. It was letting a rich man's garden thrive again after they bought too many babies and not enough adults. So there was never a dull moment even if it was never quite the same.
The two of them together, however, was a whole different can of worms.
Eusine had been, for lack of a better term, out, since he was five years old and had kicked a soccer ball into his own front window and thrown three glitter bath bombs at a family's swimming pool because lying was a sin to him more than his unforgiving crush on Chuck the bodybuilder, apprentice to unfortunately named Gym Leader Cyan of Cianwood that had blurted out of his mouth at seven and always came up whenever watching recorded matches went along with dinner and preparing their niece for the league. It was always a laugh. By comparison, Morty had brought it up to his parents at the age of twenty-two over the phone after the most recent date the two of them had had and he had done so so drunk they had called him two days later to make sure he was serious.
It was funny now of course, but they had been lucky.
The ceremony had meant to be quiet, but really it was a bundle of hysterical reporters interrupting fifteen people and idiots sending gifts and community grassroots organizers trying to make it mean something when it was just them being in love as people can be.
So usually things addressed for them were requests for speeches or interviews, taxes, discussions of wealth, invitations to the fancy do's that gym leaders and reputable folk are reluctantly invited to, and more taxes. It was the same with people.
"Who was it then?" Morty finally asked, putting these thoughts in their respective boxes? "Another community organizer looking for volunteers?"
Eusine paused. "As a matter of fact, no. It was a woman and her little girl."
The ghosts in the walls hissed as one.
"Has she left?" Morty asked, deciding to ask the gaggle about it at another, later date.
Eusine sighed. "No, afraid not. In fact, she's sitting in our guestrooms. She's been there since last night. I had to convince her not to run away."
Morty briefly considered decking his husband. Briefly. He settled for punching him on the arm. "Let's meet her then."
The woman – Nancy, Eusine told him her name was – sat stiffly on the futon. It looked like it hadn't been slept in, but the small tufts of pink hair peeking out from underneath it said otherwise. It was a darker shade than Nancy's, and much less tamed, but that could be blamed on sleep.
The woman's clothes looked barely ruffled so maybe she changed out of them. All she had was a duffel bag next to a tiny unadorned backpack that was probably lighter than the child themselves.
"Speaker Morty," she said. Her voice was almost toneless. Not full of something someone wouldn't like, but full of nothing at all. Then she paused. "I… I apologize for barging in unwanted." She smoothed the few creases of her white dress with her fingers. They were almost bones themselves, they were so pale. "I… I was merely… I did not plan this out very well." Emotion suddenly spilled into her voice like water. "I… I can't be long but I have a request."
"I see." Morty wanted to ask why here, why this place where everyone would talk and whisper and in a place so close to a big city where there were more resources, or more people. Why not go there? Then again, he had no clue what she wanted. "What would that be?"
Nancy stared at him, eyes that unreal red that was reserved for pokemon, for not human things, the things that he lived with. And at that moment, the girl underneath the covers rolled over and yawned.
And suddenly, Morty knew. He thought of the swinging rope in the Brass Tower. He thought of handcuffs around thin wrists, blood pooling with fluid he didn't know. And now he knew who this was, dressed in too expensive clothes. This was the teenage idol Nancy from Unova. How had he not been able to tell?
She looked much too old, that was how.
Nancy sank to the floor, head touching tatami, hands folded over.
"Please kill Aevia Lucille," Nancy whispered. "Please take her away from me."
The small child, the little girl named Aevia, blinked her own red eyes at her mother, and then the two men. She didn't make a sound, but she started to cry anyway.
And the woman didn't look even once.
Chapter 2: The Colors of the Flame
Ayame of Ecruteak dreamed.
Stirring from sleep, it was nothing coherent, nor borrowed from memories or remade stories her parents had told her. It was nothing but splotches of color and vague murmuring voices. She couldn't make them out, so close to wakefulness, so she didn't try.
Instead she let them carry her up and up, following the melodious humming of one voice, so much like her own, except… she couldn't think of words to explain the feeling this voice gave her. It was older, yes, not by much but it was old enough that it made her think of long nights in front of the fire, watching the will-o-wisps dance outside the windows and in the gym's corridors. She liked it very much when it spoke, but for whatever reason she was very happy not to understand what it was saying.
Then, in the middle of the voices, a purple light flooded her sleeping vision. It flickered and twitched behind her eyelids, mixing with a high-pitched little giggle that Ayame knew as well as the calluses on her feet.
With a groan, she opened her eyes. "Jericho," she said to the seemingly thin air. "You aren't allowed to eat me. You know better than that. I'll grow all slow and you'll never get any of me then."
The air filled with the sound of a miserable razz berry and the little melting candle appeared on her chest. Its one visible golden eye shone in the rays of the sun and it blew the messy waves of pink hair from her face. It also nearly set her bangs on fire, but that was fine. Ayame had hatched the little litwick, she knew his pranks better than anyone except maybe Father. But father was special.
She sat up and watched the waxy creature fall off her torso and plop to the edge of her blanket. A smile touched her face for a moment before the rest of her set to get ready.
The dreams, incomprehensible as they were, were long since forgotten.
Per Nancy Lucille's wishes, her daughter was dead and gone, and Ayame Kitsunebi of Ecruteak, Morty's adopted daughter, was alive and well.
Even though she called once every few months, even though there were small parcels left in the mailbox and stipends billed to their bank, some to a trust account under her name. And they couldn't just refuse them. She had given them an incredible gift and it'd be rude to spit in the face of it.
But by Ho-oh's beak, did Morty wish that the woman would just let it go. Was she having seller's remorse?
"Good morning Father," came from the sink as he stepped near it. His daughter stood on a stool, rinsing out her lunch containers, bare feet wet with soapy water.
Morty chortled, unsurprised to see her there. "Good morning Ayame. Where's Eusine?"
"Papa is taking the jumpluff out to float. Now that it's rained, they need to scatter more pollen." She shook out the dishcloth with a delighted smile.
"He just didn't want to do dishes," Morty told her and she rolled her eyes at him.
"Cy-nic," she said with a small wiggle on the stool. "I like doing dishes."
"He knows." He pecked her on the forehead and she laughed. There was none of that sad toddler in those eyes anymore, only the happy look of someone who found love and drank it up like water. As children should be.
He smoothed her pink hair down, leaving a section messily flopped over one red eye. She winked at him with the other.
"Come on, clean the soap off your hands so we can eat. We have a long day today."
Ayame shot him a distrustful look. "Every day is long, Father."
Morty laughed. "True, true. I suppose it can't be helped. Training has already started."
"I dodged every single ghost," Ayame reported as she settled seiza beside him, wiping her hands. "Cept Jericho." She paused. "Except Jericho," she corrected after a moment. As if to prove it so, the wax candle slid about up her undershirt with its little flame brushing under her neck. Its face settled at her left shoulder. There was not a single burn on her tanned skin.
Morty chuckled. 'You don't have to sit on ceremony for me, Aya."
"I have to practice," she told him in her most proper voice. "If you all are going to see me dance in the fire, I must be poised in everything."
Morty picked up his chopsticks. "If you are certain."
She straightened. "I am."
He laughed again, and this time, she laughed too.
Then they both laughed harder at the rush of their last family member through the door. There was a delighted squeak from the sliding door and then the telltale thump of a body over a long piece of cloth.
"No capes," Morty reminded his daughter.
"No capes," Ayame agreed, giggling behind a hand.
"I'm home, I'm home!" Eusine skidded into them, nearly thumping his purple-panted legs on the table as he slid down to ruffle Ayame's dancing pink hair. "The jumpluff are ready to migrate, no spores to poison them from the beedrill and the sunflora mating. The fires will start below ground soon, and the festival preparations are underway." He said all of this in one breath and his chest puffed out repeatedly once he had finished.
"Hullo, Daddy," Ayame greeted. Unlike Morty, if he got the formal treatment, Eusine would fall into at least an hour of exaggerated sobs that never failed to make Ayame guilty even when she knew they weren't real. "Are you hurt?"
"Nothing a hug from you can't fix," Eusine declared comically from the floor, turning himself to face her. Morty rolled her eyes and so did Ayame. Even so, she went over and climbed up onto his knees to oblige him.
"One of those days you're going to break her ribs," Morty mused. Eusine adopted a look of horror at the very thought.
He clutched Ayame more tightly to his chest. "Our daughter is more than capable of handling the stress!"
"I-I need to breathe though, papa…" She pretended to wheeze, if only so he would let her go. Eusine of course did so, the comical panic on his face replaced with that familiar joy and pride.
"Come on, let's eat so we're not late." Morty took a deliberate bite of his food. "There's a grand announcement this morning and I for one, actually want to hear it this time."
The two of them chorused their agreement together and his chest swelled. He pretended it wasn't and they continued their morning.
To be a kimono girl meant hours upon hours of training, from the moment you could walk with a steady pace, to the moment you could speak without a fear to the moment you reached your full maturity. Even then you were training, learning, growing. You never stopped until you could no longer bear the burden of the fabric, no matter where you were from.
So Ayame made sure she walked into the theater with as much balance as she could muster. At three she had stumbled and tripped over the hem of the tattered legs and the unfamiliar sandals with which to walk in. Now she wore them as well as a girl could. Most people around her age went on journeys right about now. Some waited a little, but ten was the sacred age. For children raised in prayer, it was only to be expected that things wait a little longer, to the age of eleven, to be sure. Or something. Ayame had no clue what the actual reason was and because the reasoning was brought up by adults, she knew no one would tell her.
She slipped the sandals off as she entered the backstage. "Morning, Fu-chan!" she called to the girl at the back. Said girl turned, black curls folding all over each other and lifting from below as she beamed.
"Aya-chi!" she said, waving her over. Unlike Ayame, who wore a kimono of white and purple, Himawari Fuuka wore sunshine colors that made her cheeks all light up. Her mother had sewn it for her, intentionally too big. And now the sleeves were a little brown from all the times had fallen in it, much like Aya's own. "Big announcement today!" she said, twining her fingers and Ayame's together, very much without asking. Ayame let her, appreciating the warmth of her best friend's palm and the soft silk fabric. "You made it just in time! Riri and the others are late!"
"They'll make it," Ayame said with an affectionate little skip. Fuuka led her to their cushions, towards the middle. An entire row, that for their friends, was visible in the crowd. "But they have to be careful. It'll be us in the front next month!"
"I know!" Fuuka wiggled in place. "Our last year! We'll get to perform in front of everyone for the harvest and the trees! I'm so excited!"
"You would be." Ayame grinned at her. "You big show off!"
"I am not!"
The lights dimmed around them, leaving the room only lit by candles and cloaking the arriving kimono girl in shadow. She looked just like the rest, which Ayame supposed was the point. With the full makeup on, you needed good eyes to tell the troupe apart usually. The older students kept threatening that Ayame was going to need a wig or hair dye. Fu-chan told them to buzz off.
At the thought of them, Ayame pulled down her hair with a free hand.
Four thumps made themselves known to her left. She waved at her friends, boys and girls alike. Kimono girls and sages trained together, as they would have to work together one day. It was known.
"Good morning young apprentices."
"Saya-sama," Fuuka squealed behind her hand. "She's here!"
Tadashi snickered behind them. "Suck-up."
"It is good to see you all here… and on time no less."
Snickers rippled through the crowd.
"I have an announcement to make. This upcoming summer festival will be drastically changed. I know it is last minute. However, the monks of Sprout Tower sent us a very important message." Saya paused, dramatically at that. "Ho-oh's flames have been sighted on Johto soil."
The room rippled. Ayame perked. Father had been hunting Ho-oh since he was her age! Since he was younger than her!
"It is likely that the great phoenix will make itself known on the day of our festival's beginning. We must ensure it is a fact."
Ayame was squirming now herself. She couldn't wait to tell her dads! Ho-oh was going to be here and she got to help.
Chapter 3: The Place Where We Began
Warnings: Parenting, lots of ocs.
Aevia Lucille had not had a gravestone nor a funeral. Not even an examination of the body. Just a certificate dated for her terminated parent's rights and the subsequent adoption by her fathers. Ayame herself remembered very little of this beyond her mother leaving at all. As far as her parents were concerned, they'd rather she forgot about that too.
But she didn't want to forget. She wanted to remember who it was that gave her these fancy things and these humble letters telling her how to fake a smile, how to think you mean something when you don't. She wanted to remember this person who sometimes sent a carefully knit scarf with already fraying ends, or a squashed, poor tasting batch of cookies.
For someone who had wanted her to die, she was very terrible at telling her daughter to do so.
Their entire morning training session was abuzz with interest and whispers. Even their delicate dances were full of their teachers talking amongst themselves, barely correcting slips or awkward arms. It was honestly the least productive day Ayame had had all year and she was so excited she didn't care at all. Just this morning, she'd been hurrying in with the back of her mind thinking hard about the next battle practice or if she would need to redo the festival dance from her place in the middle. But now she just had thoughts of fire and warmth and burning wings. All at the same time.
She was old enough to wonder why Father was interested in the great legendary bird. There was a silver feather in a small vase on their bookshelf, from Daddy's travels in the Whirl Islands looking to rehome a group of displaced chinchou. She was young enough to, unfortunately, not get an answer.
Maybe she would get one once she danced to welcome Ho-oh with everyone.
"Think we have to redo the entire setup?" Hashimoto Tadashi was stretching at Aya's left, rubbing at his long red locks. The twisted marks on his left cheek warped a little as he yawned. "We just memorized our stuff last week! I don't wanna do all that again!"
"No one really wants you to do anything but you're here anyway." Mashino Suzuko turned another page of her notebook, scribbling and dotting notes without missing a beat. Her frayed kimono sleeve caught her eraser for a a second, but she righted it, continuing to scribble.
"Oh leave him alone, Su-chan," drawled Miyano Rina, who had given up on even pretending to study and flopped to the floor on her back. She traced figures in the air with a single pale finger. "Not everyone can avoid critical thinking on a regular basis, neh Aya-chi?"
Ayame glanced at them all. "I'm abstaining from this discussion," she drawled, mimicking her father's stern frown and narrowed eyebrows.
Rina beamed at her, the expression only half-visible through her bangs. "You'd sound more like your dad if your voice was deeper."
Aya perked up a little. "Really?" She deflated at once, shoulders sagging. "But that's impossible. I don't have a deeper voice…"
"Oh well." Tamamo Ritsuka beamed at her, red locks trailing down his head. "You're just fine the way you are anyway, Aya."
Ayame pouted and looked away. "I guess…" There was a small flush to her cheeks. Rina rolled her eyes, putting her hands back behind her head.
"I doubt they'll make us change the dance now." Suzuko said, closing her book. "Ho-oh may not make it in time for the festival or make it before the festival. If anyone has more work to do, it's the ten-year-olds. They're supposed to make a good impression on Ho-oh to be accepted. If anything, we'll just be their attendants." Her purple eyes closed and opened slowly and she removed her glasses to rub them. "Someone hold these."
"Kayyy." Ritsuka snatched them as Suzuko pulled out a pair of eye drops.
"If you don't give them back I'll cut off your fingers."
"I know you will."
Tadashi wrinkled his nose. "You two are gross. You're more gross than Fuuka and her admirer." He made air quotes with his fingers.
Aya's smile flopped into a scowl and she determinedly turned to her notes for Jericho. The litwick was snoozing in his ball, like all the other trainee's pokemon. "Rua's a jerk, not an admirer."
Fuuka blushed down to the roots of her hair. "Don't say that. He can be nice sometimes."
"Your idea of nice is Aya's definition of snide," Suzuko interrupted, putting her glasses back on. "Kurumi-sensei is coming. We should try and do something today."
The others made varying noises of assent and even Rina sat up. They bowed to the approaching form of their teacher, whose eyes glittered with amusement and a smile tugged at the edges of her lips.
"Were you waiting on me, perhaps?"
"We'll wait for you forever, sensei," Tadashi said, eyes sparkling with mirth. Ritsuka elbowed him in the back. "Or at least until class ends."
He earned a laugh. quiet and measured and perfect. Then the woman waved her left hand. They all stood immediately, straight backed and awaiting orders. Aya heard her daddy say that wasn't good for kids, but she didn't mind at all! She felt fine! Her dads were just worrywarts that was all.
"I know everything is rather exciting," Kurumi-sensei continued. "And we aren't helping. But the best way to ensure Ho-oh's arrival is to be ready for them. To show your proficiency. And that will start by proving to me that you are ready. Who shall be first?"
All of them looked at each other. Then Rina yawned a little too hugely to be real, her han. "I'll go."
The others backed away, leaving the girl alone in the center of the room. Their teacher released a creature the size of a small child, purple skin glowing in the spotlight.
Rina made a face, cheeks slipping from their lazy smile to an awkward pout. "Croaker, let's go."
A blue frog popped out of her own ball, and stared towards the tyrogue with nothing more than a croak. The frogadier straightened up and dipped its head in greeting.
Then it launched two orbs made of water without a sound. Tyrogue punched through them, continuing with a kick aimed for the throat. Croaker dodged with an irritable coughing sound only for it tobe come reality as the second kick hit him on the side instead.
Rina let out a sharp breath, fists clenching, face growing taut. But a single look from Kurumi-sensei made her pause, smoothen her face to a firm mouth and flat eyes.
The frogadier hopped and spun, cartwheeling from spot to spot as the tyrogue's shining fists swing for it.
"Ayame," came from their teacher.
Aya tossed without thinking, whistling low. Jericho floated in the air just over the opponents of the other two.
Aya squinted but did not leave her spot. This was a test. She just had to figure out what about.
Aya clicked her tongue and Jericho dropped through tyrogue's fist and past the tackle.
Kurumi's lips twitched and her tyrogue stepped back towards her. "Continue."
Both girls paused to make a face at each other. Then Croaker lunged for its new target, battle started anew.
"Energy Ball isn't cheating, it's just a tech move, Miss 'Acrobatics'!"
"That was a lot of hard work and training with that move!"
"And it wasn't for me?!"
"Yeah from your cousin."
"Say that to her face, I dare you."
Rina pouted but didn't dare to repeat herself. Delila Kitsunebi was at best doting and at worst mama bear protective over Aya for some reason which led to a lot of funny incidents and terrible boundaries being ignored. Rina could still remember the time the older girl has reduced a champion level opponent to tears over something. Her insulting regular trainers maybe? It was Delila. Everyone knew about the near permanent stick up her butt.
Even Aya and Aya could be oblivious sometimes.
Both girls stopped walking, staring up at the sunset. "We're going to have a legend here." Rin's clutched her notebook and grinned though it didn't reach her eyes. "Do you think someone's gonna try to catch it?"
"Least one." Aya made a face. "The air is gonna be gross too."
Rina deftly sidestepped a ghost, which walked through Ayame's arm like she wasn't even there. "Oh gross. People wood."
"Ew!" Aya shook her head as if to disperse the smell of phantom charcoal. "Your family going to come?"
"I think so. I wanted Aki to come but her grandpa put her in a super big wilderness retreat and her sister is in the hospital. But my cousins will come. They love this stuff."
"I dunno. Marc's weird. Likes fire and stuff. He'll be dumb enough to bring a pokeball with." Rina paused at the crosswalk, watching the natu raise his wings. "See you tomorrow?"
"Yeah! Course!" Aya waved and turned away, heading towards the gym. The excitement had gone down but there were still beautifly in her stomach, a happy little hopeful churn that her parents would feel her excitement at the thought of what was to come. Her father would get to meet Ho-oh again and maybe she'd hear the story about the feathers!
She danced across the gaps into the smoke of the gym and waved at every pair of eyes in the gloom. It was super elegant if she did say so herself. That was until she tripped over a box that reached her knee and nearly tumbled into the void below.
The thing that caught her cackled ominously.
"Thanks Gregory," she said, once she could open her eyes through the pain. The gengar licked her in reply, sending drool all down her back. She wrinkled her nose but did not complain. A lick was better than picking nettles off her skin again. She examined the package and almost tossed it away.
But that would be bad manners and her fathers insisted on politeness, if nothing else.
"Take me home?" she said to the gengar in a pleading whine.
She got one more cackle and was dropped on her face for the trouble. At least it was in the house.
Chapter 4: Into the Moon
Morty tossed another paper to the pile with disgust. "Remind me why the mayor doesn't see these things before me again?"
"Because you can't trust the mayor as far as you can throw him," Eusine replied over Aya's head. He continued to run the brush through the pink locks as he spoke. "And the people who make these proposals just want to ruin you for the gym. You've been winning too much." He flourished with one gloved hand. "This is why you need to pick a successor soon, Mort, so we can retire on Unovan beaches in luxury. It'll take you seven years just to make a worthwhile medium out of them. They'll do your paperwork!"
Ayame giggled, freely, as she always did whenever her parents made noises like they were old. Morty only scowled, gripping his pen again and going further into the pile. He scanned another, and grudgingly set it into the pile he took with him to the office.
"You know I can't, Eusine," he said with a chuckle. "I'm too young a leader for an apprentice."
"Stupid," Eusine mused.
"Very," Aya agreed, now playing with her dad's cast off gloves and turning them to look like hearts. "Just like Delibird's too young to be a gym leader."
"Don't remind me," Morty grumbled. "She's too young and too buneary-brained. The League's still following the old laws here, even if Kanto dropped it like coals. We'd need someone else to come here, or to Cherrygrove or any of the towns."
Aya made a face. "There's nothing in Cherrygrove."
"That's the problem." Morty laughed and put his pen down. He began to tuck his things away. His daughter really was good at distracting him. "It's difficult to justify putting a gym out there because of it."
"The fairies love the routes though."
"If you say so darling." Morty raised an eyebrow at Eusine. "Si, are you really braiding her hair?"
"Pigtails are ugly, Mort. Our daughter is adorable."
"I…" Morty shook his head. "Our niece loves her pigtails."
"Yes and she frowns and ruins them."
As her parents bickered over her head, Aya ran her palm over the burning wick on Jericho's head. The ghost had slid up through the floor and was now making his way over her crossed legs.
"No eating, Jerry," she said and got a tinkling noise in reply. "What are you going to do about Ho-oh, Dad?"
Morty glanced down at her and shrugged, eyes flickering towards the simple red and gold feather and the silver one beside it on their mantle place. "I'm not sure. Ho-oh is confirmed to be passing over, but I'm not sure if it's stopping here. It is the right time for it to take a pause however, it's been roaming for almost five hundred last incarnation was around two hundred and fifty."
"Why's it matter if it's been a lot of years? He's a giant birb!" Ayame waved her hands as if to express just how big the bird was. Jericho's flame exploded brighter and larger in emphasis.
Eusine tutted and pulled her hands back down. "Hold still, I'm almost done now."
Morty snapped a picture of the pure disgruntled pout before his eyes before he replied. "Usually when it passes over here, it's going to the Bell Tower to shed its life and start anew. That was how my ancestor got his feather there." He gestured towards it.
"It should really be dust by now," Eusine grumbled, half in distaste, half for their daughter's curious eyes and earas. Not that it didn't look dusty, it was almost gray with age and preparing to crumble like toasted bread, rather than fraying apart as feathers were supposed to do.
"It's a feather of rebirth, Si. They'll never truly die. This one will perk right back up after the Burning Ceremony. Someone recorded it in an old scroll. And it's been copied every ten years. You can find it in the library tablet archives now."
Aya's eyes turned positively round. "And it'll just come back when Ho-oh does!"
"Apparently so." Morty turned his tone incredibly grave, barring the way his lips were twitching into a smile. "If the burning goes well, then Ho-oh will come back. It's only in writing of course, since your father and I are way too young to have seen it."
"If you had dared imply that I'm getting old."
"I've implied much worse things than that."
By this point, Aya was trying to escape Eusine's still combing hands. She, like all children, had a very strong preservation instinct in case of her dads starting to get gross. She wriggled a little more and scampered to her room as quickly as possible. Kissing was okay but that was flirting and weird and… ew. Just ew. She didn't need to know how much her dads held hands under the blankets, as Su-chan put it.
Jericho floated beside her with a low cooing sound.
"No, you can eat outside, there are lots of plants."
The flame exploded and fizzled, rather like a raspberry. Aya ignored it, rolling out her futon and determinedly ignoring her dads laughing downstairs. SOon as her bed was out she was shutting her door!
As she thought this, Jericho swung the door shut.
Ayame blinked. "Thanks Jerry." SHe paused. "You're still not eating me today."
Another gust like a raspberry. By the time she turned around, busying herself with the blankets, her pokemon was gone, presumably to wander the streets and feast.
Aya hesitated a moment. She could call him back, scold him, mind him. But he ate life force, and she was never to give him her own, ever. And this was her hometown… there were-
Well, if she was allowed to think so, there were a lot of dead bodies nobody talked about. And he would probably chase down some bugs or something.
And like her fathers said… she wasn't really great for ghosts. She could hear all right, couldn't see, and that made her connection with Jericho just not enough. He would listen but would he ever be hers? Nobody knew, not even her dads and they were the smartest people she knew about ghosts.
Still… better to be safe than sorry.
"Gregory!" There as a pause, a brief silence. Then a cackle, the cackle of a loving grandfather. Or whatever the old ghost could be considered anyway. He'd been around since grandma was born. A tongue formed out of the wall and wiggled, followed by two large red eyes.
"No," she said, though the smile was threatening to hurt her cheeks. "I need you to watch Jericho. He's gotten hungry and fussy again."
The ghost cackled out what equaled a yes on his part and vanished, leaving her and her open window and the moon waxing high overhead. She set her blankets down and looked up at it, staring at the clear white it was here, just far enough away from modern cities.
"It's always pretty," she said to herself. "The fairies use it to guide them, make them strong and… I don't remember the rest.."
Papa said those were usually ralts or zorua, or in their worst moods, a phantump of their child. Papa didn't like telling her these things, of course but daddy -father- he didn't see much point in not telling her. She lived in the town of the dead after all. The world could do worse, he always said, and there was no reason not to tell her. Mostly. There was some stuff he wouldn't say because she was young or something.
Still, it was pretty. And round. It was too bad it wouldn't be the full moon when Ho-oh got here. Everyone on her way home, when she hadn't been arguing with Rina, had been saying they'd have a couple weeks and the festival was always on the new moon no matter how inconvenient that got so…
Maybe Ho-oh timed it that way on purpose…
Aya laughed at the thought and laid down to stare at the ceiling instead.
Sleep would come in due time, preferably before her dads started to get loud.
I'll tell mom when she calls again. Hopefully it's soon.
As the little girl closed her eyes, she couldn't help but feel as though she was being watched. But then, she was living in a house full of ghosts. Of course she was.
It was probably nothing.
Chapter 5: Ill Tidings
Aya opened her eyes on soft, mushy grass to a sky with more stars than she could even start to stared up at it, not even daring to sit up at first.
"You know, for the mindscape of a kid, you have good taste."
Ayame started, rolling over and moving up at the same time. It left her in this half up, sideways roll, and got her a light, carefree laugh from a figure standing only half a meter away. "Not so fast, you're not that graceful, you're nine."
Indignation puffed up her cheeks and she made a face at the stranger. "I'm already nine thank you."
They raised their hands as if placating a wild animal. "Doesn't make you any less ungraceful kiddo."
Aya made a face and settled. "Who are you? And where am I?"
The other person smiled, that much of their face she could see, the dark color of her skin, obvious even in the dark. "I'd say I'm your conscience, but I've been told I don't have the morals for it. So you can just call me… Michi, for now. I'm the watcher girl."
"Michi?" Aya raised an eyebrow. She wasn't even sure what the second part even meant.
"Yep." They sat down, legs crossed, and looked at the moon. "It's full here," they commented, leaning up a little with an outstretched hand, as if they could grab it with their own hands. "Were you thinking about it?"
"The moon?" She fidgeted. She really wasn't supposed to talk to strangers, and she had no idea where she was. But so long as she was here, distracting the person with conversation seemed wise. The darkness around them was hiding them both from view anyway. So it could be safe. "I was looking at it when I went to sleep."
"It's been a while since I've seen a real moon. If this is as close as I'll get, it's not bad."
"A real moon? Are you like… an AI or something?"
Michi laughed. "Not really. It's a long story you don't need anyway. I'm here to talk about you, and what might happen."
"Ho-oh is coming for you."
Aya blinked. "Ho-oh's coming to our town. He's dying."
"They all die, kiddo." The girl's voice sounded familiar. Familiar and old. "Everyone dies. Everyone. But they aren't coming for their funeral. They're coming to revive themselves. They are coming for you."
"Me?" Instead of any possible joy, or relief, or something, a chill stole over her spine.
"Likely." Michi lowered her hand at last, placing it back in her lap. Aya's eyes were starting to adjust, she was starting to see purple and pink socks. "It could be anyone, of course. They just need someone. To guide them home. To give them a reason to wake up again, rather than become the ash."
"Why do you think it's me then?"
"I don't really. Think it's you for sure, I mean." Michi turned her head, long hair swishing about. "I think it could be, because I've been watching you all this time. Before you came to this city. Before everything. I know it all. And I think it could be you, because you are you. And because you love your friends."
The moon sank lower in the starry sky.
"So I wanted to warn you," they continued. "In case it is. And in case it's bad. She'd say I was just being paranoid, that I was going to make it happen just by talking about it. But I don't think I am. And if I am… then I want to be with you when the time comes, just so you can tell me I'm wrong."
"But…" Aya chewed her lip. "Why should I be scared? The legends… they made a promise. Humans made a promise. They can't just… you can't just break a sacred promise and hurt people. You have to pay for it."
She couldn't remember the name of the promise… but it was what made Johto and Kanto still work together, after all the wars, after all the bad blood… or something. It was important, it was binding. Likea business contract. They couldn't just break it for Ho-oh.
Michi tilted her head. "You're not much of a business person are you? Every contract has loopholes, kiddo. All of them."
Ayame felt… something. Fear, dread, sadness, pain? She wasn't sure. Nausea maybe. But… "This is supposed to be happy! This is supposed to be good! We revive Ho-oh and thank it, and beg for our ancestors to be forgiven."
"They're not your ancestors."
Aya's eyes watered with tears, filling and blurring her vision at the calm, unflappable voice. "They are! They're my dads' ancestors, so they're mine too!"
The girl paused. Then she sighed. "I'm sorry kiddo."
Aya sniffled. "A-Are you really?"
"Yeah. I am. And it's gonna be time for you to wake up soon too." Michi reached over and cool fingers brushed her hair out of her face. "Least I can do is give you good dreams while you can."
Aya moved to shake the hand away, but her already watery vision was blurring and going dark and she was sinking into multicolored dreams of her own.
Eventually, she opened her eyes to the rising sun and her own ceiling. She blinked at it and wiped drool from her face.
Aya wrinkled her nose. "Gross."
She went about her day like she hadn't dreamed at all. But there was a layer of dread coating her stomach, and Rina beat her and Jericho with ease that day. Aside from spraying potion over her candle, Aya hadn't even noticed.
"Are you okay, Ayachi?"
Aya looked over at Fuuka, who had apparently taken upon herself to come over today (not that anyone would mind, Daddy was probably running a late shift in the gym today and Papa was out on a last minute mission). "Ah…" She took a deep breath. "I think so. I just slept funny last night."
Fuuka nodded, completely unphased. Aya wished she knew how to be that. "Mama said once that when the legends get close they often touch our dreams. And since the dead sleep here, they probably do it by accident. Did a legendary touch yours, Aya-chi?" She leaned close. "What'd they say?"
"No I…" Aya shook her head, causing Jericho to wobble from where he'd been resting. "Just… they said Ho-oh was coming for me."
"For you?" There was no disbelief in her voice, and that more than anything, warmed Aya's chest. "That's amazing, Aya-chi! What would Ho-oh want?"
"I dunno…" Aya racked her brain to remember. "They said Ho-oh could need me to wake them up. But they also said it could be anyone."
"but it could still be you!" Fuuka's eyes were huge now. "You could help revive Ho-oh Aya~! Think about it! All those whisperers would have to shut it." The last two words took on a tone so frigid Aya was surprised the ground wasn't frozen over.
And their walk home was a lot quieter all of a sudden. It didn't help that they had stopped. The eyes that had been following them had turned away, almost embarrassed.
But they had been looking, judging, accusing. Daddy had said that once, that since she was an outsider's girl, to some she did not belong here. But to a lot of people, she was still one of them. She still mattered here. And the ghosts seemed to be fine with that. But the dead were the dead. They didn't have as much control over the living as tv said they did.
"Because Ho-oh picked you." Fuuka interrupted her thoughts. "Not those people who were born here, not those jerks who think it matters. If Ho-oh picks you, it'll prove you belong more than anyone. So I'm gonna help it pick you! We've gotta tell your dads!"
Fuuka was positively vibrating now, eyes aglow and her sunkern free from her back and unable to be stopped.
Aya smiled a little, buoyed by her friend's enthusiasm. "Yeah… yeah you're right, Fu-chan. We should tell them."
Fuuka beamed and for a moment, Aya could almost pretend the dread wasn't even there.
Chapter 6: Helplessness
Warning for ostracizing a child, mention of death
Much to Fuuka's chagrin and Aya's expectations, her father was not pleased by this dream, nor was he pleased at the idea of his little girl getting a dream that talks about Ho-oh's interest in her. Which was about what Aya would have expected. No one smart would want their kids involved with legends and myths in a personal way, even though they were often around.
That didn't stop Fuuka pouting all the way through her customary berry gummy snacks, but it was funny anyway.
"I'm not saying we'll stop it at any cost," Morty told her with a small grin of his own. "I am saying we shouldn't roll over and bow to the will of the great bird for some, how do you all say it, "street cred"?
Aya was leaning against him, shameless affection and nothing else. She grinned at Fuuka, who puffed up.
"But Mister Morty, it'd be good for everyone." Her voice was wheedling, hands swiping about as she spoke. "All the elders here are so weird about her, and they remember the tower burning so if we combined those like clay it'd be perfect! They'd have to like her."
Morty's lips pursed, but Aya looked up at him to see that his cheeks twitching almost like a pikachu. His shoulders shook a little. Aya reached out and patted his knee and he swallowed the sound threatening to explode out of his throat.
Unfortunately, Fuuka hadn't looked away from him. Her face narrowed into an even deeper pout. "He was gonna laugh at me, wasn't he Aya-chi?"
Aya hesitated at the pair of eyes boring into her face. Then she nodded.
At this point, her dad had managed to control himself a little. He had taken a break from being in the gym for an hour after all, and that hour could be ending by now. "It's nothing personal, Fuuka-chan," he said in that gentle voice that always worked on Ayame. "But I've been trying to change their minds for years. If anything, Ho-oh will merely make them more afraid and unhappy. Ho-oh has belonged here for centuries. This will break their hearts."
Fuuka huffed. "That's dumb."
"It isn't very smart," Morty agreed. "But emotions are their own intelligence, and hearts prefer them over any other. Besides, the ritual that invites Ho-oh to our land is not an easy task, and it is not one you can do alone. But it is one that has to be suffered alone. My grandmother saw it happen to her mother, and the woman was struck with trouble dreams afterwards, and she was lucky. I do not wish to risk that, whatever it entailed, harming my daughter. And I doubt your parents would want that on you either."
Aya tilted her head as Fuuka shuffled awkwardly on her knees. "You never told me that."
"I didn't think someone would declare Ho-oh's interest in you in your dreams, dear," Morty said, poking her forehead in reply.
Aya stuck out her tongue. "I'm yours I gotta be special."
He tousled her hair. "Indeed you do. Now, enough of that. Show me your homework you two before I get dragged in against more challengers."
Fuuka groaned and her sunkern drooped in protest.
Aya giggled and pulled out her workbook anyway. As she placed the worksheet on the table, she caught Fuuka's eye. Through the downtrodden look on her face, Aya could easily see the gleam in her best friend's eye.
This wasn't over, not by a long shot.
Aya considered feigning illness until the festival passed.
Aya woke up in a field for the second time. Her hands felt sticky. She rubbed them in the dirt, curling her hands into fists in the grass.
"Welcome back." Michi's quiet voice was to her side, the same as before. And as she spoke, Aya closed her eyes. The other night's conversation came back to her in full, and her stomach lurched with dread.
"How did you know about Ho-oh?" she asked, burying it, controlling it. "Who are you?"
"I'm blocking them from reaching you, is how." Michi sounded again, only tired. Only weary and warm and painful. Aya felt her head throb. "This is the last time, however. Next time, he will reach your heart."
"You've been blocking him?" Curiosity welled in her guts. "How?"
"Because you could do it, if you only knew." Michi reaches out, scrunches up her hair with a dark hand. "Your mom was supposed to do it, I think. But she didn't tell you how."
Aya felt her heart ache so hard it made her knees quake even though she was sitting down. "Don't talk about my mom… please."
"I'll try hard not to."
Aya tilted her head, made herself look at the darkness. The darkness moved as she did, blocking Michi once more, but also dancing at her hands, touching between her fingers. "Really?"
"Really." She thought that she saw a smile. "I know what it's like to not want to talk about a parent. Regardless." Michi looked up at the great moon overhead. It was still full. "Blocking a god is possible. Humans do it all the time. That's why there are so few chosen ones for so many humans. You have to be willing to open your heart, to hear beyond your own self. And you are. For good or bad, apparently."
"Well…" Aya turned this over. "Would it really be a bad thing? If I helped Ho-oh I mean." She wasn't even sure if she could trust Michi, let alone what she was. or who she was. But she'd know for sure when she next slept, wouldn't she?
"No, not at all." Michi scooted closer, the shadows shifting and hissing as she moved towards the lake. "For the world we live in, it's best that this Ho-oh is saved. The rest are much too young, afraid, or cynical to actually do their jobs."
All Aya could see in her mind's eye was a whole flock of Ho-oh, bickering over power lines and pecking at each other.
"Pretty much," Michi agreed, as if she too could see it. "Through you, Ho-oh will gain the strength to continue on keeping the balance of life and death and rebirth."
"I thought that was…" Aya made a face. "Xerneas and Yveltal and that dragon?"
"Zygarde," said Michi. "Yes, it is theirs to control, but like it or not, they made the mistake of leaving the potential of it up to a Ho-oh. They do not control second chances or reincarnation or rebirth. That is Ho-oh's role, much as Lugia's is of the unforgiving punishment of the sea. The legends overlap. And Ho-oh needs you to start the cycle anew so the other legends in the group can be revitalized."
Aya swallowed. That… that was a lot. "Ok… but… but how could I do that?"
Michi looked at her and Aya could see her eyes, narrow and purple and chipped. "You have to die, Aevia."
Aya woke up and promptly fell backwards at the table with a squeak.
"Ayachi!" Fuuka was immediately at her side, eyes wide and sunkern's leaves glowing with some healing attack. "Are you okay?"
Aya stared blankly up at Fuuka for a moment. Then she smiled. "I'm fine."
"Did you dream something weird again?" Her best friend's eyes grew eager, glowing despite the convern in her face. "Did you see Ho-oh this time?"
Aya looked her right in the eye. "Don't remember," she said, and watched her friend's shoulders sag with something.
Her fingers stayed crossed behind her back.
Chapter 7: A Blue Fire
Warning for arranged marriages
You have to die.
The words had been said so plainly, and right to her face and without any pity. Aya couldn't have told them to Fuuka without being sick all over her and seeing the hope in that face turn to fear. She didn't want that.
Not that she wanted to die either. And that couldn't be all of it. That would be way too easy and way too broken. If she just had to die for the phoenix to live on, then they wouldn't be rebirth. That was what her dads had said when she had told them. Because she couldn't lie to them. They were her dads. THey were strong. They could do a lot more than she could, or Fu-chan, or her friends. That was what adults were for, no matter how many ten-year-olds took down Team Rocket, like Blue's boyfriend.
And they had looked calm. They had even felt calm, no matter how tightly Father gripped her shoulder and her dad's voice had grown louder from the phone speaker. So Aya had gone to sleep easy, well as easily as she could considering what had happened when she had dozed off at her homework. She was still tired when she woke up that morning, forcing Jericho to burn her feet to get her out of bed and out the door. She was still skipping every other step as she made it to the crossroads by the theater.
Surprisingly enough, Fuuka was also still outside. She was pacing back and forth, bag bouncing against her back. Someone stood at the pillar to the side of her, arms crossed, expression flat. Their blue and purple hair swung lightly in the wind, barely held up by the mountain of bands holding it steady. A dratini was settled around their shoulders, likely snoring.
Immediately all thoughts of Ho-oh and her possible impending demise left her head and Aya had to struggle to keep the scowl off of her face. Instead she called out,
The girl at once and waved, rushing up to greet her. The boy didn't even react barring closing his eyes. Aya fought the muscles in her cheeks to keep up the smile as Fuuka tackled her into a hug. As she pulled away the other girl chattered by her ear.
"Rua promised to help us figure this out!" she said with a beaming grin, tugging her closer. "I told him and the others are on time today, so we can tell them after class!"
Aya let herself be pulled along. "I see…" She didn't want to deter her, but maybe finding out the ceremony herself would cause Fuuka to go in another direction instead.
As they approached, the other boy dipped his head. "Good morning Ayame."
Aya nodded, uncurling her hands. "'ello Rua. What brings you to Ecruteak?" Her face remained impassive.
She watched his eye twitch and suppressed a grin as he replied. "Father wishes for me to oversee Ho-oh's arrival. The League is going at full swing. He might have a few challengers and someone needs to represent Blackthorn. So they sent me off here a couple days ago. I just got in an hour ago."
"And you're the most qualified?"
Fuuka made a face at both of them, watching Rua's mouth. "Auntie is, but she declined."
"As I'm sure you wish you could."
"Verity's too young." Rua pushed off from the pillar he'd been using as a resting stop. "She'd be bored and cry through the whole thing. I'd spend the time being jealous."
"I'm sure it's a travesty to watch other people deal with the difficulties of everyday life."
"Ayachi!" Fuuka started.
Rua laughed and waved his hand. "Don't worry, Fuuka-chan. This is just how Aya shows she likes me."
"I like you unconscious," Aya muttered and Jericho hissed from her shoulder. "Not making creepy comments like your gross grandpa."
Rua's nostrils flared and he pinched his nose, taking a step back. "You're going to apologize for that."
Aya glared up at him. "Break my legs and make me."
Fuuka tugged at her arm. "Aya-chi!"
"It's fine Fu-chan." Aya gently moved to take her hand. "Don't worry, we're fine. The others are on their way here. You oughta explain everything you know to them. Nothing new's come up anyway."
Fuuka stared at her, into her soul almost. "You promise you won't fight."
"I promise not to break his arms and legs and throw him to Mt Mortar ferals."
Fuuka squinted and turned to Rua. Rua raised his hands in defense. "She started it."
Fuuka continued to squint at him now. "And you love making fun of her! Promise!"
Rua let out a long suffering sigh. "I promise not to be too rude."
She looked at them for a long couple minutes more. Then the girl stalked off, stomping with all the might in her nearly ten year old body.
"She's actually kind of scary like that," Rua mused, reaching up to scratch his dratini on the head. She cooed.
Aya gave him a look. "You think of breaking her heart and I'm breaking yours."
Rua clicked his tongue. "Why do you always threaten me? I did nothing wrong!"
"You literally pulled Su-chan's braids when we met you." Aya said with an unimpressed look.
"I did nothing wrong to you," he corrected.
Aya actually laughed at that. "If you actually think that, you're even more of a jerk than I thought." She sobered. But that doesn't matter anyway. You're not marrying me. You're marrying Fu-chan. And you are going to make her happy or I'm going to make your life and death hell, no matter what happens."
Rua let out a sound of displeasure. "Sounds ominous."
"It might be."
He paused mid-head scratch. "Really?"
Aya hesitated a moment. Rua was Champion Lance's son. His oldest pride and joy, stuck here only out of sacred obligations so the dragons of Blackthorn didn't burn them all at the stake. He didn't want to be here, or even to marry Fuuka someday. He wanted whatever it was dragon people wanted, and he was an absolute jerk all the time. Still, he was obligated to be here and be involved and Fuuka had probably told him everything anyway. (Aya was never trusting her with secrets again!)
Then she nodded. "it might be."
"For her or for you?"
"Wouldn't I have told her if it was a problem for her?" Aya shook her head. "it's a problem for me, and you can tell what kind of person she is when it comes to other people's problems."
Rua's green eyes flickered onto her, and Aya met them without hesitation. "You'll look after her! You'll be a good partner. Cause right now you're just another jerk and I don't need those near my friends."
Rua didn't step back, but he did square his thin shoulders. "Your friends aren't toys for you to own."
Aya laughed. "No but they're my people to love. And I love them. Do you?"
She turned on her heel and flounced off to her friends, wrapping her arms around Su-chan in a hug. As always, Suzuko didn't question anything. She hugged her back. And the others pulled themselves into it for a good five seconds.
And in those five seconds, Aya remembered. And as they broke apart, her chest filled with determination.
She wasn't going to die that easily. As soon as she got home, she was calling her mother.